Remember ‘Walking on Sunshine’? Interview with 1980s music legend Katrina from Katrina and The Waves

Katrina and the Waves Walking on Sunshine TV 1980s

Katrina and the Waves singing Walking on Sunshine on TV in the 1980s © to the owners

Nostalgia lovers will never get enough of 1980s music stars – and so, after the interviews with the likes of Spandau Ballet, Paul Young, Limahl, UB40, Alphaville, Berlin, Suzi Quatro, Barry Blue and others, here is a chat with the voice of 1983 worldwide hit Walking on Sunshine.

Katrina from Katrina and the Waves

Katrina from Katrina and the Waves by Mike Inns ©

Katrina Leskanich is the former lead singer of the 1980s new wave British band Katrina and The Waves whose two most famous achievements have been coming up with Walking on Sunshine and getting the UK to win, for the third and last time in history, the Eurovision Song Contest in 1997 with Love Shine a Light.

Katrina is American-born and a permanent UK resident since 1976, and although she was just 16 when she moved to London, she still had to deal with things such as Britons complaining that it shouldn’t have taken an American singer to make them win the Eurovision.
Back then, she was even suggested to fake the Queen’s accent to sound more like the Brits.

And so we still don’t know if her witty sense of humour comes from being born in The Wizard of Oz‘s State of Kansas or having spent half a century living in the country of Mr Bean.
Let’s find it out.

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Katrina, what achievements are you most proud of?

Well, I think to be a 60-year-old woman and just still be going! You know, I always say to myself: let other people quit, let other people fall by the wayside, let other people move on and do something else, but I will stay. I will stay and I will keep working hard and singing because I love to do it. And I think by the time you reach 60 – my shows are very energetic, and they take a lot of energy. So yes, it’s quite good to keep doing it and to keep fit!

How do you feel when you hear Walking on Sunshine playing on the radio? 

Can you believe that it still makes me feel very happy? It gives me energy. It makes me feel happy. It puts a smile on my heart, even to hear it now and to perform it because it’s a beautiful song. And I’m so happy, I’m so happy to be the singer!

You were born in the US and you moved to the UK in 1976, aged 16. What was the London music scene like, back then?

Well, we did not belong there. We were in a band called Katrina and the Waves and it already sounds like a silly name, because everybody had very serious names back then. I mean, Siouxsie and the Banshees, that’s a serious name, compared to Katrina and the Waves! And then there was Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, and, um, oh, just, you know, this really kind of hardcode post-punk and new wave, and we came out with a happy song like Walking on Sunshine. And that wasn’t even a song that sounded like Katrina and the Waves: we were much, much more serious. But when the radio stations heard that song, they were like, “Oh, this is gonna be the song”. And it was successful because it’s a purposeful song and it works: if you’re feeling happy, it works. If the sun suddenly shines, it works. If the boy gets the girl, the girl gets the boy, it works. If you’re watching a movie, and everything turns around and the guy gets the job… yeah, it’s a good news song. People use it for weddings, and they even use it for funerals. And so it’s a novelty song, it just works to make people feel happy and feel good. And that wasn’t what the scene was like at the time, at all. I mean, we were laughing at people’s styles. We thought the styles were ridiculous because we were more like The Velvet Underground, we thought we were cool. I always wore a black turtleneck and lots of black eyeliner. And then, after Walking on Sunshine, they got to put us in colourful shirts and we had to jump around and smile the whole time. And we didn’t even like smiling, but somehow this song survived and somehow the song continues to survive. And I guess the song is going to outlive me, because I know even when I’m dead it’s still gonna be kicking around!

How do you feel about your American roots compared to the UK?

When you see that I came here in 1976, I was 16 years old, and you can tell that I still have my American accent. So I am American, I always feel American, but I’m not very proud of my country right now. I think it’s time for massive restructuring and change of American politics and America in general because I’ll tell you what, right now they’re in big trouble and I’m very, very happy to live in England. Then, well, oh my gosh, I’m the most unpolitical person… I didn’t even know if my parents were Democrats or Republicans. And it turned out that my mother was a Republican, and my father a Democrat. And I never knew that until just a few years ago! I really wasn’t interested in politics, but obviously, the politics that are happening in America right now drew me in and made me very, very interested in what’s going on. So I’m always watching CNN and the news channels now.

