Given that they are about to kick of their UK tour to support new album Motto, the one subject to rave reviews, 8/10 ratings and general buzz, Katie Harkin, founder, writer, singer and guitarist of Sky Larkin would be forgiven for feeling nervous or frantic, buzzing about the attention she is receiving and anxious as to how to perform to the level of the bar that has been set. As it is we are sat downstairs in The Lexington, munching chips, chatting away. Only after twenty minutes or so, when soundcheck is upon them, do we realise that there has been no question and answer situation, but a genuinely nice conversation. The gregarious and lovely Katie is chatty, happy, and quietly welcoming, saying thank you at any mere hint of praise, suggesting that not only are they one of the most exciting bands on the scene, but one of the nicest.
Today they have been playing an acoustic session for This is Fake DIY, something she describes as ‘odd for band like us, but nice.’ Loud and proud, their sound is not one that would immediately translate to acoustic, but she ‘enjoyed it. There is so much muscle memory to music, and you get used to physically playing live, so it is nice to strip it back to the song. I don’t want to be bound up in the athleticism of it all, and that isn’t why I play the way I play. Just because we can play really fast and loud now, but that doesn’t always mean that we should!’
The way she plays is vibrant and vital, and the new songs have a rush of urgency that is immediate as well as intimate. It has always been this way, for both debut album The Golden Spike in 2009 and 2011 sophomore Kaleide, but the writing process for Motto accelerated the level of intensity and sound. Written whilst Katie was touring for twenty months with fellow Yorkshire band Wild Beasts, there was a need for immediacy and as she testifies, ‘there is nothing like a final boarding call or a limited few days back at home’ to force you to write.’
Whilst writing was done on the road, recording happened back in the band’s hometown of Leeds. The Leeds music scene is one that she rightly has a lot of pride in, the home leg of this tour at the legendary Brudenell Social Club being ‘the only place to be’ although confesses that she finds the hostessing element sometimes stressful. Just a day before they donated t shirts from their first album The Golden Spike to local record shops Jumbo and Crash. ‘We’re so lucky to have two independent music shops. There are cities that have massive universities that don’t have record shops. Can you believe that? Only HMVs.’
Sky Larkin’s place in the hierarchy of music is an odd one. They have been around for nearly five years, and are signed to mighty label Wichita, home of The Cribs, Los Campesinos, and Frankie & The Heartstrings, yet are still moderately small. Part of the reason for this is that although the band is ‘old’ they are ‘young.’ Right from the get go with debut single Fossil I they picked up attention from such a young age, being suddenly cast into the indie public eye right from the start, when Nestor was still at school and Kate had just started university. People shouldn’t put too much weight upon their age though. As Kate says, ‘we were just that age. We were lucky in many ways that we got attention so close to the start, it was right from the beginning. In the age of the internet everyone grows up in public, so people have always been aware of us.’
What it does mean though is that there is a clear evolving progression to their sound, and general consensus is that on Motto they have stepped up a gear with The Fly, NME and The Guardian all raving about them. Again, Kate believes this to be something that is pretty obvious. ‘Between the ages of like 17 and 24 you change a lot, and so our sound has also altered. We’ve become more mature so I guess that the sound has to. It’s not a conscious decision, but a natural evolution. Of course we have changed, so of course our sound has.’
As a label Wichita is a good place for them to be, and a great umbrella for the band, the support that comes from a mass indie label never dulling the vibrancy of the independent band. The label are sat at a table next to us drinking pints and eating burgers, all hanging out together. ‘There’s a huge deal of push and pull, we are always trying to create opportunities for each other, and we come to them with ideas and vice versa. There are no restrictions..’ In fact later on, when on stage, Katie thanks the label for responding to her text to ‘bring whisky to the stage please.’
Everywhere people have been commenting on the band’s time off, but whilst Nestor was finishing his degree and playing in Menace Beach, members changing (it was bassist Michael Matthews first gig tonight, and Nile Marr and Sam Pryor perform on the album) Katie had ‘never physically worked so hard in my life.’ Touring, learning new songs, writing the album, as well as ‘trying to be a good person to everyone at home’ takes its toll. This is the first hint that things have not been so rosy on a personal level. Losses and loves have clearly influenced the songs and the lyrics, and it wasn’t something that Katie spoke to people about until the release of Loom, her ‘fake out.’ Is the album an exorcism in some way then? ‘I can’t detach myself from what happened, and when I write I guess it all comes out, but the way they are written though means that people can read the lyrics and understand or they can take it as a pop song, the way it is.’
With a level of complexity and depth the new album reflects a game change and step up for the band, be that conscious or not. At tonight’s gig I am with three people who have never heard the band before. Each goes home and buys the album that evening. Like me they are enamored by Katie’s reticent beauty and banter, but also those immediate and captivating great pop songs, slow building gritty lyrics, and the band’s masterful stage vibrations. Sky Larkin, and Katie Harkin, have no reason to feel nervous or frantic – they have talent and tunes.