“It’s all about being curious, having fun, exploring sounds and goofing around with composition and forms. It’s all about the same thing: letting music happen,” comments Kate NV about her music-making practice, where she lets loose and plays with sound as well as with fate. Someone giggling or a friend entering the studio while Kate was recording the songs are happy accidents that have made it to the final versions of the eleven tracks that make up WOW, the artist’s latest album.
But Kate’s endless curiosity has made her expand her creative output beyond the musical. For the release of WOW, she’s collaborated with artist Vladimir Shlokov on a video game, which you can play now on her website if you’re looking for something else rather than TikTok to entertain you. “Originally we wanted to make a small video game for each track,” she says enthusiastically, “but we overestimated our capabilities (laughs).” The fruitful collab didn’t end here though. Furthermore, they’ve worked on four music videos, one of them releasing today. Taking that as an excuse, we got intimate with Kate about her current nomad life and how it affects her creativity, growing up in ‘00s Russia, how bad she is at playing video games (her words, not mine), and her newest record.
Hey Kate, thank you for speaking with us. We last interviewed you in 2020 because of the release of Room for the Moon. We were in the middle of a pandemic and things have changed so much in the last three years. What have you been up to lately? Where do you stand now from three years ago?
It’s a great question, and I don’t think there are enough words to describe what I’ve been through the last three years. My life has changed completely. I became a nomad of sorts, which is great but still stressful because it happened against my will. I am trying to adapt to the new way of living now. I low-key loved quarantine time because, compared to the hectic life I live right now, they were very calm and boring days that I honestly miss sometimes.
Earlier this year you released a new album titled WOW. What was the starting point of the record?
WOW is a compilation of different tracks that I made throughout the years. Some of them are from 2015, some others, from 2016. The newest one was recorded in 2020. I finished this record together with Room for the Moon in 2019. For the years since, it has been sitting out there and waiting to be released. So there was no such thing as a starting point—the starting point is always just me making music that feels great at a certain moment of my life.
In Room for the Moon, I’d say you were more vulnerable and open, at least when it comes to the lyrics. You sang in different languages and spoke honestly about different subjects. But on WOW, I feel like you’ve focused more on the sound and production. What was the creative process of the record like?
I think it’s just two sides of my personality (I guess there is more than just two though). When I make music I never force it to be anything else than it desires to be— I just go with the flow and watch what happens next. Later I can tell if it’s working if I can combine different tracks from different years together under one roof. For instance, I have some tracks that didn't end up on Room for the Moon or WOW. Those from long ago are still waiting to be finished and collected in one basket with other songs that haven’t even been started yet.
WOW is definitely more electronic, and there are no songs, but this is a very adventurous and amazing album (at least to me). It’s just another part of me that really loves sounds and messing with sound. Though I still think that I’m very careful and I would love to get wilder. With Room for the Moon, it was songs that were a little weird to be considered pop. With WOW, it's tracks that are trying to be pop but are also too weird to be pop. Both of the records point toward the same endpoint but come from different directions.
Out of all the eleven tracks in the album, there’s only one collaboration. Why did you choose to join forces with Quinn Oulton on confessions at the dinner table?
It actually happened during Red Bull Music Academy in 2018, where collaboration is one of the main goals. We just decided to make a track together — it started naturally and we had a lot of fun. In fact, Quinn also recorded the bass for my track Luna, which was on Room for the Moon. It all happened during the academy.
Quinn’s music is completely different but he is a super talented, multi-instrumentalist musician with a great sense of humour. Quinn plays many instruments on this track. We recorded a bunch of random stuff, and there are a lot of ridiculous sounds there. There is giggling from a violin player who laughed when she heard the part of the track she was supposed to play. There is also a door creak because our friend accidentally entered the studio room while we were recording the marimba. And, of course, there’s a lot of glass involved. I also spent one evening dropping forks and knives on the studio floor—you can hear those too. We made this track really fast, almost on the go, and I’m glad it found a place on WOW. It belongs there.
