Kate Boy's Chilly Synth-Pop Houses a Human Heart

Three years after making an initial splash, the Aussie-Swedish duo drop an album that's slick, sure, but emotionally resonant too.

Ilana Kaplan

It’s not surprising that electro-pop duo Kate Boy make music that evokes emotions yet often sound wonderfully alien and robotic in their delivery; the band enjoy dichotomy. It started with the moniker—which blends both male and female—and represents the Stockholm-based duo, now comprised of Aussie Kate Akhurst and Swede Markus Dextegen. Before much was known about the band, their name piqued as much interest as their music: were they a group, was it a man, or just a woman named Kate Boy? Back in 2012 the then quartet released debut single “Northern Lights”—a glacial, 80s-tinged synth-pop track that proved to be incredibly infectious. We met up with them for a fried chicken-eating session not long after they emerged and they bolstered the buzz of their first few songs with two stellar EP releases and a sleek monochrome aesthetic that continues to run through all their videos and art to this day. Now, three years later, Kate Boy have a debut album on deck: ONE drops this Friday and it’s a record built on and inspired primarily by human connections.

We talked to the duo about the evolution of electronic music, the Swedish music scene, and being the first band to play on another planet.

Noisey: Kate Boy as a name can be a bit deceiving sometimes. Do you guys get mistaken for being one person?
Kate Akhurst:
Yes we do actually. It’s a bit of a mix: I think when we first released a song someone said that we were a man and some other people have written that we were a solo artist, or a band. It’s a thing that we were aware of from the beginning because of the name that we chose. We liked the fact that you don’t know and it’s a bit confusing. We liked that people could just focus on the music.

Cool. How do you guys feel like you fit into the Swedish music scene (if at all)?
Markus Dextegen:
From the inside, it’s hard to know. I think the Swedish music scene is so diverse. It’s such a small country that a lot of genres take place in the same scene. If you start niching or analyzing a different genre, you find only one or two bands that play that music in the whole country. That’s maybe one of the good sides about the Swedish music scene—that it’s so widespread over a lot of genres. Maybe it’s not actually true of what breaks out of Sweden. That’s pretty focused to pop or electronic music. As far as what’s here, it’s pretty diverse. I think the Swedish audience is happy to listen to a lot of different genres.

Let’s talk about some of the influences that helped shaped this record.
We talk about that every now and then. I think our influences are 90 percent subconscious, so that’s the hard part. I think influences are sometimes confused with what you like. There’s a lot of music I like, but it’s hard for me to make music that sounds like that. One [influence is] electronic artists from the 1980s. There were a lot of instruments that started to come out that made electronic music. Back then, there was no sense of what these songs were gonna be used for. Today, when we talk about electronic music, there’s a whole drawn out board of how it’s supposed to sound and what type of scene was there. That’s what inspired us: to not have any preconceptions of what electronic music is. We try to get inspired by something we haven’t ourselves thought of. There are a few musicians back in the day that had that vibe around them like, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, or Kraftwerk even. What they had in common was they were all trying to do something different rather than copy something old. Now in the electronic pop scene, it’s about trying to get that classic sound. I think we’re more interested in challenging ourselves rather than mirroring someone else.

That’s an interesting approach. Have you had any apprehensions about releasing your debut album? It’s taken a little while to come out.
It has taken a while. The first song we ever wrote together was “Northern Lights.” It was our first single, and it was a bunch of friends being like, “Let’s make a video for this and put it on YouTube.” It took off straight away. We got the opportunity to start touring, went straight into that zone and just did hundreds of shows. Then the album was written around that. That’s why it’s taken so long, but I think it’s really important for us to grow into that and make sure that this album is us and not rushed. That's how it felt if we released one song. That’s not the truth of where we were at as a band. It feels very natural that it’s taken this long so that it’s ready now. This is what we wanted to do. Maybe we could have waited to release our music a little later, but we really didn’t have any expectations at all. We’ve just been playing catch-up and chasing our tails to get music out quick enough to keep touring because we really love playing shows. That’s what’s inspired the album so much—meeting people and playing shows. It’s been hugely inspiring to the album and us finishing it as well. I don’t think we’ve been apprehensive, really, it’s just taken time because we wanted to do it honestly. Just the simple concept of planting a seed and watching a tree grow, I think we needed to plant a seed and watch it grow.

You guys pair pretty great visual components with your music. How do your visuals connect and relate to your music?
Quite often when we’re writing music, we're talking about the visuals at the same time. We’re really inspired by bringing in opposites. From our name, it was mixing male and female. For our music, it’s mixing human and robotic things together. It’s human meets machine: we want electronic elements, but also live instruments and the human touch. We’re drawn to this black and white world and trying to bring them together and make them meet. In everything we do, we’re constantly using this balance of two opposite worlds. That just comes through in our visuals as well.

Continued below.

Your previous EPs dealt with self-empowerment at its core. Is there a theme that resonates on this record?
Kate: I think the theme that has happened subconsciously for us has been really about connection: connection with each other as band members and also a connection with the audience. That’s what we really feel like the theme is for this album. That’s why we called the album ONE. We want to feel one with each other and with everyone who listens.

What would your three wishes for your music career be?
To see more places—everywhere we perform, we meet a lot of people. Very often we meet people who become our good friends and that doesn’t happen unless we’re out on tour. We definitely want to connect with people.

Kate: Another thing is, to get to a level where we inspired someone to make music themselves. That’s always been something we’ve dreamed of doing. Us growing up and making music, it would be incredible to help someone follow their dreams.

Markus: To play in Australia! We’ve never played there, but Kate is from there. We’re going there for the holidays, though. It seems like that wish is going to come true though.

Your music is very futuristic. Do you guys have a fascination with the future?
Markus: Personally, how couldn’t you? There’s going to be so many cool things happening in the future.

Kate: Right now is even the future, so I feel like everything we do is heading there. It’s a really cool concept to play with and have fun with.

Would you ever aspire to be the first band to play on another planet?
Maybe not the first one, I’d like to have a guinea pig band out there first. Someone else can test it out.

Markus: It sounds like it would be pretty ruthless in rehearsing before—also the traveling to get there. We always wanted to be the first band to play North Korea, but apparently other bands have played there already.

Kate Boy November Tour Dates
10 Toronto, Ont. The Drake
11 Chicago. IL Empty Bottle
13 New York, NY Le Poisson Rouge
14 Brooklyn, NY Baby’s All Right
15 Washington, DC Rock & Roll Hotel
17 Vancouver, B.C. Biltmore Cabaret
18 Seattle, WA The Sunset
20 San Francisco, CA Brick & Mortar
21 Los Angeles, CA Bootleg Bar
22 San Diego, CA Soda Bar

ONE is out on Fiction on 11.6.

Ilana Kaplan is on Twitter.