Katey Brooks is a clear-eyed rebel in an industry that demands consistency. A devastating songwriting talent that has drawn comparisons with Jeff Buckley (Supajam), Brooks has no shortage of famous admirers and yet she has resisted formula. Over a career spanning four continents, she’s journeyed from intimate living rooms to opulent concert halls, from dive bars to decorated studios with some of music’s biggest names. The wandering troubadour defies easy classification, with a back-catalogue incorporating soul, folk, blues and country. With her new album under construction, the mercurial songstress is more determined than ever to do things her own way. Applauded by the press, this ‘rising singer-songwriter has the crowd eating out of her hands’ (The Independent) and is simply ‘not to be missed’ (Time Out). To watch her sing live is to witness emotional exorcism, but when you know her backstory, it’s hardly a mystery why.
Growing up inside a cult, as a child Brooks found refuge in song. “It was a very chaotic upbringing, full of some pretty colourful and sometimes unsavoury, characters. But when I sang, I felt free and connected. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my way of getting what I need to say out”, she reveals. When she was sixteen, she turned down a spot at the Brit School, the performing arts college where a lot of the UK’s biggest musical exports – Adele, Amy Winehouse, Katie Melua – hail from. “When I was 22 my mum got ill and she died. And then not long after that, my lifelong best friend went missing and she also died. That’s definitely had an effect on the course of my life and my writing. I guess I’m lucky that I have songs that I can write, as a means to deal with things”.
All of these hardships seem to have driven, rather than dragged Brooks under. “Pain just reminds me why I sing,” she says. “And not just for me; for everybody. They say in a funny sort of way musicians are like therapists,” she muses. “Because music is a universal language. Everybody has experienced some kind of heartache, especially in relationships, and music allows us to purge these feelings.” Brooks has certainly had her share of romantic turbulence, not to mention the struggle to come to terms with her sexuality. “In my most recent work I’ve finally been able to sing directly about women instead of using the mysterious ‘you’. I’m a private person in a lot of ways and I never wanted to be a poster girl for anything. But a few years ago I just thought screw it; I want to sing completely honestly. It felt like a weight lifted.”
For Katey Brooks, singing is more about heart than head. It’s about reaching to the most authentic place within oneself and screaming from it, which is probably why her live performances are so affecting. From Bristol to Byron Bay, she has been approached on the street by fans with interesting stories about the impact her songs have had. A word often associated with her ‘hauntingly beautiful’ voice (Record of the Day) is ‘ethereal’ and because of her incredible and effortless range, she has been likened to both Tracy Chapman and Florence (and the Machine). She plays a number of instruments but refuses to call herself a multi-instrumentalist (‘too much pressure’) and has produced several of her own records.
Leading single ‘In Your Arms’ is a stunningly raw love song narrating the emotions of expressing your love for someone. Brooks confides, “Heart on sleeve, I wanted to tell the woman I love just how much I love her. This song is an expression of what she means to me and how much has transformed for me since I met her. It’s about that good love, that breaks you open, challenges you, drives you and I think ultimately, makes you a better you”. Sonically, the single highlights Brooks authentic musicianship, with soulful choral vocals, warm instrumentation and ethereal soundscapes, ‘In Your Arms’ evokes a sense of intimacy between both the artist and the listener.
Brooks has found success recording with the likes of Brian May (Queen), Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones) and Paloma Faith at Abbey Road, for BBC Radio 2’s Children in Need single. She has played some of the world’s biggest festivals including Glastonbury, WOMAD, the 2012 Paralympics, and Australia’s National Folk Festival. The beautiful finger-picked, harmony-inflected sound of her 2016 I Fought Lovers EP received an enthusiastic reception from radio stations around the UK and internationally, including BBC Radio 2, BBC 6 Music and CBC Canada. Katey Brooks continues to deliver exceptional musicianship, with ‘In Your Arms’ currently available worldwide.
Listen to In Your Arms on Spotify