“I want to share my stories with people, I want people to listen and feel like they know me. I want people to get an idea of who I am through my songs”, says Catherine McGrath.
In 2017, a lot of people are finding out precisely that.
She has also written with some of Nashville’s finest songwriters, and taken the likes of Country 2 Country Festival at the O2, British Summer Time, The Great Escape and Latitude/Longitude by storm. That is to say nothing of her support slots with Picture This, The Shires, and US megastars Dan + Shay. What’s more, her latest brace of songs, ‘Wild’, ‘Lost In The Middle’ and ‘Talk Of This Town’ offer the best chance to get to know her yet.
Her immersion in country music came when she heard Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ – an artist whose music McGrath’s certainly draws comparison to – Apple Music have even claimed that she’s the “new heiress to Taylor [Swift’s] throne”) – and yet that obscures the true breadth of her influences. Swift’s megahit sent her on a voyage of discovery converting her to the likes of Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Kacey Musgraves and Kelsea Ballerini, the latter of whom McGrath recently supported at her first UK show at Under The Bridge. With these influences mixing with the traditional Irish music her parents raised her on, McGrath now stands as the most exciting breaking act in UK country.
While she is undoubtedly a superstar in the making, things could have been very different. In an alternate-universe, McGrath says she would probably be studying English at university right now. That she instead finds herself as an enormously talented songstress at the epicentre of the burgeoning UK country music scene is all thanks to a bit of serendipity on the Internet.
“I just put a few covers on YouTube and sang for fun!” recalls McGrath of her formative years as a musician covering acts like Ed Sheeran from her home. “I knew it was what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure how to officially become a singer.”
Things changed when ex-Warner Bros president Conrad Withey – now McGrath’s manager – discovered those covers and, in turn, expressed his admiration. After initially ignoring his first call, hilariously mistaking Withey for some random internet pretender, McGrath finally paid attention second time around and researched who was approaching her. Needless to say she was definitely interested in what he was proposing.
“He asked me how I felt about moving over to London and writing songs there,” beams McGrath. “I moved two weeks after that phone call, ended up writing songs with every songwriter I could, and then somehow I was signed to Warner!”
McGrath has since wasted no time in establishing her name. It speaks volumes that in the world of country music – where songwriting is sacred – she has attracted some of the biggest names in the genre. Her debut EP One saw her journey to Nashville to work with Liz Rose, the co-writer of many of Taylor Swift’s early hits including You Belong With Me plus Little Big Town’s Grammy-winning single Girl Crush. The outcome was ‘Cinderella’, a soaring song that showcases McGrath’s unique ability to marry country and pop with inimitable ease, a talent which was further solidified on 2017’s EP, Starting From Now.
McGrath has since gone on to write with more of country’s biggest songwriting talents, including Jimmy Robbins (Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Lambert) and Jeffrey Steele (Tim McGraw, LeeAnn Rimes), plus huge names in pop like Steve Robson (Take That, One Direction), Lindy Robbins (Demi Lovato, Jason Derulo), and Rachel Furner (Little Mix, Craig David).
There is one new song in particular, however, that McGrath describes as “my favourite song that I’ve written to date.” ‘Wild’ cuts right to the heart of McGrath’s lyrical obsession: the dizzying highs and infuriating lows of love. Yet the song – with its killer “It was a Coldplay concert on a Friday night” chorus – is more than just a catchy single. It may as well be a page torn from a diary.
“That song is literally word for word real,” reveals McGrath. “It happened the night after I went to see a Coldplay concert with a guy who broke up with his girlfriend after five years. They were meant to go see Coldplay together but he took me instead. He was holding my hand through some of the songs, and then he would be texting her - it was like he was with me but in his head she was there. The next day I went into the studio and had a rant about what had happened.
“I think a lot of my songs are about real situations, but you wouldn’t be able to tell unless you knew what it was,” adds McGrath. “That was the one where I completely put myself out there.”
‘Lost In The Middle’ is another new song that gets to the heart of who McGrath is, albeit in a different manner. Love may still be the pervading theme, but it is the country genre itself that is the object of her affection. If you wondered how a girl raised near Belfast became obsessed with all things Nashville, it offers a compelling explanation as she sings about the power of country music.
“I felt like I knew Nashville because I’d heard so many songs about it!” laughs McGrath. “When you listen to a country song, whatever that song sings about you’re in that moment! You’re suddenly in America, in a truck, because that’s what the song’s singing about, or you listen and it takes you back to the first guy that you liked, and how nervous you were. Country songs really capture a moment, and they’re so real! They sound like memories, they’re not just songs that play in the background. ‘Lost In The Middle’ is about how you get caught in a song, how it takes you to a particular place.” McGrath has many songs that do that for her.
Catherine is currently living out her wildest dreams, which is also the topic of another one of her new songs, ‘Talk Of This Town’.
“It’s about people who look at your dream and think ‘That’s never going to happen,’” concludes McGrath. “It’s not so much about becoming successful and being like ‘Ha! Look at me!’, it’s about chasing what you want to do and living your life while other people are talking about you. I don’t think I’m in a position yet where I’m super successful yet and can be like ‘Ooh hey, look at me’, but I’m trying my best to make it work.”
It is safe to say she’s doing a very good job of it so far.