Kate Akhurst never wanted to be in a band. “It can be a horrible relationship. Messy things happen in bands and I actually wanted to steer clear of them,” she explains. For most of her career she’s managed to do just that but on a trip to Sweden she met Markus Dextegen, Oskar Sikow Engström and Hampus Nordgren Hemlin of Rocket Boy and everything changed.

What was initially planned as a drink, organised by a mutual friend in 2011, quickly blossomed into something much more and, almost instantly, Kate Boy was born. “I think we were not even finished with the first drink before we were talking so much music… it was such an amazing energy that all of us were just like “the studio’s around the corner, let’s just go down right now.””

That initial, spontaneous session became ‘Northern Lights,’ a song written within hours of meeting and which would be released as Kate Boy’s debut single. It became both what Akhurst describes as “the seed and the blueprint” of their sound and the centrepiece of their debut album, One. “I think that’s why we decided to be a band so instantly because we went “yes, we could give these songs to another person because that’s what we normally do, but I don’t even know who would do it because it kind of sounds like a band and I love you guys and we’re getting along so well, do you want to do this as a band?” and that’s kind of the feeling. So every song we do, I think has that touch to it… I know that if we try and do something else it’s only a matter of hours before it starts sounding like ‘a Kate Boy song.’ [laughs]” 

In an article for Pitchfork, Katherine St. Asaph described Kate Boy as “the product of a rare, elusive alchemy.” The significance of that certainly isn’t lost on Akhurst. “I’ve never felt that before. It was my first time in Sweden and we started speaking about the Northern Lights and that that’s really rare and it just kind of inspired this whole thing. It was a very weird experience for me and maybe that’s why it came together so quickly because I’d had all that experience of it being difficult before, or just different. Writing a song with someone for the first time when you’ve never met them and you just get in the room and start writing, it’s very unnatural, I think, to make music in that way. So when you find people and you just click, I just think it just happens.”

Originally from Sydney, Akhurst got an early start in the music industry. “I got my first publishing deal in Australia when I was 15 or 16,” she recollects “and from that moment I was constantly collaborating with different people and writing different songs. I moved to LA for four and a half years and I wrote a different song every day with a different person.” It was this experience that made her realise instantly that her new creative relationship with Rocket Boy was special so she uprooted and moved to Stockholm. “I actually was living in London at the time, so I was going back and forth from London… it was a few months. It was so clear to me that this is what I wanted to do. I made that decision pretty quickly and moved over here as soon as Sweden would give me a visa.”

Over the 4 years that Kate Boy has been a band, Akhurst’s concerns about being in a band unfortunately came to light and what started as a four-piece became a trio when Sikow Engström left in 2013 and, just recently, has become a duo with just Akhurst and Dextegen. “This is the part where I hate being in a band because people’s lives change and after years you can’t all expect to have the same passions. This experience we’ve been on has been incredibly fulfilling but also insanely draining. It’s really hard to keep going sometimes, for different reasons, and we’re each on our different path and unfortunately Hampus just decided recently that he doesn’t want to do music anymore.” While Akhurst and Dextegen are understandably devastated, there’s no signs of stopping. “We just want him to be happy but we can’t let his decision change our passion. I’m happy for Hampus that he’s now happier to be in a different space because I don’t want music to be ruined for him.” But despite the (predictably) tumultuous experience, Akhurst’s opinion of being in a band has definitely evolved. “They’re tricky but they’re beautiful as well. It’s like any relationship, you rarely regret them I think you’ve just got to take the good with the bad and move on from it.”

I’ve been able to get into some situations easier because I’m a woman but unfortunately it’s been easier because it’s been for the wrong reasons. However I’ve had that opportunity so should I feel grateful or should I be mad?”

