Catherine Kelleher, aka Catcall, is essentially an A&R team's wet dream. Attractive, cool, down-to-Earth, talented, and able to crank out catchy-as-fuck pop songs. It's no wonder a respected label like Ivy League snapped her up with a record deal, and both local and international music blogs are buzzing about her like a hive of killer bees, craving more sickly sweet tunes to suck up through their Beats By Dre headphones.
Cathy is now poised to release her highly anticipated debut record, The Warmest Place. Rav recently caught up with her for a couple of ales and a rather long chat about her musical origins in the punk band Kiosk, how her father's death essentially inspired this latest pop project, and why SXSW is really just a waste of money.
How did you first get into playing music?
I was on the internet all the time when I was in High School, because I didn't have real, amazing connections with anyone. I had friendships — but I wasn't interested in the whole social experience of school. I was always wanting to learn about music and wishing I had a friend to go gigs with. There were kids that I went to festivals with, but I wanted to go to shows in the city.
And so the first local gig that I went to by myself, I met Angie [Bermuda, of Kiosk and Circle Pit], at the Hopetoun at the end of 2003. She was in a band called When You're Dead You're Dead Forever. The gig was When You're Dead You're Dead Forever, Red Riders and Dappled Cities Fly. I met her and we started talking about how we wanted to start a band. And then I met Jack [Mannix, also of Kiosk and Circle Pit] and then me, Angie and Jack started Kiosk at the end of 2003.
I was never really aware of Kiosk but you guys seemed to have made an impact. Your label still includes your involvement with them when they send out your press releases.
Yeah, I mean, I guess Angie and Jack went on to do Circle Pit and Circle Pit got a lot of people interested — well, interested for many different reasons. I think they're really great. To me I don't understand people's negative opinion of them. I read reviews sometimes and everyone's reaction to them is so...
It's really weird?! And I don't know if it's that's reviewers influenced by things that they've had written about them or that they're thinking that for themselves. Because when I listen to their record I'm like "Wow, Jack and Angie write really great songs." I mean they're real experiences because I know them and I don't know — maybe it's just me because I love them.
But yeah, Kiosk was funny because we really didn't, well Angie knew how to play — she's a natural guitarist — but we didn't know how to play anything when we started. So we started having jams, and Angie and I recorded everything to cassette. I was keyboard and she had a guitar and then we had a jam with Jack and we bought this drum kit for like a hundred dollars and wrote all these songs and basically started playing shows.
I think the reason why people got so interested in us was because we just had so much excitement. I guess it wasn't really a "career band," it was just kids that were on stage and putting all this energy and effort and excitement into these songs that we'd written.
But then a lot of people really hated it. A lot of people were like "Fuck, why are they playing shows? They can't even play their instruments!" Which was true!
I guess that's typical of Sydney. It can be a really jealous scene. You can always hear people at gigs saying, "How the fuck did they get this gig?!" or "They must have a great booking agent, because they're shit!"
Oh yeah, totally. But Circle Pit don't have a booker. We (Kiosk) never had a booker, we organised our own warehouse shows in like China Heights, down where the Hollywood was.
Then all these other little bands started popping up just after we did because they were the same kind of kids as us. And then we started developing relationships with bands in other cities because we're the same kind of thing. We found all these like-minded people because of it. And then we just started getting offered lots of shows - crazy shows and supports. We did lots of touring and a lot of people overseas were interested, so we organised a tour in America.
But it was an awesome experience because Jack and Angie were so great to be in a band with when you didn't know how to play anything, and getting confidence is the first step to being able to go further.
And then I just met so many people around Australia and then overseas and learnt how to write and got into all this music and just had all these experiences that really shaped who I was. That's how I learnt to write music.
So you guys did manage to do a tour overseas in the US — how did that come about?
We booked pretty much our whole US tour over Myspace. We made friends with this girl band called Finally Punk from Texas. We worked through each city and booked shows and, then we bought a van with them and we shared that and it was really exciting. The whole trip — we were away for two months - was really life changing. I haven't done that kind of touring again - it was crazy. The way I got to meet so many people because of Kiosk — boyfriends and lovers and friends that became friends for life.
What happened with Kiosk?
Well, after the tour, I went through this intense life experience where my dad passed away really suddenly of a heart attack. That happened literally two weeks after we got back from America. So I was dealing with that, and by the end of the year, I don't know, Everyone just didn't really want to do anything anymore. We didn't even release an album — we didn't get our shit together for that.
By the end of that year I was thinking about starting a solo project and doing something where I was working alone and working with "pretty" music — something that wasn't so "Grrrrrr!" but still my vibe. And Angie and Jack wanted to write and be up front and sing, so they started doing their thing and I started doing my thing and it just kind of stopped.
