Close Up: Interview with Catherine A.D.

Posted on 18 May 2010
By Will Weir
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Catherine A.D. is developing a reputation throughout music circles for her multi-instrumental talents and eerie sounds. Purple Revolver caught up with the London based songwriter for a brief chat ahead of the release of her latest EP Skeleton Songs (released through Outsiderhood on 7th June.)

You play a multitude of musical instruments. Which one do you enjoy playing the most?
All of them! Sometimes it’s the most fun when you’re learning how to play an instrument you don’t know your way around yet – I’m currently wrestling with banjo. My newest toys though are a beatbox loop machine which makes me feel like I’m 8 years old and a set of electronic drum sticks that give me an infinite capacity for annoying my parents at the dinner table…

Being self-taught, which felt most natural to you?
I think the piano is the instrument I felt naturally drawn towards. I only started playing it at university but it’s come quite instinctively to me although I probably have terrible technique! It’s also the most natural place for me to write as well – I don’t think i could write on an instrument I’d learnt “properly” as you carry too much baggage about technique and theory but I really feel quite connected to the piano in this odd way that makes me wish I’d had lessons.

A lot of your music has been described as being ‘dark’. What inspired this?
I guess I’m not someone you would describe as being of an optimistic disposition – I was that kid who always got the whole “old head on young shoulders” thing. In music and literature I’m drawn to the darker side because I think these are the things that I feel more powerfully and fully than, say , contentment or rest. Perhaps it is also because the times I’m drawn to writing songs are usually when I desperately have something I need to say or work through so the lyrics and sound palette are more likely to inhabit that darker corner.

Most of your songs remain unreleased. Do you think your EP’s showcase some of your personal favourites?
This EP (Skeleton Songs) came together as more of a concept rather than as a collection of favourite songs. I wanted to stay true to the concept of the EP as a stripped affair that went back to the bones of the songs so i excluded any songs that had drums or string rhythmic components to them from a production point of view as i couldn’t do them justice like this. Usually as a musician your favourite songs are the ones you’ve written most recently so I actually feel quite distant from these ones now as most recently I’ve been writing more with a full band or studio in mind. It’s always the same story though – you wait so long for things to be mastered and released that you’re always bound to have moved on by the time something is out there.

You’ve received a lot of praise from some big names in the music industry. Are there any comments that have particularly inspired you?
It was pretty amazing to get an email from Courtney Love asking me to join her band but quite surreal too! I really enjoyed working with Bernard Butler as he’s just a phenomenal musician and intuitive player that he makes you want to up your game. It’s just as inspiring, though, to get an email from someone you don’t know who has been touched by a song or it’s helped them through something. That means more to me if anything than the praise of someone famous, as flattering as it is.

Would you say your childhood experiences playing in orchestras has added anything to your music?
I only ever played the flute and piccolo in orchestras so the orchestra thing is more of a broad influence for me in that i think i have quite an epic sense of arrangement now and I’m always wanting string sections that i can’t afford! When i did the collaboration last year with the philharmonic at the royal festival hall, though, i was like a kid in a candy shop, although i had all these amazing ideas for using timpani but we didn’t get to use the full orchestra in the end so I think i will always end up having my evil plans scuppered.

You recently covered Pearl Jam’s Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town in a YouTube video. Why this particular track?
It’s a musical reminder to myself from Vicky (who you also see in the video) to buy some tickets for the hyde park concert in June. We were teasing my guitarist Mat about the fact that he was going to miss the show as he’s going to be on his honeymoon and they are his favourite band. We let him sing along in rehearsals if he is good.

How important do you feel the internet has been for you, both in the sense of making equipment available / affordable and for promotion /exposure of your music?
It’s been a great tool for making things happen. My remix for Amnesty happened after a random call out on twitter when we had a problem with the track we were going to use and Mike Hillier came to the rescue and did this amazing remix at really short notice.

Your new EP Skeleton Songs is set to drop 7th June. Can you tell us a little bit more about this, eg why the title and what is it about?
The title is supposed to conjure up the concept which is about stripping things down to their bare bones and exposing the structure – the skeleton. I guess I was a little tired of a lot of the tracks I was hearing at the time being all about the production and I wanted to test myself by setting out these clear and limiting parameters to see where it would lead – no retakes, original demos only, playing all the instruments and recording it myself.

You have been quoted saying that regarding music and in fact with any art that ‘craft is the thing’. Could you elaborate on this at all and explain why?
I think that the best art in any form, arises out of knowing your craft – i guess as someone that just stopped studying a lot of literature you really see how even the most avant garde work comes out of really studying the past and understanding the forms before you can throw them off. You’re more likely to create something of quality if you spend the time trying to understand the underpinnings although of course you still get the occasional songs that come out in five minutes!

Your Ep’s are beautifully packaged. Do you feel this is important when releasing a record?
I love all the constellation records packages and their attention to detail where you experience the package as part of the musical experience. i want to create an extended world of the music in the way the cds look and the fact that you have to unwrap them. Ritual is good in the ages of iPods and downloads.

If you had a superpower what would it be and why?
An extra pair of arms so I can play more than one thing at a time on stage. That would actually be really helpful…


Catherine A.D. will also be performing her new material at the following shows:
21st May – The Enterprise, London

7th July, Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles

15th August, Summer Sundae, Leicester