Cate: “pop is less competitive than it used to be”

The rising star on making friends in the industry, securing her Eras tour tickets, and why her live shows feel like being in the girls' bathroom

If you think touring the country with your best friend sounds like a good time, you’d be right. At least according to Gen Z pop star Cate, who earlier this year opened for roommate Maisie Peters. Their time on the road culminated in a joyful show at the Eventim Apollo, where the two performed a self-choreographed dance to a reworked version of Peters’ track, ‘Cate’s Brother’.

“We did it every night,” laughs Cate. “I was gonna do ‘Blonde’ with her at one point. And then we wrote that verse to ‘Cate’s Brother’ on the tour bus, on the way to the first show. And then every night we’d add something different to it. Like, we’d add like a dance move or something, and then by the end of it, it was like a full thing.”

Those lucky enough to see Cate’s opening slot on the tour – or indeed any of her live performances over the last year or so – will recall her as a gently powerful presence onstage. She leans heavily into the ‘singer-songwriter’ of singer-songwriter pop, open and ready to share onstage, although that’s not to say that her pop melodies won’t get lodged in your head (see the insanely catchy ‘Groupie’ for proof’). The Canadian pop star has drawn a good deal of notice since she first emerged onto the UK pop scene in 2020 with her viral heartbreaker ‘Can’t Wait To Be Pretty’, and a series of solid pop offerings and an endearing live presence have only served to raise her star higher.

Ahead of her UK tour in October, we caught up with Cate to talk writing songs in lockdown, being open about her insecurities, and why right now is such an exciting period for female pop.

Cate - Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Official Video)

How was the tour in general?

Oh my God, it was so fun. It was like being in middle school camp. It was so cool. My band is really good friends with Maisie’s band, so we’re all really good friends. So it’s like the girls were all friends and the guys were all friends and they all knew each other and it was just really wholesome.

You and Maisie have been friends for a little while. How did you guys first meet?

We tried to figure this out the other day because we couldn’t really remember the first time we met. But I know I was working with Joe Rubel a lot, who Maisie works with, and then we just had a whole bunch of mutual friends. I know my friend Rory [Adams] wrote with her. He wrote ‘Look At Me Now’ from her first EP, so he hung out with her then. I think we met a few times, and then she asked me to be in her music video for ‘Psycho’. But even then we weren’t, like, really close. I think it was later that year, we just started hanging out in the winter, and then she wanted a roommate. So I was like, “Yeah!” We didn’t really know each other much before we moved in together though, which was actually kind of really sweet.

Have you found British pop to be a friendly space in general?

Yeah, in my experience. When I first moved here it was COVID, so it was really hard to make friends. But I feel like once I met a few people it was really welcoming. I feel like every girly musician I meet at shows is always so nice.

And it’s less competitive that it used to be, I guess maybe because with Spotify and TikTok there’s more room for everyone. Especially in the UK. Obviously, there’s little ounces of it, but I feel like I’ve been lucky with all the people I’ve met.

How have you found the British pop scene in general compared to your experience in Canada?

It’s interesting, because Canada has so many talented musicians, but there’re not a lot of sessions going on unless you’re in Toronto. I grew up right outside of Vancouver, and those sessions… you couldn’t really fill a week, whereas in London there’s just a lot more things happening. And Vancouver’s live scene too… it’s a shame, because there’re so many good musicians there and so many amazing people who go to Vancouver, but it’s a very tame city for live music. London has a lot more going on, which is why I moved. If you grow up making music in Canada, you kind of assume you have to move to America or the UK. But I love Vancouver. Home of Carly Rae Jepsen!

Did you originally think you might end up in the US?

Yeah, I was going to LA quite a bit. I went to a summer camp there. That’s how I met Rory. And then I was going to sessions, just hanging out. I thought I’d move eventually, but I ended up in the UK, which I’m glad about. I think starting off my career, it’s nice that I was in the UK.

Cate - Groupie (Lyric Video)

When did you get started in music?

I went to summer camp. It was there that I took vocal lessons – I was like, 13. My vocal coach asked me to go to this camp, and that was in LA. Then I was in a country band for a few years, doing covers and performing at country rodeo shows in Canada. So embarrassing. But that was actually great because I feel like I fell in love with performing more than songwriting. And then I started writing my own music, right after I got out of that band. I was always writing but I never really performed it.

