Singer-songwriter Catherine McGrath hails from Northern Ireland and she’s one of the few UK Country artists signed to a major label.
With her debut album Talk of This Town arriving at the end of the month, McGrath has hit the festival circuit pretty hard and recently she performed on the opening day of the first-ever Black Deer Festival on The Ridge Stage.
I sat down with Catherine before her performance to discuss her hectic touring schedule, find out what we can expect from her debut album and to talk about her experiences as a UK Country artist.
I think you’re the hardest working UK Country artist right now. You’ve had a crazy 12 months involving a lot of touring. How has it been for you?
It is crazy! For the last two years I’ve been writing all these songs and I’ve been going through the whole process, not knowing what’s going to happen and not knowing for sure if I’ll get to put songs out or if I’ll get to play a show. You never know where it’s actually going and so to get to the point where I know my album’s coming out and I’m going on a tour… I’ve got these things that are actually happening and set in stone now. It’s such an exciting thing. I’ve had these songs for so long I feel like I know them so well so to be able to put those out on an album and have people hear them for the first time is a really, really exciting thing and it’s such a big step for me. That’s been really exciting and obviously we’re playing all the festivals before the album comes out. It’s always fun to reach new people that you wouldn’t have reached otherwise at festivals. I think the people who come to festivals are those people who just want to hear new music. They don’t necessarily go for one person and one headliner, they’re just open to everything. I always think that’s a really cool thing so I’m glad we’re doing that as well. It’s been a really fun year.
One of the few UK artists in the Country genre that’s signed to a major label. That’s a pretty massive achievement…
Yeah, it still (feels) kind of crazy. I think in my head, and in a lot of people’s heads, there was this thing like, ‘oh my gosh record labels are terrifying. Everybody’s going to be in suits. It’s going to be intense’ and when I actually went in and I met Phil Christie from Warner for the first time, I just remember being like, ‘whoa he’s like a normal guy and he’s really nice’. That was kind of a shock to me. I think I’ve been so lucky on this journey in that I’ve been surrounded by people who genuinely like my music and they genuinely believe in what I’m doing rather than see an opportunity to turn me into something that I’m not. It’s really, really nice that I’ve gotten to sit down with my label and talk about the songs and for them to sit and say, ‘we know that you know more about Country so we want you to do your thing and they really respect my opinion. They’re really open to learning more about Country music. That’s a really exciting thing and I think it’s a big step as well that a record label is recognising the value of Country in the UK. I think that’s something that’s growing in general. You can see C2C: Country to Country getting bigger every year. The American artists are coming over more and it’s just such an exciting time to be doing this kind of music in the UK.
There’s pressure in Country music to just copy the sound coming out of Nashville but your music doesn’t sound like that. Have you have any pressure to change your sound to fit in?
The thing about my music is I discovered Country music when I was 12 years old and obviously I wasn’t hearing Rascal Flatts on the radio or Carrie Underwood, or any of the Country singers that I really loved but I could find them on YouTube. I going out of my way to find these people and so I grew up hearing Country music as if I lived in America so to me that’s what music was. Whenever it came to writing my own songs, I think I naturally just thought that’s how these songs go. It’s been really cool that I’ve gotten to collaborate with songwriters who’ve worked with Country artists like Rascal Flatts but also people like One Direction, Kelly Clarkson and all these pop artists. I was listening to some of that growing up as well.
I think my music is a blend of that Nashville music that I grew up with as well as the UK music and it makes this interesting blend that is Country but it’s a different kind of country. It’s such an exciting thing that Country music is expanding so much in terms of what you can do. Sam Hunter is Drake meets Country music and Marren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini are super pop but Country. It’s really cool that you can experiment with it and that it’s okay to have your own twist on Country music and that people will still like it. It’s been really exciting for me in that way. I definitely feel like I’m accepted in the Country community. Getting to tour with The Shires and Dan + Shay, and all these artists who I really love and look up to… to have them embrace me and be as nice as they are just makes me feel like I’m really part of that community, which is super nice.
