But Catey Shaw ain’t no one hit viral wonder. Just this month the ukelele-playing dynamo dropped “Human Contact,” a quirky, dancey little feel-good jam with a big chorus. The track, off her upcoming ‘Brooklyn’ EP, has the same spirited, insta-earworm energy of “Brooklyn Girls.”
Ladygunn chatted with Catey about her upcoming EP, her artsy upbringing, and how living in Brooklyn inspired her to write one hell of a catchy pop hit.
Hey Catey! Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I was born and raised in Virginia Beach. Virginia Beach has a great public school system, with specialized “academies” at each. I went to The Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School. I was mostly focused on visual arts, though I did participate in the school’s musicals and open mic’s. After high school I went to community college to regroup and recover from an intense knee surgery before finally getting up the guts to apply to my dream school, SVA. Upon acceptance I made the big move to New York. Eventually I began busking in my free time and my manager, Jay Levine, discovered me in the 23rd Street station. He brought me to a recording studio and the rest is history.
You’re also an amazing painter! When did you start painting and how does your artwork tie into your music?
I’ve been into visual arts my whole life. The high school I went to has a specialized arts program and Fine Arts/Painting was my major at SVA. Getting into music was actually kind of an easy transition for me. I think when you’re born an artist there’s this internal need to communicate. All I want is to combat the confusion and the loneliness of being human by making connections. So I really see it all as one thing. I’m doing everything I can through every outlet I know to communicate.
I heard you dropped out of art school when you ran out of tuition money. Is that true? Are you focusing full time on music now?
It’s true! I couldn’t finish paying for my second year and couldn’t get any more loans, so I wasn’t allowed to even register for my 3rd year. But yes I am very happy and lucky to be doing music as a full-time job.
How’d you come about picking up the ukelele?
In high school someone had left a little toy ukulele at my house and I picked it up. it was easy to just play chords and allowed me to start experimenting with writing songs. My eighteenth birthday I got my first real uke and always fiddled around on it, did some covers on YouTube. I brought it to NY with me and when I ran out of money I taught myself a short set of covers and went down to the subway to busk.
Who are some of the artists and albums that have most inspired or motivated you?
I grew up around my dad; he loves the Beatles and the Beach Boys and all things classic rock. And Bob Marley. Virginia Beach kind of has it’s own sound too (being home to Timbaland, Missy Elliot, Pharrell). My first love was Shania Twain. She is such a badass to me. From country I fell in love with disco, from disco to hip hop, I had a short-lived rock phase too. Then it all kind of meshed together. In high school I really got into Regina Spektor and Billie Holiday, Carole King and James Taylor. I think all of this comes through in my music.
“Brooklyn Girls” has become quite the viral pop hit! Did you expect this?
I definitely didn’t expect anything at this volume. However, I understand why a song about Brooklyn would cause a bit of a commotion. Anytime you talk about something as specific as a place, people are bound to talk back. I love Brooklyn with all my heart – so much that I wanted to sing about it.
What is it about Brooklyn that you just fell head over heels for?
I came to NY for school and was able to pursue that for 2 years until money ran out. I loved being in Manhattan in the dorms, but I still hadn’t quite found my place. After dropping out I floated around boroughs and couches of the NYC area for about a year before I finally landed in BK. Everything kind of just came together for me there. I could finally feel like my full self.
Is the track a bit of a response to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” on purpose? (Notably that popsicle bit!)
The initial inspiration was from The Girl from Ipanema. We wanted to describe this one-of-a-kind female. You can’t take your eyes off her when she walks by. We all know “there ain’t nothin like a Brooklyn girl.” Once the concept took shape it became clear that it could be a great response to California Gurls. It’s a great, catchy song, but I found the description of the women a little boring. All about bikinis and high heels and sex on the beach. A Brooklyn girl can’t be reduced to an outfit or a jeep. She’s much more complex.
There’s been a touch of critical backlash over the track, the video, and how it portrays your perception of Brooklyn. But in all fairness, it is your perception, which I think is important to note. How do you respond to these critics?
The critical response is what’s making this song kind of take off, so my first response would be thank you! The only truth I can tell is my own truth. I love staring at Brooklyn Girls. They’re confident, well styled and don’t take shit. And we could have gone all over the borough filming women. But that’s not my truth. My reality is off of the Jefferson stop. And the people in the video are my real friends. And the party was with real beer and real hot dogs in my real backyard. And if anyone has an issue with that I encourage them to post their opinion with a link to the video on all social media outlets!
Tell me about filming the video with Jon Jon Augustavo:
It was a blast. Jon Jon really knows how to keep the energy high. We had all of these clothes from Brooklyn-based designers so we spent a good amount of time trying to find the right backdrop for each one, but the whole shoot was really more fun than work.
What can you tell me about your ‘Brooklyn’ EP dropping in the Fall?
The Brooklyn EP will be out September 9th. I am very proud of these songs. I think there’s a real progression since the last EP and the sound is more me than it’s ever been. As I said I found myself in Brooklyn, I found my sound on the Brooklyn EP.
What’s next for Catey Shaw?
I just finished co-directing the music video for Human Contact with my good friend Bryan Russell Smith, that’s out now. Then the EP drops shortly after on September 9. I’d like to get to touring and just keep playing. In the meantime I’m still writing and looking toward the next release. It’s funny… the Brooklyn EP isn’t even out yet and we’re gearing up for something new.