Interview: Kat Graham — "I want to be a people's artist"
Mon, 12 Jul 2010 07:36:04
Kat Graham's got style.
That comes across in her infectious new single, "Sassy." The Vampire Diaries star somehow stirs Snow White, old school Janet Jackson and a funkified flare together in one intoxicatingly catchy concoction.
While other modern pop mistresses rely heavily on shtick, Kat Graham's got a classy charm that's far more timeless and ultimately way more badass. Lady Gaga needs to be unseated from the top of the heap, and Kat Graham's got the kind of sass that could do it. Just take one listen to the first single, and you'll hear it in her voice!
Kat Graham sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about "Sassy," The Vampire Diaries, her starring role in Honey 2 and all of the surprises she has in store…
Would you say that "Sassy" has some attitude behind it?
Yeah, absolutely! I'm definitely not bubblegum pop. There's tongue-in-cheek attitude swag in there for sure.
What's the story behind the song?
Honestly, I'd written "Sassy" about two years ago. I wanted to make a song that really reflected my philosophy on life and having fun, in a simple and young way. I think the secret to that is just being yourself and doing your own thing. That's why I put the phrase "Sassy as I want to be" in there. I feel that it's perfect for summer, and it's great for everyone who wants to have a good time. It's got that hard drum, but still has a funky melody that people can dance to.
The song has a Janet Jackson vibe too. Is she an influence?
Definitely when I was younger, I was like a baby Janet [Laughs]. People even called me, "Baby Janet" for a long time! I watched a lot of her videos so I guess she crept into my subconscious. Really, I'm more influenced by M.I.A., Gwen Stefani and Grace Jones, style-wise. However, I think my voice, in terms of pop, is similar to Janet's. There's the fact that we both dance, and we're both actresses. Yeah, freaking, I'm good with any comparison to that icon [Laughs]. I'm really flattered. I'll take it, you know?
So was the "mirror mirror" line a nod to Snow White?
Yup! It's from the Disney movie. The witch would say, "Mirror mirror on the wall who's the fairest of them all" and then the mirror would be like, "You are! You're the most fabulous!" I thought that was such an interesting philosophy. You could look at yourself, and the mirror would talk back to you, but with "Sassy" you're looking in the mirror telling yourself, "I'm the freshest. I'm the fly-est. I'm the dopest." You're telling yourself, "I'm cool, and I'm going to have fun."
It's an inversion of that classic scene.
I'm all about bringing it back—whether it's '90s dance pop to the idea that artists should be able to do it all. They should be able produce and do their own music. They should be able to put it all together and dance, sing and act. I believe in the old school philosophy of training. I want to bring back the oldies and make them fresh and new. We're 14 songs down, but I want to record even more so I can give everyone the best album possible. We're going to be giving everyone little tastes here and there of what's to come, fun remixes and really funky songs. Next, we're dropping my remake of "Cold Hearted Snake" for the fans. I'm doing a video with that, and shooting the video for "Sassy," so there's a lot of exciting things to come.
If your upcoming album were a movie or combination of movies what would it be?
It would be a mix of The Last Dragon, Girlfight with Michelle Rodriguez and The Jetsons [Laughs].
That's perfect! Who's ass are you kicking?
All ex-boyfriends and all the haters, just like every other girl!
Much respect, do acting and music come from the same creative place for you? Are they similar thought processes?
It's different training definitely. Before I start filming something, I've got hours and hours of acting classes, private coaching and breaking things down to a science. It's also similar to music in the way I have to vocally get ready. Creatively, it's somewhat closer because it comes from a place of wanting to tell a story, becoming a character and making it believable. You're losing your ego and just letting the music or character come. If you've watched The Vampire Diaries, I'm nothing like my character. I'm this funky chick who wears '70s platforms [Laughs]. You have to lose it for the art but still keep yourself in it. That's why I wanted to do music so much. I'm constantly playing other characters, so I wanted to put something out that really expressed who I was. It also puts the message of empowerment, being who you are and loving who you are out in a fresh, funky way.
What resonated with you about Bonnie on Vampire Diares?
I love the fact that she came across very quiet in the beginning and very reserved. Through time, she wound up really finding her voice, which is a very similar story to me and a lot of young girls out there. I loved it, and now she's just ass-kicking. She's doing her thing, and I related to that because the whole time I've been recording this album and I had to really find my sound and my voice. I don't want to just do stupid songs that weren't about anything. I wanted there to be some sort of message—not beat you over the head with it but really have a strong message underneath it so people can feel like they're a part of it. From playing Bonnie and getting a lot of fans from that, I learned that I wanted to be a people's artist. I didn't want to be untouchable. I didn't want to be unrelatable. Playing Bonnie really helped me discover that.
Is there anything else you dig about Bonnie?
It's insane. She's got all of these crazy powers and stuff like that. I think the strongest power any person can have is really just being themselves—which is what she was in the end. She became the most powerful when she didn't deny who she was. I'm all about that in life.
Which records shaped you?
There are some artists that I feel have always been ahead of their time. I really love Prince. I love the Missy Elliot Miss E… So Addictive. Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation definitely shaped me a lot. Then there's Madonna classics! Really all things pop, even The Spice Girls…I would listen to a lot of hip hop from being a dancer. I would be in hip hop classes then I'd listen to all the new hip hop coming out and I'd go home and listen to my pop. I'd be in the car, and my mom would be playing oldies. Somehow, it all became mushed together, and I took these styles, and they became a part of the music I make now.
I just shot the sequel to Honey, which is really exciting. I'm the lead in that , and I get to do crazy dance battles. It's insane and it's another whole level. We're putting out "Cold Hearted Snake" as a cool viral fun song for people to ge the vibe of the album more. We're going to come back to "Sassy" in a crazy way and blow it out of the water. We're giving people tastes of the album because I want to put it out when I can promote and go on tour and do all that stuff. Until then, I want to make sure people know the sound of it and get them excited.
Have you heard "Sassy" yet?