Thanks again to Bart for another interview. I’m very fond of this one as The Cat’s Miaow is such an inspiration and such a great band with lots of songs that you can keep close to your heart. I don’t think you need much introduction to this great Australian band, but I will remind you, if you haven’t yet, to purchase their reissues of “A Kiss and a Cuddle” and “Songs for Girls to Sing” from Library Records. Enjoy!
++ Hi Bart! How are you doing! You just put out a new CD by Bart & Friends that sounds fabulous! Care to tell me a bit more how this record came about? And what can people expect from it?
Thank you. In a lot of ways it’s just a continuation of the previous cd “Make you blush”, in that there’s the core of me, Mark and Louis but with the addition of Scott and Irene from the Summer Cats on half the songs, and Jeremy from The Zebras on drums. It’s really hard for us to find venues to play live as we need a specially re-inforced stage to support the collective weight of our egos.
Scott came in because there was a song I left off “make you blush” because my singing was so bad. I thought it was still a really good song and would suit Scott’s voice (I listened to it again recently thinking that it couldn’t have been all that bad and it was even worse than i remembered). It went really well, so I asked him to sing some more and we co-wrote a couple as well. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s singing for 20 years since his days in The Earthmen but had never really spoken to him until I supported the Summer Cats at their album launch a bit over a year ago.
I think there’s a couple of songs on the new cd that are as good as anything I’ve done before.
People should not expect to hear Pam on this one (though her husband Mike took the photo on the cover), but she will be back on the next one, as will Scott. I hate singing.
++ So again, as usual, let’s go back in time, to The Cat’s Miaow’s time. What were you doing at the time? And what sparked you to start this band?
When The Cat’s Miaow started, I was a student and playing bass in girl of the world so I had plenty of spare time and was beginning to think “I could probably do this myself”. Andrew was playing bass in The Ampersands and we began recoding songs on his 4 track. It was very low key in the beginning and was just us recording the songs we wrote for the fun of it, making cassettes and giving them to friends.
++ How did the recruiting process for this band work?
It was just the 2 of us with a drum machine initially, but once we had a few songs together, we thought it might be fun to record a couple “properly” at the studio that Girl of the World used. Neither of us are blessed with the greatest singing voice so I asked Kerrie with whom I’d been in a band briefly a couple of years earlier. Cam was basically the only drummer I knew. It seems ridiculous now, given how well the four of us gelled musically. God knows what would’ve happened if either had have said no as I had no one else in mind. I always tend to go for people I know, friends or friends of friends. I never advertise or audition.
++ Why the name The Cat’s Miaow?
It’s a fairly common, if slightly old fashioned phrase in the US but it’s not one that has ever crept into use in Australia, so to me at least it’s always sounded cool and exotic.
The definition is“archaic 1920’s American slang that means “excellent”, “stylish”, or “impressive to the ladies”. Synonymous with the cat’s pyjamas and the bee’s knees”. which just reminded me I had a little one man band when I was teenager called The Cat’s Pyjamas.
++ Your lyrics are like small vignettes of life and I just love that, it’s easy to identify yourself with them. How did the creative process for you all work?
The process was Andrew or I would write a song and then bring it to the rest of the band. its pretty much the same way i work now, in a room by myself with a guitar and a notebook. particularly with The Cat’s Miaow i wanted to keep the lyrics straightforward and everyday, things that you could hear in a conversation rather than poetry or clever word play. and vignettes is the right word, I wanted to give just a snapshot or a brief glimpse rather than whole story.
++ And which is your favourite song that you made with The Cat’s Miaow? and why?
I really quite like “If things had been different” and the version of “Firefly” on The Long Goodbye. They both just sound like the 4 of us playing, there’s no overdubs, just us playing. my favourite songs have changed over time, I know on the liner notes of “Songs for Girls to Sing” that i thought that “Hollow Inside” and “Make a Wish” were our best songs, but i don’t feel that way now. Im also quite partial to the smaller songs like “Let me brush the hair from your face” and i think “Aurora” was a really important song for us. A little light bulb went “ding” when we finished that one and in a way that’s when The Cat’s Miaow began.