Then I wanted to write for other people. I’ve always wanted to do my own project, but then in COVID, it was like I needed to do my own project. No sessions were happening with other artists on Zoom, so I had a lot of time to put an EP together. I guess COVID kind of forced me to put it out there.

Also, I lived with a producer. If that wasn’t the case it would have been really hard. Because getting songs down would have been difficult, and writing them by myself in my parents’ house, in my childhood bedroom, would have been difficult. But I was lucky. Me and Tessa [Mouzourakis], who I moved in with, were writing together a lot. And then I was writing for my other roommate for his project quite a bit too. When we moved in together in lockdown, we just all wrote together mostly out of convenience.

I want to talk about ‘Can’t Wait To Be Pretty’, which was one of your first big Spotify releases. Can you tell me a bit about the story behind that song?

I wrote that song in November 2020. It was right when the second lockdown happened, and me and Rory went for a big walk, because we’d go for these six hour walks around London in lockdown just like, to get a coffee and walk around. And I think we’re both talking about dating or starting to date, or just about starting to do things in our lives. I don’t know, I think we were both tiptoeing around the subject of ‘when I feel this way’, or ‘when I get more confident’, or when like… it’s so toxic, but ‘when I lose a bit of weight’, or something stupid like that. I was like, “I’ll start dating!” or like, “I’ll get a tattoo!”… I’ve always been like that, especially when I was a teenager. And we were talking I just thought, it’s so dumb how we’re waiting to do all these things when we get to the “perfect” versions of ourselves.

I’ve always wanted to write a “body song”, because I never really touched on that subject before. And it was really cute – we just went home and it was just the two of us, so we made tea, and wrote that song. It was really quickly written as well. I didn’t think I was gonna put it out at all. It was just something that we wrote to write. Now that the feeling is now made into something, we never have to touch it again. I think I sent it to my friend at the time, and she really loved it. And I was like, okay, maybe I’ll just put it on TikTok and just see… And then, yeah, it kind of got taken out of my hands, which was really nice. I’m glad. I don’t think I would have released it. I maybe would have, but it just felt really raw. I didn’t want people to think the song was actually about waiting to be pretty. That was my concern. I hoped people got where I was going with this, that I’m actually not waiting for these things. It’s more about a toxic feeling that shouldn’t be encouraged.

I’m glad that people got it though. I feel like that song isn’t even mine anymore. It’s just taken off and the girlies have it. I’ve been thinking about doing an actual non-demo version. So maybe one day I’ll release that.

Cate - Can’t Wait To Be Pretty (Demo)

In songs like ‘Can’t Wait To Be Pretty’ and ‘Groupie’, you talk a lot about these feelings of inadequacy and coming in second to someone else. Have you found that writing these songs and seeing the response to them has healed those feelings at all?

It’s so healing. Singing ‘Can’t Wait To Be Pretty’ used to be really scary, but now it’s one of my favourite moments of the set. I feel like once I release a song, the feeling is, it was mine and now it’s not. I’m very lucky that the people who come to my shows are really open. It’s all girls holding each other, and it’s so cute.

It’s a real sisterhood feeling. Which I feel is so indicative of where female pop is at the moment – that willingness to confront ugly and uncomfortable emotions head on.

That’s what I look for in the music that I love. I listen to a lot of sad songs to make myself happier. In ‘Can’t Wait To Be Pretty’, I’m capturing this really obscene feeling, and it doesn’t mean that’s how I feel all the time, but it’s there, and it’s put into something. And it’s cool to see at the shows, too. I feel like live music is so exciting right now. I was saying this about Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. People dressing up and getting so excited for concerts just feels so nice after COVID when we couldn’t go to anything.

And at my shows too, it’s a lot of glitter and a lot of pink and a lot of girls holding each other and it feels like… somebody said it feels like a drunk girls’ bathroom. Which is really cute. There’s a lot of very unapologetic girliness.

There’re so many exciting acts coming up behind you. Who’s someone that you’d love to share a stage with?