So there wasn't a deliberate decision to break-up?
No, our thing was that we never broke-up. Jack's living in Melbourne now but we may play a show one day. But it kind of just stopped. We all wanted to do different things. I really just wanted to work by myself even though I didn't have any skills besides writing vocal melodies and lyrics. So I started — and it was a bit of a cathartic exercise to have something that I just poured songs into because I was really in a traumatic grieving stage.
So I asked my mum for some really simple recording stuff — Pro Tools Lite, a microphone, a little drum machine, Fruity Loops software — and I was just making these simple songs on my computer, programming them and putting them up on Myspace.
The whole point of it was because I wanted to instigate collaborations because production or producing wasn't my strongest point. The whole point of it was I wanted to insight collaborations with someone who could produce with better skills than me, so that I could go further with what I was doing.
They could musically articulate your ideas?
Yeah, or more just to see what they could do and see if we could do something together, because I need to hear a melody to write a vocal melody.
So I was making little demos and I started doing a little show with Levins, Slater Brockman [from DJ collective Rojambo] — it was just me singing and it started off in a more hip-hoppy singing sense, because I was like "I'll just do it with a DJ, I don't need a band."
Then, I was out in Melbourne one weekend for a friend's 21st and I started talking to Crumbs [Max Cohane]. He was like "I just bought an MPC and I'm making beats," and I was like, "Oh, I'm doing this, we should totally collaborate."
So he sent me some beats and we started working on stuff for an EP. That was my first collaboration with him, that ended up being the Anniversary EP which we recorded the vocals with Geoff O'Connor in his bedroom, and then Max did the production and the mix, and I got all the CDs manufactured and got a video made myself. But at this time I wasn't pursuing it in an intense way. I knew that I needed to develop a lot more and that I needed to work with new people.
You seem to have had a lot of foresight, in terms of where you wanted your career to go and where you wanted to get to musically?
Yeah totally. I was just learning and developing and it had taken me a long while to find my "spot" or what I'm good at, what music style suits my skill set and what things I like. And just improving as a writer or a singer as well, has taken a while — it's why it's taken me so long to get the record finished.
Then I got a deal and management and resources and that helped.
Okay, so for those that don't know the process — how does one get signed to a record label like Ivy League?
Basically the way it started with me was around the middle of 2008 I was floating around, just demoing — and I got an email from this guy, Pete Lusty, who's my manager. He's part of Ivy League — he manages some other artists — Empire of the Sun and Luke Steele's stuff — but he emailed me and said "Hey, I heard your song 'August' on the radio [probably FBi] and I really, really liked it. Do you have anymore and can we have a coffee?"
So then I went and had a meeting and I told him what I had been doing and what I was about and I sent him tracks. It took me a while to eventually start working with him because I was very wary about the music industry. I'd always wanted the resources of a label, but managers I just kind of wanted to find the right person.
But I ended up going with Pete and he basically worked on developing the project to the point where we'd start shopping around for record deals. That meant getting all the demos that I'd done and getting them recorded to a point where I could shop them around. That took a couple of months. Then we had a meeting with Ivy League and I ended up signing with them.
Was that an exciting experience?
Yeah, but there's also pressure. They make an investment in you. They're like an investment bank. They don't see a return on investment unless you explode, which they don't often see until the second or third album. I sometimes feel, "Oh my God! I hope they recoup the money they've spent on the recording and the money they've given me as an advance and the money they've put towards the videos!" But then you've got to understand that they do this all the time and not everyone's going to be a winner.
But yeah it was awesome because someone was going to give me resources and they were nice and they really liked the music and that's all that matters. I've never had any issues with creative control or anything like that, which is why "indie labels" are fantastic.
You seem to have a fully formed vision for the way you want to appear as Catcall — from the videos you've made and your promo pics and even your live performances — you've got a very defined persona and style.
Oh that's good! I really want that! I'm always trying to find my own thing and there're a lot of artists around and I guess they've got their own "thing."
I always go with Radge who's my designer — he spearheaded all my most recent photos. And then I work with a friend who basically is my stylist. She puts together all my outfits — because I'm a retard when it comes to putting clothes together! And so she's had her vision and Radge had his vision and so I pretty much work with them on everything in terms of style. But if that's the impression you're getting I'm really happy with that, because I really want everything to have a vibe that's mine.
Being a musician — and especially an artist working in the pop music medium, you're prone to a lot of criticism. How do you feel when you read something negative about you or you see something shitty written on a chat board?
You just want to be really defensive! And then you get defensive to yourself and you just follow yourself around in a circle. When I started Catcall my whole thing was "I'm not reading anything." I'm already very self-critical and I'm only going to let people that I trust to criticise me.
