On her debut album, Partly Cloudy, Catbells presents a collection of exquisite, emotionally charged dream-pop compositions. She sings in a soft, often haunting style that is surrounded by meticulously crafted musical arrangements. The album has quite a varied sound, evoking a variety of influences while maintaining its own unique vision. Catbells emerged in 2021 with her debut single, “Fade (Rainy Day Demo,” the video for which has racked up 1.3 million views to date. That was followed by the Wilderness and Same as You EPs, as well as singles leading up to the album. In an email interview, Catbells discussed her music and new album.
Using a mask in photos and animation in videos brings a sense of mystery to Catbells. Do you feel this impacts your approach to the music itself? Does anonymity affect your creative process?
I have found that wearing the mask has given me the boundary I need to create and release music in a way that feels more freeing to me. I felt that hearing the songs rather than seeing so much is where I wanted the focus for the listener to be. There is so much visual stimulation all the time, many times people viewing stories and videos on their phones that don’t even have the sound on. So there is a feeling of protection with the mask, where I can make music just for the music and not because there has to always be so much more to it.
Three songs from the album had previously been on the 2021 Wilderness EP. Does the remainder of the album represent material written/recorded after that? Or if not, what factors led you to release those particular songs first?
A lot of the music was written and recorded in mini spurts, the first three songs on the EP were chosen to be together because they felt like a feeling when put together. But some of the other songs on the album Partly Cloudy were also written and recorded in that same batch, but never released until now.
“Partly Cloudy” does seem like an evolution from the EP in terms of increased variety in the arrangements and production. Do you feel there were specific things you were striving for with the album?
The album is just a mixture of songs and recordings collected since the release of the first EP, so the variety comes from feelings and emotions over that time that come out in the songwriting. There are some changes and experimentations that happened over time in the studio as well as just some natural evolution…there is a variety but in all, I think it encompasses Catbells and the different emotions that go into both the music and the recording. The ups and downs and all the in-betweens.
I read that you often start with voice memos and think about the lyrics and melody before the instrumentation. Given that the final recordings have a strong sense of mood and atmosphere, I’m wondering if you are considering the overall feel of a song in those early stages?
The songs do usually start that way, oftentimes melodies and lyrics sung into my phone. There isn’t usually much thought about the future recordings at that moment, more about capturing a feeling before it’s gone and then building off that spontaneous voice memo by moving maybe then to a guitar and then onwards from there.
Your bio mentions that you’d been in a few bands before focusing on your own music. What types of music had you been doing? Are there things from that time that you draw from (or perhaps go against) with what you’re doing as Catbells?
Most of the music previously was a little darker, sometimes a little heavier, and a lot less Catbells. Before those previous bands, however, the music I was working on had more of the sound of where I am back to now. I did work to get back to my “before self” to capture what I think felt very natural at that time. Possibly self-doubt, outside influence, and other factors pulled me away from making or releasing that music at the time, and led me to those other projects. But I feel very happy and relieved to be back to the start in so many ways.
How did you come to work with Billy Mohler, and are there particular ways that you feel the collaboration may have had a role in shaping your sound?
I have been a fan of many projects he has been a part of, and admired his ability to work with independent solo artists to help them create and realize their own original sound. He has immense talent and is very easy going by nature. That helps me as I tend to beat myself up, overthink, undermine, and sometimes just plain ruin things. His opposite demeanor is the perfect balance.
Your Same As You EP contained a cover of The Church‘s “Under The Milky Way.” What inspired you to do that song? And was it obvious how you wanted to present it arrangement-wise?
This was a spontaneous cover that was done in the studio with Billy Mohler. I love that song so much and we were having fun thinking about different cover songs in general. That one popped to mind, and how it would be fun to do in a different and simplified way. It’s such a powerful song with so much emotion and feeling, the melody is so strong, the lyrics are so poignant, so it was a very fun song to record.
Purchase Catbells music at catbells.bandcamp.com.
Catbells recently released a non-album single, “Walking In The Air,” a cover of a song by Howard Blake and Pete Auty that originally appeared in the animated holiday film The Snowman.