With The Pierces on hiatus and a solo career underway, now’s the time to catch up with this charismatic artist…
Alongside her sister Allison, Catherine Pierce is best known as one half of noir-pop duo The Pierces. Beginning with a self-titled debut in 2000, their five studio albums were textured and mature offerings which showcased the sibling’s wonderful harmonies (albeit often in a subtle way). The highlight of their career together (to date) is the 2007 record Thirteen Tales Of Love And Revenge, a noir thriller of an album that also contained the Catherine-written song Secret (the theme tune to the TV show Pretty Little Liars).
The sisters, born in Birmingham, Alabama, decided to put the band on hiatus in 2015 and Catherine, henceforth known simply as CAT, now returns with her first solo offerings. Partly inspired by her recent travels, the tracks we’ve heard so far suggest that the decision to go it alone was a wise one. With charisma and talent in abundance, she combines elements of pop, psychedelia and alt-folk, all in her own alluringly inimitable fashion.
We recently had a chance to catch up with CAT and talk about life as a solo artist…
How has your approach differed when writing for yourself instead of The Pierces?
“It actually wasn’t that different because Allison and I wouldn’t write together that often. We would generally write on our own because we both liked to keep it a private experience and then we would get together and figure out who would sing what part. There were a few songs that we wrote together but generally it was a separate experience, so as far as the writing process went it was similar. I guess emotionally it was different because I knew it was going to be just for me and presented in a different way, which was scary and exciting and fun.”
Is it daunting not having Allison there?
“Yeah exactly, if it fails then you fail on your own but it also make its more exciting.”
The three songs we’ve heard so far are all very distinctive, were they written in different ways?
“I’ve been writing them over the past couple of years and I like all different kind of music. I don’t really think of myself as being one particular genre so I just write whatever I like and some people are like ‘oh this is too different’ but even The Beatles had very eclectic songs. I like to not limit myself and just write whatever comes to me.”
Do your songs all begin in the same way, is it a set process?
“It used to start with a line that would pop into my head, like an idea, and then I’d put that to a melody. Other times the melody would come first but recently I’ve been experimenting with beats. So I’ll start with a beat and write to that, just because it brings up different things. If you start it in different ways it can take a song in different directions. So that’s kind of eclectic too, the way I write. It’s always different, sometimes it starts with the melody, sometimes the lyrics or a beat.”
Are you the kind of person who carries around a notebook or records ideas onto their phone?
“Yeah, it all goes into my phone. It’s generally from my personal experience and sometimes it’s observations of the world, but it’s still going through my filter. It’s about how I feel about things.”
How much have your recent travels informed your writing?
“I think when you expand your experiences and when you grow as a person it just changes what you have to say. By adding in life experience it is going to inform what you have to share. I think it’s just getting perspective.
“I spent 10 days in the jungle of Peru with no electricity, sleeping in a little hut, doing heavy psychedelics every night, so that was different. It was an ayahuasca retreat where you go and you’re put on a special diet and you get very removed from anything that’s familiar. You take ayahuasca, it’s a ceremonial psychedelic that’s done with a shaman. It rips through into the subconscious and it pulls up a lot of things that you may have been avoiding and you need to address in your life and it drops you back into the essence of who you are. It’s a really amazing experience. It can be a little scary and it can be a little unpredictable. It’s really interesting.”
Were you writing at that time?
“I did a little bit of writing there but I think mostly it kind of unfolds as you integrate the experience into your life. It comes out over time and it definitely shifts the way you thinks about things.”
Is creativity also part of that process?
“I love writing, I find it cathartic. I love it and I don’t find it daunting at all. I feel like when there’s pressure, like if you have deadlines or you have to get something out by a certain point, sometimes that freaks people out and makes them get writer’s block, but I love that. I love having something to motivate me to write more.”
Do you ever find it difficult to share songs that are about deeply personal things?
“No, it’s just life experiences. I don’t feel like it’s anything to be ashamed of. You learn and you grow and that’s what songwriting is for. It’s an outlet for these experiences that hurt you or caused you pain. It’s a therapeutic way of dealing with those things, sharing them is necessary because everyone is dealing with some sort of pain; whether it’s dating a heroin addict or being rejected. Everyone has their pain that they’re dealing with. I think making art is the best way of dealing with those things.”
