“I am above all a folk singer-songwriter”
A few years ago, Katie Gregson-MacLeod left her hometown of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands to attend university in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. But after completing three years of a four-year history degree, Gregson-MacLeod suspended her studies and returned to Inverness.
She had good reason to – Gregson-MacLeod’s 2022 single “complex” has now racked up more than 17 million global streams after its chorus went viral on TikTok earlier in the year. Following his runaway success on TikTok, Gregson-MacLeod released the close and intimate demo version of “complex” as a single.
A few months later, the Scottish singer-songwriter delivered a more anthemic studio production of “complex”, with the help of Adele, Sia and Foo Fighters producer Greg Kurstin. music stream chats with Gregson-MacLeod from her home in Inverness about her love of folk music and her future prospects.
Katie Gregson-MacLeod – ‘complex’ (official video)
Music Feeds: What was the arts culture like in Inverness when you were a kid?
Katie: It’s a very small place, small town vibe. So there’s not like a booming culture here. I think the main culture would be traditional Highland folk, which is amazing and influenced me in its own way. But comparing it to Glasgow – and even Edinburgh compared to Glasgow – it has nothing to do with the amount of stuff going on and the importance given to the arts and music.
MF: This kind of folk music didn’t appeal to you as a songwriter?
Katie: No, that’s totally the case. I’m like a folk singer-songwriter first and foremost. Indie-folk is the way I would always describe [my music]. But I didn’t fully get into folk music until I was a little older, maybe 17 or 18.
For the first time I associated it with tartan and bagpipes, you know – like VisitScotland. But when I was 18 I started going to Scottish pubs and folk bars, in Inverness but especially in Edinburgh, and that changed a lot for me. I really got into folk back then and the music I listened to expanded.
MF: And that had an influence on your composition?
Katie: Yeah. Sitting in a pub and one at a time playing the guitar, playing a song to your own acoustics, that’s kind of where all my music starts. This is where I probably find the most joy in music and writing. Every weekend, going to Captain’s Bar in Edinburgh, which is my favorite folk pub, like going there every few days and thinking, ‘I wrote this song yesterday. I love it. Folk has influenced me enormously and many of my favorite artists are very folk artists.
MF: Before you got into traditional Scottish folk music at 17, 18, what did you listen to?
Katie: When I was growing up, it was just a bit of everything. My mom plays the piano so she’s a huge music fan and there was such an appreciation in my house for music. So I felt like I had a good range of music growing up – lots of singer-songwriters, lots of soul, more folky stuff like Joni Mitchell, and jazz and musicals – just everything.
When I was growing up and doing performances, it was like poppy, folk – I always said pop folk.
MF: Do you think ‘complex’ is a pop song?
Katie: I’m still pop folk.
Katie Gregson-MacLeod – ‘Complex (demo)’
MF: The ‘complex’ demo was your flagship single. You released a studio version produced by Greg Kurstin. Does the song feel richer for having it re-recorded?
Katie: In fact, I didn’t even record it with Greg. It was actually just the demo we used. So that’s good – it really feels like it’s maintaining a lot of the integrity of the demo because that’s what people have connected to so much.
It was very important for me to release this demo in its rawest form. I recorded it in Edinburgh with an engineer named Rod Jones. It was a live take, I sang it once, not even compiled. I just found it important to do because the nature of the popularity of the song was also based on a very raw 45 second clip of the song and I wanted to maintain that a bit.
There was a bit of nervousness surrounding the release of the rest of the song because the chorus went viral. There was obviously a bit of fear like, “What if they just hate the rest?” But it turned out really well in the end.
MF: What was it like working with Greg Kurstin?
Katie: He’s very subtle and he really understood the emotion of the song in terms of what to protect and not throw everything at it for fun. So, yes, he was the perfect person and gave it a very low-key production.
MF: Are you nervous about the next thing you’ll release, since “complex” has been so successful?
Katie: I think there’s this added pressure to everything now. Obviously, with a larger audience and more than me doing it on my own back, there will always be added pressure. But especially in the music that I’m going to release next, I believe in it a lot and I’m really happy with it, which took away some of that nervousness. Sure, it’s all been added to the pressure now, but I’m excited for the next stuff that’s coming out.
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