Kitt Philippa is an artist with a steadily rising star. Last year, the Belfast singer and musician released their second EP, the excellent You, which was met with an overwhelmingly positive response that culminated in single ‘Human’ winning the Northern Ireland Music Prize – Single Of The Year accolade.
Since then, Philippa’s haunting vocals, personal lyricism and atmospheric bonding of electronic and classical music have earned them festival appearances at Electric Picnic, Knockanstockan and Body & Soul and support duties for Snow Patrol earlier this year.
Today, they release their debut album Human, a record that builds and expands on the foundations laid down by last year’s EP. Phillipa talked us through each song on the album to provide an insight into the process and ideas behind the release.
This is our common denominator and hopefully unifying plea.
Rhythms and strong chords on the e-piano form the musical basis. I explored and manipulated other sounds to use as accents in certain areas.
The lyrics circulate around space, eluding at times to an almost perceived emptiness. A love that might not always seem as tangible. But Love flows between and through us and leaves its trail.
There’s deliberate breathiness to the production in the track. The addition of the horns creates strong punctuation.
‘Lion’ is about mental health and finding the strength and courage to continue despite the challenges.
I began writing this with the formation of the chords; its cycling loop has a delayed resolution to dissonance. The track almost smoulders sometimes; patience lingers.
‘Grace’ is about the fellowship of Love; it is mysterious and flowing. Humans can show deep love and companionship, but also there is a spiritual element to the track – trying to grasp, understand or feel the spirit of God’s love.
It was nice to write with the guitar and there remains a strong focus on vocal expression.
There’s a heaviness in the lyrics and an intensity to their delivery. The cross-section of the track probably reveals difficulty interacting with self and others, at times. Looking at thermometers to understand how something feels is relatively simple; I interchanged the language to maybe try to view things in an easier way.
I wrote a lot of this track on the laptop, composing particular beats and sounds before ‘riffing’ over the foundations, on an e-piano. It is a busy track with a lot of layers and intersections. I very much see all the individual parts like components of a greater structure – they have their own characters – but how they work together interested me.
‘Moth’ searches for deep truth – wanting not just perceptions of light, but real light. The track acknowledges contractions. It is a desire to understand more from myself, others and God.
The writing within the piano is quite detailed and perhaps the pattern of my fingers sometimes emulated wings. I enjoy syncopation and [perhaps surprisingly] the slight change of direction at the end; like an inversion of the usual caterpillar-to-moth transformation.
‘L’ came from a difficult and frustrating place. Although the music stills, the lyrics do not conclude and remain relatively fearful of loss and abandonment.
The full span of the piano is needed: dynamic and colourful. The repeating vocal phrase is probably an attempt at comfort within otherwise relative turbulence.
I had a specific image in my head of an older woman wearing a long, dark, heavy coat walking along a street in warm weather. She moved in a slow, measured way. The heat amplified the coat and there was something about its ability to physically conceal. It paralleled mental burdens that are hidden and carried. The end of the song is a prayer for the woman’s safety.
The drone is a prominent feature of the track. I love drones very much. They were present in a lot of early church chant music and can ground a piece of music like an anchor. The violins are slightly microtonal at times to create movement. Early on, I wanted an operatic soprano to emerge from the depths of the music.
This was written after witnessing a concerning visual scene in a dream. The track knows fear and recognises the need for positive action. Life feels dangerous sometimes. Atlas looks to strength and source(s) of strength. Also, the word atlas is another name for a map of the world – a world we share.
The music is not unlike the technique I used in an earlier track [Home] with mostly two piano pitches interacting with each other. It was important for the track to become effectively an orchestra because of the sound palette within, and between, many instruments paint something vast and diverse.
Renewal is so powerful, and there is a healthy hope found within it. Sometimes repetition can be quite comforting, hence the repeating phrase. Feeling low at night is difficult; knowing there could be a fresh day and an opportunity for things to be or get better is a form of solace. It’s like a prayerful, minimalist lullaby.
I appreciate the freedom of improvisation and the clarinet has been a long-standing feature in my life.
Human is out now on all streaming platforms. Kitt Phillipa will be supporting Mick Flannery at Lost Lane on October 17 & 18.