Katie O’Malley told David Hennessy about her new single, finding her voice and the time she was busking on the streets of Dublin.
Singer- songwriter Katie O’Malley gets described as everything from blues and rock to folk, country or Americana.
This reflects the journey she has been on to find her voice. Classically trained as a young teenager, Katie would go on to study musical theatre and ask why she could not sing theatrically like some of those around her.
It was her father who told her that she has a blues voice, more unique than any of those she was comparing herself to.
Having released her Dirt On My Knees EP earlier this year, Katie has just released the single, Wasted.
Although it sounds upbeat, it’s subject matter is not but this is typical for Katie.
Katie told The Irish World: “I don’t write about very happy subjects.
“The song’s about feeling a bit wasted in a relationship and you want to leave but you’re not really sure how to.”
Why does Katie not write happy songs? Is songwriting a kind of therapy for her? “I think so, it’s very cathartic for me.
“It’s definitely like therapy for me.
“I can’t write a song when I’m happy. I don’t know what to write about.
“You just get everything out on onto a piece of paper.”
Born in Rochdale, Katie is well known on the Manchester circuit.
In 2017, Katie released her EP Dawn Chorus.
She is excited now to be working on an album to come out next year.
Did she grow up in a very musical house? “Oh no, it wasn’t at all.
“My dad can’t play. He loves music but he can’t play a note, he can’t sing a note.
“My mum took me to dance classes when I was really little.
“I didn’t start singing until I was a teenager.
“I didn’t even think I could sing.
“I really was into drama and performing and I went for the high school musical.
“They were doing Little Shop of Horrors and I really, really wanted to play the part.
“I was like, ‘I can’t sing’.
“But I auditioned and I sang, and then they were like, ‘You’ve got the main part’.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, now I have to sing in front of the whole school even though I can’t’.
“So I got these singing lessons.
“I was like, ‘I don’t really think I can sing’.
“I always say this, singing is like 60% confidence or even 70% confidence and the rest of it is just talent/ technique.
“I was too nervous.
“I went to get these singing lessons.
“I sang in this falsetto voice that she taught me to sing in and it wasn’t really my voice.
“After that, I got a bit more confident and I went back to singing in my voice.
“When I went to college, and I studied musical theatre, I used to look around at other people and I used to think, ‘Why can’t I sing like they sing?’
“Because they were all very, very theatrical voices and my dad used to say, ‘You’ve got a blues voice, Katie. You sing differently because you’ve got this blues voice’.
“I used to get upset because I was like, ‘Why do I sound so different? I want to sound like everyone else’.
“But now I realise it’s the best thing I’ve got because it’s unique to me.
“It’s what I have and I’m really glad I have this voice now.”
We wonder if Katie has ever been tempted by talent shows like The X Factor and The Voice and she actually has got as far as the audition stage before getting cold feet.
“I did get asked to go on it but I never wanted to go on something like that because I had started writing and I was always very true to how I was writing.
“If I wanted to be a pop star, and then yeah, I would go on something like that.
“Because of the style of music I wanted to do, I just didn’t think it would be any good for me.
“I did actually audition for The Voice with a guy called Jimmy Docherty.
“He used to put on an open mic night at Waxy O’Connor’s in Manchester and I used to go to that and we got really friendly.
“We did some gigs together, I really got on with him.
“He said, ‘I’m going into the Voice but I would really like you to come on with me’.
“So I agreed to do it and we went and got through the first initial stages.
“Then they asked us to go down to London.
“And then I got cold feet and didn’t really want to go down. And he also changed his mind.
“Because they make it more about the story than about the music.
“He had been adopted and they were asking him all these questions about him being adopted and it was just not sitting right so we decided to leave it.
“At the end of the day, they’re entertainment shows, and not necessarily music shows.
“It just wasn’t for me.”
You get called country, you get called blues/rock, how do you describe your sound? “I just describe it as Americana.
“It’s such a mix of everything.
“Some songs are a bit folkier, some songs like Wasted are really bluesy, but then there are other songs that are a bit more rocky and I try to mesh all my influences and inspirations into one sound and it just comes out a little bit different each time.”
Katie recently supported the Nashville singer Jill Andrews on her UK tour.
