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KATRINA LESKANICH (KATRINA & THE WAVES) INTERVIEW [2010]

SO IT'S TWENTY-FIVE YEARS SINCE 'WALKING ON SUNSHINE' WAS FIRST RELEASED, WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY THAT THE SONG CHANGED YOUR LIFE?

Without a doubt! I mean to be talking about it twenty-five years later is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone. It's quite surprising how significant the song has become… it comes out whenever the sun shines, whenever there's a moment in a movie where the plot suddenly takes a turn for the better, in weddings, even for the odd funeral, that's when the song seems to get rolled out… it's the button you press for instant feel-good!

ABSOLUTELY, AND I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT IT IS ACTUALLY MY OWN FUNERAL SONG…

Oh good, well I am so honoured! If you look at the song in terms of being on your way to heaven, walking on sunshine somewhere up there - hopefully, in your case, that will be a good destination - where there will be lots of fun. Well if that song doesn't see your way to the Promised Land I don't know what would!

THERE ARE FEW SONGS, I THINK, THAT WOULD DO THE JOB SO WELL!

Well I think that from the moment it's played if you're not transported directly to heaven - fast-tracked even - then I give up!

I READ THE FANTASTIC FACT ON YOUR PRESS RELEASE THAT 'WALKING ON SUNSHINE' IS THE SECOND MOST-PLAYED SUMMER SONG EVER… THAT'S A COOL THING TO BE ABLE TO SAY ISN'T IT?

Gosh… well yeah!

DO YOU KNOW WHAT CAME IN FIRST PLACE?

Was it The Beach Boys?

I DON'T KNOW, IT DOESN'T SAY ON THE PRESS RELEASE. I WAS HOPING YOU KNEW, BUT BEACH BOYS WORKS DOESN'T IT?

I think it's got to be something like 'Good Vibrations', I think that would be the go to song for summer, although as an aside it is ironic how well 'Walking On Sunshine' did in some of the coldest territories around the world… we did so much touring around Canada, partly because everyone seemed to think we were Canadian, and also we did incredibly well all over Scandanavia, I mean how much further North can you go?

WELL SCANDANAVIA IS A BEAUTIFUL PART OF THE WORLD TO HAVE A CONTINUING CAREER IN…

Oh you're right, and the Scandanavians have always loved pop music. I get so much work in Norway where they love rock but they also love pop which is perfect!

ANOTHER 'WALKING ON SUNSHINE' FACT I'M GOING TO RUN PAST YOU IS THAT THE SONG HAS BEEN PLAYED ON AMERICAN RADIO OVER TWO MILLION TIMES, WHICH IS BRILLIANT ISN' IT? DO YOU GET PAID EVERY TIME THAT HAPPENS?

Nope. Sadly I don't get a slice of the pie… when the band split up I got a modest pay-out and once I had paid off my lawyer I had enough to make a down payment on an apartment. I still have a mortgage and I still have to work, but I'm lucky because my work isn't really like work…

I DON'T KNOW THE STORY OF THE WAVES' SPLIT, BUT THE FACT THAT YOU MENTIONED LAWYERS FEES MAKES IT SOUND LIKE IT WASN'T ALL GOOD… WHAT HAPPENED?

It was really quite a simple matter of the band feeling like they wanted to go in one direction and my feeling like I wanted to go in another direction. I felt - perhaps for the final ten years or so of the band's career - as if we weren't really moving forward much. Before we did Eurovision we didn't even have a record deal and Warners gave us a one-album deal because they wanted to do the Eurovision song… we felt it was important to be something more than a one-off single, and the album was good although I think it was a maybe a bit of a rush-job and most of the focus was on the big build-up to Eurovision.

But the whole journey, working with the BBC in the run-up to Eurovision, led them to offer me a job at Radio 2 which I really wanted to take, and I wanted to try some other things too, I'd always fancied trying a bit of musical theatre for example. Obviously that would have all needed a certain amount of commitment from me and it would be difficult to work it all around the band. So a line needed to be drawn and the short story is that the band split, and with four different guys in the band, plus a manager, lawyers needed to get involved and that dragged on and on, plus there was a dispute over who owned the name of the band that made it difficult for me to even perform as 'Katrina ex-Katrina & The Waves'… just a lot of things that had to be sorted out.

We had all been going around together in the same cocoon for twenty years and breaking out of that was difficult and sometimes sticky… it was a lot like a divorce I suppose, but we still send each other Christmas cards!

YOUR NEW PROJECT IS A LIVE ALBUM ISN'T IT? AND YOU'RE RELEASING IT IN QUITE AN UNUSUAL WAY; I'VE BEEN LOOKING AT THE 'PLEDGE RELEASE' SCHEME ON YOUR WEBSITE WHICH LOOKS REALLY INTERESTING…

Well basically you could pay a certain amount of money for me to come and perform in your living room or you could pay a certain amount of money to have your album signed, or to have it packaged up with a t-shirt, whatever suits you!

The idea is that the money coming in can then be used to help finance a future album, and perhaps a tour, as well as benefiting my two charities; one of which is The Samaritans, my old friends The Samaritans… we recorded the first version of 'Love Shine A Light' for The Samaritans to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, and then it went on to be spotted by Jonathan King and the BBC and went on to win Eurovision in 1997, so I owe them and they are an absolutely wonderful organisation; and the other one is called Bring Change To Mind and they are trying dispel the 'spookiness' around mental illness, depression, bi-polar conditions and that sort of thing… my sister Holly committed suicide two years ago, she was very depressed and obviously that has affected me very deeply so to be able to give something back - and I know that sounds like such a cliché - but it gives me that chance to help somebody else and promote something that I feel very strongly about.