++ I can’t make my mind on which is mine, sometimes is “Hollow Inside”, sometimes “Third Floor Escape View”, some others “Sleepyhead”, and then it changes to others. But at the moment those three. Is there a story behind them?
I’m not sure I’d tell you if there was… with my songs I always tried to make them sound quite personal even when they were complete fiction. The lyrics range from 100% biographical, to being inspired by books and the aim was to make the two indistinguishable. There was one time Kerrie didn’t want to sing a song because she thought it was too personal and about a girl I liked but it was taken almost entirely from “The Catcher in the Rye”.
I guess the thing about your favorite song changing might have to do with with that we aren’t known for any one particular song. we were no hit wonders.
++ What about the video for “Third Floor Escape View”? How did that came about? Any anecdotes while recording it?
Dave Harris was putting the Munch video compiliation together and asked lots of bands to make a video to go on it. It was done on super 8 which was a pain to convert to video. Dave put it together in about 15 minutes so we could watch a Spirtualized concert he had taped. It’s all about your priorities really.
++ One thing that strikes me is that you appeared in so many compilations during the years. Did you ever say no to contribute in one? And which compilation was your favourite that you appeared on?
We probably appear on more than you realise and more than I can remember. We were on a lot of cassette compilations before we started releasing singles. We did say no to one guy and then he started bagging us on the indie pop list. Totally unrelated of course. I think “Going against Maz’s Advice” on 4 Letter Words was my favourite. Clint Barnes who released it was great and I liked that instead of one song per band you heard a few. And Pam was on it as well which was cool. But particularly in the first few years we had so many songs and no one wanted to do a single with us so we had plenty of songs to release on comps.
++ You also covered many songs with The Cat’s Miaow. Which of this covers are you the happiest with? And what other covers would you have liked to do?
I love “Nothing Can Stop Us”, I know some people hate it but it was fun pretending to be Galaxie 500. Though we probably did that quite a bit…
I dont think there’s anything that I wanted to do with The Cat’s Miaow that we didn’t end up doing. If the band had have continued we might have ended up doing the covers i did in Bart & Friends, “Lodi” by Creedence, “Hounds of Love” by Kate Bush, “Boredom” by Buzzcocks.
++ I always find a bit odd that you shared a flexi with a well-known band like Stereolab. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like you much more than them! But you know, this kind of contributions don’t happen that often. How did this happen?
There were a few months while I was staying in DC when everything seemed to fall into place, there was The Shapiros and this flexi and that was when Bus Stop asked us to do a cd and a single. Keith from Wurlitzer jukebox was trying to get in touch with us and mentioned this to Chip Porter. Chip was a friend of Pam’s and knew I was in DC doing The Shapiros, so was able to put the 2 of us in contact. At that point I don’t think Stereolab was mentioned, but when I heard I was horrified. I thought they would never actually deliver a song and Keith would wait and wait and the flexi would be in limbo forever. I think to Keith it was just a case of it being 2 bands he liked, he was very egalitarian in that respect. Keith was another really important person to the band and the association continued with Hydroplane. If we hadn’t have fallen in with Drive-In, I think we probably would have done a lot more on Wurlitzer Jukebox. I can’t praise both labels and the people behind them enough.
++ I read that you didn’t play live. But is this 100% true? Im sure you must have played some gigs?
Nearly true. We only played once publicly at the launch for the Munch video and a couple of times at parties. our main priority was always songwriting and recording rather than performing. It wasn’t that we couldn’t play, it just didn’t seem the best use of our time. I think cam would’ve liked us to play live more though.
++ Why do you think Summershine turned you down and that American labels were the ones interested in releasing your music?