“That was really cool getting to do that with her.
“She’s really, really such a nice person and it was her first time over here in the UK, which I was like really shocked at.
“I love her music and I said this to her when I met her. I was like, ‘How do you describe your sound?’
“And she said, ‘indie folk’.
“She asked me what I thought and I was like, ‘Well, I would say dark Americana’ because it’s not country country.
“I feel like a lot of the time now when you say country, people think of this commercial sounding country, whereas she’s more like a rootsy kind of country.
“I want to be in that same rootsy kind of category where it’s a bit more down to earth and not too overly produced.
“It is laid back but it’s very emotional at the same time.”
It should come as no surprise that a singer- songwriter with the surname O’Malley has Irish blood.
“I’ve got it on both sides actually.
“The name comes from my dad but then my mum’s dad, my other granddad, was Irish as well. He was from Malahide.”
Dubliners and The Pogues were early inspirations for Katie.
“I love The Cranberries as well.
“One of the first ever songs I learned on guitar was Zombie and I still play it now and again.
“I went over to Dublin, I wasn’t intending to play and I bumped into this busker guy, was just watching.
“He was so nice and I mentioned that I play and he went, ‘Oh, get up and play some songs’.
“So I just started busking in the street as well.
“He was like, ‘Yeah, just sit and play my guitar’.
“It was really nice he let me do that because I could have chucked his guitar on the floor or something.
“Then he was like, ‘I’ll take you to this place’.
“He took us to this pub where it was all acoustic, and we went around in a circle playing.
“It was absolutely hammered.
“You couldn’t move in there.
“It was really good.
“That’s a different experience for us because in Manchester we don’t ever get nights like that, it turned into a total adventure that night.”
Katie has also been busking in Germany and Belgium.
“It was 2019.
“I went busking around Germany and did a few little gigs in like the small pubs there and it was really good.
“Yeah, I loved it and I was really nervous about doing it because everyone says Germans can be really standoffish.
“And they were so nice. They were so friendly.
“I nearly cried one time when guy came up to me and he was like, ‘Oh, this is your tips for the night’.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s too much money’.
“I was so overwhelmed.
“I had one bad experience.
“I set up and started singing and this girl came up to me, ‘Can I sing?’
“Normally I wouldn’t mind but I think she was a bit drunk.
“She was trying to take the mic off my mic stand and I was like, ‘No, go away, please go away’.
“So you can have bad experiences as well.
“My boyfriend was with me and I was looking at him like, ‘Please move her away’.
“But mostly, it’s been really good.”
Katie played this year’s Buckle & Boots country festival in Manchester.
The festival is run by Manchester- based Tyrone country singer Gary Quinn, someone we have featured in The Irish World.
“That one was really good.
“I’ve known Gary for a few years.
“I know a lot of the other acts, you all tend to bump into each other on the scene and stuff, so that was really nice that they asked me to play that.
“And we got to play the mainstage which is really cool.
“Everyone’s proper into it there. They come with their cowboy hats and they’re there for the day.
“They’re proper into it, they’re proper fans that come to that festival.”
Of the growing country/Americana scene in the UK that boasts names like Jade Helliwell and Kezia Gill, Katie says: “It’s a good scene to be part of.
“It’s a very supportive.
“Everyone supports each other.”
Katie joined Sophie Ellis Bextor, Levellers, Deacon Blue, The Undertones and Peter Hook for this year’s Wychwood Festival.
“That was a really good festival and it almost didn’t happen because we set off with plenty of time, but we still managed to be late somehow.
“We got there and we had half an hour to park, get all our gear across and get on stage.
“It was all a bit of a mad rush.
“So I got on stage and I looked at everyone and I went, ‘Oh my God, just breathe before we play, just breathe’.
“And then we played and it was great.”
How worried were you about missing it? “I was pretty worried. We were okay and then Richard took this wrong turn.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, we haven’t got that long until we have to be on stage’.
“But it wasn’t his fault. We had never been there and you know how festivals can be when you get to a place.
“You’re like, ‘Where am I going? How do I get in here? I can see the tent but like I don’t know how to get to it’.
The single Wasted is out now.
For more information, click here.