I'VE SEEN THE TRACKLISTING AND IT LOOKS LIKE IT'S GOING TO BE A REALLY STRONG RECORD…

I'm glad you think so. it was tricky, it kind of ended up being what were the best performances on the night, but having listened to it a few times now I have to say that I'm pretty happy with it. More than happy actually, I feel very settled and peaceful about it you know? Instead of having lots of anxieties about it. The great thing about a live performance though is that you don't really mess with it, it comes the way it came on the night…

I'VE HEARD A COUPLE OF TRACKS ALREADY, A FANTASTIC VERSION OF 'WALKING ON SUNSHINE' AND A GREAT COVER OF 'RIVER DEEP MOUNTAIN HIGH'…

'River Deep Mountain High' was from a show we did in Germany…

ACTUALLY IT SOUNDS LIKE MOST OF GERMANY WERE THERE!

Oh, it was a fantastic crowd, one of those precious moments where we happened to record the whole gig and four tracks from that show were usable, and then we picked up the rest of them from another show…

IS IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO LISTEN BACK TO YOUR PERFORMANCES? ARE YOU VERY CRITICAL IN A WAY ONLY YOU CAN BE OR CAN YOU DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM IT TO MAKE A JUDGEMENT?

It's only difficult if it's bad! The rest of the time it's a joy, especially as you get older and see other artists from the same era struggling a bit! I mean the voice is a fragile thing, it's just a little muscle after all, and like any other muscle if you don't work it then it won't co-operate with you. People go on about being afraid of losing their voice from too much singing but it loves to work…

WHICH IS GOOD NEWS FOR YOU ISN'T IT BECAUSE YOU WORK YOURS HARD, YOU'RE ALWAYS OUT AND ABOUT DOING STUFF AREN'T YOU?

Pretty much! If not then I'm yakking on the phone doing interviews and things… talking about myself, what a great way to make a living!

IT'S BEEN A FEW YEARS SINCE THE LAST ALBUM HASN'T IT?

Well the last time I released a solo album it coincided with that horrible hurricane and everything had to be withdrawn… I mean how could I have gone around and done promotion as Katrina, it really wasn't adding up to be much of a campaign. I remember when it happened and the hits on my website shot up to about 45,000 in a hour and I was just thinking 'wow, I'm back!' and I was completely oblivious to the hurricane at that stage, the I got a Google Alert saying 'Katrina Killed 9' and suddenly it didn't all look so good.

I hope nothing is going to stop me this time around. Having been in the Waves for twenty years, and solo for about thirteen, the constants in my life have been the touring and 'Walking On Sunshine', and by virtue of the fact that I am no longer a member of the Waves I have to keep working which is good because I think that if I hadn't had the work then I would have ended up in the Betty Ford centre or something!

DO YOU ENJOY IT ALL? DO YOU ENJOY THE WORK OF BEING KATRINA?

Absolutely! I'm probably not the most self-assured or self-confident person, I certainly wasn't when I was younger and it has taken a long time to feel halfway decent about myself, but that moment when you step on stage you can own it, it's yours. That's where I get to step back into that safe little bubble and nobody can really touch me. It's just between me and the band and the audience and that is a real blast, a real buzz…

IT'S ODD TO ME TO HEAR YOU TALK ABOUT THAT LACK OF CONFIDENCE BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE SEE YOUR PERFORMANCES THEY ARE SO VIBRANT AND ENERGETIC…

Well you'd be surprised. This business is a sanctuary for misfits and shy people and I think that's sometimes why it's so difficult for people in this business to even string a sentence together… often it's all about communicating through the music. I had to learn to be a blabbermouth because I want to make every performance - and that includes every interview - really count… it's just different ways of approaching the relationship between me, the stage and my audience.

THE LIVE ALBUM IS COING OUT IN A FEW WEEKS BUT YOU ALSO MENTIONED THAT THERE IS A NEW STUDIO ALBUM IN THE WORKS, IS THERE ANY TIME SCHEDULE ON THAT YET?

Well… having just walked away from the final mastering of the live album that's probably the furthest thing from my mind right now! But that said I do have a few ideas, I think it might end up being something of a concept album like a Mann & Weil album - that's Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann these wonderful songwriters who wrote things like 'We've Got To Get Out Of This Place', Mama Cass's wonderful 'It's Getting Better', 'Here You Come Again' by Dolly Parton, all sorts of incredible songs - as a songwriter I'm not driven in that way that I could sit down and decide to write a song and then think about what I might write about, but if I'm given a backing track for example then I can imagine myself onstage and then I can see what needs to happen. That will happen very quickly and I will rarely need to go back and change anything because I feel that the birth of that song belonged to that moment and I'm not going to go back and try and screw different arms onto it, I want it to be kind of like a person with flaws and all… that's not to say it always comes, sometimes it just doesn't or it will come later, in the middle of a party or something!

AND IF I'M RIGHT THERE'S ALSO AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY COMING SOMETIME SOON?

Yes! I've been working on that for about six years now and it's pretty much there and we have been shopping it around and talking to people about it but I think the conclusion of it has to be twenty-five years later and I can't predict what's going to happen this year… I might be run over by a bus on the way to the post office this afternoon, although that really would be an ending, 'Katrina goes out with a bang'!

JUNE 2010

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