Spotlight On... Katya Mansell

Ahead of releasing their second single, Promised You Love, we catch up with Glasgow-based singer-songwriter Katya Mansell

Feature by Tallah Brash | 13 Jun 2024
  • Katya Mansell

Katya Mansell released their debut single You Belong Here last spring, going on to receive airplay on BBC Radio Scotland, as well as being shortlisted for Snack's 2023 Scottish Single of the Year. Not too shabby for a first outing, we're sure you'll agree? Set for release on Friday 14 June, Promised You Love is the second single from Mansell. Self-described as "a love song with a difference", there's a real vulnerability and warmth wrapped up in its three minutes, from the tone of the instrumentation to Mansell's hug of a vocal delivery. To find out more, we catch up with Mansell.

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself, as well as who or what inspires your music-making?
Sure! I’m a songwriter, producer and artist based in Glasgow. I write indie-pop for my solo artist project, and I’m really inspired by Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus (all of boygenius to be honest!), Victoria Canal, Death Cab for Cutie and Novo Amor. When I write music, I’m looking for the feeling!! It’s those wee lyrical hooks that just make you go “oh my god, I’ve felt that before”. It’s the melody! It’s rhythm! When all of these elements come together to make something that just moves you, that’s what inspires me to keep writing.

You’re about to release your second single, Promised You Love, a collaboration with Peter Hatch. Can you tell us more about how this collaboration came about, as well as more about the process?
Peter and I met on a course called The Songwriting Academy, a worldwide community of songwriters, where we were encouraged to reach out and co-write with one another. When I was looking for collaborators, I came across Peter’s solo project, Brother Boost, where he both writes and produces the music. It’s just so beautiful, it almost sounds like Sufjan Stevens meets Bon Iver. I had already written Promised You Love and I just emailed him to see if he would be up for producing it, and he was! We really clicked as collaborators and started writing together from then on.

So for some songs, like Promised You Love and You Belong Here, I would write the melody, harmony, structure and lyrics, and then send off to him to create a sonic world in the way that he does. We started writing together too, and so I’ll have another song out this year called Ultimately Fine that we wrote as a duo, and a third called Never Been Hurt that we wrote with our co-writer Charlie Grant from Peer Music Germany, a publishing company.

It’s been really great working together. Peter and I have never actually met in person – he lives in California and I haven’t made it over there to write yet (one day!), so our songwriting sessions take place online. Normally we get together for a couple of hours and firstly talk through some ideas which spark an emotion we connect to, then we’ll work on a chord sequence until we land on something that feels good, something that kind of matches the emotional content that we want to write about. Then we’ll hum some melodies until we get something that sounds pretty. We’ll then go in and bounce lyrical suggestions back and forth, mining for those lines which really say what we want to say. So yeah, we might get a verse and a chorus in the first session, then come back a week or two later and continue writing. Normally a song will take maybe three or four sessions.

You describe Promised You Love as “a love song with a difference”. Can you tell us more about this, and what the song is about?
Well firstly, I want to acknowledge how cool it is to have so many queer, particularly sapphic artists in the music industry right now. It’s honestly so cool to see! When I wrote Promised You Love, I just wanted to write a really lovely wee queer love song that shows some of the nuances relationships can have, in this case, being with someone who’s a bit more guarded with their love. I think there’s this heteronormative idea that you have to chase someone you’re dating, to give them some sort of ultimatum of “it’s now or never”, but what If we actually gave people the space they needed to build trust? I wanted to write a song that’s really grounded in consent, that’s saying: “This is where I’m at, what do you need right now? Let’s figure out how we can do this together, how we can both feel comfortable as we build this relationship.” 

As well as this song with Peter, I can see from your Instagram that you’ve been working on collaborations with some other musicians too, including the excellent EYVE. Can you tell us anymore about this?
You know what, I just love collaborating. I used to write my songs alone because I felt like I knew what I wanted to say, but actually when you go through this process of sitting with someone and just having a conversation, really connecting with your co-writer, I think that’s where magic comes from. You share this wee moment of, “I’ve felt like that before”, but you maybe think about it in your own words, and then you come together and bounce off each other, making something beautiful together. And it can be any emotion you connect on, you know? I think when people hear me talking about emotions in music, they automatically think that I’m talking about sadness, but that’s often a gendered thing.

But yeah, I love collaborating with songwriters, and so aside from my own project, I do write with other people for their own projects, and that’s what EYVE and I were up to. She’s awesome and we started a really cool song together – there’s something really special when two queer artists come together to write because you understand each other on another level, and I think what we made speaks to that. Watch this space!  

You’ve also been in Berlin and Tuscany recently writing music for an album – can you tell us anymore about this?
Yeah, I had such a lovely time on my writing trip. I went out to write with Charlie Grant in Berlin who is an awesome songwriter and artist. Normally we write on Zoom so it was awesome actually being in a space together. He was kind enough to get some more of his collaborators on board, so we wrote on the first day ourselves, another day with Martin Kelly, and a third day with producer Ivo Vollering. That session with Ivo and Charlie has to be the most special collaboration I’ve ever done – we all felt it in the room that day, it felt really powerful. Like, I cried! Some sessions just feel so therapeutic, and that was definitely one of them, there was something about the emotional vulnerability that day, like the stars all aligned or something! I’m really looking forward sharing that one with you all.

After being in Berlin for the week, I went down to Barga in Tuscany and just had the most beautiful time in the Italian mountains writing on my wee midi keyboard and writing lyrics. I’m writing and producing this album, and I’ll be writing some of the songs myself and with others collaboratively, with emotional vulnerability as the kind of main theme behind it all. I’ve also had fun recording the process with my Super 8 Camera, so we’ll see how that works out!

And finally, what else does the rest of this year have in store for you?
This is a really exciting year for me! As I mentioned earlier, I’m releasing three singles, and I plan to have my album finished up in the next couple of months so that I can release that early next year. I’ve got a few gigs coming up, a couple supporting Lou McLean at Broadcast on 29 June and at Leith Depot on 25 July, and an Endless Summer gig supporting Benben & Lily Desmond at The Hug and Pint on 17 July. If you’re reading this, I’d really love to see you at some shows!

Promised You Love is released on 14 Jun; Katya Mansell plays Broadcast, Glasgow, 29 Jun; The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 17 Jul; Leith Depot, Edinburgh, 25 Jul

Follow Katya Mansell on Instagram @KatyaMansell