It’s been four years since, Personal Best, a vehicle for the songwriting of front-woman Katie Gatt, caught the ears of many with their excellent debut album, Arnos Vale. While a couple of singles, and an awful lot of touring, have followed to keep up our interest, we were delighted to hear this week that a brand new album, What You At, is on the way soon on their new transatlantic homes of Dovetown in the UK, and Sheer Luck in the USA.
As well as the album announcement, Personal Best have also shared their rollicking new single, Baby. The track instantly feels like a more streamlined and focused affair than ever before; a brutal assault of bright, bombastic guitar riffing, bouncing punky rhythms and a yelp along chorus the match of anything we’ve heard all year. Katie from the band has described What You At as a more personal and moody record than its predecessor, and despite its infectious, poppy qualities, Baby seems to have a subtle rage running through it. From the opening statement “I’m getting better at looking after somethings like my brain, but I’m getting worse at looking after your heart”, it seems to be a track of conflicting interests and the need to sometimes put yourself, and your own needs first.
Today ahead of the album’s release, Katie was kind enough to answer our questions, discussing classic rock, where Personal Best are actually from and the difficulties of making music in 2019.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who are Personal Best?
Classic rock for tragic lesbians from Bristol. Katie, guitar and singing, El, guitar and singing, Jay, drums, and we have a few different bassists playing with us at the moment.
FTR: You’ve just announced your new album, What You At, what can you tell us about recording it?
It was recorded at Southsea Sound by the amazing Tim Greaves. I can’t sing his praises enough to be honest. Tim is so easy to work with, has brilliant ideas and, most importantly of all, just ‘gets’ the band and what we’re trying to do. It took about 3-4 days, we work pretty quickly. New things for this album were keyboards, organ, and trumpet, played by Danny Lester from Mean Caesar.
FTR: Classic Rock for Tragic Lesbians, great tag-line, are you classic rock fans? Should we expect some Neil Young-esque guitar work?
I nearly called the album that, haha. I was outvoted.
Yeh, there’s a lot more guitar work on this record. Having El play guitar with us gives me a little more space for solos, or we do a lot of interwoven and harmonic sections as well. I’m super into it! It’s not just 70s guitar bands like Queen that I consider classic rock, I think it’s also bands like REM and The Lemonheads too – legacy bands – so I think we’ve dialled in some of those influences too.
FTR: What did you do differently from previous recordings?
The previous album was a bunch of songs that we had to date, with a few extras written to make it a full-length. This album has been far more curated in terms of story arc and balance. It has what I think is a strong narrative and directionality.
Aside from a few songs that were basically fully formed when I took them to band practice, we worked on most of the songs together by me bringing the central main themes to band practice – stuff like chord progressions, chorus melodies, and main riffs – and then everyone padding around it in their style, adding some structural or melodic input, that sort of thing.
FTR: Your new single, Baby, feels like a really direct introduction to the record, is it reflective of the record as a whole?
Yeh for sure, though it’s probably the most poppy and catchy in an immediate way. I definitely went a little darker on this record; some of the themes and lyrics are very personal and very moody.
FTR:The album’s coming out as a split release between Dovetown and Sheer Luck, how did that come about?
Dovetown are a collective who I love and trust very much; I think that’s super important for me. I already feel so supported by them. As far as Sheer Luck, I was asking around for labels who might be interested, especially US ones as we haven’t really done much over there yet. I contacted Talia as she came highly recommended by some US musician friends and it went from there! They are extremely cool and very easy to work with. Sheer Luck’s input came first, and then we talked about a UK label for UK and European distribution and promo, and Dovetown were a natural fit.
FTR: We read you’re based down in Southsea, what’s the music scene like there? Are there any bands we should be looking out for?
I think I need to change that in our bio haha… it’s hard to say where the band are from really. I used to live in Portsmouth and now I live in Bristol but we have members in Brighton and Portsmouth. I think I just said Southsea so that I don’t have to explain this every time we have an interview haha. So we’re from…. the south??!
I can talk about the Bristol scene a bit. I love Eat Up Collective who are putting on amazing starter events for people who want to get into bands, have a go at different instruments, etc. Baast are not quite Bristol (Cheltenham) but they are one of the most exciting bands I’ve watched in ages.
FTR: What are your aspirations for Personal Best? Do you see music as a viable career?
It kinda says something about the state of the industry that this question even needs to get asked, doesn’t it? It’s like when your dad says you have to have a degree in something sensible so you have something ‘to fall back on’.
I mean, I made the album for my own satisfaction, essentially, but no one is exempt from feeling like they have to make music people will want to hear. I wanna make weirder music after this I think, but I don’t have the patience with technology. I’d love to be able to produce, do something experimental but I don’t have the tools or patience. I feel like whatever music I make will be ‘Personal Best’, but it probably won’t look how it looks now in five years time.
I don’t think it’s possible to make a living off music, everything is massively devalued and we all do it – Spotify subscriptions etc. There have been a lot of good articles about this recently so I don’t think I can say anything that someone before me hasn’t already articulated.
It’s actually a super weird headfuck for musicians that we now have the technology to reach the most amount of people but that absolutely doesn’t translate in any way to helping with the cost realities of being in a band and touring. Every other day on Twitter there’s what I consider to be a big artist giving the reality of the numbers breakdown on how many Spotify plays they had and how much money they made from it, and it’s always shockingly low.
FTR: Who are your influences? What were you listening to when you wrote What You At?
Who I listen to has come full circle. The earliest stuff I remember listening to is 10CC, Elton John, Queen. But you know when you’re a teen you rebel against whatever your parents listened to, and then come back round to it later on. Classic songwriter stuff. I don’t listen to guitar music anymore, I listen to pop & Rnb, some indie – SZA, Solange, CRJ, Mitski, Robyn, Erykah Badu – nothing on the new album sounds like this, though I suppose it all feeds in somewhere in the subconscious. I guess it could still be an influence but wouldn’t be obvious at all. The only guitar music I really listen to is The Tuts, Colour Me Wednesday and then Neko Case, Laura Stevenson and PJ Harvey. If I’m driving, I’m most likely to put on some kind of disco, RnB and funk and soul playlist. I’m also trying to get into jazz lately but I can only handle it in 20 minute doses right now.
Why do you make music? Do you have any other creative outlets?
I always say that if I ended Personal Best tomorrow, I’d be in two new bands by the end of the week. There is definitely an inherent drive to want to do it. Which is why it sucks extra hard that all the *extra* stuff, like money and social media and trying to stand out in a saturated scene can get really frustrating and distracting. It’s incredibly hard to just get your head down and ignore it all. And something like social media, there’s basically no ignoring that these days is there? I feel like so many bands are burning out from poor mental health, the struggle of it all – it’s almost like an epidemic?!
As far as other creative outlets, ummm, when I retire I want to get into developing more physical artistic skills; woodworking, DIY stuff, maybe an allotment – something quiet and steady. I promise to wear flannel, denim, and a tool belt in respect to my lesbian foremothers.
FTR: What can people expect from the Personal Best live show?
A lot of guitar face. All the songs played about 5-10bpm faster than the record (which is the correct way to do it). Perhaps one singalong if we have some fans in. My big fat butt in tight jeans.
FTR: What’s next for Personal Best?
US tour I reckon. I’d also like to do some radio / studio sessions for posterity if anyone can hook me up. Oh, and I really want to be in She Shreds, love that magazine.