As we get further into our conversation, I start thinking about Music Victoria’s report on Women in Music and the ‘confidence gap’ between male musicians and their female counterparts. I finally get brave enough to ask whether Akhurst’s gender was part of the reason she chose not to pursue a career as a performer. “I don’t know whether it’s a ‘woman’ thing… I actually don’t know but on the surface it just feels like some people are born to be performers and other people maybe feel more comfortable being on the sidelines until they find the perfect dynamic in a team and I think I’m the latter. It wasn’t until I met the guys and had best friends by my side up on stage that I actually enjoyed that experience.

Akhurst acknowledges that she hasn’t always been surrounded by such a supportive team and as a teenage songwriter, being female certainly didn’t make it a breeze to work in the industry. “There were times when I was definitely put in bad situations, awkward situations that were uncomfortable for me and it took immense strength, and thank god my parents have given me the confidence as a young woman to say ‘no, this is not OK’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with this’ or ‘I’m not gonna be that person just because I feel the pressure to be.’ And that happened to me very young, and I know the men I work with in the industry have never felt that experience.” In contrast, she also identifies that her gender has helped open doors at times – though not necessarily is that entirely positive. “I’ve been able to get into some situations easier because I’m a woman but unfortunately it’s been easier because it’s been for the wrong reasons. However I’ve had that opportunity so should I feel grateful or should I be mad? I don’t know, I feel really confused. I think it’s [a topic] that we should all be talking about. Because it’s through hearing other people’s stories that we change, and I do feel like we’re changing.”

While it would be hard to consider Kate Boy’s brand of music as ‘political,’ there’s definitely a strong message and Akhurst and the rest of the team put their ideals front and centre in the lyrical content. The song ‘Higher’ is, as the band describes, about “evolving to a higher ground where everybody is equal, no matter who you are, what you believe in or who you love. A fundamental human right that everyone deserves all over the world.” Akhust explains that it’s more than lyrical, it’s part of the core of the band. “It’s just something we feel as individuals and it’s why we connected so deeply when we did and why I was, like, instant: move to Sweden, become a band, do this; because I really felt like I’d found like-minded people who shared the same outlook on life and on people. For me, singing about something with real meaning and something I really care about, and the guys as well, it’s something that gives us greater purpose. We don’t need to feel just like rockstars for the evening, it’s about connection and purpose and when everybody’s singing we are equal and the energy and the high I get from that is just beyond, I can’t explain it, and that’s why when Hampus leaves I can’t quit. Because this is something so much deeper for me and I will continue doing it for as long as I’m allowed.”

And it’s even more than that. Akhurst happily explains that the entire culture of Kate Boy is based on equality: of gender; of contribution; of artist and audience, and that culture is represented by the character of ‘Kate Boy,’ invented by the band early on to influence the way the band was perceived. “That’s how we felt when we started. There were more of us and it felt like it was the four of us making this character, it wasn’t like each individual had their designated role in the band so that became a mentality and it became just the way we felt as a band and also the way we saw the band. It’s not a female singer with male producers, sometimes it can be perceived as that and we really didn’t want that because that wasn’t who we were. ‘Kate Boy’ represented that masculinity and also femininity so we really wanted that androgynous mix.” I ask if she thinks that personification of the band will continue to influence the group. “Even if Kate Boy was just me, I feel like I need that character because Kate Boy represents so much more than just me. Kate Boy the character represents all of us, the listeners too. To me it’s something so much bigger than one individual.

As our allotted time starts to run out, I decide it’s time to ask the important questions. Is there a woman in music who has been a big inspiration for you? “Kate Bush,” Akhurst responds without missing a beat, “She’s such an innovator and such a pioneer.” As to when the Sydney native will be bringing Kate Boy home for the first time, Akhurst is certain we won’t have to wait long. “We’re coming for Christmas and we’re going to stay for a few months so we’re trying to book some shows. We’ve got nothing booked yet but we’re definitely dying to play in Australia. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.”

Kate Boy’s debut album ONE is out now via Caroline Australia | Fiction Records