“I risked everything for this album....” - hmv.com talks to Catherine McGrath
After the success of The Shires and Ward Thomas, it makes sense that the UK’s record labels would be working hard to bring the record buying public more of Britain’s own country acts. One of their discoveries makes her full-length debut this week in the shape of 21-year-old Northern Irishwoman Catherine McGrath.
McGrath’s discovery came about initially after she began putting country-tinged covers on YouTube, covers that led her to receive an invitation to come over to London to meet with potential management. That trip, back in 2016, ended up scoring her a record deal with Warner Brothers and the chance to write and record with some of country music’s biggest and best songwriters.
Among the credits on her debut album Talk Of This Town are Liz Rose, who helped Taylor Swift write hits like ‘You Belong With Me’, ‘Fearless’ and ‘Picture To Burn', Jimmy Robbins, whose hits include Jason Aldean’s Lights Go On’ and Tim McGraw’s ‘Top Of The World’, and country superstar Hunter Hayes, who duets with McGrath on a track titled 'Don’t Let Me Forget’.
As her debut album comes to shelves, we spoke to McGrath about her journey, the impact Nashville has had on her and her plans to take the album out live...
How did the experience of recording your debut album compare to the way you’d imagined it would be?
“I moved to London two and a half years ago and at that point, I was just coming to see what I could do with music, I had no expectations, I was just writing songs. So when it came to the point a few months ago when we decided to put an album out, we just went back through all the songs I’d written and picked the best ones.”
So it came together more by accident?
“I never thought I was writing an album, but I think that’s a good thing. Nothing was over thought, I wasn’t writing songs thinking about where they might go in the tracklisting, it’s more like a documentary of where my life has gone. It’s an honest book of memories for me and the first chapter of my story for everybody else.”
If you were collecting songs for all that time, did you end up with quite a few?
“So many. I think we had over 100 by the end. When it came to picking the ones to make the album, we did end up picking the same songs, but there were loads I was sad to say goodbye to. Maybe I’ll go back one day and have another go.”
Are they all quite recent in terms of when they were written?
“The last song on the album, ‘She’ll Never Love You’, I wrote that over two and a half years ago, not long after I moved to London. Then you’ve got ‘Dodge The Bullet’, that was written when the album was supposed to be done and the tracklisting was final. I like that range, I think people will really get to know me.”
You’ve got some big-name collaborators on the album, Jimmy Robbins, Liz Rose, how much of the impetus for that came from you and how much from your label and management?
“They would set up the sessions for me, but we were totally on the same wavelength. I remember the first time I went to Nashville, it was just supposed to be a holiday and my manager asked me if I would write when I was out there. They got me a writing session with this woman called Liz Rose and I freaked out, she’s one of my favourite songwriters of all time. My management didn’t know that though.”
That’s a nice coincidence…
“It was. Obviously, that didn’t happen every time, but I wrote with whoever I could. After a year or so I got familiar with the writers and decided who I worked best with. I wrote a lot with Steve Robson and Jimmy Robbins, you see a lot of the same names on the album, those were the writers that made me comfortable.”
What are those sessions like when you get started? Is it intimidating to start pouring your heart out with someone you’ve just met?
“It’s definitely intimidating and it’s just weird. An 18-year-old girl who has just moved to London going into a room with a 45-year-old man with a family and children and trying to find something in common to write about, you’d think it’d be tough, but that’s how it works. The first guy I ever wrote with was a guy called John Maguire, he wrote ‘She’ll Never Love You’ with me and he was a huge help. He showed me a lot, he introduced me to a lot of his friends who were songwriters and he came to all my early sessions to make sure I was comfortable.”
Did you get to enjoy the process?
“It became quite natural, which I never thought it would. It was very good for me, I met so many people and heard so many stories and points of views that I would never have otherwise. It was fun, but it’s definitely nerve-wracking to begin with.”
What was it like living and working in Nashville? For someone who loves country music, there can’t be anywhere better to be?
“In my head, I had these whole visions of what Nashville was. I knew where I was going to get food, I knew what pancakes I was going to get, what cocktail I’d order, I was worried I’d built it up too much in my head. But it’s a magical place, everybody was so nice, music comes pouring out of every single bar, it is this magical country music land. I’ve been back seven times and I love it. It feels like home, which is odd to say because I’ve only been for a week at a time, but that’s just how it feels. I love that part of my album is from Nashville.”
What kind of album is it in lyrical terms?
“It’s very honest. It’s my experience of being 18 to 21, figuring out love, getting your heart broken and all that comes with that. Moving to London and meeting people who don’t believe in you. It follows my story. I’ve learned a lot in the last three years, it’s a musical diary and I hope people can relate to it.”
When did you settle on the album title?
“I had the song about two years ago and the message behind that song is about doing what you want to do and ignoring the people who doubt you, believing in yourself and that being enough. Whenever it came to the title, that’s always what I came back to. I risked everything for this album, I left my life, I moved to London, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and as a title it fits perfectly.”
You’ve got a tour coming up for the album, you must be excited...
“I’m really excited. It’s going to be my first time playing so many of those songs and I can’t wait to get into rehearsals. It’s my first proper tour of the UK and I want to get to as many places as I can.”