Kate NV: "I have no problem listening to Stockhausen followed by Christina Aguilera. Being snobbish closes doors"

kate nv
(Image credit: Jenia Filatova)

Kate Shilonosova emerged from the Russian indie music scene with the rock band Glintshake in 2012. 

However, as the solo artist Kate NV, her production style is unmistakably unique – as demonstrated on her goofy but enchanting debut album Binasu (2016) where Shilonosova mined her childhood to revisit the influence of ’80s Japanese pop, obscure children’s films and anime. 

Further albums such as Room For The Moon offered renewed insight into Shilonosova’s unconventional approach to production. Playfully coalescing found sounds, chopped-up acoustic instruments and vocal samples, her forthcoming album Wow invites the listener to re-evaluate their perception of modern electronic pop once more.

You started as a vocalist/guitarist in the band Glintshake and are still in that band. Do you see it as a vehicle for your political views, whereas Kate NV is more abstract?

“For people who don’t make music, it’s easier to believe that the motives for making rock music are political but I believe that everything is political even for a person who makes ambient music. It’s really about self-reflection and your reaction to the context that surrounds you. 

“Glintshake is a band with four people with very different characters and the way we communicate and make music is different to how I make my own, but it doesn’t mean that I’m out of touch with reality. Take, for example, the painter Barnett Newman who was trying to figure out how to exist and create art after WW2. He made the painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, but there are no strokes so you can’t even tell if it was painted by a brush. That was his way to elaborate his reality and everybody’s approach is different.”

You’ve mentioned the word ‘fairytale’ in relation to your own music. Is that to do with wanting to return to the safety and innocence of childhood?

“Yes, for sure. I can’t make music when I’m stressed out or experiencing high levels of anxiety. I have to live through what is happening to me and try to turn it into music, which means finding a way for my thoughts to perceive reality and communicate them in an ironic or absurd way. 

“Glintshake’s music is very sarcastic, but Kate NV is very self-reflective and intimate. On the previous record, Room For The Moon, I was feeling really lonely and felt I had no friends at all. It was my way of sending a message to the world and trying to find some friends, although that may sound very selfish.”

When you say lonely, was that due to the pandemic?

“No, because all of my recent releases were finished before the pandemic and even now I have a lot of tracks that I’d love to finish to create a new pop record but can’t because most of the time I feel horrible and very lost. Everything is so unpredictable that I cannot plan ahead because I am not grounded and almost all of my friends left my country.”

kate nv

(Image credit: Jenia Filatova)

Glintshake is a punk band but Kate NV is very electronic. When did you switch to create this more electronic style?

“It’s interesting that you think Kate NV is electronic music. People call it electronic because I use synthesisers I guess, but lots of bands who are just named ‘pop’ use synths alongside lots of guitars, bass and drums. 

I have no problem listening to Stockhausen followed by Christina Aguilera. Being snobbish about stuff closes a lot of doors

“On Room For The Moon, although the drums are not real, the bass was played by my friend and so were the guitar, saxophone and marimba. I always wanted to be in a band like Tears for Fears playing everything completely live – I just happen to be doing everything alone, but I did manage to perform the record with a band of eight people without any playback a few times. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I do like electronic music a lot. My weird ADHD brain is very hectic and chaotic and I’m really interested in listening to lots of stuff simultaneously. On the way back to the hotel today I was listening to LFO, Aphex Twin and Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You. They go very well together, but for other people that probably sounds a bit crazy.”

Do you think people can be a little snobbish about
pop music?

“I have no problem listening to Stockhausen followed by Christina Aguilera. Being snobbish about stuff closes a lot of doors, yet being open to music is the key to being open-minded. People sometimes think it’s really hard to listen to contemporary classical or academic music, but the only preparation you need is to open your mind and heart and just let the music happen.” 

You also appear to be influenced by Japanese culture?