I think I always feel like I don't give a fuck what people think. Because I experienced all that internet chat board shit with Kiosk where I read everything and it feels almost masochistic to do it and put yourself through it.
You don't want to do it but you can't help yourself.
Yeah. Because all the nice stuff's great! But sometimes you accidentally read shit reviews and sometimes you fixate on things because they're making an assumption about you. Like there was this Catcall review in the Drum Media and this guy was like — it was such a cunty review — it basically accused me of making pop music after Kiosk because I wanted to make money, and because, "Art doesn't buy the baby new clothes." And I was like: 1) I don't have a baby! and; 2) It's been years since Kiosk — and why is Kiosk art and Catcall not art? I got really defensive and really irritated because Catcall doesn't make a living for me, I have to work pretty much fulltime and I don't even know if it will ever make a living for me and I got so irritated and so angry at this street press guy. You just descend into madness!
It's more assumptions that piss me off because he was referring to that it's a "team" that's made this person (Catcall) and I'm not in control of this. It was really offensive. Like I was a puppet!
So from then on I was just like, "Arrrgh I can't read this stuff!"
Okay, so fuck the haters. Moving on — the video for Satellites is really fucking cool, and it's popping up a lot on music TV, especially MTV and Channel...
Yeah. Well, a lot for a young Oz artist.
Yeah, because I'm competing with Rihanna.
Yeah. But those are more commercial entities than say just blogs and the like. Are you aware at all of any more commercial orientated interest in your songs?
I don't know. Everything's kind of coasting along. Like, it's out there — opportunities are slowly coming but nothing really drastic. I'm really excited about this next single, 'The World is Ours' because I feel it's the reason I got my deal, or one of the strongest points for my deal was this song. Everyone that's ever heard has been, "Yeah, that's the song, that's the song."
I've had that song for so long and we've just put out the video for it that was really challenging to make because we have an indie label budget and when you try and make an expensive looking video for a small budget it can be challenging, but we pulled it off.
My whole thing is fun music and having a sense of humour. Everything in Australian music feels really earnest at the moment and it's pissing me off! Like indie music with like the Jezabels and Matt Corby, that music is really emotional and heartbreaking and everyone's clips are whimsical and "indie" and I'm just like, "This one's funny!" I want to entertain people with it. I just want to have a good time!
Yeah, I mean growing up in the '90s, the fun clips were always the best!
The weird, funny ones, like Blink-182's Josie. This is a high school clip and my boyfriend was like "This is like Josie," and I was like "YES! Josie meets Summer Bay."
You touched on it before and it's also on the press release for the new record, the fact that part of the album is about your dad and his passing a few years ago.
Yeah, August is about my dad. He died in August and I wrote it around a year after he died on his anniversary.
The opening of the album and the title track The Warmest Place is this acapella song I wrote after dad died. "The warmest place" also ended up being a lyric in August and I thought it would be nice to have this beginning, because I think this project exists because of him. I started it because I was like, "Life's really short. I've just gotta go for something. Even if I don't have any skills and I'm scared and also grieving."
The Warmest Place though, the whole idea of that is — someone said this to me [after he died] that "I'm sure he's somewhere warm," and that whole line to me was "He's somewhere safe. I don't have to worry about him. He's fine, he's totally fine." And it's not a heaven thing — although it could be. It just depends on what is comfort and happiness to you. So it can be anything anyone wants it to be. And the whole record is supposed to be something that keeps you warm and is fun and makes someone happy.
Is it hard to put yourself out there emotionally when you perform those songs? Do they still have the same emotional attachment for you as when you wrote them?
Yeah, definitely. 'August' definitely does. If I ever listen to it, whether I'm listening to the mix or the master of it, I just get really emotional when I listen to it. Because it's such a, I feel when I listen to it I'm in a lot of pain and I'm really distressed.
But I don't mind talking about it though because I feel like it's part of who I am, that experience — it's still only been about five years since he passed away. And a lot of things have had to change because of it and it really does effect everything.
I think being out there is the only way I can be completely honest and real. I don't want it to be earnest. I want it to be emotional and connected to something.
Totally. That deeper level also seems to really come across in some of the lyrics.
There was a lot of work in the lyrics of all my songs. I had to work on them and make them better and basically make them graduate from demos to songs. We would go through the lyrics right before we would record the vocals. The original 'Swimming Pool' — most of it is still there but there were some lyrical changes that I think made it go from here [hovers her hand flat above the table] to like here [lifts her hand up to her eye-line] and that wouldn't have happened if we didn't finesse the lyrics.
