2020 has certainly been a strange year in the music world, but 24-year-old pop recording artist, Kathryn Dean is making the most of it. With the pandemic putting a stop to any touring plans she had this year, Dean quickly shifted her focus to live streams, online performances and most importantly, writing. Her latest single, “Friends (Don’t Wanna Be)” – out today – is just the taste test for what’s to come. Originally premiered last month on the community platform, High School Nation, “Friends (Don’t Wanna Be)” is an empowering, emotional track that sets the tone for the rest of 2020 for Kathryn Dean.
While quarantined, Dean has been hard at work writing and recording new music over video calls with Sandy Vee and now, is currently in the works on a new docuseries. With big plans for the rest of the year, this definitely won’t be the last time you hear from Kathryn Dean in the coming months. Listen to “Friends (Don’t Wanna Be)” now and read a bit more about the track below!
Prelude Press: You’re just releasing your first single of 2020, “Friends (Don’t Wanna Be)” this summer! Can you tell us a little bit about the track? What inspired it?
Kathryn Dean: “Friends (Don’t Wanna Be)” is inspired by the difficulty of breakups (whether romantic or platonic) and the trap many of us fall into of justifying the bad times and reliving the good times. I found myself in that trap until writing this song reminded me that I was much better off without having someone in my life who didn’t support me or build me up but made me feel small. What I love about the song, which is co-written and produced by Joshua Bartholomew and Lisa Harriton (collectively JoLi), is that it is both a vulnerable admission of the hold that this person had on me as well as a declaration and celebration of the fact that I cut all ties. It is my hope that this song will really resonate with my listeners and inspire them to only put energy into healthy relationships that build them up.
Did you have any major goals in mind when you first started working on the song? Was there anything that you wanted to explore sonically?
I write every song with the goal of the song becoming a hit. Doing so puts me in a different mindset where I shape the story to not only capture what it means to me, but also what it could mean to my audience. As I mentioned above, the song captures both the vulnerability and pain of caring for a person who made me doubt my value as well as the celebration of never having to deal with that person again, and we wanted the instrumentation to reflect that dichotomy. Troy Samuela, a producer/writer I regularly work with along with Maize (both of Greg Kurstin’s No Expectations), is a master at creating a bittersweet sound and his mixing and additional production of the song really took it to the next level.
You released “Friends (Don’t Wanna Be)” exclusively through the community platform, High School Nation, which inspires students to pursue their passions – why are programs like this one and other music/arts outreach programs important to you?
Being quarantined has been challenging for everyone, but I think high schoolers have the extra element of not only missing out on important connections with their peers, but also missing out on rites of passage. I started writing in high school and found this great outlet that has helped me get through challenging times, so I wanted to share my music and stories with them in the hopes that they will be inspired to find their own outlet, which is especially important right now.
Before quarantine, my Musical Director, Neara Russell, and I had started rehearsing and developing live arrangements for my latest songs thinking that by late spring/early summer, we would be doing a lot of performing. When it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen, we pretty quickly shifted to preparing for live streams and e-performances. The writing and recording process has also changed but there have been some silver linings. For example, I was originally intended to spend a couple days in studio working with Sandy Vee, who co-wrote and produced Katy Perry’s “Firework”, Rhianna’s “Only Girl in the World”, and David Guetta’s “Sexy Bitch”; but instead of waiting for the quarantine to end, we decided to collaborate virtually and, with Zoom bringing cameras into the session, ended up recording the songwriting process. Flash forward and the relationship has continued to evolve, even leading to a joint docuseries, Chart Breakers, which will show the process of working toward my goal of having a song on the pop charts, with Sandy as my mentor. The docuseries will also follow iNTeLL of 2nd Generation Wu (Tang) as he works toward the same goal.
Have you had the chance to work on any new music while you’ve been home? What has been keeping you busy?
I have actually been busier during quarantine than ever. Under normal circumstances, I am in the same room with co-writers as we create the song, bounce production and background vocal ideas off of each other, and tighten up the timing of the melody in relation to a track. Whether recording a demo or final vocal, there is also always another person engineering the session and giving me real time feedback. In quarantine, everything is less efficient because of the lag time when video conferencing. If, for example, Sandy wants to hear me sing the melody with the track while we are writing, he can’t just play it on his end for me to sing along to because by the time I hear the track and my voice travels back to him, the timing doesn’t line up correctly. Recording my own vocals has also been interesting, particularly because the only way to get feedback is to either listen to all of the takes or send out those takes to an engineer or vocal producer for his/her input. On the plus side, I have had the benefit of working with new songwriting partners and collaborators whose schedules have changed. We are all trying to figure out how to make everything work and that kind of resets the playing field which I find exciting.
What are you looking forward to the most when things begin to return to normal?
I am looking forward to the little things – being able to go grocery shopping without it being a nightmare, getting back in the studio/same room as my collaborators, and spending time in-person with my family and friends. I am also looking forward to the bigger things – performing new music live with the energy and back-and-forth that you only get with an audience, traveling, and taking advantage of more opportunities to engage with my fans in person.
Can fans expect more new music soon?
Yes! As I’m working on the docuseries, I will be releasing new music and exploring new ways of sharing music as part of the process. One of the things that I miss about “normal” life is taking a new song to stage and getting immediate feedback about the strength of the song and its impact on listeners. I am excited to experiment with new ways to get that fan feedback and engage with listeners about the music.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
This was great, thank you! I also wanted to share that I am holding a contest for the official album art for my next single, “Exhale”. Please check out my social media for a clip of a live performance of “Exhale” and to see contest instructions (@KathrynDeanOfficial on Facebook and Instagram, @KathrynDean on Twitter).