“My debut album Binasu was influenced a lot by Japanese music from the ’80s era and my latest album, Wow, is super-influenced by the early 2000s. Both albums and Room For The Moon represent different levels of the journey I’ve taken throughout my childhood. I grew up in the Republic of Tatarstan. I’m not Tatar – my roots come from Finland because my dad’s family are from the northern part of Russia, but traditional Tatar music is based on the pentatonic scale. 

“I studied that at music school so it had a great impact on me as a child, but my love of Japanese music also comes from the ’90s when Russia had a lot of freedom to explore all the toys and crazy cartoons that were imported from China and Japan. 

“When I was seven years old I saw Sailor Moon on the TV and was really inspired by that and we had a lot of pirate VHS tapes coming into Russia from the black market. My dad bought a VHS player when I was two and got a cassette tape with some anime on it – I’m still searching for that stuff!”

Your music sounds complex but at the same time very emotion-driven?

“I’m self-diagnosed with ADHD and I’m also quite emotional [laughs]. It’s really hard for me to read a book because I constantly lose my train of thought – I’ll either read one page over and over or if I’m hyper-fixated I can read a whole book in one evening. 

Music is my basic hyper-obsession. It’s hard for me to arrive at the moment where I sit down to make it, but once I’m there it’s very hard to stop

“Music is my basic hyper-obsession. It’s hard for me to arrive at the moment where I sit down to make it, but once I’m there it’s very hard to stop – I often forget to eat, drink or go to the bathroom. I’m very lucky to understand what my hyper-fixation is because it means that I don’t blame myself when I’m being lazy or procrastinating a lot.”

Your upcoming album, Wow, comes hot on the heels of your fourth album Bouquet earlier this year…

“Wow is a compilation of tracks, some of which are six years old. I don’t normally listen to my own music but had to because I’ve been remixing the tracks for mastering and it’s amazing to me that it still sounds fresh or that I have an emotional attachment to it. 

“My only concern about releasing it now is that the album is joyful but what I’m experiencing is not joyful at all. I was afraid that people would question how I could create this light-hearted and fun music right now, but life is very short and I just want it to be out there. Maybe it can help someone else to feel light, warm and happy again.”

kate nv

(Image credit: Jenia Filatova)

Would you say that you tend to create a library of sounds and use those as a template for each project, or is it more that you are constantly creating new sounds as you’re working?

“I wish I was constantly creating new sounds. I don’t like to let the music control me and I’m not trying to force something to happen so I never know whether the music I make is going to be a track or a song. I just do stuff, listen a lot and then dive into the project and try to figure out what the music is telling me. Sometimes it tells me this is definitely a track and I need to add a voice or sometimes I’ll just leave the music and return to it a couple of years later and finish it as a different person.”

So you’re basically always working on multiple tracks at any given time?

“It’s like I had two baskets, one of them is full of songs and another is full of tracks and I didn’t want to combine them into one record as I did with Binasu. An album is like a house where you put everything under one roof if it has the same vibe. For me, Room For The Moon was a song-based record and Wow is a tracks record where all the music has a similar vibe and is based on lots of samples.” 

Where do those samples come from?

“I thought it would be amazing to record acoustic instruments, so I recorded some marimba and that’s how the track Mi (We) was born. The original idea was to create more tracks like that but in the end I just let the music happen without trying to follow my original plan. 

Someone commented, why don’t I just hire a person to perform saxophone? But chopping up samples to create something weird is a fun game to me

“It’s definitely a very electronic-sounding record; some people have compared the track Early Bird to an 8-bit game soundtrack, but again there are plenty of recorded acoustic sounds like clarinet, saxophone, flute, violin, drums, piano and voices. It warms my heart that I recorded the tracks using samples but the sounds have a connection to real people as my friends played all those instruments.”

We also read that you use a sample pack called
Broken Orchestra?

“I’m a huge fan of the Broken Orchestra sample pack created by my friends from Found Sound Nation. I used it on the track Plans where I chopped up the solo sax part like crazy. I was so happy when I finished the solo because it sounded like a real human performing saxophone.

