The American singer’s exponential rise as an indie artist has been second to none
When we get on a Zoom call with American singer-songwriter Leah Kate, it’s 8 am where she’s at and the musician is already three hours into her day and on her way to a shoot in the Los Angeles desert. “I’m such a morning person,” she says. Kate adds, “I feel like musicians like to start at one or two [in the afternoon], but I’m kind of the opposite and would rather get everything done before 4 pm.”
That drive is one of the key factors that’s seen Kate land on every possible pop playlist on streaming platforms, not to mention the virality of her hit track “Fuck Up the Friendship” on social media outlet TikTok. When we caught up with the singer-songwriter earlier this year, she had just released her club banger “Boyfriend” and now she’s out with her follow-up in the shape of the saccharine and groovy “Boy Next Door.”
In this interview, Kate talks to us about her new song, working on her next record, partnering with Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, Indian listeners and more.
It’s been a couple of months since “Boyfriend” came out, what have you been up to since then?
I’m just really working on new music and prepping for live shows. Working on an album and an EP, so just been grinding. Just really focusing on music and it’s been super fun. I have some really cool songs in the bag.
When did you pen your new song “Boy Next Door”? Lyrically, it’s quite self-explainatory but what went into putting it together?
With the production, we wrote it over, like, nothing. Just me and my friends and like a synth. It sounded horrible in the beginning, but it was kind of just my favorite song I’ve ever done. It’s written based off of a true story. There was a time where I did love someone who lived next door to me, and I dramatize the story a bunch, obviously. But I wanted a super cool funky song that made you feel kind of sexy and go after who you like.
The production took a bit to get right. I wanted it to be just kind of dark disco, funky and really hard sounding. We had probably 30 versions until we got to this. But when my producer [Australia-based Louis Schoorl] sent me this version, I literally sent him a voice note screaming. it’s just so on point. The production so perfectly matches the lyrics and feel of the song, which was really difficult to nail because theoretically, it’s really kind of crazy and out there and I just needed the production to match it.
I caught the video you released too. How was your experience putting the video for this one together and also tell me about how important a visual representation is to you as an artist?
Visual, if anything is just as important as the music because I make music to tell a story and evoke an emotion and a feeling. I put just as much effort into the visuals, because each song is like a little movie and a story I’m telling, and I feel I’m making a movie almost. It’s three minutes, but the vibe and the aesthetic and the visuals are so important to me.
So, for this visual, it was kind of literal. I wanted to be doing what I would do to get the boy next door’s attention. That was like washing a car, me alone in my room fantasizing. The production has a very funky, kind of Nineties disco feel. So, I shot it on film and a camcorder and just got a bright yellow sponge to add color into it and borrowed my neighbor’s car and just got some friends together and shot it. My production is super kind of do-it-yourself. I don’t hire a crew and shoot a proper music video just because I like doing it with my creative squad, which are literally all my friends. We kind of just go into it and shoot and play the song and just feel it and vibe out.
Rolling back the years, we’ve talked before about how you grew up in a household that worked in radio, I also found out there’s a song you wrote as a 10-year-old with your brother called “When The Party’s Over.” How crucial do you think those early years were for you to be honing your skills to becoming the songwriter you are now?
So important. I grew up in a very creative environment. My brother played a huge role because he started playing every single instrument and practicing and playing drums and I actually contribute doing music to him because he was doing it first. He built this little studio and got GarageBand. I always loved to sing, but I didn’t actually think I’d pursue it as a full-time career. It was just a dream that felt unreachable almost. And I was like, one day I’ll figure it out when I’m older. My brother started dabbling in music and production and instruments and then I would just be like, ‘This is kind of fun.’ And one day, we just got in the studio and I just started freestyling. Even though ‘When The Party’s Over’ wasn’t good at the time, it was a song we did together. From there, I think we just started working all the time as young kids. So that played a huge, massive part and reason why I do what I do today.
My family being in radio also definitely played a part. I was just around so many different genres and styles of music. And I would go co-host radio shows with my dad. Just being around it obviously played a huge role. I don’t know If I would have ever done it if I wasn’t, especially living with my brother who helped make beats and write together. So, definitely played a massive role in everything I do today. So grateful for my family.
I know you’ve grown up in L.A. and shuffled between L.A. and New York. Where do you feel most comfortable working out of and how does each city inspire you as a musician?
I grew up in L.A. and I felt I really needed to leave. I hadn’t released any music. I just felt like I needed to start over and just go do my own thing. I was definitely afraid of what people thought years ago, and I was so scared to release anything. So I moved to New York for a few years. Half of my songs take inspiration from the time that I lived there. New York is a crazy place to live. There’s so much culture and learning and growing and messing up and losing your mind that takes place in that city. I feel I had to move to New York to ruin my life for a hot second. And then pick up the pieces and start over again. I lived there for a few years and I live back in L.A. now. It was a crazy fun few years. I was focused, but I was also wild at the same time. I did a lot of like growing up, really growing into an adult there. I felt like I lived a whole life, and it was the best time probably of my life, I loved it so much and I miss it. But I think L.A. is better for me now. L.A. is more comfortable and it’s home and my family’s here. When I go to New York, I just feel like every step I take there’s a new song idea. There’s just so much happening that I’m flooded with inspiration, partially because of the lifestyle. So I get different kinds of inspiration based on where I am.
You’ve mentioned that according to your artist stats you have tons of listeners here in India. How does that feel to know people on the other side of the world are streaming your music?
I do, it’s in my top 15. I have a good amount of listeners coming out of there, which is so interesting. I’m so grateful for that and all of my Indian fans, and I want to continue to come toward there. I mean, that would be my ultimate dream. I’m dying to go to India. I’ve never been, so when the world opens soon, I can make my way over there. It sounds incredible and I would love to perform there and meet all my people that are streaming, because I know they’re out there somewhere, according to my stats.
With you being an independent artist, I wanted to ask you a bit about Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of Reddit) and how he’s helped invest in your music and how you guys work together?
It’s been such an incredible partnership. I just signed a really big, exciting deal with them where we’re partnering on my next EP. He’s an investor, so he provides proper resources I need to basically run my own record label. I’m doing everything a record label would do, but it’s just run by me and my team. And it’s cool, because I have the financial resources to market the areas I want to market and do what I need to do, but I’m still independent. And then he offers so much great strategy all the time. He comes from a tech background so he has so much great insight and people to connect me to and amazing strategy that you wouldn’t get just from being in an only music world. He’s very knowledgeable about the music industry, but then also has so much more to offer. Because he founded Reddit, he invests in so many other cool companies that he connects me with that help boost my career in other ways. It’s great having someone that I can work strategy [with]. He is super innovative and iconic, and I love what we have, I would do this forever. I don’t feel like there’s a need for me right now to sign to a record label. So I’m super grateful to have him on board. He discovered me through indify, a tech platform that connects partners with artists that’s all data driven. I love the Indify guys (Shav and Connor) it’s been a wild ride with them. When Alexis and I started to work together ‘Fuck Up the Friendship’ was at 500,000 streams. Now it’s at 30 million. Going to take over the world together.
What’s next on your agenda? You talked about an EP or album coming out, when will we be able to hear that material?
It’s something I’m working on right now. I would say hopefully by the summer or fall, you’ll have something but there’s going to be tons of singles in the meantime that are super fun and different. Conceptually the songs are super cool and I’m so excited about lyrically where the songs are going. I just feel like I’m super excited about it all and it’s coming really soon.
Watch the video for “Boy Next Door” below and click here to stream the song on other platforms.
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