Catey Shaw Talks New Music, Brooklyn and More in Exclusive Interview

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Catey Shaw speaks like an animated character out of a Disney fairytale with the goldilocks to match. Her voice is soft and sweet and glitters with girl power, just like her music. You may remember her summer hit (or miss) "Brooklyn Girls," the song that everyone loved to hate and hated to love. She grew up in Virginia Beach, to the sounds of Gloria Gaynor’s disco and Frank Sinatra’s charm, the country ballads of Shania Twain, and of course, Jay-Z’s rap music. It’s only natural she developed such a unique voice, unlike anything else the industry has heard before. Her audience isn’t the usual pre-teen suburban girls that we’ve come to expect for young, new female artists and boy bands. Consider her fan base a mash up of those who keep Stevie Nicks, the Spice Girls or Lily Allen in their music library. It was during one of her many subway performances, earning cash for food and art supplies, that she and her ukulele met manager Jay Levine. Two days after her 21st birthday she found herself in the studio writing music. Shaw attracts over 1.3 million views on YouTube and has nearly 10 million plays on Spotify.

Inked is excited to share her new “Human Contact” Remix EP with remixes by Speaker of the House, French Horn Rebellion, Flid, Mystery Skulls, and Salda. You can now buy the EP on iTunes here. Plus, we got exclusive details about more new music in 2015. The multi-talented singer, songwriter, painter and director has an ever evolving sound, and her videos follow suit. Shaw explains how she handled the "Brooklyn Girls" backlash, coming out and playing in Montreal strip clubs.

Inked: 2014 was the breakout year for you and your music. Do you think that is because of "Brooklyn Girls"?

Catey: We had a bit of buzz within the industry, but "Brooklyn Girls" took it outside of that and introduced my music to the public. The whole year was really a great turning point and introduction into what we’re doing. It set us up to do what we want and keep pushing forward. It was so exciting.

How did you handle the "Brooklyn Girls" negative feedback?

When it was happening, it was very different than the way I feel about it now. It felt like I was being bullied by the entire internet at once and I took it really personally. Now that time has passed, I really understand that the Brooklyn community is mostly who backlashed, but the song wasn’t written for them, it’s written for people that have never been to Brooklyn and for people who dream about it. People like me, who, ya know, left Virginia with no money in her pocket and followed her dreams. People like my little sister and I who’d wear weird shit to high school and people made fun of you but you felt fabulous. I wanted to reach out to people like that and let them know that it’s way cooler to be the weirdo than it is to blend in. People in Brooklyn don’t really need that, necessarily, because they’re already cool and hip and march to the beat of their own drum. It’s not really for Brooklyn.

Why do you think the Brooklynites had such a problem with the song?

People were saying that I am not from Brooklyn therefore I’m not able to sing about it. But coming from somewhere else and having to make a pilgrimage to get to this place—I wasn’t born here, I had to work really hard to get here—gives me a lot to compare it to. I think that that makes my opinion pretty valid.

I know "Brooklyn Girls" wasn’t the first song you wrote. When did your songwriting take off?

I’d written one song, "Clouds", and the first day in the studio Jay Levine and I reworked that and tried figuring out who I am as an artist. We’ve written hundreds of songs together, probably ten of every one hundred is good and then two out of those ten are awesome; you’re lucky if you get one that is incredible. I’d never been in a studio before; the studio that he took me to wasn’t the craziest, most fancy studio, but when I went there I felt like I was in a movie! I took pictures of everything; it was amazing.

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You have a very unique sound that sets you apart from other artists. Do you consider yourself a pop singer?

I think pop music is like the math of genres, whereas it is the same in every country. A good pop song, anyone can understand. But on that token, we want to make changes—rather put our own spin on it for people that are “scared” or consider it a guilty pleasure to listen to pop. I’ve always worked through self-portraiture and paintings. When I was in art school, the paintings that I made weren’t abstract or super expressionist, they were very much narrative, which is totally out of style for art right now. I approach art in a way that is specific to me and tells my story, but still relatable to others. I’m not hiding behind layers of metaphor. I think it’s much more challenging to work through that and not just say words that sound good together. There’s room for people to find deeper meaning but I don’t want someone to sit there and decode my music. I want them to feel it immediately.

How does it feel to be a part of the music industry?

It’s crazy. I’ve been watching behind the scenes for two years now, finally becoming a part of it definitely feels weird. I struggle with the narcissism of it because I’m always concerned that I’m acting some type of way that people will perceive as something else. I don’t want to think of myself to be bigger than I am, but I also don’t want to downplay my accomplishments, so I get caught in this weird space sometimes. But by focusing on what’s happening in the music business and on new releases and the trajectory that artists take through their social media, I’m really learning that today, there’s no right way to do it. There’s no formula anymore. We can’t base it off of what other people are doing – nobody has the answers right now. It’s a really scary and exciting time, I think, in the industry.

Spotify is certainly a special outlet for new artists.

Spotify is becoming one of my favorite tools. People can pick and save a specific song or click on my artist profile and learn about me and what I listen to. Subscribers instantly get my music anytime I release something. It has music discovery, sharing and the utilitarian thing so people can listen really easily. It’s a really great opportunity for me to share my music.

A lot of people attacked the visual aspects of the "Brooklyn Girls" video, but then you released "Human Contact" with a totally different look. What did you do differently?