How do you feel about Brexit?

I was disappointed. I loved feeling a part of Europe. I just felt like being part of a bigger thing was good for us. So much of my work is in Europe, and I thought it was very sad. But I think that the UK has always had an independent spirit, they like to stand alone. It’s a little island and they sort of have an island mentality where they just like to stand alone, so good for them and good luck to them but for me, it was a sad day because I order my Parmesan cheese from Italy, and now it costs me a lot more.

You won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1997, which is a very Europe-focused competition.

I think it’s gonna be even harder for the UK to win the Eurovision Song Contest now. You know, they should have not done Brexit just for the Eurovision! Now they’ll never win again.

UK football teams are still winning UEFA Champions League matches all the time, though. Europeans will never get rid of them. 

Yes, I see!

Are there any memories from the Eurovision Song Contest you would like to share? 

It was an incredible honour to win. But it was a problem for some English people that I was American; they said: “Why can’t we get an English singer”? Or: “Can you try and talk like an English person?” And I was like “No, I can’t do that”! There were 24 contestants and the contest only took place on one night, on Saturday night and it was just… it was the perfect moment. You know, it was in Ireland, so we were very close to the UK and a lot of English people were in the audience. And it was just electric, it was absolute magic afterwards to meet Tony Blair and King Charles and the president of Ireland. It was just an incredible party from the second we won until even now to this day!

Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

Well, you know, I love Deborah Harry, she’s just really brilliant. A lot of my heroes are dead, like “Mama” Cass Elliot who was my favourite singer and had just such a beautiful voice. As far as collaborations go, I’ll just wait and see what happens. I would love to have collaborated with George Michael, I think he was such a sweetheart. I met him, I was on tour with him in America, with The Pointer Sisters and Chaka Khan, and Wham! and oh my God, what a tour that was. And he was so so sweet.

What do you think of today’s music and what kind of music do you listen to, these days?

These days, I listen to an app called Jazz24, it’s jazz music, and they play new modern alternative jazz. And that’s all I listen to because jazz music makes me feel happy and it makes me feel cool, and to listen to anything else I feel like I analyse it too much. If I’ve had a few drinks then I like to listen to something that goes like tunz tunz tunz and dance around in the living room!

Is there room for 1980s music and new wave today?

For new wave music today? Well, yeah, the thing is, people love 1980s music because it had such great attitude and great melodies and there was such a variety of music that was always held down by melodies and songs that you could sing along to. I do more shows now with people like Paul Young, Toyah Willcox, Bananarama and all kinds of 1980s bands because people love it, thousands of people will come and see these shows to see 1980s artists. Someday we will all be dead, and I just don’t think that there’s any kind of music that can replace 1980s music. It just had something. And it was just, you know, a style of fashion. It was completely original. And now everything seems quite cookie-cut, singers all sound the same and look the same. I mean, there’s just too much attitude and people are just trying so hard to set the tone. They just want to be on TV and be famous. We didn’t care about being famous. We just wanted to make music. And I know that sounds a little bit snobby, but it’s the absolute truth. That’s how we felt about it, we just wanted to be in a band and make music!

What do you think of The X Factor?

Obviously, there’s a purpose for The X Factor, and people love it. And they love competition, don’t they? They love rooting for someone. But it just seems like all of those shows are the same sob story, you know, like “Oh, I’m dedicating this to my dead grandmother”. They just try and make it so sentimental. And so, for me, I don’t like that. Music should be cool, and musicians need to have an attitude, not crying around. You’d never see Deborah Harry crying around.

How was your 2020 album Hearts, Loves & Babys born and what does it mean to you?

I thought it was about time that I got creative and made a record. And it’s always fearful to make a record because you never know what’s going to come out, if it’s going to be any good and if you’re going to be able to be honest and authentic and real. And I did go ahead, and I made this record because it’s just very, very important to be creative, and it makes me feel very happy to be creative. And then, of course, once you’ve done that, then you feel quite happy that you’ve done something and contributed something. And it’s also nice to have new things to talk about. Obviously, people like to talk about Walking on Sunshine and Love Shine a Light, which is okay, it’s fine, but it’s really nice to have some new material just to balance it out.

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