Do you get very personal reactions from your audience?
“Absolutely. It’s incredible, sometimes you do question why you’re doing this but I’ve gotten messages from people saying that they were suicidal and The Pierces music helped them through or that they went through a horrible breakup and our music helped them through. It’s so touching when you see that people are making that connection because that is why you share your music, because you want to connect with people.”
Are there songs by other people who you have that relationship with?
Oh yes, Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill paralyses me. It’s so moving to me and I’m not even sure exactly what she’s talking about. I don’t know what her experience was that made her write that song but for some reason it connects with me on a level that makes me almost unable to move. I’m so emotional when I hear it, that’s just one example. It’s incredible when you hear something that moves you in that way and I can only hope that I would have that effect on other people. It’s so special.”
Why do you think music has that power?
“I think it’s an energetic thing. I think people put their heart and soul into something and it actually becomes a tangible thing through their art or through their music and it can be shared and it’s a way to connect. It’s energy. It’s also the collective consciousness; you can tap into certain people who are on a similar wavelength. You just feel it and that’s a real thing.”
There are also songs with very specific meanings, such as Hard To Be A Woman which you released for International Women’s Day…
“Sometimes it’s more obvious. That song was a playful take, it’s hard to be a human in general but I can only speak from my own experience. I didn’t want it to sound ‘victim-y’ at all, I don’t feel like a victim. In fact I feel very strong as a woman, but there are challenges that come with that and there are impossible standards that are being presented on how a woman should be and act and succeed and have a family. There’s so many things that it can be overwhelming, but I just wanted to have a playful look at that because it’s also great being a woman.”
Do you think music has the power to make people change their minds and see things in a different way?
“I think music has the power to inspire people. It can plant the seed and then people have to take action after that. But it can definitely be the soundtrack to a movement.”
Do you ever feel the need to be that voice for people?
“I think I’ve been that voice at the level I want to. Sometimes you get frustrated ‘how can I help to change things?’ It’s difficult to know what actions to take. I think the best that anyone can do is take what they’re good at and put it in that direction. If you’re a writer then you can write about things. It’s just about opening people’s minds and directing people.”
You still hear horror stories about the hoops women have to jump through in all walks of life. Is that anything you’ve experienced and would you have any advice for other female songwriters?
“I’ve experienced that and it’s hard to know what to do because you’re literally arguing with a power, someone who has power over you. Like someone at a label who has the power to help you with your music or not. I’ve been in a position where people have said inappropriate things or done things that weren’t cool and it’s hard to know what to do.
“My advice would be to do as much as you can on your own so you don’t have to be submissive to that power. This latest record I’m putting out myself, I’ve done everything on my own without the help of a label and it’s incredible and empowering. You can do that these days, you don’t need a label because there’s so much access for releasing music on your own. I guess my advice would be if something makes you uncomfortable just don’t be in that situation. There are other options and you can actually empower yourself by doing it on your own.”
Technology is a great leveller in that sense…
“It’s amazing, this is a time where you can take the power back. Especially in the music industry. The money isn’t the same because people aren’t buying records, which is a little bit unfortunate, but the good side is that people who used to be so controlling don’t have the same power now, so you can do it yourself.”
What have you learnt during this process?
“I’ve learnt that you can be pretty self-sufficient and it’s actually a lot more satisfying when you can do it that way and you make all the choices. When you’re signed to a label there are a lot of voices in your ear ‘this is how it should be, this is what you should do,’ and it gets very confusing. If you’re the one making all the decisions it’s just kind of a more pure expression of what you want
That’s another thing about the music industry the rules have changed. You don’t have to just release an album or an EP now, you can do whatever you want. Since I’m doing it all on my own it takes a little longer and I’m just releasing singles until I have a collection of songs to make up an album and then I’ll release that at the end of the year.”
Interview: Duncan Haskell
Check out the video for new song Weapon Of War on YouTube