Cat Dowling’s début solo album The Believer was released to wide-spread critical acclaim last year, with an album of deep-seated tonal and musical depth the songwriter delivered one of 2013’s most individualistic records. Recently Dowling met with theLastMixedTape.com’s Stephen White to talk about her process as a musician and forthcoming new material, ahead of her appearance at the Culture Vulture night in the Odessa Club on March 12th.
How did your process in writing change from working within a band, with Alphastates, to working as a solo artist?
I think when I started with Alphastates I had no agenda, I just went with the songs I liked. I didn’t even know at the time if they were technically any good, although I always had a knack with melodies. When we released ‘Sometimes’ and it got a lot of radio play, people started to say “you’ve got to write another pop-song” which is the wrong way to go about things. You have to write about what you love and impresses you, if you start writing for other people it becomes less real.
I think with the solo material I was able to be a lot more honest, and I liked that.
Was it hard to put aside the idea of what other people would think of the record when you were making it?
Not really. I’m very proud of it. When you put it out there for people to listen to you have no control, all you can do is your best and not think in terms of it being commercial. I just wanted to make something for me to be proud of. I didn’t really know what to expect when I realised it, but from making it and getting it out there I learned a lot and I think I will bring that into the next album. When you’re in a band everyone takes an individual role and sticks to it, when you’re working on your own you have to oversee everything, I was lucky on this album that everyone came to me organically.
In terms of the band that you worked with on The Believer. How did the process in working with musicians change?
Well I’d know Gerry (Horan) for a longtime, from playing in Alphastates together. He’s an immensely talented musician and we just work so well together. He can understand what I’d want from each song and work on that. We’ve gotten over all the insecurities about our music and we can just tell each other if something does or doesn’t work without taking it personally. That’s very important. I’m very much a song writing in terms of lyrics and the structure but when it comes to the more studio and technical side of things it’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of.
Do you think that core process of starting with the song itself is why your music stands so well during your more stripped down performances, such as your support gig to Elaine Mai recently?
I actually really enjoy the smaller gigs because, in a way, you’re putting yourself out there. Whereas before I used to hide myself behind a band, looking back on it I was probably very nervous. But when I work in a more stripped down set now I find it liberating, if you can engage people in that way there’s a more instant connection and I like that. It used to be uncomfortable for me, but I have more in confidence in my voice now and I don’t feel the need to scream over things any more.
I actually remember playing a gig in America where myself and Gerry got on stage at a festival and people where kind of ignoring the band and where just talking. I felt like “that’s it” and I took the mic and walked right out into the crowd, it could have gone totally wrong and worked against me, I wasn’t being aggressive about it, but after a while you could hear a pin drop, it was a great feeling. I like to be put out of my comfort zone and that kind of set-up forces you to do that.
Do you moving out of your comfort zone was what the first album was all about?
Yeah definitely, I was a lot more honest this time around lyrically. Before I used to write lyrics were I knew what I meant but know one else could really figure out what I was talking about, that was a shyness on my part. With this record it got to a stage where I felt I was going to just put myself out there and just say what I wanted to say. And with the next one, which I am writing now, seems to have more of a recurring theme to it and I feel more interesting lyrics as well to go with it.