Originally, the following interview was planned for issue no.2 of XCENTS (which you can download for free here). It didn’t quite work out in time for the release of the issue, but since Kate McGill just released the EP Dual with her band Meadowlark, it would be a waste to make you wait for this until issue no.3. So here it is, as XCENTS’ first web exclusive: It’s Kate McGill of Meadowlark.
And if you’re now wondering ‘Kate McWho?‘, you’re in good company. For a while, Kate was ‘the girl who sang not just another fucking Hallelujah‘ to me, after I had seen her cover video of the Leonard Cohen song but had forgotten her name. Then ‘the girl who…‘ popped up in a video of a certain Mr. ortoPilot (and subsequently several more), which put a name to the face and voice again. Now I know her as Kate McGill, Kate from Meadowlark, a girl who used to be a successful cover artist on YouTube in her own right, and who walked away from exactly that…
► Not everyone is able to build a YouTube channel with over 160,000 subscribers. Even less people would walk away from a channel like this. Before we get into why you’ve done that, how was your personal start on YouTube?
I signed up to YouTube kind of unknowingly in 2007, when I was 17. I had no idea what a subscriber was or anything like that. I just started uploading videos of me playing the keyboard really poorly. Then I bought a really crappy guitar off eBay and learned about a chord per year. But when I started playing songs I liked, I got more and more into it. I don’t know what possessed me to even upload a video. But I did, and gradually people found out about me. It was a very slow process at first, but it blew my mind that it was getting more every day.
I always knew that I like to sing, but didn’t think that I would be good enough.
► So, initially, you did it without any plans of having a career in music?
Oh, no plan at all. I actually wanted to get into acting. At university I did a course in theatre and performance. I always knew that I like to sing, but didn’t think that I would be good enough. No, there was definitely no plan to make music a career. But when I was 18, the summer when I had just finished my first year of uni, I met my manager and I did a big gig in London – my first ever gig, supporting Ladyhawke and Bombay Bicycle Club. Then I went back to uni for my second year and on the first day I realised: I don’t like this anymore, I need to make music. So I quit.
► How much did YouTube play into your development as a musician, after almost accidentally kickstarting it?
It is THE thing that helped me become who I am. I really don’t think I’d be making music now if it wasn’t for YouTube. It might have happened a different way – we don’t know that. But as it is, I have my entire career now thanks to YouTube. It’s how a lot of people know about me and it is how a lot of people now also know about Meadowlark.
► Of course that makes it even more remarkable that you decided to walk away – not from YouTube in general, but at least from the channel that got you where you are now. How did that decision come about?
I had just released Replaced and I knew I had to start writing for a second release soon. During that time, I felt really uninspired. All of the songs I was writing by myself suddenly sounded the same to me. Every melody felt like something I had used before. It was like trying to get blood out of a stone. At the same time, I was getting more and more known for covers. I’d put original songs up on YouTube and they would get views and people liked them, but the covers would always get more hits and more attention. Which is something I completely understand. I mean, it’s kind of why you do it. But I never wanted to get to the point where I was more known for that. That combination of feeling uninspired and having more success, so to speak, with the covers pushed me over the edge. I told myself that this has to stop. The weird thing is that, when I first started out, I did a lot of Ellie Goulding covers, and she messaged me a few times on Facebook, saying ‘I think you need to stop doing covers and need to focus more on your own music’. Back then, I didn’t take this as seriously as I probably should have. But a few years later I was very much in agreement with her.
► Have you now written back to her, telling her, ‘You were right all along’?
(laughs) No, I haven’t done that yet. We’re still friends on Facebook, so she probably knows that I have branched out of the cover thing. But maybe I should tell her that she was right.
► If I got the timeline right, this decision not to go forward the way you had started came before you formed Meadowlark with Dan?
Definitely. I think I was talking to a friend on the phone about the decision, saying how I wish I could start over or start something new from the ground up. I mean, I was and still am very appreciative of what I had back then, it just felt stale to me. So I made the decision to quit that channel and started to look around for other ways to do music and to collaborate with others. Then Dan suddenly came into the picture, and it just fit nicely.
► How about the video in which you announced that things were going to change, the one titled ‘my last YouTube video’ – did you sit down and think about it a lot or was it more of a spur of the moment kind of thing?
In general, I’m quite whimsical and erratic. I act on impulse all the time. But even when I go with my gut, I do it because there is no doubt in my mind that it is the right thing to do. So, at the time, I knew that it was what I had to do. Looking back now, I don’t regret it one bit. I’m very happy with where I am now. The only thing is that I could have gone about it a bit differently. I hate to think that I have alienated some of the people who supported me in previous years with that video by making it sound like they are not the kind of people I’m doing this for.
► Did you get a lot of messages saying, ‘Kate, what the fuck’?
There were a lot – and I mean lots and lots – of people telling me that I was really stupid for doing this. And I can understand why they would say this. It is difficult to understand why anyone would sort of leave an audience of 160,000 people. I think the majority of people understood my motivation, they just didn’t come to the same conclusion that I had come to, which is that leaving this channel would be the logical consequence if I wanted to be happy with my music.
► You said you could have handled it differently. In what way?
Well, from that point on, if you weren’t also following me on Twitter or Facebook, you had no idea what I was doing. That’s something I could have done differently. I could have stopped doing the covers but still do updates on what I was doing now, to keep my existing subscribers informed about the new music.
I’d love to still keep in touch with the people who subscribed to that channel, I’d just be scared of their reaction.
► Well, you did go back on it at least a little bit. It wasn’t, in fact, your last video on that channel. There has been a follow-up on that video, one original acoustic song and an announcement about which we’ll talk later. And of course there is always the chance for you to repackage this channel and do exactly what you just said might be a good way of utilising it…
Yeah, and I would actually really like to do that. My problem is that I’m afraid that it would look like I’m taking the piss. People could say, ‘You can’t just leave us like that and then come back into our lives’. I did that I’m Alive video to set my own head straight, so I wouldn’t feel massive amounts of guilt. Like I said, I didn’t want people to feel alienated by that first video. I’d love to still keep in touch with the people who subscribed to that channel, I’d just be scared of their reaction.
► By the by, this is something that always puzzled me: There is a second Kate McGill channel – and it is not even for vlogging or behind-the-scenes videos, but simply another music channel. And at almost 30,000 subscribers, that’s a channel a lot of new artists would love to have as well. But why the two channels to begin with?
(laughs) I think I just got greedy back then. I wanted to do lots of covers of lesser known bands. My first channel was more poppy charts stuff, like Mumford & Sons or Adele, so the covers of the obscure bands didn’t seem to fit. Also, I wanted to upload more. I just love to sing and I wanted to upload stuff all the time, but I had it in my mind that a kind of weekly schedule would be better for my main channel. So the second channel was my attempt to share more. You know, for the people who actually wanted to hear me sing really obscure songs all the time.
► Staying with the theme of two YouTube channels, Meadowlark also has two channels. One of them is Meadowlark Official, one a Vevo channel. And this is another thing I don’t quite understand: a) Why split it up at all and b) Why go for a Vevo channel? I personally find those to deliver a horrible user experience.
Well, Meadowlark Official is actually our channel, but Vevo always have their separate channels. If you put your video on Vevo to promote it – that is, if your label pays for a package – they set up their own thing, and you don’t have control of it as the artist. The reason to do it is to get more clicks because you get more exposure through Vevo and the association with other Vevo videos.