Once we saw how "Brooklyn Girls" worked for us, we immediately knew that we had to put out another music video while people still remembered my name. We released "Human Contact" almost exactly a month later. We wanted to go with that strategy of always putting music out with a visual. I have no problem with the way that the ["Brooklyn Girls"] video was done, but it was directed by someone that I didn’t know personally and he didn’t understand how I wanted to be perceived. After that, I took a vow to myself not to let anyone else describe me. Only I can do that. I now only release videos that I partially direct. Part of it is paranoia and part of it is being a control freak; it was a bit of a defense mechanism, too. I didn’t make the ["Brooklyn Girls"] video; it’s not my art to defend. If someone says some shit about "Human Contact", I can say ‘I directed it and I worked on it for over a month and a half.’ I can defend it all day until the cows come home. That’s really important to me.

Tell me about the video for "Night Go Slow".

There is actually a part two to "Night Go Slow" in the making. The songs themselves are connected by the videos. We actually wrote part two when we went to shoot "Night Go Slow." We figured ["Night Go Slow"] was the perfect opportunity to introduce the characters.

What’s the message that you’re sharing in these videos?

There are two characters, Dylan and Jenny, and it’s a love story that turns into something else. Both videos are about the roles we play in relationships and the expectations that we have for each other. How every relationship is valid and whether it works out or not, puts things in place for the next to happen.

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What about your own love life? Are you seeing anyone?

Oh yeah, I’ve been living with my girlfriend for two years in Brooklyn.

And she inspires your songwriting?

It’s always a different day, a different story. Jay and I know each other pretty well, so whatever is going on in our lives, we try to put ourselves in the other's shoes. When I write love songs, obviously I’m thinking about my love, but I still find ways to write about heartbreak. It’s a no-light-without-the-dark kind of thing. It’s important to write about heartache even if my life is happy right now.

Do you think that the "Night Go Slow" video portrays the difficulties that you faced or that others face in coming out?

There are aspects of it, I think, that we show. The point of the video wasn’t as much to be, um (she takes a deep breath). What I was saying before about the roles that we create for each other, and the way that someone’s sexuality can become their identity – I don’t think that’s a good thing. I don’t like that. My identity is my personality and my intelligence and my talents and my strengths and not who I prefer to sleep with.

Do you ever get overwhelmed by your career and think, I can’t do this?

All the time. That’s the life of an artist. I’m always thinking, I’ve been working on this for months, what if nobody cares? I spent my entire savings on this, what if nobody cares! That is a risk we take all the time, and I’m constantly combating this fear, whether I’m in the studio or on stage. The adrenaline from fear and excitement is the industry drug.

You’re a painter as well; did you design your tattoos?

I drew my cowboy boot, the key to my dad’s house in Virginia and the birds. The Egon Schiele paintings on my arm are somewhat outline based, so I brought them to different artists to reinterpret. I’m definitely looking forward to having all of them reworked by one person so they can be re-unified.

How many tattoos do you have?

Six, six and a half? I got my first tattoo right before I moved to New York, the three little birds. I have three siblings and there was always a special song for my family when we would go camping; we’d have the little Bob Marley cassette tapes playing as soon as we hit the dirt road. [The tattoo] had to be related to family so my dad wouldn’t be as mad that I got one.

Ah, a lot of parents’ first words.

(Laughs) I got most of them within the same year-and-a-half. I still have so much work to do on my arm but now that I’m older and realize that good tattoos are not cheap, I am waiting until I can throw a couple grand into it.

What is next music wise? Do you plan to release a second album in 2015?

We have some writing that we want to release. Whether it’s an EP or an album is going to depend on how the music works together. Once we get this last chunk of writing done, we can step back and look at everything and see what fits. I am definitely going to release something in 2015 but it’s still a bit of a mystery.

What is your favorite way to perform?

I’m most accustomed to small, New York venues. Anytime I see the people moving and dancing – I played one arena show with Bridget Mendler and no one knew the music and it was a younger crowd so people were seated – it was strange. One of my favorite shows that I’ve ever played was in a tiny, what used to be a strip club, in Montreal. There were 25 people at the show tops but I’ve never seen a crowd dance so much and be so into it. I’ll stick with that opposed to a show where hundreds of people are standing still. I really care about people singing my lyrics back to me; I think everyone does. That’s the number one dream, feeling that connection with the audience.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t pursuing music?

This is going to sound a little hippy-ish, but I don’t really think that there is a reality where I wouldn’t have ended up doing what I’m doing now. I’ve never been so whole and free to express myself and I feel like I have the tools to do so. I don’t want to come off sounding obsessed with myself, but I think it is very important for me to carve out a space that is my own. I don’t want to be the new someone else, I want to be the first Catey Shaw.

Check out Catey Shaw'snew “Human Contact” Remix EP with remixes by Speaker of the House, French Horn Rebellion, Flid, Mystery Skulls, and Salda. You can now buy the EP on iTunes here.

You can also see Catey on tour with Madi Diazon the following dates:
4/20 Boston, MA /Middle East Upstairs / Buy Tickets
4/21 Brooklyn, NY / Rough Trade / Buy Tickets
4/24 Philadelphia, PA / North Star Bar / Buy Tickets