“Someone commented, why don’t I just hire a person to perform saxophone? But chopping up samples to create something weird is a fun game to me and making music is about having fun. It also adds randomness and improvising is always about randomness.”

Are you able to chop up samples and recreate sounds in a way that is intuitive or is it a very detailed process?

“I like to use fishing or making a bouquet as a metaphor for improvisation. When you go fishing, you go to the river, sit there and wait for the fish to come, but sometimes there are no fish. And sometimes you go to a field and there are no flowers. When you improvise to create a track, you combine all the sounds that you have and somehow try to make them work together.”

Does that mean embracing imperfections?

“Sometimes people will think the flowers are ugly but when you combine them with others to create a bouquet it just works. It’s funny because people think I’m a perfectionist, but if I was I’d probably never finish a track. I do love detail but I also love imperfection because it tells a story and adds character. 

I’m always jumping from one track to another. That way I never get bored or stuck, but I guess that’s to do with my ADHD

“Like any other producer, sometimes I’ll do some editing to clean up a sound but the most important thing is to be honest in the moment of creation. If your music reflects your mind and heart when you created it, then it’s sincere and beautiful even if it may sound weird to some people’s ears.”

In that moment of creation, is it important for you to work quickly?

“If there is a wall between myself and the creative process I might lose the vibe, so yes it’s very important to make music as fast as possible. I use Ableton Live because it’s very user-friendly and you can start recording as soon as you launch it. I’m often switching between synth patches, playing and recording and I’m constantly creating new projects. 

“I was once asked if I start to hate tracks that I’ve been working on for too long and my answer was no because I’m always jumping from one track to another. That way I never get bored or stuck, but I guess that’s to do with my ADHD.”

Do you therefore see mixing as a routine?

“The routine of mixing can be really boring but exciting at the same time. It reminds me of cleaning or tidying up a room – you have a lot of objects that you want to place somewhere so everything will look just how you like it.”

kate nv

(Image credit: Jenia Filatova)

Do you use hardware synths or physical samplers to create or play with sounds?

“Wow was recorded such a long time ago that I remember what I used but not how it was made. There was definitely a Prophet synth because I recorded one when I was in Red Bull Music Studios in New York. They also had a Sequential OB-6, which is a nice synthesiser with 1,000 patches and I went through all of them. 

“I also used one of my favourite synths, the Alpha Juno-2, which sounds amazing, and I definitely used a Novation Ultranova because it’s the first synth I ever bought and I’d just got it when I started some of the tracks. I didn’t use any drum machines or samplers because I already have a lot of drum machine samples on my laptop based on live recordings.”

A few tracks seem to incorporate a lot of broken-up vocal samples…

“The vocals on tracks Razmishlenie (Thinking), Slon (Elephant), Mi (We) and Oni (They) are a combination of my voice and my ex-boyfriend’s who happens to be a guitar player in the band Glintshake. I love that all these tracks have these voices because it means that they have a thread running through them. 

My favourite plugins are from Soundtoys: EchoBoy is one of the best plugins ever made

“If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll put a long audio file on a track in Ableton and chop it up, but if I want to do it properly I’ll chop the sounds into short syllables, export them as a separate file and assign them to my laptop keyboard – then I can use them in any way I like. My favourite plugins are from Soundtoys: EchoBoy is one of the best plugins ever made.”

Can you envision returning to the live stage and improvising with various physical objects?

“I had a plan to try to perform Wow live and wanted to practise doing some crazy, random high bpm stuff with a band, but as everyone has moved to different places I need to figure out how to perform alone. Of course, I want to improvise with random objects but I can’t carry a lot of heavy stuff with me. Maybe I can figure out how to improvise with objects I find in the places I travel to – that can also be fun!” 

Kate NV's Wow is scheduled for release on 3 March via RVNG Intl. 

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