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Warm For Cats

15 May 2012 | 7:00 am | Chris Yates

"Yeah! So relieved. Relief is definitely the feeling,” Catherine Kelleher replies when questioned about the imminent release of debut Catcall album The Warmest Place, so many years in the making. “I kept feeling like I was about to have a baby and it was overdue and I was like, 'Get out!' I just wanted to get it out. It's the process - you know, some parts of it I had control over and other parts like the time-frame I didn't have control over, and also I've done a lot of growing since I started getting the record made. I think I still can't even quite believe that it's done. It felt at times like it was never going to be finished ever, like I was never going to be able to put it out!”

It's no wonder the record took the time it did. Kelleher worked with multiple producers, shooting ideas back and forth across the country, reworking old ideas, deconstructing and reassembling songs – it's a very different way of working than she was used to as an indie rock kid playing in her band Kiosk.

“I always start with the producer sending me a bed,” she says of the process of her songwriting these days. “Like a beat or an instrumental or something like that – some kind of an idea. It always starts off with them. I need a melody or a beat or a bassline to start working on an idea. I'll start writing after that with my production set up in the room. I'll work on the lyrics and the melody and the vocal performance. Then we'll send the tracks backwards and forwards between the producers and start really working on the production. Sometimes it's the original that we use. With the Van She remix of Satellites, that was actually the original version of it we started working on. That's how it started, then Bry Jones did some other production on it and we ended up going with that. A couple of times the original production changed quite a bit, but sometimes it was just like an extension. The melody of The World Is Ours was originally all with synthesisers but we ended up changing it to guitars and trying out a kind of punkier, Go-Go's style mix and we stuck with the guitar version. The different versions of all the songs are really quite interesting; maybe they'll get released one day.”

Given her indie roots, it's interesting to learn that songs didn't start as guitar-based demos.

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“I always find that the melody or the beat has to inform the emotion of the song,” she says. “That's how I get inspired and I just sit with headphones on and listen to it really loudly. There's some instances where the first thing I've written, in terms of the melody and some of the lyrics, are still there at the end.”

The album opens with the first solo track Kelleher ever wrote, an a capella number called The Warmest Place, which she also named the album after. She borrowed some of the lyrics for a section of the heartbreaking track August, written on the one-year anniversary of a tragic event in her life.

“It was a year after my dad passed away that we recorded it, so in August the next year on the first anniversary,” she says explaining the very personal details of the song. “If I even tried to sing it in the studio it wouldn't have captured it. We would never have gotten the pain and what someone described as post-traumatic shock when I first recorded August – because that's what I had – we would never have gotten that performance again. The song became sort of about that experience and why I was making music. The interpretation of that and how it became the music that I wanted to know. It's not like I'm re-inventing the wheel with my music, I'm just trying to be honest and tell my own story, I guess.”

The heaviness of the inspiration behind August is a little contradictory to the rest of the album, which is for the most part a much more light-hearted affair. Kelleher's love of pop music bubbles to the surface on every number, and even though stylistically the songs jump around, there's a lack of seriousness and a spontaneity that is immediate and infectious. There's also Kelleher's detailed musical knowledge informing so much of the pop in an almost insidious way. Take Art Star for example, one of the most sugary pop exercises on the album, but it's clearly got its roots dug deeper. She's basically ripping off New York post-punkers ESG, and not in any way hiding the fact.

“A lot of people I think will miss that ESG, Delta 5 reference,” she says excitedly. “When I was writing that song, I wanted to get inspired by those two, but I think a lot of people will just hear that and think that song's so immature. Well, it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and it's supposed to be bratty and it's supposed to be not too over-thought. It's supposed to be simple and cheeky and so on, but I think people will miss that. I try not to read reviews but I remember one where they said that was the weak point of the album, or it said that I need to develop my songwriting or whatever. The whole point of that song was that it was supposed to be done quickly and it's supposed to be really immediate – very, very simple. I'm not into earnest music at the moment. I like the really, really simple, fun ideas.”

Turning a record that is entirely a studio project into a set that can be performed by a proper live band is no small task. Kelleher is confident that the hired guns she has drawn together are doing an amazing job of accomplishing it.

“Drums is a guy called Simon Parker who used to play in Damn Arms and Los Valentinos. On guitar I have Al Grigg, who used to play in Red Riders and now plays in Palms. My producer Andrew Elston, who is a DJ under the name Toni Toni Lee, is playing in the band as well, he is doing guitar and keyboards and sampler. On bass I've got a lady called Bec Allen who is in this girl group kinda band called The Fabergettes. There's no laptops or we're not relying on backing tracks or anything. It means we're a bit freer to jam the songs a bit and you're not stuck to a sequence. Plus I've actually had nightmares about the backing track stopping and you're just stuck on stage with nothing happening – no sound. Oh god, that would be a nightmare, but I never have to worry about that which is great!”