In our previous interview, you confessed to being very inspired by ‘70s and ‘80s Japanese pop music. This time, you refer to a specific artist, Nobukazu Takemura, who’s been making music since the ‘90s ranging from nu-jazz to instrumental hip-hop, as a reference. What about his approach to music-making inspires you?
I actually think that the reason why I love ‘80s Japanese music is the same reason why I love Nobukazu Takemura. It’s all about being curious, having fun, exploring sounds and goofing around with composition and forms. It’s all about the same thing: letting music happen, not thinking too much about what others might think, even if from the outside it may seem stupid or frivolous to someone. I am attracted by some sort of scientific research approach; when it isn’t the goal that matters but the process — when curiosity wins over the desire to look good. When you're just exploring the music and your interaction with it. I have no idea if Nobukazu Takemura used this approach, but his music gives me this kind of vibe.
In your latest record, there’s an undeniable influence from video games. Since you grew up in the Soviet Union without many new technologies, when did video games come into your life? And what about their sounds/music is so inspiring to you?
I was born in USSR but I’m a ‘90s kid, so I was raised in the Russian Federation. During that time, all the foreign brands and businesses came to the country, but we still didn’t have access to that cool tech stuff (or it was insanely expensive). Some people could afford Sega, but most of my friends used to have Dendy, which was a cheap replica. Funny enough—I never had it. But my cousin used to have one and when we hung out together, we used to play Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers a lot; I think I developed my obsession with funny and catchy loops because of that. You couldn’t switch it off because there was no saving option, so we had to leave it on (sometimes for hours because we had to eat or whatever), and it would play the same melodies over and over again. And I loved it! I know all these tunes by heart. Though I have to admit, I’m a terrible player. I can’t play any games because I die all the time.
For example, my friend once gave me a Nintendo 3DS and I tried to play Mario. But I killed Mario almost immediately. It turns out if you die several times in a row, the game gives you protection and your Mario becomes undefeated and sort of immortal, but I actually managed to kill him anyway. I also tried to play The Sims, but I actually never got to a real gameplay because I would build a house for weeks, later to realise that it was completely out of scale and insanely disproportionately big. I lost motivation after this failure. Ironically, I later became an architecture university student.
The only game I’m good at is Katamari. My friends and I were obsessed with it in the early ‘00s, and actually it happened at the same time we discovered Nobukazu Takemura. It sort of goes together pretty well. We didn’t have a PlayStation at that time, but we loved all the soundtracks. Later, my friend gave me a used PlayStation 2 with a Katamari disc. But because it was a used console it was a bit broken, the disc got stuck inside and it became a mono console with only one game. Which was completely ok for me.
Speaking of video games, you’ve worked with VFX artist Vladimir Shlokov to create a video game for the album’s release, as well as four music videos. You both grew up in the ‘90s and early ‘00s and share this love and nostalgia for the pop culture back then. Tell me more about how you two met and what was collaborating with him like.
Vladimir is awesome; he is very chill but loves all the weird aesthetics and crazy stuff. We met around five years ago when he offered to do an app/music video for my band, Glintshake. He scanned the whole band and our instruments for a 3D low poly app/video where you could move 360 degrees together with our characters. So I came back to him later with some visual ideas for WOW. Originally we wanted to make a small video game for each track, but we overestimated our capabilities (laughs). But yes, if only we had enough time and money, there would’ve been ten goofy WOW games.
Working with Vladimir is really easy for me because we both come from the same background and we appreciate the same funny and weird things. The process was simple, we had a mood board and some calls. It was just brainstorming —someone would come up with the general idea, and then we worked on some funny moments and jokes. He has a really great sense of humour, and every time he sent me drafts he surprised me with unexpected ideas that we’ve never discussed. And I always loved it.
I’d like to dig deeper into the video game thing. The main references were “goofy games and weird videos from that era,” and your first idea was to put out a video game where you could only wash a pile of endless dishes. Where did the idea stem from, and how do you think it complements the music of the album?
It’s funny but this idea was very, very old; I think I came up with it in 2019, after I finished the album. I hate washing dishes and I just thought that it would be funny to create a very simple game in which you have to do something that you would love to avoid in real life. Something from your daily routine. Games are a way to escape reality, and a game in which you wash dishes seemed ridiculous to me.
It’s funny how the context has changed since that time and now the reality is far from being boring — washing dishes actually became a comfort zone where you can accomplish something simple and familiar and have a little bit of control with some immediate results. So instead of it being an annoying chore, it became comforting. Also, we had some ideas to make the game as an app but we thought that it would be funnier to do it in a very old-school way. Like a website game, the way it used to be in the early ‘00s with all those online flash sites
It’s clear you’re a very multidimensional artist, expressing yourself through sounds, lyrics, fashion, and now video games. Is there any other creative field you’d like to explore next? 
I don’t know, I’m pretty open to anything and I love to try out different things. I draw a lot, I really want to make comics. Or at least a video for myself. And I have a bunch of friends who got tattoos of my drawings, and I actually want to try tattooing people too. 
In addition to your solo project, you’re also part of the Decisive Pink duo together with Deradoorian, and you’ve released Ticket to Fame this year. How did this pairing start, and how is working solo different from joining forces with another artist?
We met during RBMA in Tokyo almost ten years ago, and we had a chance to get to know each other better in 2016 when we had a week at RBMA studio in NYC. We became friends after that. I love jamming with other people because you can combine your approaches. If there’s no ego involved, and if you are enjoying the process, it can lead to something amazing.
What I love about Decisive Pink is that it doesn’t really sound like any of our solo works, but at the same time you can clearly hear Angel’s vibe and mine. You can see both characters merged together. It’s like a baby — it has the best from both parents and it’s incredible.
Before WOW, you released Bouquet, a record you put out in response to the Russian invasion in Ukraine to benefit Ukrainian refugees. As someone who grew up in Russia and lived in Moscow for many years, do you feel you have to get involved politically and artistically?
Art is always political, even when it’s escapist. We all exist in a context, not in a vacuum; everything we create is a reaction to different circumstances. Bouquet was a small but important gesture to me, I had those improvisations saved in my pocket for some time already, and I thought this would be the best way to release it. I’m really bad at coming up with any sort of statements. I usually go into a great dysfunctional mode when something scary and crazy happens, and this was the best solution that I could come up with to somehow show support to Ukraine. I’m against this war and I feel that no one in their sane mind is supporting this.
Going back to our previous interview, you said: “I have a difficult relationship with Moscow (like everyone else). […] But I would love to live somewhere else, it’s always seemed to me that I am a person capable of living only in a big city.” I think you’re in the process of relocating now. How is it going? What places are you thinking of relocating to, and how are you facing this exhausting challenge?
It’s pretty tough, and I’m really tired. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, asking myself why I’m still in that horrible dysfunctional mode when I can’t work and create new art as I used to. Because I used to travel a lot and work on the go and I was fine with that. I realised that it feels like you are on tour constantly, but it’s very hard to concentrate because you don’t have a place to come back to. And it’s bothering you somewhere in the back of your mind, because you constantly need to figure something out. If you are familiar with the Maslow pyramid, you might know that the first few steps are about basic needs while self-realisation is at the very top. And when you don’t cover everything below, you can’t really come into creative mode fully. So I’m still trying to get the first few levels down.
I’m currently in Europe in the process of getting my freelance visa. Will see how it goes. My best friends live in NYC, and I love this city and I would love to stay there for some time. Though it feels that they are squeezing out the artists; it has become unaffordable to live there. It was always tough, but it reached some new levels in the past few years. Especially after covid. For now, I just want to live somewhere closer to my friends, but it feels that there’s gonna be a few more years of wandering around.
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