Interview with Cat Hall of Dissonance

Damage, the latest release from Dissonance, builds upon Cat Hall’s talent for bringing pop hooks into dark electronic music and building layered vocal parts, as well as her love for the maxi-single format. The track is a collaboration with Melodywhore, and they ended up with enough remixes for two releases – Damage (1st Assault) and Damage (2nd Assault).

Dissonance began in the early ’90s and caught the attention of Information Society’s Paul Robb, who signed the project to his label Hakatak International. Having released 2 albums, Dissonance (1997) and Reincarnate (2001), Dissonance went on hiatus until Hall revived it in 2015. Dissonance released the darker, more atmospheric Void in 2017 and has since put out a string of maxi-singles.

In an email interview, Hall discussed Damage, the history of Dissonance, and her other projects.

Could you discuss your collaboration with melodywhore? How did that come about, and what was the creative process like?

I met melodywhore last Fall on RADIO DARK TUNNEL SITUATION 47I was being interviewed after the release of my Ephemeral Maxi Single.  In the course of the discussion, I talked about wanting to work on some more aggressive tracks, and hey presto!  James sent me this fantastic track to work with.  The music evolved a bit, as I worked on the arrangement.  I essentially took the track and put my stamp on it-  as is usually the case, this involved many, many, many layers of vocals.  Some yells, and some sung in harmonies.  I think there are 16 layers of me in just the chorus alone to get the effect I wanted.  We were both kinda amazed at how easily the track and vocals came together.  There is definitely a chemistry with melodywhore and Dissonance- after listening to James’ other works, he brings a lot of magic to the table.  I really enjoy working with him.  We’ve already released Damage 1st Assault and Damage 2nd Assault, and we’ve decided to start work on an album together.  I value his opinion greatly, and have adopted the habit of sending him most of my work in progress so he can be my sounding board. 

So you’ve released Damage: 1st Assault, and melodywhore has put out Damage: 2nd Assault, with additional remixes. Was this the plan all along? Did you just end up with more remixes than you anticipated?

It was sorta the plan-  once we’d finished the song, we were talking about how to release it, and I thought, “hey-  why not 2 sets of remixes???”  So we put our noggins together and asked who in our circles had time to get on board with the remixes-  I’ve been long-enamored with the maxi-single format since the days of the 12” vinyl and then the cd maxi singles from back in the day (showing my age…)  I have a habit, with music I like, to go into a deep dive and listen to it on a loop-  with remixes, you can have many variations and maximum creativity by involving other artists-  and we did get such great remixes for the song- each amazing in its own way.   

Is there a general way that you connect with the remixers? For example, do you tend to reach out to people, or are they artists who have in the past expressed interest in working with you?

It’s a combination of all of the above.  When I first began diving into remixes, I looked for people who had done work for others I know in the industry.  One of my favorite singles from forever ago was Going, Going, Gone by Information Society-  small wonder, as I am now and have always been a diehard INSOC fan.  I really loved the Danny Saber remix.  I had no idea how to get a hold of him, but on a lark, I sent him a message on FB-  we were not connected, so I thought the chances of him seeing it were slim-  but he did, and he wound up doing a fantastic remix for a track on my Ascent EP.

I have also asked some peers who they recommended, and met several great artists that way.  I do sometimes get approached by artists offering remixes, and have had great success and made several friends that way, as well.  There are frequent collaborators like Glenn Kirchner and Federico Balducci who always bring something cool to the table-  I’ve been very fortunate to work with so many talented people.

Your last few singles have had many remixes. When you are writing/recording an initial song, are you perhaps thinking about different directions that it might end up going?

Not really.  I tend to be laser-focused on how I want my vocals to sound in the original track.  Part of the joy of remixes for me is what I like to call the “Christmas Aspect.”  It’s so exciting to pass my vocals off to another artist and to give them complete freedom with where they want to take it.  I rarely give any sort of direction, unless asked, and then it’s usually to tell them to do what they feel works best.  When I get their finished remix, it’s like opening presents on Christmas morning!  Joy! 

I’ve read about how you caught the ear of Paul Robb (Information Society) and began releasing on his Hakatak International label (and also collaborated with him.) But could you discuss your earlier musical background? Were you always into electronic music? How might have your initial sound/influences changed or evolved into what we hear on your releases?

