Irish country-pop star Catherine McGrath found a few minutes to talk to Grok about her new album Talk of this Town, Taylor Swift comparisons, and facetime calls with Elton John before her first sold-out show with Morgan Evans tonight at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory.
How did you get into making music, and what led you towards the country music genre?
Well, I grew up in a really musical family in Ireland. My family played music in the pub seven nights a week, and my grandma taught me how to play the piano and guitar, so I was always kind of around music and that was how I got into it. But, how I got into country music specifically was through Taylor Swift’s music. I heard her song Love Story when I was twelve, and for me that was like my gateway to discovering the genre. I would listen to her interviews and she would talk about people like Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley, and so I started looking up these artists that she was talking about and, yeah, that was how I discovered the genre and fell in love with it.
You’ve been compared a lot to early Taylor Swift. How does that make you feel considering she was such an inspiration?
I think that’s like the biggest compliment I could receive, because she’s part of the reason that I discovered country music in general and that kind of led me on to what I wanted to do. And also, I just think she’s one of the most incredible song writers and she’s just one of the biggest singers in the world, so I couldn’t take that as a bad thing.
Tell me about the change from doing YouTube covers to then supporting and headlining your own shows. How does it feel?
It was strange because the reason that I put up YouTube videos in the first place was because I kind of didn’t believe my family when they told me that I could sing. I thought they just said that because they were my family and had to be nice, so I put up these YouTube videos because I wanted to see what strangers thought. I ended up getting discovered by my manager on YouTube, and that, for me, was how I kind of ended up moving to London and doing it professionally.
It was definitely a weird thing to go from being too shy to sing in front of anyone and being locked in my room singing these covers to putting my feelings into my own songs, and then standing up on a stage and singing those to people. The thing that I found about it was that, actually, once I get up on stage and once I start singing, the nerves go away and I feel better than ever.
I think it’s the coolest feeling in the world seeing someone sing my song back to me and come up to me after a show and say ‘oh, your song really helped me get through my breakup’ or whatever. That, for me, is just like, it makes everything completely worth it and it’s actually my favourite feeling in the world. So, it was a weird transition but a good one.
What was the writing and recording process like for your Talk of the Town album?
Well, I got to record the album in a bunch of different places. I did some of it in London, some of it I got to do in Ireland, and then I went to Nashville as well, which was amazing because, for me, that’s like the home of country music and somewhere that I always wanted to go. It kind of was two and a half years in the making and I didn’t really realise that at the time. I was kind of just writing songs just because I loved doing it and because I wanted to have music; I never knew whether they were going to end up on an album.
So, when it came to putting the album together we just kind of looked back at over a hundred songs that I’d written and said ‘okay, what best represents me? What do I want to go on the album?’ And I just picked my favourite songs and that was how it kind of worked.
It was amazing to actually get to go to all the different places that I did, and the songwriters on this album are some of my favourite songwriters. They’ve written the songs that I was listening to since I was twelve years old, and it’s just amazing that I’ve gotten to go from listening to their songs, and that being what inspires me, to having them on my own album.
Your new album is amazing! I really love the realness behind your lyrics and how relatable they are. Do you have a favourite track from the album?
Thanks! I think one of my favourite tracks is probably Wild and I just think the reason I love that song so much is it just says exactly what happens. The day that I wrote that song was the day after the Coldplay concert that I went to that I talk about in the song, and I remember going into the studio and just having this rant about the whole situation.
My co-writer, Lindy Robins, she had her laptop and she just wrote everything that I said into her laptop, and then we kind of pieced it together at the end. So, my rant turned into this song and although it was kind of terrifying because I was like ‘Ah, this guy has to hear it now’, it was such an honest moment and it captured that feeling in my life. It’s a really cool memory to look back on, so I think that has to be one of my favourites on there.
I read that Elton John facetimed you to praise your music and played your song on his radio show.
Yeah! That was crazy. I didn’t believe that he was talking about the right Catherine McGrath when I heard it originally. Then he said he wanted to facetime me so he called me and we talked about songwriting and he said he couldn’t believe it was my first album and he was so excited. He was going to support me for as long as he could and as much as he could. For me that was just crazy because at that point my album hadn’t even been released yet, so to have someone like Elton John be so supportive so early on was such a huge confidence booster for me and such an incredible compliment, so I was very excited about that.
That’s pretty crazy. You’re playing your first Australian shows. How’re you feeling about that?
I’m nervous but I’m so excited. They’re going to be my first performances to an Australian crowd, so I’m kind of curious what they’re going to be like. It’s just me and my guitar player, Michael, and we’re going to be singing a bunch of songs off the album acoustically and telling some stories behind the songs, and hopefully getting to meet some people afterwards. But yeah, I’m just so excited. It’s crazy to me that I’ve come from this random little village in Ireland and I’m on the complete other side of the world playing shows now, so I’m so happy that Morgan Evans decided to take me out on tour. Yeah, we’ll see how it goes.
What’s up next for you?
Well, I’ve got my first ever headline show coming up right after this Australia trip, and then I’m going to just keep writing songs as much as I can and if people keep liking them I’ll keep putting them out.
Catherine McGrath’s debut album Talk Of This Town is out now.
Thursday, Sept 6—The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Sunday, Sept 9—The Tivoli, Brisbane