Interview /// Concrete Playground meets Catcall

Yearning to create pop music that has a little more depth than your standard dancefloor anthem is Sydney’s Catcall.

Kirstie Sequitin
Published on July 18, 2011

Yearning to create pop music that has a little more depth than your standard dancefloor anthem is Sydney's Catcall. Catherine Kelleher, the woman behind the name, speaks to Kirstie Sequitin ahead of her debut album release and upcoming performance at Surrealism Up Late.

How's The Warmer Side coming along?
Yeah, it's good! We're kind of in the process of mixing it at the moment. There'll be a new single out in August, September hopefully.

How long has that process been going for? It seems like you've been working on it for a while now.
I put the EP out around 2008, and then I started writing for the album around the end of that year. Since then I've been kind of writing and recording and working on it. It's just taking a long time for the songs to develop to a point where we're all really happy with them, and then there was a lot of demoing done and a lot of songs disposed of. Then we had to work out how the record was going to be tied together and produced and recorded. All that kind of stuff just took a while to kind of grow into something strong, but now it's all kind of come together quickly in the last couple of months and it's at that point where we're just locking mixes off and whatnot.

When it comes down to the writing process - I guess that was a while ago now - but do you focus on lyrics first or do you focus on the backing stuff first?
I usually collaborate with people who start off by sending me either a simple thing with a bass line or some keys, and that inspires the vocal melody. They'll normally ask me, "What do you want to make?" and I usually tell them to make whatever they vibe. I don't like sending refs or anything saying "I want you to create me this!" It's not about creating the most interesting or exciting work; usually I just want the other person to do what they do best.  They usually send me a beat or something and I'll write something over it and that'll always start with a vocal melody. From there the hardest part is basically just nutting out the lyrics and that's usually where all the time is spent, getting the lyrics perfect, because you need your meanings and you need to sing it and make sure it sounds good. Then we record and mix and get the production worked in.

Do you have a specific vision in mind? I know that you said that you don't tell the collaborators what to do but do you have a template of how you want them to sound?
Hm… not really - they've usually already heard something I've done. With Youth [Brisbane's Luke Foskey], he knew all of it, so he would just send me stuff. But with more recent collaborations in the past six months they do normally ask for refs and ask things like "What are you listening to at the moment?" and I'll say, "Oh, I'm really into Fleetwood Mac". But you can't get someone to truly create something that's like Fleetwood Mac, so I'll just tell them what I'm listening to, and send them stuff that I've already written and that usually forms what they'll do. Most of the time I just want them to do what they already do, and I collaborate with them because I've already heard their stuff. But they do always ask those kinds of questions like "What are you writing? Are you writing something slow or are you writing something fast?" because they want to know a point to start. Then I think, "Maybe we will go fast, maybe we'll go up-tempo" but usually I stop there because I want them to do what they do, because that's when the most exciting stuff happens.

I've read that you have an emphasis on making things imperfect, can you elaborate on that? I don't want things to be necessarily perfect but just as strong as they can be, I guess. In terms of the quality of work, the show… I just want everything to have the best that I can bring it. I don't like the idea of putting something out there that's half-assed. Well, not half-assed but just something that feels like it's not finished, or complete, you know? Because I've already done that, I've put out work that's not complete, I've performed shows that have been really incomplete. Now this is my first record, and I'm going to start putting on a live show and playing regularly. I'm not a complete perfectionist but I just want everything to be the best that it can be.

What it seems like to me is that you're trying to work on something that's a little more wholesome than other pop music that's coming out.
Yeah, yeah, I want it to be substantial. I was at the APRA Awards the other day and I remember there were eight songwriters on one Katy Perry song and I was like, "That's why these records come out so quickly! There are eight people working on this!" It's like, there's a real formula with the production and it just feels really empty. I just want things to be soulful; I want people to connect with it and I don't think you can just do that if you do it without putting any thought or care into it. It takes a long time to write a really good record. It's so much harder than people assume. Pop records especially. I mean, good pop records. Not really forgettable, flimsy, soulless pop records.

You've changed a lot in the past couple of years, how would you describe your developments? Your music style, how has that developed?
I think I've become a better singer, a better vocalist, and that's opened up a lot more possibilities for me for what I can write. I've started paying more attention to song lyrics and what makes a really good song. Bry Jones and Toni Toni Lee, I think working with them has really helped me develop, and being open to criticism of what I'm doing and performances and writing. And spending a lot of time rewriting and looking at what I've done and thinking about what I've done and trying to make it better, rather than being satisfied with the first thing I put down, which is what I used to do. I used to be like "Yep, that's what we're going to do" and never edit myself or look back and think, "Hang on a second, there's so many different ways I can make this better". I think that has definitely made me a better songwriter and a better singer and a better performer all round.

Catcall plays Surrealism Up Late at the Gallery of Modern Art on July 29. Thanks to GoMA we've got three double passes to give away - e-mail [email protected] with the subject line 'Water in my veins' by Monday July 25 for your chance to win.

Published on July 18, 2011 by Kirstie Sequitin
Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x