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INTERVIEW: KATRINA LESKANICH, Katrina & the Waves – March 2016

| 19 May 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW: KATRINA LESKANICH, Katrina & the Waves – March 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

Katrina Leskanich 01

Touring Australia in July as part of the Totally ‘80s package tour alongside Berlin, Limahl, Martika, Men Without Hats and more, is Katrina Leskanich of Walking On Sunshine fame with her former band The Waves. SHANE PINNEGAR finds out more about Katrina’s career, influences, and proves again that Wikipedia can’t always be trusted.

Tuesday 12th July – BRISBANE Eatons Hill Hotel
Thursday 14th July – GOLD COAST Jupiters Casino
Friday 15th July – MELBOURNE Palais Theatre
Saturday 16th July – SYDNEY Enmore Theatre
Sunday 17th July – CANBERRA Royal Theatre
Tuesday 19th July – PERTH Astor Theatre
Thursday 21st July – ADELAIDE Thebarton Theatre
Friday 22nd July – HOBART Wrest Point
Saturday 23rd July – MELBOURNE The Palms @ Crown
Sunday 24th July – MELBOURNE The Palms @ Crown
Wednesday 27th July – REVESBY Revesby Workers
*Berlin & Men Without Hats not appearing
Thursday 28th July – NEWCASTLE Civic Theatre
*Berlin & Men Without Hats not appearing
Friday 29th July – PENRITH Penrith Panthers
*Berlin & Men Without Hats not appearing
Saturday 30th July – WOLLONGONG WIN Ent Centre
*Berlin & Men Without Hats not appearing


Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1960, Leskanich explains how she found herself a teenager in England in the mid-‘70s fronting a band.

“Well, a lot of fellow musicians come from the same providence: it’s growing up in a military family,” she explains. “When your dad gets his orders and it says we’re going to Germany or we’re going to Holland or we’re going to England then you just pack up your bags. There were eight of us in my family. My parents had this harebrained idea to go from Omaha, Nebraska to Germany in 1972, so that’s what we did. I was 12 years old. A couple years later we moved to Holland, then came to England in 1976, where I have remained.

“The situation was that this is where it was happening. The band was here. We started up Katrina & the Waves and we were in the situation of playing around military bases just trying to get noticed. We did that for about six years in one form or another before we finally had a hit with Walking On Sunshine. Then we did, at that point for quite a few years, spend a lot of time traveling everywhere. It didn’t really seem to matter where I lived.

“Now it’s kind of my choice. You know, you just get used to things. I think it’s a lovely little island full of diversity and culture. It’s sort of like, I’m starting to get a bit stuck in my ways, so I’m just going to call it home now.”

Katrina Leskanich 02

The influences which made Katrina pick up a guitar and start singing reflect her origins.

“Probably those things you listen to when you’re in high school and everybody’s buying the same records,” she reminisces. “We were all buying the first Fleetwood Mac album, Cat Stevens, Carole King. I listened to a lot of records through my Mum’s ears. She had very good taste. She’d always put on Mama Cass Elliot or Carole King or Elvis, stuff like that.

“Then later on when I started developing my own taste, I was crazy about the West Coast sound: Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, I loved Steve Miller, Bonnie Raitt. That kind of music. That was the kind of music we did in my very first band, called Mama’s Cookin’. We just played all the music that the GIs would love. Foreigner and Foghat, Heart, Lynyrd Skynyrd: all that stuff.

“Later on, I just kind of took up listening to lots of girl groups and a lot of stuff Phil Spector did. I mean, really it’s all over the place. One of the first singers that I really loved and wanted to emulate was Linda Ronstadt.”

Best remembered for their mega-hit Walking On Sunshine, Katrina & the Waves first recorded the song in 1983 for a Canadian-only release. It was only after The Bangles covered their Going Down To Liverpool from a second Canadian album that Capitol signed them to an international deal. The re-recorded Walking On Sunshine was a smash around the world, appealing across the board not just to pop fans, but rockers, punks and everyone else.

“Well, we just used what we had to work with,” says Leskanich. “It was always just the four of us, so everything sounded quite raw. When you’re that young and full of beans and angst, it just seemed like all of our songs had – even the ones that were meant to be sort of slower and ballads – had incredible amount of almost hysterical energy. By the time we got to recording the Capital version of Walking On Sunshine, that’s actually us calmed down a little bit!