I have so many like artists that I look up to right now. I’m obsessed with Annika Bennett. She’s amazing. And then this girl Elle Coves is amazing. She’s only released two songs, but I think she’s so great. My friend Áine Deane’s amazing… I feel like there’re so many pop girlies that are coming up right now, which is really cool. And this girl Bellah Mae, she has that really fun song. There’s so many, especially in London. I recently went to Nashville and I found that this artist Carter Faith. She’s so cool. I just want to go to her concert.

Do you manage to see much live music yourself?

I try to. I really need to go to more shows. I just got tickets to the Eras tour, which I’m so excited about. It was so funny. My roommate got them for me and she texted me in the morning. She’s like, “My tickets weren’t bad, I got general floor.” I was like, “Congratulations…” And inside, I was dying. And then she’s like, “Are you going to transfer me?” I was like, “You got one for me too!?”.

What’s a live music memory you have that made you think, “I’d like to make music for a living?”

I saw Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour, which was the craziest experience of my entire life. It was the coolest thing ever. I saw Julia Michaels play in Vancouver. That was one of the shows that I was just like, “Oh, wow, she’s crushing it”. Her set was so fun. And it was so emotional. And Kacey Musgraves. Oh, my God. I saw Kacey Musgraves live at Hampton Court. That was a show where I was like, this is my dream. That would be so ideal.

Cate - U Want Me (Official Video)

You’ve released three new singles recently – ‘Get Better’, ‘Girlfriend’ and ‘U Want Me’. Do you have a favourite?

I have such recency bias. I think ‘U Want Me’ is my favourite right now. I love ‘Girlfriend’. ‘Girlfriend’ was the one I wrote most recently, so that one still feels fresh in my brain. But I love ‘U Want Me’. I haven’t released any confident breakup songs. So it’s nice to have one out there for the shows. It’ll be cool to see how everyone reacts to a confidence one. So I would say that one’s my favourite. It’ll be nice to see the girlies not in the trenches.

What do these singles represent for you as a collective?

When I was thinking about just putting out singles this year, I wanted to have more fun with music. Because when I’ve made an EP before, I’ve just deeped it a lot. The first EP was so fun, because I was just throwing songs together and it felt really raw and fun and it really represented what I felt at that moment. And this year, I just wanted to do the same thing. I wanted to tease songs and then put them out when I really feel like it. Just have more fun with music and make my live show better. They’re like, just fun songs. Obviously ‘Get Better’ is kind of a deep subject matter, but also it’s just really fun.

Looking a little bit further into the future, is a debut album something you’re starting to think about?

I’m definitely starting to think about an album, which is really exciting. Like, how I’d want that to sound and where I want to make it. I’m going to Nashville in August, and I think I’m gonna put a whole bunch of songs together and start thinking about an album. I’m gonna deep it. I’ve never done it before. It’s why I put out an eight song EP but I didn’t call it an album. I think the first album I make has to be so, like, entirely me. Right now, I’m really lucky. I get to just experiment with a whole bunch of sounds. I feel like the stuff I was doing on the last EP was more like singer songwriter pop. I love it, and I think I’ll eventually go back to that kind of acoustic pop. I think if I put out an album, it’ll kind of be like that.

And even further ahead, what are your main goals for the next few years of your career?

I want to tour in Canada and America. That’s one of my biggest goals, whether it’s opening up for someone or doing my own tour. I want to have at least an album or two out in five years and tour self-sufficiently.

How much have you gone back to play live in Canada since you’ve moved?

I haven’t. It’s actually insane. I just haven’t at all yet, because I started in the UK, and I’ve been doing shows in the UK for a year. I used to do so many shows in Canada when I lived there and was in that country band. But I haven’t done any of my own project in Canada. I’m excited to go to the States and hopefully, like, open up for someone or do my own tour or do a few shows at least, like a Vancouver, Toronto, LA, New York thing. Because I really want to do shows in the States and Canada.

How do you think that will feel, going back to Canada to play live?

Oh my god, I can’t wait. It’s so weird. I’ll play bigger shows out here and none of my friends know what I’m doing, in a fun way. Not that I’m doing anything insane. But I just want them to be a part of it. It’ll be nice. For my parents too. They just think I’m like, being silly and doing music.

Cate goes on tour across the UK this October. Find tickets here.