- 04 Feb 20
Kitt Philippa's album Human was one of 2019's more inspiring records. But is the world ready for the rising young Northern Irish star? 2020 will reveal all.
Kitt Philippa is kicking back in the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast when Hot Press gets a chance to chat with them. The singer-songwriter is in relaxed mood, which seems to belie the fact that their debut album has been wowing all and sundry since its release back in October.
Human is a masterful work of pop, trip-hop and experimental electronica. Its 12 songs are gentle, thoughtful compositions, soaked in understated, abstract lyricism, which combine to create something undeniably powerful. It’s as confident a debut album as could be imagined.
“The reaction to it has really been great,” Kitt nods. “It’s just nice that whenever you release something, people do listen. They want to talk about it and engage with it.”
Much like their music, Kitt is thoughtful in conversation. They have all the time in the world to talk, but their answers to my questions often require long passages of silence, or interesting digressions, while the artist searches for the right words to make the right point.
But it’s worth the wait. Kitt has a lot to say about human nature and the world around them, even if it’s through oblique methods. When did work first start on Human?
“Certainly a few years in terms of the writing,” says Kitt. “Then the recording and the mixing, all of that can take quite a while, if you’re layering a lot of the sounds. It’s not the same as a band going into the studio and laying down all of the tracks with their individual instruments. I was playing vocals on it and laying down harmonies and piano, and clarinet, as well as just various electronic sounds. For the production, I had a rough idea of what I wanted anyway, because it’s part of my writing and post-writing process. I do try to get a feel for the type of the production I want to pursue. So all of those different elements – it definitely takes time. Then the mixing process, I obviously recorded it with Matt Juke. It’s quite precise, put it that way.”
Would Kitt labour over every little detail?
“I’m understanding more and more about control and perfection,” they consider. “But the reality is that you have to let go. Maybe ironically – you have to leave some aspect of humanness to it. It is what it is. For me, as long as I have done my absolute best, I have to just stop. When it comes to control, it’s not that I have to have it. It’s more that, for me, the sounds need to be accounted for. So if there’s something that I’m not sure about, I like to bring it up. Because it’s just important, even if my call won’t be the final one and Matt can talk me through it. Then I can say, ‘OK, there’s been a lot of thought behind this decision.’ You do have to let go of things a lot of the time and focus on the shared values, which, at the end of the day, is the song. So I think trust is a process.”
Kitt was the unexpected, but entirely deserving, recipient of the NI Music Prize’s Song of the Year in late 2018, for the single ‘Human’. It was a massive moment, especially considering that the shortlist was put to the public to vote.
“It really means a lot,” they say. “It still does. And the fact that it was by public vote is also very touching, because… You know I ‘do music’, it’s what I love doing. But that ability to share music is a different thing. It’s strangely vulnerable, but it’s a privilege too. So people’s support and encouragement – even people coming to the shows – I don’t ever take it for granted.”
‘Human’ is a call to arms for compassion. Lyrics like “Humanity is all we need / Unite, people, less of the hate” might sound trite or preachy in someone else’s hand, yet Kitt distills them with a hard-fought earnestness. How do they take something as big as humanity and condense it into a melody or an arrangement?
“I would hold up my hands, and say that it’s almost impossible to accurately and unanimously depict that, in either one track or an album. In terms of the track itself, I suppose there’s an acknowledgement that we are individuals, and we have our own experiences and thought-processes. But there comes this point where it’s taking a moment just to try and imagine things from someone else’s perspective. And to reinforce that idea of gentleness and kindness.
“A lot of the hurt that can happen in the world, I sometimes wonder are people unaware of it? Maybe I like to think that, rather than believing it’s deliberate. It can just be really hard to work that one out. It’s open, but I think I find a certain element of humility and relief in that, because I can’t be a complete spokesperson. I make thoughtful art, hopefully, but I can only do my best.”
Kitt admits that making that art involves a large degree of introspection, which can result in a certain level of reclusiveness.
“I am probably an introvert,” they admit. “Certainly, I would need to recharge alone. But at the same time, it depends what mood I’m in as well. Because if I’m alone and my thoughts are in a particular way, that’s not conducive to rest either. (Laughs) I actually find it really fascinating how different people rest, or what they see as rest. Rest to somebody might be something that’s not to somebody else. It’s interesting. I do spend a lot of time on my own. And I do know that’s not wise really to have too much. So it’s about getting that balance right. Most of the time, I get the balance okay. I think a lot of artists can be quite introspective.”
Part of this means that, while Kitt is attuned to the social and political upheavals in the world at the moment, they try to write about them from a deeper level.
“I remember a period of time where I couldn’t watch the news, because I just couldn’t take anymore really. That can put quite a strain on people. It sounds awful, but it can sometimes feel extremely overwhelming, when you’re presented with a reel of problems, globally, a lot of which you can’t necessarily do anything about. It just depends on your personal circumstances and what’s going on in your life. It’s really hard. I don’t like not hearing the news and closing myself off, but at the same time, if you’ve no more energy to give, it’s sometimes just too much.”
Perhaps on a similar note, Kitt Philippa may identify as non-binary, but when asked about it, they consider the question before answering that it’s a deeper journey they’re on at the moment.
“I still would rather not… I, like most people, would just like to be comfortable, really. That’s it. I suppose I’m still on that journey. So I just find it easier to not really talk about it, if I’m being honest with you.”
One of the biggest gigs Kitt has played to date was at Ward Park last summer, where they supported Snow Patrol at their massive outdoor homecoming gig. What did it mean to be involved?
“Snow Patrol are incredible and just so supportive of Northern Irish musicians,” enthuses Kitt. “They don’t have to be, but they are, which is just really lovely. With the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and Ash there, it was really special. I was on after Ash, and it was a little bit surreal for me to be getting all the gear in place as Ash played. But it was amazing to be involved.”
Human is out now via Paragon Records.
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