In 2019, Tigress frontwoman Katy Jackson took a trip to Costa Rica to do some conservation work. Days were spent doing beach cleanups in the baking heat of the Caribbean sun, where the mercury could reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. The beaches were strewn with unbelievable quantities of plastic, yet none of it had come from the shores of Costa Rica itself. Instead, it had floated through the ocean for hundreds of miles from neighbouring countries, mostly from the USA.
These visceral scenes were just one thing that provoked a stark rethink of the way Katy was living her life. Such a rethink formed the inspiration for her band’s debut album Pura Vida.
“It was crazy to see,” says Katy. “When you live in such a privileged country, you don’t even know how complacent you are and how self-obsessed you are. It was really eye-opening and [it made me get] right back to what was really important in life. I learned that lots of things I had previously rated very high on my [list of priorities] didn’t mean anything at all and I had it just completely wrong. I was rediscovering what life I wanted to live.”
The resulting album is equal parts introspective and outwards-looking, partly diarising Katy’s transformations ot her life, partly studying the societal patterns enabling the behaviours that drew her away from what is truly important. Nothing is cloaked in metaphor, nothing left ambiguous – everything is thrown out into the open, totally undiluted, laid against a soundscape of punchy, gritty alt rock. ‘Starting Tomorrow’ expresses how the urgent changes that need making can seem mountainous at first, while other songs like lead single ‘Disconnect’ and the downtrodden melancholia of ‘New Friends’ and ‘Hungry’ explore individual aspects of Katy’s changes, from dealing with poor body image to embarking on a digital detox.
“I ditched a load of toxic friends,” she elaborates. “I made sure I put all my energy into people that actually really care about me and that I really care about. I made sure I made so much more time for my family and my bandmates. I left my phone for days and went trekking in jungles. It was awesome!”
I just really want people to listen to it top to bottom with headphones on and be completely committed to listening to it
Perhaps unconsciously, Katy had taken home more from her trip with her than a suitcase, memories and some hard truths – she had absorbed the Costa Rican philosophies of living life. It’s why the album was christened Pura Vida: “It’s a Costa Rican saying, meaning ‘pure life’. It’s a way of being. You just try and live your life in its purest form, in a way that doesn’t harm other people or other things, and which makes you morally happy with everything.”
Back in the UK, Katy joined her bandmates – guitarists Tom Harrison and Sean Bishop, drummer Josh Coombes, and bassist Jack Divey – in a studio in the Outer Hebrides to knuckle down on work for the album. “There was nowhere to go,” says Sean. “It was in the middle of nowhere and you couldn’t go out even if you wanted to. We would just work, recording and writing non-stop for four weeks.” If this sadly sounds familiar to anyone who survived the depressing monotony of three lockdowns, it did become something of a prepatory experience ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. Work on the album was finished just as the Government was reaching for the panic button as cases rose and the NHS risked becoming overwhelmed, meaning that the Chelmsford quintet would leave a normal world behind and come out the other side of recording into a radically different one.
Proceedings were overseen by the Grammy award-winning producer and engineer Adrian Bushby, who has worked with the likes of Muse and Foo Fighters. “He’s a really hard worker,” says Sean. Whereas most producers would schedule recording around a quotidian nine-to-five routine, Adrian understood that creativity could not be scheduled so easily and could strike at anytime. Some of the songs were recorded at three or four in the morning,” Sean continues. “If you’re recording at 3am you bring the mood of that time and it reflects in the recordings. It was really fun recording that album with him.”
Pura Vida, like many albums recorded in a similar period of time, has been kept on ice for a year and a half. It’s no overstatement when Katy admits that “We’ve been waiting forever,” to release their debut, particularly since the band has existed in its current iteration since 2015 without an album to their name, only EPs. “Thankfully, the songs are just as relevant as they were, even more so probably,” says Katy. “I just really want people to listen to it top to bottom with headphones on and be completely committed to listening to it. I know how distracted people get. I’m trying to listen to albums the way artists intended them to be listened to as an experience, rather than skimming through it. It’s an album of two halves and you can clearly hear where the second half is. That was how it was created, and that was how we would love people to experience it.”