The American scene in the mid 90’s was quite vibrant and we ended up working with 7 American labels, Sunday, Drive-In, Four Letter Words, Shelflife, Bus Stop, Spit and a Half and Darla. I’m not sure the reason why or what they saw in us that appealed to them. You tend not to question things like that at the time. For the most part, we considered our peers to be American bands like Glo-Worm and Buddha on the Moon.
Regarding Summershine, it probably seems odd now, Melbourne indie label + Melbourne indie band = perfect combination. But most of the bands Summershine was releasing then like Autohaze and The Earthmen were really quite big at the time in Australia. They played live a lot, got played on public radio, people bought their records. The Cat’s Miaow were just mucking around on a 4 track in a bedroom and didn’t even want our photo taken. I could be smug and say “well people are still buying The Cat’s Miaow and no one can even remember Autohaze” but I probably wouldn’t have signed us either if I were Jason.
And to be fair we sent him “Aurora” and pretended to be a band from Canada called Hydroplane. He said he liked it but that he didn’t think anyone would buy it because no one had heard of us. Obviously we weren’t really taking this whole “lets start a career in the music business” thing very seriously. And it’s not like Summershine were the only label to turn us down either, and at least he replied. Yes i’m talking to you Sarah records and Parasol.
I don’t think we sounded very “1994” which probably worked against us at the time, but in hindsight might be working in our favour now.
++ The artwork of the Cat’s Miaow’s releases usually includes a photograph as the cover. It was like a trademark I’d say. Who took care of the artwork and where did these photos came from?
The first few were done by me and are old photos from my family photo album. The photos are mostly me or my older sisters. The early sleeves have a certain charm, but I prefer the sleeves on the last couple of singles that were done by HK from Buddha on the Moon. Then we called in the big gun of Steve Crushworthy to do the re-issue cds and the long goodbye. we were a very lucky band now i think about it. Steve’s designs are beautiful.
++ How important was Mike Babb from Drive-In/Quiddity for you? It seems he was your biggest fan during the 90s releasing almost all your catalog!?
Mike was great for us. i can’t fault our experience with Drive-In in any way. He also did a LOT of behind the scenes stuff with library records as well. Drive-In didn’t just releases the Cat’s Miaow, but pretty much every band I’ve been in. They were very efficient, honest, friendly, supportive. I loved all the other bands they released as well especially Buddha on the Moon. After a couple of years of sending out tapes it was good to finally have a home.
++ And what about Albert from Sunday? I love his label but it seems he has disappeared from the face of Earth!
Yeah, we never quite clicked with Albert in the way that we did with Mike. I am grateful that he released our first single but it did take a hell of a long time to come out. And he spelled my name wrong on the sleeve as well. I ended up as Brat. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake…
++ The original “A Kiss and a Cuddle” compilation came out on Bus Stop. I read somewhere that it was badly distributed. Does that mean that there are many of them sitting on boxes on some cellar? Why did this bad distribution happen?
I’d say they were landfill. The distribution might have been fine, but I think I only ever saw it listed at Parasol. My take on it was that Brian was burnt out and exhausted, he’d been doing the label for 10 years by then and I think the label just fell by the wayside for a while. It happens, I know it happened with me and Library towards the end. We didn’t really hear from him for a long while but he sent us a huge wad of Cat’s Miaow and Pencil Tin cds in the late 90s for which I’m eternally grateful. I was pissed off and frustrated at the time (1996) but I’m fine with it now and if we crossed paths I’d thank him for having us on Bus Stop. We got to be on the same label as Honeybunch, Rocketship, Bomb Pops and Veronica Lake. What’s not to love?
++ But happily you re-released it plus other Cat’s Miaow stuff on your own Library Records. Was that an easy decision? I know of many people that say they won’t release themselves because of some sort of strange ethics. Anyhow, I do think it was a great thing you did, we needed those records!
Yeah, I can understand people shying away from the whole vanity release thing. It’s a bit like your mum paying kids to play with you. in our case, I was fine with it as both cds had been released by other labels already which legitimised their existence and it gave us a chance to re-work the track listing of “A Kiss and a Cuddle”. “Songs for Girls to Sing” had already sold out two pressings on Drive-In and Mike had said he wasn’t going to repress it. Hs priority was in releasing new music rather than keeping the back catalogue available. While i can see his point, it’s not a view point I share. possibly to do with me being a librarian, but I think there are some things that should be readily available to people without them paying exorbitant prices on ebay.
They’ve been steady sellers over the past 10 years. I probably sell about 1 a week…. ka-ching!!!
++ You said that in Australia no one knew you. I’m wondering if there have been fans from say, non-traditional indiepop countries?
It seems everywhere is an indiepop country these days. in the past 5 years the bulk of the letters have come from Sweden but you probably can’t get a country that’s more indiepop than Sweden. Probably due to Fraction Discs being the only place that stocked our cds for quite a long while. If it wasnt for them i doubt I’d be making music now.
There was a band from the Phillipines called Carnival Park who did a cover of “Portland Oregon”. But I’d be more surprised by a letter from Sydney than I would from Singapore.
++ So when and why did you split? And what happened to the rest of the members after?
In some ways we never did. we never discussed it at the time, we just sort of stopped. There were a number of factors, the main one being that I wasn’t writing songs that I felt were worth recording let alone releasing. cam was living in either London or Sydney, but the moment that we ended for me was when we were rehearsing and Andrew said he had a new song, but that he wanted to release it as Hydroplane. I said “great, let’s hear it” but in my head I went “The Cat’s Miaow has just ended”.
After that, Kerrie and i did quite a bit in Andrew’s band Hydroplane. Hydroplane released 3 cds and countless singles. I know some people think of it as a continuation of The Cat’s Miaow, but it was like starting a new band. Different influences, different way of writing and recording, different direction.
I did a couple of cds as Bart & Friends which Andrew played on and recorded.
And I think The Long Goodbye was probably done after we broke up?
I think when a band starts re-recording its own songs in french, it’s a good indicator that they’ve run out of ideas and should stop, but if you want to play alternative history and hear what The Cat’s Miaow’s next single might’ve been, do a playlist on your ipod of:
Wurlitzer Jukebox (Hydroplane)
CBGB’s (Bart & Friends)
Song for the Meek (Hydroplane)
Lodi (Bart & Friends)
++ Care to tell me something about The Cat’s Miaow that no one else knows? :p
There’s not much to tell, there was no drama, arguments, drugs, divas. Brian Jonestown massacre we were not.
We’re all still in touch with each other, not as often or in person as Id like, but still in touch.
Oh, Kerrie is an opera singer. do people know that???
++ I think like always, I write too many questions when I interview you Bart! Last time I asked you about your hobbies, and you told me you love megalithic sites. Which ones are your favourite? I was in Stonehenge and it was quite impressive!
Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. It’s huge, about the size of a football ground and it syncs in with other sites like Maes Howe and surrounding lakes and mountains.
I also really like Beaghmore in Ireland. The circles and stones are small and would fit in your backyard but I still find them quite special
Of the ones I havent been to but would really like to, top of the list is Callanish in Lewis in the western isles of Scotland
++ And what about food? Is there any sort of Australian cuisine?
There is one Australian culinary delight called a tim tam which is a chocolate biscuit that we used to use to lure Kerrie to rehearsal. Andrew, Cam and I would get one each and Kerrie would eat the rest of the packet. She’ll deny it, but I saw this happen on several occasions.
++ Thanks again for the interview Bart! Anything else you’d like to add?
I think a lot of people give me too much credit for The Cat’s Miaow. Everyones contributions were an integral part and Andrew in particular wrote some of our best songs and recorded and mixed them. his role tends to get downplayed a lot unfortunately.