Katie Pham & The Moonbathers
Sheffield wallflower Katie Pham makes for an excitedly calming presence…
The singer-songwriter plays luscious, resplendent jazz-tinged pop in the mould of Hiatus Kaiyote and with a hint of Warpaint alongside her band The Moonbathers. It makes for perfect listening in the scorching sun that bathes the Steel City on the evening we meet up.The two of us gather in the beer garden of London Road’s The Cremorne whilst herself and her two band mates, Jack Athey and Oliver Warrap, conduct a DJ set under the moniker of Blancmange Lounge.
I ask Katie for an interview without her two compadres as to make subsequent note transcriptions a bit easier, to which she is initially hesitant, saying that they are “there with me through everything”. However, after a few sips of beer, rolled up cigarettes, slices of pizza and off the cuff comments on the similarities between mayonnaise and salad cream, she becomes firmly at ease and proves a delightfully self-deprecating presence.The 24-year-old grew up on Pearl Street in Sharrow and has so far released two and a half EPs of transcendent majesty alongside the Moontbathers. But the origins of her journey towards musical shamanism can be traced back to wholly different places. “I started out playing the ukulele on my own at places like the Green Room in Sheffield when I was 15,” she says. “I turned out quite prolific in the scene. It was my first steps towards writing pop music and trying things out. I was comfortable having the platform.”A British-born daughter of refugees of the Vietnam War, she adds: “I would play all kinds of shit like Mystery Jets and The Cure and became adept at writing my own songs. It was very primitive.”
The eureka moment that proved the catalyst for Katie’s transition from ukulele covers to the expansive music she plays now came about after purchasing her guitar – a beautiful, green Wavelength Italia Emola, which she talks about with as much vigour as a memorable meal.“It’s my favourite thing,” she says. “It’s just gorgeous and gets me the exact sound I want. From when I first saw it I knew it was exactly what I wanted. I wanted to name it something aquatic but nothing stuck. Now I just call it Baby.”
The Sheffield shows always have caused me to get emotional because people really dig it and there’s always so much love flying around.
After meeting and striking up a solid bond with bassist Jack on the circuit in Sheffield and after much deliberation and patience, Katie finally found her drummer whilst working at the Riverside in Kelham Island; a time of her life she remembers with mixed emotions.“I worked there when it was chill and then it went shit. Before the new firm bought it I thought it was the best job I’d ever had. Then they came in and started erecting nonsense signs and changing everything. I haven’t been back since I left. At least one thing I can take is that I came across Oliver there. I was working one shift and saw him play and thought ‘This guy fucking gets it! I need him.’”
With the group’s lineup settled upon, the next step came with recording the music. The first output was a split EP with Fentonville Street Band and recorded with local troubadours Delicious Clam. “I absolutely love the Clam boys. They’re doing such a great job and they’re all such beautiful people.” The next two EPs, Parent’s Evening and Voyager, were recorded with Blancmange Lounge and were mixed by themselves.“I started off wanting to control everything and do everything myself but I’ve since found that it’s best to get other people involved”, she says. “The group’s all about finding other artists, like Rosie PM and Tom J Newell, and getting them involved”.
But Katie seems unsettled. She is ready for the group to expand their sound and take bigger and bolder influences. To do the trick, a new guitarist is now in the works. “It’s got hard to write songs because my standards have increased so much. Everyone seems to see us as a basic three-piece but I’ve got bigger ideas now. I really admire what we do but I feel limited by it.” “I listen to jazz and hip-hop orientated pop music and I want that to come through. We keep getting put on lineups with bands playing rock music and I worry that my influences aren’t coming through enough. I want to jump off that point I’m at now and start making something more from where I am.” She continued: “I’m looking forward to having a new guitarist to take the heat off. I will be playing less guitar, which is funny because that seems to be what defines us. We’ve been practicing and I’ve found it very liberating.”
When asked about Sheffield, speaks with her eyes alight about her time growing up and the current scene in the city.“I absolutely love this city. It’s such a friendly and generally great place to live. Ever since moving away I always get reminiscent of living here and being unemployed and living with my parents. In my opinion, Sheffield is really hot at the moment. There’s lots of super cool stuff going on at Plot 22 and Audacious and other places. The Sheffield shows always have caused me to get emotional because people really dig it and there’s always so much love flying around.”
A student of economics in Liverpool, Katie now works as a medical regulator in Manchester, fuelled by her commitment to the NHS. “I really appreciated the health economics side at uni and I grew up being in and out of hospital. Without the NHS I feel like nothing would be the same so in my own half-hearted way I try to give something back. It’s nothing that stressful but in the lamest way there’s a feeling that I’m doing my bit.”
After a tough year, which has seen Katie move house numerous times and go through a breakup with her girlfriend, it’s no surprise that Katie becomes pensive on the odd occasion during our chat. She says: “I’m glad to move out and I’m still in the middle of doing it now. It was my own decision though. I don’t know how I’d be without such a strong group of mates around me. It’s still raw. There’s not been a lot of time to write songs and get it all down. It hurts.”
Unfortunately I’m forced to leave quick-sharp for a game of football but upon my departure she becomes a lot more reflective on her achievements. “I’m happy with what we have achieved so far. It is the best thing that has happened for me. Finding musicians I can create with and be comfortable with.” Quick to revert the tone back to self-deprecation, she finished saying: “I just write about being a dick. It’s like a journal. I guess it’s nicer looking back at a song than a scribble in a book.”