They're a long way from the Mississippi Delta, but the members of Toronto's catl. have earned a loyal fan base for – as their bio puts it – “pure floor-stomping juke-joint blues.” Beginning as a two-piece fronted by former punk player Jamie Fleming in 2007, catl's first album ¿Adónde Vas? A Ningún Lado, is a live-in-a-room racket. With the addition of female vocalist and keyboard player Sarah K for 2010's With the Lord for Cowards You Will Find No Place, the sound became more diverse and polished. With the release of Soon This Will All Be Gone – out April 13on (weewerk) records – catl. changes once again.
Drummer Johnny LaRue has been replaced by Andrew Moszynski, formerly of the Deadly Snakes, guest players have been brought in, and the album was recorded both in Toronto and Detroit. From the commanding electro-thump of the first single “Gold Tooth Shine” to the mournful organ-burn on “Cocaine,” which features Sarah's mournful wail, Soon sounds like it could've been conceived anytime since the birth of electric blues. In this Q&A Fleming gets into the nit and grit of the new album.
What's the meaning behind the new album title?
I always say, “This could be the last record, I don't know if I have another record in me, so enjoy this while we have it.” I've been in bands before where things are going well, and then it just implodes and then it's gone. You never go back to that point. Once you call it quits, that's forever.
How did the lineup change affect the band?
Halfway through the recording process, our drummer, Johnny LaRue, quit, which certainly put a crook in things, so Sarah and I essentially finished recording the album ourselves, here in Toronto – the stuff we did with Johnny was in Detroit. That was the first of many problems. Then we were wondering who's going to put [the album] out, because we used to put [our music] out on Johnny's label, and Sarah and I weren't really set up to do that. So we replaced the drummer and got Andrew Moszynski, who used to be in the Deadly Snakes. Plus, we put a bunch of covers on the record, and we ran into a bunch of licensing problems – well, not problems, but we had to go through the process of tracking those people down and getting permission.
Soon certainly sounds bigger, slicker and more produced.
That's intentional. I come from a really punk rock, DIY, lo-fi background, and I wanted to move beyond that in the studio, which I was able to in the studios that I worked in. It's still a slammin' kind of stripped-down show live, but the record is not supposed to be a live representation. I want to capture that excitement within the songs, but I want to do that with the studio and what's at my disposal. We brought in some guest musicians. We had Harmonica Shah, from Detroit, and Danny Kroha, who's also from Detroit, and a friend of ours named Pete Ross [from Toronto] – all played harmonica on the record because I'm a terrible harmonica player.
Your first album, ¿Adónde Vas? – A NingúnLado, is very much a down 'n' dirty, live-off-the-floor experience. What's the benefit of moving past that?
It should be this journey. I don't want people to slap on the record and be like, 'Oh, it's just like the show I saw last night.' That's not the point. ... We still did things live off the floor, and all the guitar, keyboards, vocals and drums are all done live in the room, but then I was able to overdub piano and other percussion instruments.
The expanding role of Sarah in the band seems vital to the sound on Soon.
I actually wrote specific songs for her, and she's a much better singer than me, so I prefer it. It's nice, it's gives me a break on those long shows. I don't have to totally blow myself out. She's totally woven into the tapestry and she's an intricate part of it. The first single we're releasing, “gold Tooth shine,” she actually plays drums on it.
The band is Toronto-based, yet steeped in traditional Mississippi Delta blues. How do those two worlds meet in catl.?
I certainly write from an urban perspective, I'm writing in that style for sure. But people have their problems all over the place, so the human condition is essentially the same. People are striving for the same things to be happy, to feed their families, to keep a roof over their heads. So there are certain universal aspects that would come from the different backgrounds. There's a certain crossover, but I'm not writing from a Mississippi sharecropper perspective, but I'm working with that style of music for sure.
Considering your background, do you see strong parallels between punk and the blues?
As you get older and you look back with perspective and learn more and more about music, it's a journey where you listen to music your whole life, hopefully, and you start to make these connections. When you're 14 and hear Minor Threat records or Black Flag records, or Sex Pistols or the Clash, you think, “Oh this is amazing, this is my music!” When you start to get older, you wonder, where did this come from? Where did these guys get these ideas from? So you kinda keep moving backwards through time. You start to see rock 'n' roll and say, “Huh, this is kinda just sped up rock 'n' roll,” and you get something like the Rolling Stones, which was a rhythm-and-blues cover band when they started out. You hear that and wonder, “Well, who are they ripping off?” and you just keep going back.
Those guys, back in the '20s and '30s, they were the punk rockers of the time. You read about Charley Patton throwing his guitar up and playing it between his legs, doing crazy stuff – those were crazy shows, and I'm sure they had similar impacts on the audience. It's similar in terms of performer-crowd interaction.
In past interviews you mention that catl. isn't much of a touring band and you prefer to play in Toronto and surrounding areas. Are you going to start touring more?
That's what we're going for. The separation with our old drummer was kind of leading towards that. Now we've got Andrew in the band and he's more freed up to go essentially anywhere, so we're looking around for booking agents and to go to Europe and what have you.
So then, what should catl. newcomers expects to see at your shows?
It's a party. Often we'll set up on the floor, just off the stage, so people can be right with us and grab tambourines and do whatever they need to do. It's more of a party and it's more interactive than just standing and watching a band go through a bunch of songs. I always say that first and foremost, we're a dance band – we're just not using electronic music, we're using more traditional methods and trying to get people moving. That's what we're all about.
For a taste of catl., here is "Sun's a Grave," from their last disc, With The Lord For Cowards You Will Find No Place.
Here is an advance track called "5 Miles" from the forthcoming disc, Soon This Will All Be Gone, and a little note from Jamie Fleming.
SONG"Sarah K. and myself wrote the background melodies for the song '5 miles' on the highway while driving from Sarnia to Detroit. It came together as we were pulling up to Ghetto Recorders and getting ready to record it that day. That song was particularly fun since we were able to really utilize the studio and layer a bunch of sounds on top of the 'off the floor' bed-tracks. By the time the last chorus comes around there's so much going on that it's hard to know what's vocals, or instruments or whatever. I wish I could say that I nailed down the solo with one take, but I was hungover and that definitely wasn't the case. It was a bit of an overdub mardi-gras!"