Have you learned anything from touring with those kinds of artists?
I think the main thing I’ve learned, I don’t know if it’s that I learned it or just that it’s something I picked up on, is all of those artists were just extremely nice people and I think that’s so important. You look up to these people and you think, ‘oh they might not be nice in real life’ but they’re just so supportive and they’re so kind. I think that’s a Country music thing. They just want to be your friend and they get up on stage and they talk about your music, and they talk for ages and they really, really do support you. I think that makes such a difference. It’s not that it surprised me because I thought they wouldn’t be nice but I was just super happy that they were. It’s important to always be nice to people and to see the whole music thing as you can make friends, we’re all doing this together and we all want Country music to be a thing, rather than a competition. I suppose I learned just be nice and don’t get too ahead of yourself and think you’re better.
It’s definitely a Country thing. When I spoke with Cam last year she mentioned something similar and said if you’re an asshole in the industry, you just don’t get the opportunities to work with people…
I think it would be quite a lonely thing if people weren’t nice. I moved away from home two years ago because I wanted to sing and I didn’t know what to expect. I was definitely homesick a lot but it makes such a difference that you can go into a room with a complete stranger who is a songwriter and they’re just so nice. You feel like you’re making friends along the way and you feel like everyone’s on your side and everyone’s rooting for each other and it’s just fun. That’s what music should be. It shouldn’t be competitive and it shouldn’t be lonely. It’s really nice to be in Country music and it makes me proud to be part of this genre.
Your album Talk of This Town is finally out in July. How are you feeling about that and what can people expect from it?
Well it’s basically an album of 13 songs, all written over the past two years. I got to write with so many different writers in Nashville and in the UK. I even wrote one of the songs back in Belfast, which is really cool. They’re just the story of the last two years of my life and my thoughts and opinions, and things that I’ve picked up on. It’s weird because I never in my head was writing for an album and I was never writing to please a certain person or to fit into a certain category. It was natural. When it came to actually picking the songs for the album it was so hard to narrow it down to 13 tracks because I’ve written over 100 songs in the last two years. It was a hard choice but I really hope that people are going to like the songs that are on there. We’re bringing back some that I’ve released before actually. I released Cinderella and Just Incase and those songs are back on the album sounding a little bit different.
You’ll really never stop do you? You’ve got a headline tour later in the year…
Yeah but it’s fun! People are like, ‘oh you must be so tired, you travel so much and you get up early’ and I’m like, ‘if I worked in Tesco I would be up at 6am everyday’. Whatever job you do you’re going to be tired and you’re going to busy and that’s just how it goes. To me, I get to do something I love and I don’t see it as a job or work. I hope that it doesn’t stop. I hope that it keeps going and I hope it stays busy. The tour I’m so excited about. I’ve done some headline shows in Manchester and London and I’m really excited to broaden it out and go to all these different places this time and just meet the people who are listening into my music. It’s weird to see it when people tweet you or people are listening on Spotify, or however they’re listening, because it’s an online thing. Then you see them in person and they’re a real person and they’ve listened to your song enough times that they know the words. I want to meet those people who have taken my music into their lives, talk to them and thank them. It’ll be really cool to do that on tour.
I saw you two or three times in the same week last year supporting other artists at shows…
(laughs) I know! Any time a Country artist came over I would text my management to see if anyone was opening up for them, every opportunity I get. I think it got to the point where people were like, ‘oh my god is this girl again?’ (lauhging) I love Country music and whether I was opening for those shows or whether I would have been in the crowd as a fan, I would have wanted to be there. I just feel really lucky that I’ve had the opportunities that I’ve had. As much as some people might be sick of me, I’m glad that some people have stuck by it and that they want to come back and see me!
Catherine McGrath’s album Talk of This Town will be released on 27th July 2018 through Warner Bros. Records. Her new single Lost in the Middle is out now and you can see the video below: