there’s no point putting a façade on anything because people see right through it
I met Catherine early at Reuben Hills cafe in Surry Hills after a couple of emails settling on a time within our busy schedules. She had a long black- it feels like everyone I talk to drinks straight coffee
I keep seeing that you’re an ‘Americana’ artist, what is that?
Americana is this kind of odd genre- especially in Australia, people don’t really know what it is. It’s sort of what sits in the void between folk, country, and rock music. It can be really bluesy or really folky, it can have a touch of banjo’s or mandolin, or it can have none of that. It’s sort of about alternative sound
When was when you realised that was what you wanted to do?
Probably about a year and a half to two years ago, prior to that it was pretty much I want to be a country artist! And I was writing like- not traditional country but like I’m on a farm talking about drought
At the time- I was like 16, 17, 18- and Country was what I wanted to do. Then I started branching out with what I was listening to- I went to Uni for music in Queensland so I started meeting all these people who were doing different genres. One of my best friends, Gabby, introduced me to a couple bands that she liked, and I saw some live music that was in this ‘Americana’ genre- the whole spectrum, so some of it was real bluesy, some was rock, some was very folky, and I just sat there in awe of it all thinking this is what I want to do!
I’d written a whole heap of songs that didn’t fit with country music, and I wanted to record them, I just didn’t know what genre to call it. When I found Americana I though Oh that’s what it is that I’ve been writing!
I fit somewhere!
I feel like there’s quite a bit of pressure on artists to figure themselves out before they even start so they can put a label on themselves
It’s good that you were able to find what you wanted to be!
It took quite a bit of time. I put my first EP out in 2015- three years ago now- and that was very country. The next EP was very folk in comparison. The music I’m starting to release now is completely different again, but back then I thought oh this is what I have to be every recording- It felt like it had to all be the same way. I saw it a lot with friends of mine, like they had chosen a genre and everyone saw them as that so they couldn’t branch away from it, but, surprisingly, everyone’s been really receptive of it. They don’t really care if you slightly change- as long as it’s good music
You’re always gonna be the person that cares the most. It’s kind of liberating in a way to realise that no one else really cares haha
I don’t know anything about country-folk music basically at all, so what was it that drew you to writing in that style?
Mainly the story-telling, country and folk- and Americana- very heavily rely on good lyrical storytelling, and I have this compulsive obsessive need to write! All the time! I write music and stories and novels, so for me the story and words have always been the key thing for music. I think that’s what I really loved about country music when I got into it, every song- even if it was a relatively simple story- had like a beginning and a middle and an end, you get taken on this journey. I really love that.
Do you feel like there are other genres that you’re interested in that do that same sort of thing, or are you pretty set on Americana?
I’m pretty sure Americana is where I’m going to stay long term- I’m not sure that I want to branch out into anything, at the moment anyway. I listen to a lot of Pop music but I could never do that! I could never produce that kind of stuff
Do you find that you accidently write outside of your genre?
All the time
What do you do with that?
Some of it I file away and think to come back to it later and perhaps I can tweak it to something I could use- which I’ve done before with a couple of my songs. I’ll think this is really Pop but I still want to keep it for myself, so I leave it for a while to come back to. Sometimes I give them to friends who do different genres- hey do you want this song. I’ll try and find something to do with it
I had a singing teacher who would say she would put them in the ‘musical orphanage’, to adopt out later
Yeah, I have a folder full of all the stuff that I didn’t use, that I might look at again, might not. I moved to Sydney three months ago now, and when I was packing up my life in Queensland to move, I started finding all of these old songbooks and was like when did I write this!
What do you think is the most important element of your songs?
I think for me, lyrics, that’s where I start when I write. I’m told I’m an anomaly in the way that I write music, I will always start with the words. Very rarely will I pick up the guitar and start the music first, and I cannot write a chorus first. I basically get a piece of paper and just start writing, and then when I have a tonne of words I pick up the guitar and figure stuff out
Do you feel like when you’re writing your lyrics down that there is any melodic content at all?
There is some, it depends on the song. I’ll write as if it’s just poetry really, and I’ll feel for some sort of flow, and sometimes I’ll write, and as I’m writing I’ll come up with a melody and use that to figure out what music to put with it. It varies though!
I feel like I’m pretty similar, I feel like I say this is how I write songs, but when I write it’s generally different every time
I think I’m definitely a lyrics-first person.
Have you collaborated much?
I have collaborated a fair bit in the past, not so much in the last couple of years. I definitely want to collaborate more now that I’ve moved down here. There are so many people. I find collaboration kind of funny- it’s so dependent on who you’re working with. Sometimes I’ve worked with people and it’s been great and we’ve clicked really easily. Because I’m a lyric person, often the other person is conveniently more of a music person- they’ll play something on guitar and I’ll instantly have an idea for lyrics. I’ve done really intensive songwriting collaborations where you have to produce songs every hour, and at the end of the hour, you have to record and then choose what you like at the end of the day.
Collaboration is really dependent on the situation to figure out if it works
Is it difficult to collaborate with another lyric writer because you battle against what words to use?
It can be, but it hasn’t been too bad. I’ve worked with a few people who have been very lyric-orientated like myself. It’s surprisingly easy to work with, especially if, say, I tackle the verse and they do the chorus and bridge. That way it still has a flow, without losing the individuality of both writing styles.
Are you picky with your instrumentation?
