Interview with Ben from Cats and Cats and Cats

I’d really like to say something more about them, but Ben was more than exhaustive and actually filled me with informations. I reviewed the Cats a couple of weeks ago, and I liked their album ‘Motherwhale‘ a lot (as you can read).  So no more waffling, let’s have a look to the interview.

Here we have Cats and Cats and Cats. What provoked you to start this project, back in 2005 at University of Hertfordshire?

Initially we started this project to try something new. We were finding it difficult to discover any indie bands that were doing anything interesting at the time. We wanted to mix a lo-fi indie-rock sound with unexpected time signatures but retain the hooks and pop melodies. As it happened we soon realised that there were a lot of bands around at the time with the same goals such as Youthmovies, The Siegfried Sassoon and Meet me in St. Louis.

 You changed your line up, released EPs and two albums since 2005. How do you think you’ve grown musically over the past years?

Well after our first EP ‘Victorialand’, which we recorded as a three-piece, we really wanted to expand our sound for the next record adding violin and layered guitars. From there we’ve tried to expand on each record adding strings, brass, woodwind, tuned percussion and then anything else we can get our hands on. However on our last couple of records we have been trying to perfect the style we’ve grown into. I’m particularly pleased with our latest album ‘Motherwhale’, I think it really shows that we can fit a lot of different sounds into a collection of songs but without it sounding forced or fractured. I hope it all hangs together a lot more fluidly now.

Can you tell us something more about your sophomore ‘Motherwhale’? How are you dealing with the ‘implacable judgement of the sophomore’ (if you know what I’m talking about!)?

I don’t think we really had to worry that much about the “Second Album Syndrome”  for a few reasons. We had to wait a year between recording our first album and releasing it due to moving between record labels. This allowed us a bit of time in which the songs for ‘Motherwhale’ started to take shape. Despite there not being as much external pressure for the songs to be as good as the first album due to it not being released yet, I tend to put a lot of personal pressure on myself as a songwriter. I have pretty strict quality control (obviously subjective) and feel that if I’m not pushing myself to be better or writing at the top of my ability then why am I writing at all? But the post release judgement of the album has been much more split than the first album, which I always see as a good thing. If people either love or hate it, that means it can’t be boring!

What influenced you the most, writing the music and lyrics for your last album?

The story that the album follows is loosely based on a Japanese folk story about women who throw themselves off cliffs only to become fish who haunt their ex-lovers.  In ‘Motherwhale’ a woman becomes a whale after a bout of post-natal depression leads her to try and kill herself. In the end though she comes back and saves her husband from being crushed after his cinema is bombed. Musically we are inspired by a lot of different bands such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Mew and Arcade Fire. We actually recorded the whole album on a boat in the river Thames called Lightship 95, it was a fantastic place to record and I think it really shaped the sound and feel of the album. The instrumental track ‘For the love of the mechanical bears’ was recorded in the lighthouse that sits above the boat, looking out over the water. Wondering if the whale will come back.

In your opinion, which are the pro and cons of being part of the independent scene? What is, in your opinion, the good relationship between a band and its label?

Our label, Function Records, have been fantastic over the couple of years we’ve been with them and our relationship with them is as good as it gets. They’ve even humoured our extravagant artwork requests (Motherwhale comes with a 24 page book-like cover). I imagine there’s a lot more label intervention the further you get into major label territory, which might work for some bands but it’s not for us. I guess it’s one of the pros of being independent, having complete artistic control is important to bands like us. Being on a smaller label does mean that a lot of things are a struggle, especially budgeting tours or releases. It can be quite frustrating knowing that you can’t pull off certain aspects of a recording or a live show due to financial restraints. However there’s a great community spirit with struggling artists as we’re all in the same boat. We’ve recently been borrowing a string/brass section from A Genuine Freakshow who are a most generous and wonderful band, definitely check them out.

Why do you think live performances are so important nowadays, especially in the indie scene? Do you enjoy playing as a part of a big line up?

Live performances have always been important but of course with the increase of downloading turning music into less of a treasured physical product more emphasis is put on the live performance as something people can hold onto. We try to make a lot of our shows special in some way, our album launch shows have been especially grand with up to 13 people onstage and in all manner of costumes, tied in with the theme of the album. This is always incredible fun but again due to various restraints we couldn’t do it every show. We still strive to make every show awesome though and really put a lot into playing, some people have said they prefer us live to on record, I’d guess that the amount of energy we put into a performance has something to do with this.

You performed at Glastonbury Festival in 2007, how was the experience? Were you looking forward to any of the other bands performing?

Glastonbury was fantastic, we also played in 2010 on the Climate Camp stage with this amazing band called Lulu and the Lampshades, who do beautiful folk music with tonnes of harmonies. Glastonbury is one of those festivals where I spend most of the weekend wandering around without any plan but my time just gets filled up with weird and amazing stuff. We got a really good response when we played though despite there being loads of mud surround our stage, I think I still have mud on my guitar pedals from 2007!

How was playing with bands like Youthmovies, 65 Days of Static, Foals and Blood Red Shoes? What’s the most memorable live performance so far? 

It’s always fantastic playing with bands you really look up and admire and we’ve been really lucky getting to play with such a great bunch of bands. 65DoS at the Concorde 2 in Brighton was a big gig for us and to walk backstage and bump into Robert Smith from The Cure was just surreal in the best possible way. For me personally I have to say the most significant gig we’ve done has to be supporting The Music Tapes in the states. It was great to meet Julian Koster as I’m such a fan of his work and I managed to get a lesson on the musical saw from their saw player which was really nice of him.

If you had to choose one album from your youth, which one would you pick? 

It’d have to be Blur’s Parklife as it was the first album that really got me into music. I got pretty obsessed with that album and every time I hear it now I get a big wave of nostalgia. We used to cycle round our neighbourhood playing it on a little cassette player and singing along. Those were the days eh?

Who would be your dream person to collaborate with?

This might be a little off topic but I’d really like to collaborate with someone from a non musical background. We recently wrote and recorded an album within 24 hours (which you can hear here: and we had some help from the fantastic poet Wayne Holloway-Smith with the lyrics of a few of the songs and it was great getting to work with him. The recording is a little ropey and the songs are short and sweet but his contribution really stands out.

But I’d also like to work with someone in an audio-visual capacity. Just don’t know who yet!

Musically it’s Jeff Mangum though, that would be incredible!


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