I think that happens with pop music a lot. People write off the lyrics in pop music really easily, but with good pop music, a lot of effort goes into the lyrics. Like any perfect Fleetwood Mac song. Whereas any Beyonce break-up song, it's like, "You're not breaking up with anyone. You're married to a billionaire!"
But, you know, she's gotta sell, same as an actor. But for me, I don't think I could ever write something that wasn't from an experience I've had. The record is basically all of my life experiences from like 18 to 21, 22, 23. All the most recent songs from the last couple of years after dad.
So the album's out in May. What's the plan post its release?
I think we're going to be in Australia most of this year just touring. Hopefully I'll get on some festivals. And we've got lots of singles options, which the label is very excited about. So there will probably be another single after this one, and then hopefully another single and then just see how it goes. Then hopefully a deal will happen overseas and I'll get to go over there.
Do you have the, "Tour Australia this year, try and get overseas and do SXSW next year," kind of plan?
I don't know. I was saying to someone the other day, "I don't agree," or "I'm not into SXSW." We applied and got in, and Pete, my manager's like, "This is how much it will cost you," and I was like, "No fuckin' way! I am not going!" Because I don't feel like anyone's getting anything out of it. I think someone like Grimes will get something out of SXSW. Because it's more people who are already — bands who already have hype, like Odd Future last year or whatever.
I feel there's no point in going over there unless I've already got momentum. I'm not going to invest all of my money — because I have to pay for my entire band to go over, pay them, pay for accommodation, visas — I'm not gonna do that unless I'm going to get the best showcases and it's gonna be part of a greater tour that's gonna be fantastic. I just want to be smart about it.
I just think that if your record and videos and every thing's good and you've got a belief in your live show, you should be able to get people interested from overseas. I just don't think that I'm going to get myself into unnecessary amounts of debt for something unless I feel like I'm 100 per cent ready.
Is that something you've had to deal with with your record label? Because I think a lot of people don't realise that as a solo artist you have to pay out of your own pocket to have a band.
Yeah, when people ask me to play shows, I can't just play any show now. That's why I haven't and I don't gig around heaps. I've played shows with the new band because we've had to learn all the songs and how every thing's done live because I wanted everything to be live rather than a backing track. And I want to pay everyone well. They put their time up to rehearse and it's my project and it's my songs and that's why I don't gig around a lot because it would cost me too much money and I can't get myself into that situation right now. Every show has to be good and meaningful for me to play, and I don't like the idea of playing too much because I don't want to over expose the music.
I think that has really added to the aura of Catcall.
Mystery! There's some mystery! [Laughs]
Yeah, because it's so rare for an Australian band to put out a successful single and have a clip that's getting played a lot and not then tour the shit out of it.
We discussed that. There's no point in touring a lot unless we get the right shows. I don't want to support bands that I don't like or don't feel like they're bands that I want to be around. But we just haven't found anything that we've really wanted to do.
I think I'd have a lot more fans if I was touring a lot more but I'll be touring a lot this year and my album will be out then.
That seems to make sense — better to give people tastes rather than the whole plate — give them singles and videos and build their appetite for the music. Because you don't want to tour and then have everyone know your one song and then be fucking bored for the rest of the set.
Especially with pop. Everyone wants to know the words and everyone wants to know every song and that's why everyone does better once their album comes out.
What about the "buzz factor" — you've had a bit of hype around your music from some pretty big international blogs. How do you feel when you get mentioned on, like, Gorilla Vs Bear for instance.
Oh that was really cool. Until Swimming Pool, I think I never really knew what it was like to experience positive press. So it's always really nice. I don't really read them that much. But I know Gorilla Vs Bear is a big blog so that was really exciting. Gawker was really exciting. I just get excited because it means more opportunities overseas. But I fell a bit unaware of whatever level of attention there is actually going on and what is the reality of it.
And how are you feeling now in the lead up to the record's release? Are you feeling pressure about it to be successful at all, or are you just like, "Fuck it, let's just get it out there!"?
Yeah I really want it to get out there and for people to hear it. The pressure though, I don't think there's pressure coming from anyone but myself. I think I pressure myself because I'd like to not work at my day job and I'd like to be able to tour a lot more. But that goes through phases. I've had the album finished for a while now and some of those songs have been written for a really long time.
I'm assuming a few people have had a listen to the record now. What kind of response have you gotten from them?
Everyone's been really great about it. But I can't really tell, until people I don't know hear it. But some friends who have got it who do reviews are really positive about it. But I can't go get all caught up in that, it's not like I can change it — I've got no control over it now. It's done, I've gotten it to a point where I'm happy and proud. That's all that matters. And that I enjoy playing it live for the next year.
The Warmest Place is out May 4 through Ivy League.