It was just short of a day, or Kate NV hadn't existed at all. There was a wrong email address with her registration for the Red Bull Music Academy and she suddenly doubted whether her solo project NV was really what she wanted. The Russian producer, songwriter and composer decided to quit and focus on architecture and her punk band (ГШ / Glintshake) again - until a day later she received an email that she had been hired. For her, it was a sign to it pick up again. When we speak to her on a warm summer's day in the woods of Leeuwarden, where she plays Welcome to the Village that weekend, the somewhat shy Kate Shilonosova is glad that she continued doing the thing she does best: making music.
Written by: Loulou Kuster
Photos:: Frederica van Mastrigt
As a child at music school, Kate Shilonosova, aka Kate NV, makes all her own music. Although she attended music school for eight years, it feels like a liberation for her to drop out and study architecture in Moscow; she no longer has to adhere to the strict rules of the music school and, in addition to her studies, she can make all the music she wants to make herself. There, she and a number of fellow architecture students form ГШ / Glintshake, in which Kate takes on the task of front woman and guitarist. “We weren't good instrumentalists at all. A friend of mine was actually a guitarist, but the guy who came to audition for our band played way below our level, we asked him to play a bit and it didn't go well at all. I went to play it for him, but that came across more rude than I intended, because he angrily grabbed his drumsticks and stormed out of the rehearsal room. I then told my girlfriend that she should play the drums. She had never done that before, but I thought it was a very good way to learn to play the drums.”
When Kate buys her first laptop not much later, she also starts making pop music. She meets someone, again through her studies - because of her schedule she only has time to hang out with architecture students - who teaches her to work with the sequencer program Ableton Live, slowly making her steps from punk to electronic music. For a while she is busy with her studies, the band and her solo project NV, with which she makes minimalist bubblegum pop. But she doesn't get much feedback on her solo project, so she gives up on it for a while. Until 2014: when the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo appears there and Kate's life changes drastically. “Actually, I had already stopped with NV, but I still wanted to try and see if I would succeed. I didn't hear from RBMA for a long time, so I decided to pull the plug on NV for good; it had to be so. But literally the day after I made that decision, I got an email that I had been selected to participate in the RBMA in Tokyo. They had a wrong e-mail address of mine so previous e-mails stating that I was hired did not reach me. Fortunately, they got my correct email address through a detour. That was really a sign to me that I just had to go. I've always had a love for Japan, so having it take place in Tokyo was a huge motivation for me.”
She didn't know much beforehand about how things were going at the academy. She envisioned taking classes as she was used to at her university in Moscow, but focused on music. But when she is arranging everything around her visa and the stay in Tokyo, she receives another email from the manager of RBMA: 'I have scheduled your performance for October 26 and you are going to play for an hour, is that okay?' It hadn't even occurred to me that I had to perform. I assumed that we only had courses and workshops. I was too shy to email back that I couldn't perform, so I collected all the half-written songs that I still had in folders somewhere on my computer and started finishing them like crazy. A friend of mine later said that my RBMA experience actually started two months earlier, because I really brushed up my Ableton Live skills by finishing songs at a super fast pace. I also put on two shows for my friends in Kazan, the city I grew up in, before I went to Tokyo, because I thought that the first time on stage would be in front of all those RBMA people, I would be peeing my pants from stress."
"My first intensive tour was very hard for me. I got sick and I thought: I can't handle this, this is getting too much for me. I thought I was going to die."
Although she is still a bit shy, Shilonosova blossoms completely during that period, especially musically. Her vision broadens and she takes courses from people that she initially did not look for herself, but was presented here, such as jazz veteran James Ntume. “But the group of people who took part in the academy also taught me a lot. We were all super different there, but we had one thing in common and that was music. I could see that no matter how many fans or followers you have - because some of them were a bit further along and so had more people following them - we are all the same, we have the same problems. I was able to embrace a lot of myself during that period. I also realized that being a snobbish gets you nowhere at all. Personally, I've never been really snobbish, but in Moscow I did hang out with those kinds of people a lot. Then you unconsciously take on some of those qualities. They also didn't think it was necessary for me to go to Tokyo for the academy. When I came back they could see how important this was to me and how good it had done me. All I could do was beam and glow with happiness.”
Not only has the RBMA done a lot for her personally, it has also given her a tremendous amount of name recognition, which now allows her to travel all over the world. That wasn't always easy, but she soon learns to push herself. “My first intensive tour was very difficult for me. I got sick and I thought: I can't handle this, this is getting too much for me. I found the travel very complicated and difficult and my thoughts really went into a downward spiral. It was so bad that I thought I was going to die. At one point a switch went off in my head. I thought: no, we are not going to do this. I changed my view of what I could and was allowed to do. It feels like an honor to travel; not everyone has this opportunity. If you keep telling yourself that you are tired, you will eventually become so. Putting my thoughts together often shows me that I can do it all. I usually travel alone, which also makes it easier for me to keep up. I can go where I want. If I feel like drinking a certain lemonade, I can cycle for an hour to get it, nobody cares anyway. If you had told me four years ago that I would always travel alone now, I would have thought you were crazy, I really would. Now I think if I were going to travel with someone, I would just wait for that other person to leave again. I hardly feel alone when I travel, I just like to be on my own. Sometimes I'm alone for a long time and then I feel like I should feel lonely, but actually I don't feel that at all.”
"There are three things in my life that I like most: making music, cycling and sleeping."
“The only inconvenient thing about traveling alone is eating out. I go to many different places in different countries, where you can taste many different dishes. I'm just not a big eater, so I can taste a lot less than I would like and if there are more, you can also order more. That's the most annoying thing about my life when I'm on tour, haha.”
Not only when traveling, the Russian producer likes to do things alone. Also in her hometown of Moscow she is very much on her own. She wakes up, checks her socials, the news and starts making music. Or she grabs her bike and just goes somewhere. “I love cycling very much. There are three things in my life that I like most: making music, cycling and sleeping. Cycling calms me down and I always listen to music while cycling. One half of my brain is focused on the road, on the cars and pedestrians. The other half is absorbing all the music. Cycling helps me to hear the music better, sometimes even better than during a concert. I hardly listen to music at home, mainly on my bike. Often the same music for weeks in a row, then I always discover new things. Or I hear things that I can use myself in a different way.”
“I also like to cycle in places where I'm touring. Although cycling is not equally pleasant in every city. I can't do it in Amsterdam, cycling and listening to music at the same time. A while ago I was there and I tried it, but all those people on scooters driving way too fast and close to you drove me crazy. Amsterdam is much more complex and busier than, for example, Moscow. I really like the city and I still love the architecture, but I don't cycle there anymore. But when I was in Tokyo this spring, I got a lot out of my bike rides. I had then put on the soundtrack to The Wiz and it was magical. It's a really cool soundtrack with all Motown stars like Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, all but Japanese, but it was just right. I remember riding my bike at night in Akihabara, a neighborhood with lots of bright billboards and everyone was gaming in the street while I had that soundtrack on. It was just so surreal and beautiful that I cried at the end of the bike ride. I gained a lot from that journey, new ideas and sounds or feelings. I think I will process those emotions and sounds on my next record.”
On Friday August 30, Kate NV will be playing at Into the Great Wide Open.
Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.