There’s no shortage of dream-pop to be found on the internet. From obscure Youtube channel blogs to algorithmically sorted streaming service playlists, there’s an abundance of artists attempting to reinvent the typically phosphorescent soundscapes of the genre and call it their own. However, many fail to hit upon originality, and the results are often typically too derivative and insipid when compared to the maiden pioneers of the sound. This, then, makes discovering the music of Katie Iannitello - the name behind the Beauty Queen moniker - a breath of fresh air.
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Hailing from the Bay Area of San Francisco, but with origins in the paradisiacal islands of Hawaii, Beauty Queen’s music reaches far beyond the glitter of her sound and into realms of a deeper substance. With a maturity that’s uncanny when looked at from the point of view of her modest discography, Iannitello’s confidence in musical ability can be put down to her childhood roots in musical theatre. From an early age, Iannitello found herself in the limelight, and with each moment that was spent singing, acting and dancing, a concrete confidence for self-expression was formed, gifting her a unique authority over her creative self that continues down to this day.
In adulthood, this authority was flexed for the debut Beauty Queen EP entitled, “Out Of Touch” - a phrase which references Katie’s disconnect to the culture and environment outside of her native Hawaiian homeland. Demonstrating a cerebral approach towards arrangement, the record flows in an endlessly cool manner, blending in themes of heartbreak and recovery with a fireworks display of blooming synths and chiming guitar runs. Being released both in the United States and in the UK (on Sleep Well Records and Super Fan 99, respectively) the record garnered attention, and ultimately provided Iannitello the perfect platform for progression for her next release.
This progression now manifests itself in the form of two brand new singles entitled “Sweet Memory” and “Two Of Us”, a woozy, 80’s tilted twist on the Beauty Queen sound, artfully produced by Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley of Tennis fame. During our interview, Katie speaks slightly dismissively of the songs, claiming that maybe she could have done more to refine them. This is, of course, perfectionism speaking, but it’s this flash of humility that makes talking to Iannitello during our hour long conversation so endearing. Peppy and open, Katie’s personality is reassuringly the same in real life as it is on record, making the forthcoming interchange a breeze when peeling back the layers, uncovering the core, and seeing what exactly makes her tick.
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Cereal+Sounds: Your two recent singles “Sweet Memory” and “Two Of Us” are a glowing addition to the catalogue of songs you’ve already released. I love how the lyrics in “Sweet Memory” play on the idea of attempting to attach some sort of backstory to the strangers we see daily. I’ve always seen you as someone who typically centres their songwriting around relationships and personal experience, so was this process of building your own imaginary world to write about a new approach for you?
Katie Iannitello: Yeah, I’d say so. “Sweet Memory” was very much inspired by my time working as a bartender at a ramen restaurant in San Francisco. I used to walk to and from work and I just remember seeing the same people on my commute home lingering in the night. I’d wonder to myself if I would ever have any interactions with these strangers, and in my tiredness I’d sometimes ask myself, “are these people even real?” (laughs) There’s a lot of interesting people in and around San Francisco, and watching them go about their day-to-day lives just really inspired me - I felt that what I was seeing would make for a good song.
C+S: Both “Sweet Memory” and “Two Of Us” were recorded with Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley from Tennis. How did that collaboration come together, and what was the experience like working with the duo?
KI: The experience was really cool! I just emailed their manager and was like, “here’s two songs, would you like to record them?” and they said, “sure!” It was very shocking! I stayed in their house while we were recording together. I don’t know if you can hear it in the songs, but I had a really bad sinus infection and we almost didn’t finish the vocals. It got so bad that Alaina had to take me to urgent care! (l_aughs_) It was so inspiring being around her though. In the mornings I would just come out of my bedroom looking a mess, and she would come out looking like she could be on the cover of a magazine.
Katie Iannitello (aka Beauty Queen)
C+S: Having input from producers who have a strong image and sound seems to be quite important for you. Would you say that collaboration is an essential part of your creative process?
