Although Stranger Cat is most often characterized as “electronic” music (which it is), at its core is classically beautiful and song-crafting, simply highlighted by bits of postmodern technology. It is the solo project of Cat Martino, who has previously worked with the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Sufjan Stevens, and The Shins, and shared stages with PHILTHY-favorites Marissa Nadler and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Earlier this year Martino released Stranger Cat’s debut full-length, In the Wildnerness, on Joyful Noise, and she’s currently on the road supporting Chad Valley, which will have her here at Boot & Saddle this Friday, October 30th. She recently took some time to tell me about Stranger Cat and the aspects of the project she most enjoys.
Izzy Cihak: You’ve been on the road for most of the month and have additionally done quite a bit of touring throughout the year. What have been some of the highlights of your most recent live experiences?
Cat Martino: Well, myself, and my drummer, Alex Beckmann, just played an amazing show at Bottom of the Hill in SF. Sometimes you wonder if people will listen to the support act when they are catching up with their friends, and in this case I had no expectations because everyone was chatty and at the bar in the back of the room. But when we started playing songs, the whole room came to the stage, and were listening but really with us and kind of going wild. It is such a good feeling when people are getting what you do and so humbling when they share their experience and that they are inspired. In every city there has been a response that has been overwhelming to me, but in SF it was just off the hook :)!
Izzy: What does the live show draw inspiration from, if that’s even the kind of thing you think about? What can be expected of the live experience when you’re back in Philadelphia?
Cat: Hmmm… I guess in some way I am thinking about bringing people together for an experience that is somehow cathartic, where if I just connect with myself and my drummer, and open up to them, I just want people to be allowed to feel something, and dance if they want to (go on, dance!) Oh, and also, have fun and get inspired to go make something!
Izzy: Your debut, In the Wilderness, has been out for a while now. Have you had any favorite reactions to it?
Cat: Again like in SF, some people have really shown themselves to “get” it. Various fans and critics have gotten that it is a journey into oneself. And that though there is a lot of creative electronic production, at the heart of it is real “songs” and storytelling. One of my favorite quotes was “therapy you can dance to.” Another was something about hanging in starry galaxy with Kate Bush, which I obviously can relate to!
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences?
Cat: Well, I love R&B music. I create a lot around the basic element of the voice, and sometimes create a vocal loop, add synths, then beats. It just builds.
Izzy: I love the whole album, but I’m super into “Fig Tree,” which strikes me as a weirdly perfect amalgam of ‘80s new wave, ‘90s R&B, and postmodern singer/songwriter pop. How did that particular track come about?
Cat: Cool assessment. That one came about pretty much like I described my process above. I had spent the day with my Dad who is a Sicilian immigrant. I saw him light up like a five-year-old boy at the sight of a bowl of figs on a table, and recount childhood memories. When I got home I was so inspired, and wanted to try to understand his experience, what it must have been like to have your Mother leave to another country for a year to work and save for you to come, leave your home, get on a boat, travel for weeks, and end up in a new place, not knowing the language or anything at all. This seemed comparably more difficult than anything I or my friends had to face in our development. I felt I could draw strength from attempting to understand his joy and challenges by writing from his perspective.
I was so lit up by his enthusiasm for the fig, that I immediately started making the loops on my RC 300. Then I improvised lyrics over that for 30 minutes or so, and all of the material was there, I just had to edit it later.
Next I started to add some beats and synths. My co-producer then came over and added some different beats. We started to get really playful in tag team, I’d add trombones, he’d add a bass, etc., and just had fun with it! It became a melting pot of musical influences kind of like New York, and true to my Fathers’ story. It’s a fav of mine because of the content, but also such a unique form. There is no chorus. But you can feel the traveling across the sea in the middle section, and his potential experience of confusion in the warp of vocals, synths, trombones, and back beat. In the end, a Mother producing a single fig to a boy in a new country, reminds him he is home.
Izzy: What is it that inspires the visuals behind Stranger Cat? I really love your videos for “RED” and “Sirens.” Are there any visual artists that you are especially fond of our take inspiration from? The video for “RED” reminds me of an awesomely bizarre amalgam of Fellini, mid-period von Trier, and ‘90s alt rock music videography.
Cat: Nice! I’m definitely inspired by a lot of movement, as a former modern dancer, as well as haunting films from the 60’s and 70’s with woman on the verge type themes. For “RED” I was inspired by everything David Lynch, Kill Bill 2, and Joan of Arc. I just wanted to tell a deeper story through a narrative but artistic video, it was very challenging as my first videos I was director, but also rewarding and fun to see this dream in my mind come true!
With “Sirens,” there was a story of being haunted by insomnia that people weren’t getting just from listening, and I was also guided by Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, a philosophy book about the psychological spaces different rooms in a house hold. In “RED,” I came up with the story idea then Charles Schneider had this life-sized puppet in his garage that looked exactly like me, down to the RED dress I was wearing in the end, so it just grew from there. Mad respect for anyone who makes a film, for all the time and thoughts that had to go into four minutes!
Izzy: And finally, what’s next for you? How do you hope and plan to spend 2016?
Cat: I’ll be writing and recording the sophomore Stranger Cat. But I’m also curious about being a human being again 😉