Spotlight On... Katherine Aly

Following the release of her debut album, Shadows Are Made of Light Too, we shine a spotlight on Greece-born, Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Katherine Aly

Feature by Tallah Brash | 16 Jun 2022
  • Katherine Aly

With her glorious genre-defying debut album Shadows Are Made of Light Too having just been released last Friday, Greece-born, Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Katherine Aly is gearing up for her album launch at Edinburgh's Sneaky Pete's on Friday 17 June. She's also set to play what is sure to be a blissed-out set for The Skinny at Kelburn Garden Party on Saturday 2 July, which we cannot wait for. We shine a spotlight on Aly to find out more about the record, the importance of having a strong aesthetic and why she chooses not to confine herself to one sound.

The Skinny: I feel like you’re one of the hardest working grassroots musicians in Scotland, and it was so nice seeing you get selected for Wide Days this year. What was the experience like? 
Katherine Aly: Thank you, I get this a lot for some reason so I do have to say that every musician I meet who takes their music career seriously works really hard! It's not an easy job to do, especially because we end up working on our actual music a lot less than expected. Being an independent artist entails having or developing many other skills: designing, video editing, marketing, budgeting, networking and so many more.

I was very pleased when I got that phone call from the Wide Days director who told me I've been accepted in the Artist Development Programme for 2022. We've had a few sessions so far and it's all been very helpful. It's very obvious that they put a lot of effort in providing guidance that covers all aspects of what being an artist is, from legal to social media, technical, royalties, musicians' health and the list goes on.

Showcasing at The Liquid Room last month was a unique experience too; I wanted to demonstrate what I envision my live show can be so I put together a full band and visuals show. It was great seeing people dancing and singing along to my tunes and they absolutely loved the projected lyrics as part of the visuals, which was something that I really want to continue doing at my shows for engagement and inclusivity reasons. Great atmosphere and the best audience I could have asked for, especially with all these music industry people watching!

You seem to traverse genre quite effortlessly across your music, who would you say are your main influences?
I think it's exactly because I identify as genre agnostic that I always find this question particularly difficult to answer. All music I've ever listened to: classical, greek folk, pop, rock, metal, electronic, jazz, it's all a weird puzzle-like music generator in my brain if that makes any sense? If I have to choose one album that shocked me the most when I first listened to it, and I still do, and I still hear my voice going in similar paths when I sing, that's Grace by Jeff Buckley. But no one would say my music or voice sounds like his; it's just something I've incorporated in my own personal style. I also adore What's Your Pleasure by Jessie Ware since it came out two years ago and I think you can tell it was a point of reference for some of my tracks like Never Giving Up On You... or maybe not! 

Your debut album Shadows Are Made of Light Too came out last week – tell us about some of the themes found across the record?
I call this album a soundtrack of anthropology, as I write from a personal perspective while trying to reflect on more global concerns, intuitions, and realities. Glow & Ignite is a happy, upbeat song, however, it's about how lonely it feels when struggling with anxiety; Pariah is about society progressing to the point that we can now point the finger to those who have been discriminating against others; Never Giving Up On You is a song I wrote for my friends who are very important to me; Hey Girl is a comfort song addressed to women and non-binary people, a reminder of our solidarity and beauty; Hype Up is a song about seeking any sort of excitement amid global and personal turmoil; Maybe In Another Life is about dealing with the concept of time while striving to make our dreams come true; Rules is a ballad about recognising and accepting weakness as a natural part of life and in the process learning and growing; and finally, Butterflies is about falling in love with someone who stimulates you intellectually. That's a lot going on lyrically for such a short album, I'd say!

What was the recording process like? Who was involved in the making of the record?
Because of the pandemic, I started recording these songs for what I thought was going to be an EP at the end of 2019; I recorded Butterflies and Rules before the first lockdown and then went back in the studio sporadically throughout 2020 to record Glow & Ignite, Pariah and Maybe In Another Life. Partially because the recording process was constantly disrupted by lockdowns and partially because writing new songs was one of the most effective ways I could alleviate my anxiety, it became clear at some point that I could turn that EP into an album.

I was very honoured to receive funding from Creative Scotland to do so and went back in the studio in 2021 to record Hype Up, Never Giving Up On You and Hey Girl. That's how these eight songs came into being; they are quite different from each other exactly because they were recorded over the course of two years but my voice brings everything together, I believe.

It's only me and my producer Marty Hailey writing the music at Metro 13 Studio in Edinburgh and he also mixed most of the songs on the album, with the exception of Glow & Ignite, Butterflies and Rules that were mixed by Graeme Young at Chamber Studio. The album was mastered by William Bowden, who is a Grammy-winning mastering engineer and he did a fantastic job in making the tracks sound great as a whole.

As well as the music, you’ve got a strong eye when it comes to accompanying music videos – why is this such an important factor for you?
From my experience it's kind of inevitable; every song has a story to tell and every story has the potential of being turned into a short film. Music stimulates people differently and I know for a lot of people a visual extension of a song is more engaging than just audio. So why not present these songs in flesh and bone?

For songs like Pariah, having a video really amplified what the message of the song was about; there's some really powerful imagery of people being discriminated against and the video proves very vividly its own point – prejudice is still a prominent social ailment and an everyday reality for many people. The participants in the video were not acting, their stories are real and so are the slurs they are scrubbing off their own bodies. Equally, with the video of Hype Up I really wanted to portray loneliness in its ugliest form exactly (and ironically) by dressing up and ''looking beautiful'' while having absolutely nowhere to go and no one to talk to. The omnipresence of absence is haunting and a video would only amplify this feeling.

Aside from all that, I alway say that I love collaborating with people regardless of their art practice and I've had the pleasure of working with some very talented people such as Stuart Alexander, Mario Cruzado, Sam Jones and Sean Mallon. Also, allow me to say that female artists always have to go the extra mile to prove themselves, that's what I see happening in the industry anyway, regardless of what stage in their career the artists are. So six out of eight songs on the album are accompanied by videos and that says a lot about the effort put behind this project from me and my team.

Shadows Are Made of Light Too is out now; Katherine Aly celebrates her album launch at Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, 17 Jun; Katherine Aly plays The Pyramid Stage for The Skinny at Kelburn Garden Party, Kelburn Castle, nr. Largs, 2 Jul