KI: I think collaboration for me is kinda twofold. I’m not really confident enough when it comes to the recording side of making music, so having someone who’s able to just take up the slack when working in the studio is important. What I most love about collaboration, though, is that I get to see everyone’s strengths when it comes to arrangement. The demos for the Out Of Touch EP were shockingly busy. I wrote all the parts for them, but I didn’t know how to do nice sounds, so it was very ridiculous. But when I started to work with Henry Nowhere (Day Wave) and he began to produce the songs for me, hearing those beautiful guitar parts he wrote was just amazing! I think it’s really fun to collaborate with people because of how things can just unexpectedly turn out.
C+S: Meeting Henry Nowhere seemed to be quite a eureka moment for you in terms of sound and production. What do you think you were trying to pursue when it came to finding a production style, and what made it feel that the sound you landed upon with Henry was the perfect voice for your music?
KI: I’m pretty into the synth zone and writing music with beautiful guitar parts, so the bedroom/dream-pop sound that Henry gave my songs was perfect. If you listen to the music on the Out Of Touch EP without my vocals, it’s just so beautiful! The harmonies and the intertwining guitar lines are just so lovely to listen to. It’s such a fun vibe, but it’s also very soothing - I just really like what he does.
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C+S: Your song “Out Of Touch” references the cultural differences between life in Maui and living in California. What do you think is the most noticeable difference between life in the two locations, and how did the change of environment impact your songwriting?
KI: Well besides just the obvious big place/small place things, I think the biggest difference is just everyone’s headspace and what their motivation is in life. In LA everyone is just hustling, and it’s kinda sad because after a point it’s like, where are you really going? What is going to happen that’s going to make things so different? I’ve seen so many people who are so talented, and they’ve made it way bigger than I could ever imagine, but the top is never reached for them. There’s quite a lack of contentment in California. Here in Hawaii, though, it’s just so leisurely. You can take in all the little moments and breathe in all the different air and just be in the moment. Sometimes, I find that approach to life conflicting with what I’ve become used to in LA.
C+S: Your music videos appear to be just as essential as the songs themselves. I love how everything you’ve done so far has this underlying sense of playfulness and free-spirit. What’s your process like when it comes to constructing a video?
KI: Well, I think my background with set design really helps in some way, but all the videos I’ve released so far have been super different in approach. With the “Out Of Touch” video, I thought it would be cool for people to see what Maui looked like as it has so many beautiful landscapes. So I had this idea of dressing up in my mum’s sweatsuits and just having slow zoom shots in different locations around the island. (laughs) With “Sweet Memory”, I wanted to reference the movie Misery, which is about a date gone wrong. What’s hilarious is that we didn’t have the budget to shoot where we wanted, so we just ended up filming the video in the bedroom of the directors house (laughs) It worked out, though.
I think that sense of playfulness you mentioned is just down to me having a sense of humour - it’s what you need in this industry. It’s really not that serious and you can’t get bent out of shape about anything because no one is really in charge, you just do your own thing. So whether it’s in either the creative process or the collaborative process, just keeping that sense of humour grounds you and makes you enjoy things a bit more.
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C+S: You’ve mentioned in the past that you want to “release a bunch of different things that have different vibes…but still have it all tie into the music.” It feels that Beauty Queen is already quite refined as a project, so how do you see it expanding in the future, and what are some of your ambitions?
KI: I mean, growing up in Maui, I only know a couple of people who have pursued a creative path, so I feel pretty happy to be doing what I’m doing. With Beauty Queen, I just want to make things that sound really beautiful and I think that I’m on a path where that’s slowly becoming more realised. I don’t really mind if I’m not the biggest person in the world, but I just want to keep getting better and push myself. I have a whole album’s worth of songs that I’m just trying to figure out who I’m gonna record it with, but when it comes to music I’m just pleased to have found this ‘cool’ thing that I love doing and just really hope that I can continue doing it.
Beauty Queen’s new singles Sweet Memory / Two Of Us are out now. Buy the 7″ here