Cat Canteri has been a key part of The Stillsons for several years, but now she’s stepping out from behind the drum kit to share her solo debut When We Were Young, which can be heard below. The album is a revelation, both in terms of her artistry as a songwriter and musician and the extraordinary degree of emotional honesty she delivers. We caught up to with Cat to discuss how it all came together.
You’ve put out three albums as part of The Stillsons. How does it feel to be releasing a solo album, especially with such a personal and confessional collection of songs?
It’s feels really good releasing When We Were Young, but it’s definitely more nerve racking than putting out a Stillsons album. It’s much more exposing when you’re not standing behind the banner of a band name.
You’re Stillsons bandmates are on board for a lot of the songs, but you’ve also built a bigger team with Craig Pilkington and other musicians. Tell us a bit out their contribution.
One of the most enjoyable parts of making this album was asking friends to come in the studio and to play on songs that I thought would suit their style! Because I played a lot of the instruments (drums, rhythm guitar and a little bit of keys) on the record, it was really exciting to bring in friends to see what they would add to the tracks.
The two instrumentals were the first songs to be tracked, which we recorded live. Louise Goh (LAA) played keys, Megan Bernard played guitar and Suzanne Kinsella played bass. Justin (The Stillsons) over dubbed some extra guitar parts at a later stage. Suzanne also played bass on Here For Now and See My Bones. Ben Franz (The Stillsons) played bass on rest of the album.
After hearing Alison Ferrier and Ruth Lindsey sing together at These Machine Cut Razor Wire in 2013, I wanted to get them into the studio together to do some backing vocals. Ruth and Ali have that innate ability for knowing where the other will go with a harmony part. They sang on the title track When We Were Young and Alison also played fiddle on Moondarra, which sounds ace.
The only person who played on the album I didn’t know personally was Stevie Hesketh. He’s a good friend of Craig’s and when I said I wanted some rock’n’roll piano on ‘When We Were Young’ he suggested Stevie. The Wurlitzer I played on ‘Here For Now’ was actually Stevie’s instrument. He’d been in at the studio for another session the night before and left it set up in the live room. We rocked up the next day ready to record guitars and vocals… but there was this gorgeous Wurly, sitting in the studio looking pretty, begging to be played. We had to comply.
‘See My Bones’ was played by Bob Harris, the legendary host of The Old Grey Whistle Test fame. Firstly, how good did that feel? And tell us about the background of that song.
I was, as you can imagine, surprised and honoured to be played on Bob Harris’ show. ‘See My Bones’ was written as a reflection of my own battle with mental illness. I suffered from Anorexia from 2004 to 2009, and in that time I searched but never found any songs that I felt really reflected my experience. I found songs about healing and recovery, but that’s not what I wanted to listen to. I wanted to find a song that made me feel someone understood my pain, my struggle. I didn’t want a song to tell me everything was going to be all right, because, I didn’t feel like I could be normal again, and I didn’t want to be ‘better’. That’s part of the paradox of having anorexia, not wanting to be rid of your disease. Even when you hate it, even when you want it all to stop, there’s still a part of you that loves it, that doesn’t want to let go. Even though you do all these things to control yourself, the deeper you get the more out of control you actually are.
Because it’s a confrontational song, I had a few people suggest that I give it some kind of positive resolution at the end…. Some kind of sentiment to the affect of “I’m okay now” or “you can get overcome this”. I thought about this a lot. In the end I decided I didn’t want to close the song with that kind of statement for two main reasons. Firstly, because I’m alive and healthy. People can see that, so they can see there’s a positive end to the story in that way. Secondly, and more importantly, when I was sick the last thing I wanted to hear were people telling me things were going to ‘be okay’… like if you’re depressed and people tell you to cheer up.
There are two instrumentals on the album and your studies focused on drums/percussion. How would you say that influences your approach to songwriting?
I’d have to say; my songwriting influences me as a drummer more than my drumming influencing me as a songwriter. I love drummers like Levon Helm and Jim Keltner.
How have you found performing these songs live with a band?
I love performing the album with a band. On the record I play most of the drum and rhythm guitar parts, so it’s a new experience playing them with other people, and hearing what they have to contribute. It’s really awesome to witness the songs come to life in a live setting, and it’s especially fun getting to play with a drummer. Justin Olsson is one of my favourite drummers; it’s a total blast to get to play with him.