STORY & PHOTOS: TOMI HINKKANEN
Finnish singer Katéa was introduced to the Hollywood music professionals at the annual Musexpo music convention held at the Roosevelt Hotel across TCL Chinese Theatre. She made a splash at a showcase, in which she performed five of her songs to music moguls. Finntimes met with the singer at Musexpo for an exclusive interview.
Katéa is escorted to the Rosevelt lobby by her manager Sami Peura. The experienced manager has been working toward this event for the past year and a half. There’s a badge that says ”artist” hanging on the singer’s chest.
Katéa’s real name is Katja Pihlainen. She was born in Vaasa, Finland 21 years ago. Since then she has lived in many places – Joensuu, Häneenlinna, Turku and nowadays she resides in Helsinki.
“I’ve always made music and sung since I was a child. I started writing music at nine. Since then, I have written and sung even more. This has been an interesting journey”, Katéa describes.
She studied jazz under Taina Lehto in Hämeenlinna and classical music in Montana, where she spent a year as an exchange student at 15 some six years ago. Other than that, she is self-taught.
How did you end up in Montana?
“I looked at brochures with people running with surfboards on the beach, but I found myself in Polson, Montana, living on an Indian reservation (Her host family however, were not indigenous people). It was a really interesting experience. American culture opened to me there in a new way. It was also interesting to go to the Polson High School with my peers. It helped my career and I learned English there.”
Her host family were the Mattsons. The wife as working in a bank and the husband owned a mechanic shop. Their children had already flown the coop but there was another exchange student, a Norwegian boy also staying with the family.
“My ‘host-brother’ was a year older than myself. It was nice to have another Scandinavian in the family. Together we were able to discuss the things that were strange to us. It helped the culture shock.”
Speaking of which:
“People are quite different in Finland and America. Here, people are really social. I had to practice small talk at the beginning, so that it would come naturally. That year taught me to be a lot more independent. I learned to appreciate many things from Finland, and started to see the country with different eyes.”
Polson High School was accommodating to her music.
“They had a serious work ethic. They allowed me to take singing lessons. I got a room at my disposal for an hour a day in which I was able to write and rehearse”, the singer reminisces.
A local school teacher taught her classical singing.
“He advised you should hang out with more talented people than yourself. If you play with musicians, make sure they are better than yourself. It has been a good piece of advice, which could be recommended for everyone.”
Although not a classical musician, she admires the genre.
“I admire the discipline and perfection. It cannot be done half-baked. I also like the work ethic. I like classical music, even though I would not do it myself for a living. I could practice it more. Classical training has taught me about voice and vocalization in many different ways.”
After returning to Finland, Katéa enrolled in Juhana Herttua’s Performing Arts School in Turku.
“I composed a lot of music there. I got acquainted with musician and mixer Timo Haanpää, who owns a studio in Turku. We started collaborating, performing cover songs to gain experience in performing.”
Together they played at local clubs and rehearsed in a studio built in a bomb shelter.
“I started to bring my own songs to the studio. We discussed them and began to produce them together. Timo taught me about producing and technology. I spent a lot of time in there. I learned how to use a microphone, and what happens in the mixing process. I am a perfectionist and want to understand the whole palette. It was a fruitful time for me as a musician.”
At 18 Katéa moved to The Netherlands for six months.
“I worked, composed and got to know some rappers in Rotterdam.”
She plays the piano and the guitar ‘sufficiently’, as she puts it in her own words. Her work method in the beginning was quite unusual.
“The text is terribly important to me. So, I wrote the lyrics first and then started to think about what kind of world it is musically. I didn’t realize that it’s a strange way to make music, but it suited me back then.”
Her process has since changed as producers and other professionals have entered the picture. Katéa has purposefully kept a low profile, finessing her art, fine tuning her songs. In fact the world had not heard of her until a song called ‘That Ain’t Love’ came about.
“It was born last December in Stockholm. I was in the studio with three Swedish producers and a New Zealand lyricist. The song was created in collaboration with this young production team called Money Bridge.”
After presenting their demo for the song ‘That Ain’t Love’, the production team got a music publishing contract with BMG Chrysalis. BMG is a big international music company focused on the management of music publishing, recording rights and music distribution. The single came out in April and can be heard here: http://www.clashmusic.com/news/premiere-kat%C3%A9a-that-aint-love
Katéa returned to America for the first time since her exchange student year. This time around she is accompanied by two Finnish musicians, pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo, as well as manager Sami Peura. ‘That Ain’t Love’ could be heard everywhere at Musexpo – at the café, by the swimming pool and in between panel discussions on the hallways. Katéa also performed it for a local LA station Radio Summit.
As the interview took place, manager Peura was preparing for Katéa’s big night – a 20 minute showcase at a studio instruments rental company S.I.R. stage on Sunset Boulevard.
“There will be representatives from record companies, representatives of the American and the international program office, TV, film and game industry people. Some of them have come specifically to watch the Katéa”, Peura, who has been in music business for 20 years, tells.
“I hope to pique people’s interest and to be able to continue to work with these people”, Katéa says before the big night.
And what a night it was. S.I.R. Studios was teaming with young and hip music people. Katéa’s showcase started promptly at 8.30 pm. First pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo appeared. The strong Southern California sun had taken Antti by surprise – he had painful looking sunburn. Then, dressed in a black top and a yellow skirt, her raven black hair tied in a bun, songstress Katéa took the stage. She performed five original songs – ballads and pop tunes, culminating with ‘That Ain’t Love’. It was a fantastic performance full of emotion, incredible range and interpretation. The material she was working with was also very high class. If one had to compare her with other artists, Björk and Amy Winehouse would come to mind. We will be sure to hear from this singer in the near future. Right now Katéa is back in Europe and making rounds in Scandinavia, but California has left an indelible mark in her heart.
“Los Angeles is an interesting town with interesting people who have lots of stories. It has been interesting to hear them. I’m interested in human psychology and how people think. It is a big source of inspiration for me and I will use it in my writing”, Katéa sums up.