From Iceland — Growing Pains: Special-K Discusses Her New Intimate EP 'LUnatic thirST'

Growing Pains: Special-K Discusses Her New Intimate EP ‘LUnatic thirST’

Published May 28, 2020

Growing Pains: Special-K Discusses Her New Intimate EP ‘LUnatic thirST’
Poppy Askham
Photo by
Kristín Helga Ríkharðsdóttir

Special-K soars to new realms of musical, lyrical and emotional maturity in her latest avant-garde pop offering, ‘LUnatic thirST’. As she puts it, if her debut album “‘I Thought I’d Be More Famous By Now was a teenager’, this EP is an adult”.

Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir made her debut as a solo artist in 2018 under the name Special-K with a playful lo-fi exploration of millennial culture accompanied by an ambitious video project. But her new EP, ‘LUnatic thirST’ sees her adopt a more polished, musically adventurous style. In her most intimate recording yet, Katrín overcomes her self-confessed dependency on visual storytelling to let her incisive lyrics speak for themselves.

In the run-up to the EP’s release, Katrín spoke with the Grapevine about emotional vulnerability, creative slumps and her ever-evolving musical style.

Finding Strength In Weakness

‘LUnatic thirST’s’ listeners embark on a “very intimate journey with someone who’s trying to navigate who they are when it comes to relationships and is struggling because they want intimacy, but also don’t want to give up any independence,” Katrín tells us. “There’s painful growth in it.”

Katrín has written about love before, principally as a member of Kriki, but she explains that her old songs “were more juvenile and focused on the external, whereas this record focuses more on the internal. It’s a very introspective EP.”

“I’ve always been an oversharer. I enjoy people’s art that is very personal and vulnerable”, Katrín confides. She uses the song-writing process therapeutically  “when thoughts get stuck in a loop in [her] head. I try to structure them and figure out how I can best convert them into a form that others can relate to,” she explains. “I don’t know if it actually helps, but at least it gives me something else to focus on.”

Inspired by Brené Brown, Katrín seeks to show that although vulnerability is often thought of as a weakness, it actually requires enormous emotional strength. She was particularly struck by Brené’s concept of the “vulnerability hangover” which Katrín describes as “the feeling you get the day after you share something very personal;” that moment when you begin to wonder “did I give too much away?” 

Katrín reveals that “it’s something I’m very familiar with, in fact I experience it after almost every concert.”

Out of the garage, into the studio

‘LUnatic thirST’ is the first studio recording that Katrín will release with Street Pulse, a new Berlin-based label.  Transitioning from home-produced lo-fi to studio finesse proved a difficult decision. “Moving towards a more polished studio sound and mixing it professionally was a challenge for me,” she explains. “I like the home-made feel of the music that I made before. I really like to have the imperfections, the human things, the airplane sounds.”

However, enlisting professional help has proved a huge advantage for Katrín in other ways.  Not only has it let her swap her “out-of-tune keyboard” for a real piano, it has also helped her overcome creative slumps. Close friend and audio engineer, Salka Valsdóttir (best known as a member of CYBER) has become a crucial voice of reassurance in the recording studio when Katrín gets “stuck in a self-critical place.”  

Collaboration has been the solution when Katrín hits a creative roadblock. For instance, when she experienced “a little bit of an identity crisis” whilst experimenting with ironically heavy auto-tuning and “basic pop chord progressions” in Dinner 4 1.  “It was just so hard not to make it sound like a cliché or too cute because I have always wanted to avoid the cute label. I wanted there to be some element of experimentation”, she explains.  “It’s different when I’ve got another human so that when I’m thinking ‘this is terrible I have to throw it away’, there’s someone to say ‘no, let’s just keep going.’ That’s what I really needed.”

A Foot In Both Camps

Katrín is well known for elaborately crafted videos that draw on her expertise as an art school graduate. Her background in art has a strong influence on her musical style – many of her favourite musicians, including Egill Sæbjörnsson, double as artists. 

“There’s something about the music plus visual art way of thinking that really interests me,” she explains. “So I’m very happy to have one foot in both camps.”

But when asked what she considers herself to be first and foremost, she responds without hesitation: “a musician.” 

Fans may be shocked to learn that Katrín’s latest EP will not be a visual record and that just two of its four tracks currently have videos. This is partly due to a lack of time and resources. Katrín wanted to focus on quality rather than quantity, something Margrét Bjarnadóttir’s mesmerising Post-coital video attests to. But crucially Katrín has also decided to let her songs speak for themselves to a greater extent.

“I very much enjoy visuality and I really like crafting the image and creating characters and everything. But I also feel like it’s a bit of a crutch. I always play with videos projected behind me and I feel like I don’t really have the courage to play without them or I would feel very naked,” she confesses. Before COVID-19 struck, Katrín intended to challenge this insecurity by opening for JFDR with a performance on a bare stage, but these plans are now on hold.

This is not to say that in the future she won’t create visual albums or shoot the missing videos from this EP. She simply wants to challenge herself to overcome this obstacle and achieve greater versatility as a performer. “I’d like to be able to do both – to let the music stand on its own and also have a whole universe around it,” she clarifies.

Musical Maturity

‘LUnatic thirST’ showcases Katrín’s pedigree as a classically-trained musician to a far greater extent than any of her previous Special-K recordings. “In the first album I wanted things to be very, very simple, but now I want to tap into this bank of knowledge that I’ve built up in my head by learning so many classical pieces,” she tells us.

Quest To Impress, Katrín’s favourite song to record, is a clear example of the EP’s greater musical complexity. “The piano melody was a fun little challenge to try to make something rhythmical and kind of ‘baroquey.’”

The harpsichord-heavy number was inspired by an evening of binge-watching Joanna Newsom videos. The American star not only inspired the track’s medieval theme, she also motivated Katrín to push herself musically. “I was watching her play live and even though I’ve been listening to her for a decade, it was the first time I felt this real fan energy. She plays such complicated pieces, both musically and rhythmically, with amazing lyrics. I was just so impressed by the skill, that I wanted to challenge myself to go a little more in that direction.”

Katrín doesn’t intend to stop here, she has lofty ambitions for her next project. “I want to take it way further, I want to do something way more complex next time. My next project is going to be even more instrumental and more focused around piano.”

Release season is in full swing for Katrín. Reykjavíkurdætur, of which she is a founding member, is coming out with a new album and Katrín is also debuting a new band (yes, another one, we don’t know how she fits it all in either). She recently paired up with Norwegian singer Farao to form an 80s-soviet-aerobics-inspired disco duo named Ultraflex. 

When we asked how she intended to celebrate the release of ‘LUnatic thirST,’ it became rapidly clear that, between photo shoots and interviews for her three releases, she’d barely given a second’s thought to the matter. Katrín gazes into the distance, brow furrowed with concentration. “I want to gather everyone who’s been involved and have a concert with a full band when it’s possible again,” she decides. 

However, Katrín is going to have to keep her immediate plans a little more low-key. “I’m going to call a few good friends and I’m going to make cocktails and we’re going to sit in my garden and listen to the album.”

‘LUnatic thirST’ is available on all major streaming platforms from May 15th.

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