interview + photos by kayla smith
Born and raised NYC musician, Steele Kratt, just put out his self-produced debut, Top Secret Songs. “Is This How You Find Love” and “If You’re Passing Through” are delightfully melodic tracks, perfect for taking a stroll through the five boroughs. The multi-instrumentalist is also drummer for city favorite, The Britanys. I spent the afternoon hanging out with Steele in Soho, where he grew up. We sat down in front of his former childhood apartment and talked about his songwriting process and balancing two music projects. Upon learning we both share a love for soccer, we even went down to the field to have a little kick around.
You just released your debut two track EP, Top Secret Songs. Can you tell me about the origins of the title?
Steele: I play drums in another group called The Britanys, so I taught myself how to play guitar and how to write. After I started writing proper songs, I would send them to friends on the DL and say "by the way, this is my secret music". When I decided I was going to release it, I still kept it secret from everybody for awhile.
Did The Britanys know?
Steele: They knew that I was working on music and that I'd release it at some point. When I put out the album artwork, none of my friends actually thought that I was releasing something, they just thought that I was making a joke. And then when I actually released, they were surprised.
It was a secret and it worked!
When you're writing a song, what do you start off with?
Steele: Guitar. I plug it into my interface and and be like "what am I going to write right now?". Then I’ll do some chords, build the drums, the bass and then record the melody and write the lyrics.
So you craft the basics first and then you write the lyrics?
Steele: Yeah, I try and fit it into the structure, which is something that I get frustrated with because then you limit things.
"If You're Passing Through" is my favorite, it feels like walking around in the city. How do you feel that living in New York City has affected your music?
Steele: I don't know, I never really thought of it like that, I've only ever lived in New York. There’s a lot of sensory overload all the time, so it's good to decompress writing something. You just have way more exposure to things and more life experience living in a place like this, because it has examples from every walk of life. You can do anything you want in the city, so there's a lot of things to write about.
What would you like your listeners to take away from Top Secret Songs?
Steele: That they’re listening to something that's comforting to them.
What's inspiring you right now?
Steele: Musically, I've been listening to a lot of Primal Scream. Only Primal Scream. When I'm not listening to Primal Scream, I'm listening to Nina Simone, so it's kind of a very weird...
I listen to Nina Simone when I take a shower and Primal Scream when I’m in the kitchen. Lyrically, I've just been trying to think about writing about life and my understanding of death. A lot of people close to my life have died in this last year and I'm learning that's the cycle of life. I'm writing about it in a way that's not morose or depressing. I’m trying to stray away from writing about romance.
When can we expect some new music?
Steele: Probably in a month or two. I have twelve fully recorded songs right now, but I think I'm gonna start by releasing one in a month or two. Then another one, two months after that just to stagger them. That way, I can have a constant stream of stuff. Even though I’m not releasing something in bulk off the bat, it’s something new to focus on every couple months. It's easier that way as well, because everybody prefers a single, I think. In the streaming era, especially if you're someone no one's really heard of, it's a lot easier to get people on board.
I agree! How do you find balancing the workload of your personal project and being the drummer for The Britanys?
Steele: Well, it’s new but I think that I've been balancing it well enough. I'm invested in both. I've been playing music with the Britanys for four years. We've toured, lived, and done a lot together. They're all my buds, so it's a little different because that's like being part of a team, whereas just releasing my own thing is just personal. They're both existing as two separate things that I'm invested in.
When can we start going to some Steele shows?
Steele: Probably in September, I was gonna wait a little longer after I put the second release out but I was just thinking it’s time. I'm teaching the members other parts now, all the good friends of mine, a couple of my roommates, close friends, and a people that I play soccer with. So I'm trying to build a band that's not only good at music but one can take on any other band.
What's your favorite venue that you've ever played out?
Steele: We played a venue in Mexico City called El Plaza Condesa. It was about two thousand capacity, which is the biggest I've done. Just going to another country and city, getting on stage in a real room… it was one of my favorite moments...And then in New York, we've done lots of parties and warehouses which is always fun!
Dream band to tour with?
Steele: Tame Impala would be the best tour to get because they're sick and they also are playing arenas now. Especially being in New York, I would have to play Madison Square Garden!
Listen to Top Secret Songs below +
keep up with Steele on Instagram.