I’d say I wasn’t picky at all. I’ve been recording music for three-four years now, and I think it’s about whatever the song needs. ‘Buried Alive’ which is the new one coming out, that’s got a whole heap of programming on it that I wouldn’t have put in, but when I was talking to my producer, he knew how to make sounds that were in my head. If you don’t like it you can always take it out. Music is very varying in what I decide to record with. I’ve got 5 more songs coming out in the next few months, and they all vary massively in the way they sound. ‘Buried Alive’ is very dark and moody- kind of gritty with banjo and mandolin. I have another which kind of sounds like a spaghetti western soundtrack- it’s very like upbeat. I’ve also got one that’s like very country
Do you like being able to have a bunch of different sounding songs? What do you try to keep cohesive about them as a set?
They all work together in having very similar guitar tones. I like the individuality of all of them, I’m not going to always sound the same. Everyone tackles very different aspects of life differently, I don’t think it needs to always sound cohesive. I find when listening to other artists that if everything sort of sounds the same, it gets boring after a while.
Tell me about ‘Buried Alive’, what is this song about?
I wrote this song two years ago now- two or three. It was probably one of the faster songs I’ve every written. I wrote the lyrics in about 10-15 minutes sitting in the hallways at Uni between classes. It’s a very- I would say- emotionally honest and personal song- more than anything else I’ve every released. It’s about heartache and unexpected loss…. I’m trying to find the best way to describe it… It’s funny how songwriters can write amazing stuff, but when they have to talk about it It’s like ummmm…..
I wrote ‘Buried Alive’ as sort of self-therapy in a way- which I think is a lot of songwriting. I struggle to tell people how I feel, so songwriting for me was just a way for me to like get feelings out so I wasn’t bottling things up anymore. Like a healthy way to let it go and move on. ‘Buried Alive’ ended up becoming a bit like that because it was at the end of a very long-term relationship that ended unexpectedly. How do you deal with something like that?
You write music!
Yeah! So, I wrote that song, never actually intending to record or release it, but I started playing it occasionally at gigs and people seemed to respond to it. They liked how emotional it was. When I went into the studio last year and I was working with my producer and we were picking what songs to start recording, it seemed to be one of the ones that somehow got to the top of the list. I was very unsure about it at the time, but seeing how it came out at the end of it all, I grew to really love the way it sounded- it sort of helped me move on as well which was cool
Do you find that when you write songs about such emotional content that it’s easy to write in the moment, or do you feel like you need to kind of be past it before you’re ready to write about it?
It depends, that one I wrote very much so in the moment, I think I wrote it like days or a couple of weeks after it happened, and I was still very much trying to process what was going on. That one was definitely in the moment, which I think comes through with how- I wouldn’t say graphic- but I guess how the very vivid imagery came through with it. Other songs that are about the experiences I’ve had, I’ve written like months afterward, so after I’ve had time to process what’s going on. I have on my phone so many notes and lyrics I wrote while I was in the moment, and I come back and use them later on- I expand on them
Yeah, when you have a bit more perspective
You were saying you started this song two years ago, what was the timeline of this song?
I wrote it two-two and a half years ago- and approached my producer back then about working with him to record some stuff. At that stage, we were talking about possibly doing an album, so we were trying to work out what songs to record first. In 2017 we went into the studio around April with about six tracks and started recording. Then over about three-four weeks- a couple of days a week, we recorded the drums, bass, guitars, vocals- everything. It sort of just sat with him for a while. Once I finished my degree in November I thought it was time to get music stuff starting again, so we got them mastered, and we got them back just a couple months ago. It’s been a bit of a long road, it’s been good.
What do you think is your proudest musical moment?
I think the first time I played Tamworth Country Music Festival, that was pretty amazing. It was the first festival I ever played. I got invited up by a musician friend of mine to play and perform with him, and halfway through the set he was like you can just finish the show, so I just did the rest of the show by myself which was pretty intense- like being thrown in the deep end, but it was so much fun.
I think I’m pretty proud of this release coming up, I think it’s probably the best work I’ll be putting out to date. It’s the first time working with this new producer and a whole band. They all put so much hard work and time into it, so it sounds really awesome and I can’t wait to share it.
Do you find songwriting easy?
Sometimes, sometimes it’s really easy. A lot of the time it’s really frustrating and annoying. It’s like I know what I want to write, I just can’t seem to put it together. That’s been a lot lately. But I also have a bunch of songs that were super quick and easy- they just flew out. It sort of just depends on where you are at. Sometimes they’ll be great and really prolific, and then maybe I’ll write one song for a whole month of two.
Do you find it hard to be vulnerable in your music? Do you try and mask it?
Honesty is very important I think, a lot of my music that I used to release was almost dabbling in things that were very personal, but I’d mask most of it. I was very unsure about myself and how people would react and what they would think about the songs. I kind of got to the point about a year and a half ago with these new tracks, and I realised it doesn’t matter, you know? As long as I’m happy and I’m okay with it, that’s fine. In think ‘Buried Alive’ really helped me get over that- that fear of putting a vulnerable version of yourself out there. People connect with honesty, there’s no point putting a façade on anything because people see right through it.
What draws you to the people who inspire you musically?
I have so many musical influences. I really love Fanny Lumsden’s music, she’s an Australiana artist, and she is an incredibly witty songwriter. Lyrically, everything’s got double meaning and is funny. Even the serious songs are very clever. I really love her lyric writing and the way she manages to spin stories to be entertaining and have an important message behind it. I think that’s why I also love Casey Musgraves. A lot of her music- although it sounds completely different- still has that tongue in cheek tone.
What do you want to stand for musically?
I want to be someone other female artists can look up to and realise you can do anything you put your mind to. I’ve been told no a thousand times- I shouldn’t sing, I shouldn’t write, I shouldn’t do music- and it’s like well, I’m just going to do it anyway. I want people to look at what I’ve been doing and feel like they can just go and do what they want to do. Really there’s no one stopping you but your own fear of failure. I want people to follow their hearts and be who they are- that sounds so cliché!
It’s cliché for a reason!
You can find Catherine’s music on her socials