I am a choir nerd from waaay back.  It explains the many layers and stacked harmonies that have become a signature. I did solo competitions in middle and high school, and have always loved the emotion that can be conveyed through voice.  When I was 16, I began checking out the club scene in Shreveport, La, where I grew up.  The south, at that time, was a great market for electronic music, and I became very well-versed in that genre.  We had a fabulous dance club in Shreveport- the Capri- an old movie theatre downtown that had been renovated into a fantastic space. Also, Clues, an old Victorian house that had been made into an after-hours dance club. Great music. On weekends, some friends and I would drive to Dallas to go to the Mecca of record stores, VVV-  alas, no longer in existence, they always had the best selection of stuff no one in Shreveport would have.  I had so much vinyl back then. When I began college, a friend, Bob Durham, asked if I wanted to be in a band with him-  I got asked simply because I knew how to sing, I think.  Yes-  it was electronic.  It was great fun, but we never recorded anything professionally.  I met some successful touring acts at this time as well (1988/89), Insoc among them, that I listened to non-stop.  I did not get really serious about writing/recording until about 1993 when I met David Sebrind, who would become my co-writer for my first and second albums.  Dissonance was part of the group of synth bands associated with the electronic music zine Control-Alt-Delete, although, we were not the darlings of that crowd. We were on a few compilation cds, and I think that’s where Paul heard us. So, it has been electronic music that has had my heart all along. 

Besides Dissonance, you’ve released an EP as Cat Hall and are part of The Insatiable Disquiet, both of which sound quite a bit different. Could you discuss your motivations and approach to these (compared to Dissonance)?

The Cat Hall EP was so much fun to do.  Paul Robb contacted me about a year or two after my first album was released and had the idea to do something more aggressive-  I was immediately on board, because Paul is one of my favorite people, and there is so much verve in everything he does.  I flew to L.A. and we did a bit of experimentation with my voice.  Shouting!! The result was Come To Mama.  Although we recorded it in 1998/9, it didn’t really get released until 2007.  It remains fairly obscure to this day, and I am always warmed when people discover it.  

As a writer, I am very much a specialist in what I do-  I strictly do lyrics and vocals-  yes, I take part in the arrangement, and occasionally, I will suggest something on the instrumentation, but I am a lyricist and singer.  When David left Dissonance in 2015 after the start of work on Ascent, I was sort of adrift, looking for co-writers/producers to assist in completion of that record.  While searching, I came across other really amazing opportunities.  I posted in several groups that I was in search of music, and Nico Wardell showed up.  He did more of a shoegaze style, but I’ve listened to my share of shoegaze, and I am nothing if not versatile.  Nico has his own indie label, Shore Dive Records, in the UK.  He sent me a track to do for his project Xeresa, which turned out really well.  So we decided to do an EP.  He has since gotten very busy with his label and a radio show, among other things, but we do have another record coming out in April.  

Essentially, not having a regular co-writer or “band” has presented challenges and opportunities.  I do not play live often, as there is no band, to speak of, but I am free to experiment with other styles and writers.   

There had been a gap between Reincarnate and Void. What made you return to Dissonance? Were there any particular ways you found working on Dissonance to be different at that point?

Yes.  I had moved away from the DFW area in 2001, so David and I decided to take a break.  I had several experiences then that really kinda sucked the life out of me, and from 2001 until about 2006 I did not write or even listen to much music.  I worked briefly on a side project called Chlorophyll, but Abid, my co-writer there, became a lawyer.  Studying for the Bar put the brakes on Chlorophyll.  I remained unmotivated and uninspired until my friends in Insoc came out with Hello World.  I was oblivious to it until Kurt sent me a copy.  When I listened to it, it reminded me how much I loved and missed singing.  It’s a great album, and after listening to that and a few other things, I got the itch to write again and called David up to see if he was game.  We wrote the demo version of  Taste in about a week, and had a good start on 3 other songs before David had some roadblocks that kept him from completing our work.  That’s when I had to break out of my comfort zone and try to find new people to write with.  I’m so glad I did-  just to name a few: Justin Burning, Nico Wardell, Jim Marcus, Blindcopy, and now melodywhore!!

Are there any upcoming releases/projects that you’d like to mention?

The Insatiable Disquiet release is slated for April 24; I also have a collaboration with Sapphira Vee that should be out soon.  I am on 2 tracks of the upcoming Dogtablet release, as well as a track on a new project with SpankTheNun, and a track with some people that is being kept a secret-  I am unsure of the release date for that one.  🙂

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