Listening to Cats:For:Peru record their three tracks for Exposed: In Session in G2’s supremely atmospheric studio, I’m reminded of my tour of their converted industrial works when I was here for their Album in a Day. The dark brickwork and long corridors of the one-time saw factory are a ghostly reminder of the Sheffield building’s industrial history, but the music that airily floats under the rehearsal room doors as you walk past feels like being inside a brick jukebox. It’s a curiously featherbed adventure, and a good fit for Cats for Peru, whose multi-layered music makes for a barbed but luxurious experience.
Forged in a Dronfield crucible in 2007, and named after a quietly terrifying short story by Arthur McKeon, their suburban tales are filtered through some extraordinary lenses. ‘Elbow covered by a team of Pinatas’ might begin to cover it. Debut LP ‘Attack of the Pitching Machine’ at the end of 2009, produced by legendary Sheffield producer Alan Smyth (Arctics, Pulp et al) was their first splash, but there’s been even more excitement about their latest EP ‘We Had This Problem Last Winter’ – and it was the hope of hearing a track from this that sealed the deal on their session.
We got a lot more than that. As well as EP track ‘Duck in the Oven’, the band have recorded new song ‘Smile’ plus an exclusive cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’, which sees synthist Stella Medford’s Korg matched by singer Ad Follett’s grandiose preacher-esque take on David Byrne’s vocals.
For our session recording we’re taping in three separate spaces simultaneously – Ad and guitar whizz Rich Walton are adjacent to the mixing room, bassist Keith Jones and Stella in the mixing room itself, and drummer Lucy Williamson in the ‘attic’ of the studio upstairs. Reunited in a slightly chilly side room in the heart of G2 following the session, we sat down with the band to talk about happy accidents, ukuleles and each person’s parts…
All – [Shivering] Oh man!
You cold? Warm yourself in the glow of my sparkling conversation. So. Three songs. Take us through them.
Ad – We did ‘Duck in the Oven’ first. It’s the one we’re most confident with…
Lucy – And the lead track on the last EP.
Richard – Even before we recorded it we knew it’d be the lead track. The first time I knew that song was good was after band practice when I found myself singing the main hook of it. It’s got a really catchy chorus that sticks in your head. (To Ad) You said you played the demo to a man at work and he started crooning it at you…
A – Yes. I played it once and about a week later he came up to me singing it!
L – We knew pretty instantly with that one. It came together really quickly. The ones that take the longest are the ones we usually end up ditching.
Keith – ‘Answers’ (from the album) was a one-rehearsal job.
R – In fact, you wrote it in the hour I was late. I turned up and you’d finished it! I was like: ‘Well, I’ll just play this little bit of guitar on top then’!
So how does a typical Cats:for:Peru song come together? ‘Answers’ in particular sounds like it’s a song and then a reboot – or Tim Burton-like re-imagining of itself – in the second half. It almost seems like a way to have two bites of the cherry. How does this work with different lyrics?
A –I haven’t really got any set way of writing lyrics but, sometimes, it’s like just like a storytelling… sometimes it’s more semantic. I’ve got lyrics I’ve stolen from other songs of ours. If it fits. Vaguely.
How do you know if it fits?
A – Usually afterwards I’ll come up with a meaning that’s vague enough for it to fit! No, it depends. ‘Answers’ for example was a cut and paste.
R – But if you listen to it, it sounds like you’ve poured your heart and soul into it.
From the first chord of Answers I felt slightly sad and melancholy. Is that a minor chord? When you build a song are you working out the best way to tug people’s heartstrings with those minor chords?
A – It’s never a conscious thing.
K – If you play it in major-major-major you sound like Oasis or Paul Simon. With most indie music now the guitar and song structure doesn’t use the obvious chords.
Does music lose its mystery when you’re in a band? I guess there’s a balance to be struck between knowing your stuff and knowing it too much. Which means it becomes…
L – A bit clinical.
A – When I first started playing guitar I really wanted to be like Joey Satriano. If you don’t have that knowledge then you’re doing things wrong but there’s no’ wrong’ in music really.
L – Happy accidents!
R – Our first EP was called ‘Penicillin’ for that reason. With three of the four songs on it – something happened when we were writing and recording that sounded awesome but were mistakes. Like a bit of feedback we left in…
How did that happen?
A – It was just me accidentally stepping on a guitar pedal!
Is it tricky doing the mistake live?
A – Well, we don’t try and replicate it.
Stella – We have new and exciting mistakes for live!
I think the songs I like the most are the ones I can’t quite grasp. Let’s talk about the song you’ve not recorded before, ‘Smile’.
A – That was the first post ‘Winter’ EP track we wrote. Seems to go down well. I wrote it on the ukulele somewhere. I always take a uke on holiday. I don’t know why – it just fits in the suitcase.
And the journey from those notes to the final song. Is there a method or a technique?
K – It feels like in each song we each have a specific part where it’s important. As opposed to just playing along to what Ad’s done. Each person’s part is quite important…
R – What’s that new song where it’s that riff that you play at any moment? You’ve been doing it for two months now…
A – Yes, we haven’t been able to practice that!
R – We should get round to it, shouldn’t we?