The Bones of Us All: Kathryn Joseph revisits her debut

From truly sorrowful beginnings, Kathryn Joseph has crafted one of the year's most raw, unflinching and remarkable records. To celebrate her Scottish Album of the Year Award win, she reflects upon the album's success.

Feature by Tom Johnson | 16 Jun 2015

Music as escapism isn’t a particularly uncommon occurrence; it’s a much rarer event, however, to be transported not only out of your own world but deep in to that of another. The music of Kathryn Joseph undoubtedly holds such power. Bare-boned and loose of tongue, to hear her poignant, tender songs isn’t just to sense their weight but to fully live inside of them. They aren’t reflections upon times of strife; they simply are them – one and the same.

Her staggering SAY Award winner, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled LP was finally released this year, though it was actually recorded back in 2011 when Joseph found herself living next door to her now musical-partner Marcus and his wife, Claire Mackay from Hits The Fan Records, who would end up releasing the album. “I knew they had a studio, and they knew I played, but we never spoke about it,“ she says of it now. “And then they came to the John Knox Sex Club show I played and it all started there.”

It wasn’t quite as straightforward as that sounds, however. “The thought of recording made me feel sick,” she says, with a laugh. “Any time I’ve done it I’ve hated it – all of it is my worst nightmare.” Which might leave you wondering why she did it at all. “Honestly, I don’t know,” she admits. “I was pregnant and crazy!”

““The thought of recording made me feel sick. Any time I’ve done it I’ve hated it – all of it is my worst nightmare” – Kathryn Joseph

It’s hard to imagine a record as strikingly beautiful as the one we have now coming from such restrained beginnings, but Joseph insists there was no great plan for it. “I never felt like we were making something beautiful. I just thought my songs were shit, and that this is all really embarrassing.”

The apparent disregard for her own work is at odds with her recent success, but then Kathryn Joseph isn’t trying to be a pop star. If anything she’s the anti-pop star: cripplingly self-deprecating and seemingly perplexed by the limelight she sits within. Which, to some extent, also explains why it took so long for this record to see the light of day. “There was just this huge amount of time that passed. Sometimes I liked it and then there were times I thought it was fucking terrible, and everyone just waited for me to decide that it was finished.”

Thankfully, however, lady luck got involved to help move the process along; Joseph bumping in to Marcus on the street one day, having now moved out of their adjoining house. “I told him that it was really hard for me because I’m extremely negative, and I think everything is pointless, and then I cried the whole way home, pushing my buggy. That was the first time I thought, 'fuck, maybe I care about this more than I realised.'”

Again, it’s a further indication of her hesitancy that she needed a chance meeting to kick-start this whole thing, for to hear just a single breath of Joseph’s voice in flight is to know just how much these songs matter. It’s not hard, either, to understand where that reluctance came from. “The thing is, the truth of me is mental,” she says, reflectively. “The reason for me doing all of this is because I had a son who only lived for a week, but to have to say that out loud just seemed so humiliating. But then I also can’t cope with lying or pretending, so I can’t make up some nice bio to pretend otherwise. I’m just not able to do that.”

So much creativity is borne of anguish and loss but it rarely comes from such a raw place as it does for Joseph, and the songs on her record. Fragile and understated, the words hit like a sucker-punch – which is why it’s affected so many, so quickly.

Then there are her stunning live shows. Joined by Marcus on percussion, they’re dense and evocative, the kind of event that can split your day in two. “I’d never played with anyone before him and can’t even imagine it differently now,” she says. “I just love it so much. It’s like what I think drugs feel like.”

With a high like that, it’s no surprise to learn of a similarly brutal comedown. “Every time I play I’m pretty much wanting to kill myself the next day,” she confesses. “It’s just how I feel. It’s the blackness. I find myself thinking that it’s so weird that I want to do this. It’s my worst nightmare and yet I put myself there anyway.” Which again leads to the question of why she continues to do it. “Because at that time it feels like the greatest thing.,” she says. “Being in that moment is the only time that none of this feels weird at all.”

With just the interviews and songs, Joseph might come across as something of a sorrowful character, but in real life she’s anything but. A spirited live wire, endlessly gracious and grateful for any interest in her work, it made her an extremely popular nominee for this year’s Scottish Album of the Year Award. “I wasn't even nervous because I didn't think at any point they would say my name,” she says today of the win. 

Whether or not Kathryn Joseph allows herself to reflect upon the recent adoration for her work isn’t for anyone else to enforce, but there’s no doubt that what she’s created is a remarkable document. In an age of hype and showmanship it’s quietly, organically, become one of the year's most talked about records. Does she still feel as uncomfortable now as she was when starting this journey? “It feels much less humiliating,” she says. “There have been so many lovely things; one after the other. It doesn’t even feel real.”

There aren’t many albums that could come from such a desolate place as Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, to trump the major label likes of Paolo Nutini and Belle & Sebastian on a major award’s short list, but then there simply aren’t many artists quite like Kathryn Joseph; one of a kind, and so much more besides. 

Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled is out now on Hits the Fan Records. Kathryn Joseph launches new single The Bird / The Worm on 1 Aug at The Hug and Pint, Glasgow and plays Summerhall, Edinburgh on 12 Aug.