Elizabeth and the Catapult

By: Sarah L. Myers

Your bio says that you wrote your first song at the age of six, on a piano in Greenwich Village. What role did music play in your childhood?

Basically, I was supposedly singing before I spoke, so I was just really a musical kid, I was just always distracted at parties all the time because I was listening to music instead of the conversation and what was going on. My parents picked up on it pretty quickly and there was actually this piano in this Laundromat, which is really random, around our house, and I would just fool around on it from a really early age, so I basically started playing the piano and taking lessons when I was seven, or something ridiculous like that, really early. I was always just making up songs. I would say when I wrote my first song it definitely wasn’t a whole song. It was probably like an improvisational “Chopsticks“. But, yeah, I was playing really early on and singing really early on. Its just always been what I really love.

Do you still remember the first song that you actually wrote?

It definitely wasn’t a song with words but, yes, maybe don’t the first one, but I remember early pieces. My piano teacher would give me simple classical pieces and I would start playing them, and then get really distracted because I would start making up half of it. And I would try and do everything by ear and not read the music and then I would start improvising and turn it into something of my own so I was kind of a bad student and a good student.

You grew up in New York City. What influence did that have on your childhood and your songwriting?

I think probably a lot. Part of me wants to say I could’ve probably grown up anywhere, like in the middle of the woods, as long as I had a record player and something to bang on, I might have just been doing the same thing.

I grew up down the block from the Fat Black Pussycat, which is where Joni and Bob Dylan had their debuts on Bleecker Street. So I discovered them pretty early on and I was really inspired by them. I definitely used my fake ID to the max as a teenager going to jazz clubs and just trying to get into places I wasn’t supposed to be, when I was 15 and sneaking out or whatever. I think that definitely has to influence you whether you know it or not. But it’s really mostly the records and the music, and the classical training that was the biggest influence.

Tell me a little about the background of the band. How did you guys get started?

We were all in Boston going to school. We didn’t know that we were at the same school together, we were at the same school together for three years and never met. And at the very end of my time there I basically went to this really seedy club in Boston and Pete, our guitar player, was there and I just remember the whole place was packed and people were lining up down the street at this hole in the wall. People were just freaking out and it was just an amazing show. Afterwards I came up to him and basically told him I had to play with him and it worked out. But we all moved to New York at the same time and we just started playing when we moved to New York, to Brooklyn.

You usually perform around New York City and Boston?

Yeah, we have some audience in LA thanks to Myspace. When we went out there we were like, “Wow! Ok, we’ve never played here but people seem to be coming out, this is great!” But Boston and New York are where we have the main audience.

You’ve opened up for Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls on a few dates. How did that connection come about?

Yeah, that was really cool. She came to, we had just played a show at the Middle East (in Boston), kind of like a really last minute show. They called us up at the last minute to play on, like, a Sunday night and I think it was like freezing rain and it was just ridiculous in the late fall and we played this show at the Middle East and not a lot of people came out that night because it was like crazy, we were going on around 11:30 or midnight on Sunday and she just happened to come out.

She heard us, supposedly, in a café playing in Boston, and she just really really dug it and talked afterwards. Ever since then we’ve played shows with her at the Paradise but she also just really, it’s amazing how much she pushed us. She wrote a lot of blogs about us and put us on her website and her Myspace, and it’s just a lot of traffic has come from her support which is really cool.

Do you see there being a theatrical element to your music?

Yeah, I’m trying to figure out what the root of that is. I love these interviews because I always learn just as much as you do! Basically, the theatrical thing, I’m really really influenced by Gershwin and the early pop stuff, like 1940s, the be-bop era. I guess that sometimes comes out a little more theatrical. I don’t like to think of myself as a musical theater writer in any way, shape or form! I kind of like to shy away from that but we both have a theatrical element, maybe in that it’s a little eccentric and I definitely like to, when I’m singing my songs I’m really thinking about what I’m saying and trying to express that as much as possible. And Amanda Palmer, she’s interesting because onstage there’s more of a free form to her songs, where she can just stop in the middle. She performs in this kind of… she takes a lot of liberties and it’s very progressive and she’ll stop in the middle of a song, and you don’t know where it’s leading and it can turn into another song, or she’ll start talking to the audience about something. You’re not really sure what’s going on! That way, I don’t like to hear a very strict structure or keep everything very subtle. I think it’s fun to push the envelope a little bit.

So the theatrics are more in the performance?

Definitely. People have found that similarity between both of us but I definitely like to accent my songs. Also, the subject of certain songs that have become more popular than others, like “Momma’s Boy” or “Devils calling” has this kind of comical… I really like to play with humor in music. I think theres a time for hitting something really universal and serious and there’s also a lot of times where you don’t want to take yourself too seriously, and it’s fun to just like have fun with the music and the content of what you’re talking about. Definitely in “Mamma’s Boy” and “Devil’s Calling”. “Devil’s Calling” is just about having more fun and being tempted by the devil, basically. And “Momma’s Boy” is just making fun of the Oedipal Complex. So I like to have fun with that.

You’re currently recording the full-length album right?

Yeah, we’re currently recording the album. It’s kind of a process because we do everything. It’s very self-contained. We do everything on our own completely, so you get a different kind of a certain sonic quality in doing something in your living room as you would in a recording studio. It’s a much longer process so it’s probably going to take another half a year to get this thing out. But were definitely chugging away at it.

What’s the motivation behind keeping the record so self-contained? For instance, you have recorded many songs in your own bedroom.

Obviously, the first one is that it’s not so much as a choice as a necessity! If you don’t have like thousands and thousands of dollars behind you to go into a really nice recording studio, then you’re just going to have to do the best with what you have, with your limited equipment and get the best sound that you can. We did that with the EP. We have really limited equipment but I think we can make the most out of what we have and we’re really, really happy with the product. Just sonically, a lot of people can’t tell that it’s recorded in a living room because of the sound. Basically we’re trying to do that again, but also it kind of brings up a bigger question or issue, which is:

If you’re on your own completely, and you’re doing it all by yourself, the con is that it takes a lot longer to do everything and everything is a lot harder but the pros are that you have all the creative freedom in the world and you can take as much time as you want to get it to sound however you want. It’s all you. It’s all your choices, you know?

Do you think that adds a little integrity to the music as well?

Definitely. We’re at a stage right now, and the really exciting thing is that we can try out any songs and new ways of approaching performing or having the audience participate in different ways every time we perform. We try to keep our performances really different every time. So we’re always trying out new stuff and keeping it fresh and we don’t have someone telling us, “Maybe you should keep it this sound.” So this is really the time when we have the most freedom to do whatever we want and just have a great time. So that’s really the plus of having it so self-contained. I mean, our guitar player did the album artwork. We do everything!

Elizabeth and the Catapult play selected dates next month. Check the official website for tour dates.




Store : Music : Elizabeth & The Catapult : "Momma's Boy"

February 2007 : Elizabeth & The Catapult : Album Review


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