“It was very eclectic. There weren’t any rules. We just did whatever we want. It was always a little bit odd to have somebody like Kimberly Rew doing most of the songwriting, who was somebody who came out of the Soft Boys. For me, a girl-next-door American with a safe taste in music like Linda Ronstadt, and then combining that… what we produced was something which at the time sounded quite original.

Katrina & the Waves

“I mean, when we first started people thought it sounded downright old-fashioned, because obviously we were up against Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet and Siouxsie Sioux. We seemed fairly ordinary. [But] it was impossible for us to fit into the early ‘80s scene, so we did our own thing. Walking on Sunshine, in the early days, people always thought it was sung by a black woman. It was always being described as sort of Motownesque. I know it was very much inspired by You Can’t Hurry Love in the beat department. When Kim wrote it, he was very sick with bronchitis and presented it to the group on this very bleak February day around 1983, I would say. For us, it was just another song, but we also thought it was a little bit irritating!

“It kept sticking in our heads. I remember saying to Kim, ‘you know that Sunshine song? I can’t get it out of my head. It’s been four days now.’ We thought, ‘well, that’s either a good sign or a bad sign,’ but it seemed to take with people. Although in the beginning when we were doing RAF clubs for the servicemen and we had Walking On Sunshine in the middle of the set. I remember we tried to bury it in the set and we dropped it altogether after a while because it was just a dance floor emptier, you know? Nobody knew what to do with it. Even now when I perform it you see some very ugly dancing to it. You just jump up and down, but from my point of view, I’ve had a few laughs over the years, let’s put it that way.”

Irrepressibly vibrant it certainly is: a perfect pop song with rock sensibilities and punk energy. I ask Katrina if the late-‘70s punk scene in the U.K. were a big influence on her and the band?

“The only aspect of punk that would’ve inspired me or influenced me,” she explains, “would’ve been Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and probably Nico from the Velvet Underground. I didn’t really get it… the punk thing kind of passed me by. Although Kim had a lot of punk sensibilities, so on some of the really, really early stuff that nobody’s ever heard, yeah, it’s pretty crazy.

Katrina Leskanich 04

“From my point of view, I love the energy of it. Again, as just this sort of American girl-next-door type, I had to be careful with it, so I didn’t look like one of these Americans trying to be punk. I also think punk was more of a way of life. I think for me to just say, ‘and now we’re going to do a punk rock song,’ it just wouldn’t work out.”

Did the media reaction to Walking on Sunshine overshadow some of the Waves and Katrina’s other work?

“I think there was a brief period after Walking On Sunshine where it was beginning to dawn on us that it was all about that song,” Leskanich reasons. “When your record company comes to you and says, ‘look, guys, all we need is another Walking On Sunshine,’ but that just wasn’t our style. I mean, the closest we got was the following year. We had a song called Sun Street that actually performed in the U.K. charts better than Walking On Sunshine.

“What’s the point of saying that now when nobody really ever heard of Sun Street and it’s all about Walking On Sunshine? A novelty song irresistible to people wanting to turn the plot in a movie from darkness to light!”

Katrina Leskanich 03

Obviously Walking on Sunshine made a lot of money over the years for you guys. Can you imagine how different life would’ve been if it had never been written?

“Well, now, the money aspect, it doesn’t affect me any more than anyone else [who sung the song]. Like, Dolly Parton covered Walking On Sunshine: she would make as much money from Walking On Sunshine as me. Being in this business, it’s all about who wrote the song. If a writer ends up writing a song like Gold than that’s the person who’s going to make the most money.

“It still pays my bills because what I do is, I’m a live singer. I go around and make my money being a singer. That kind of suits me – as long as I can do it then I’m going to keep doing it. I know we’re not all Tina Turner, but I’m going to give it a good stab.”

Proving that Wikipedia isn’t fact checked, I tell Katrina that the page on Walking On Sunshine specifically says, “the royalties that typically go to the songwriter have been divided among the band members.” Not so, she insists.

“I think people can contribute anything they want to Wikipedia at any time,” she says ruefully. “I think I’ll go on there and say that I secretly wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water and see what happens!”
Originally published in edited form in X-Press Magazine and

Category: Interviews

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