"We sometimes get the ‘you’re great players - for girls’ comment" - Interviews - Soundblab

"We sometimes get the ‘you’re great players - for girls’ comment"

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Cat Bear Tree are a South London all-girl, all singing, all-rocking three-piece whose recent single, the emotionally tense and rhythmically inventive ‘Spaces in Between’ has created a buzz. Soundblab collared them for a chat about London life, three-part harmonies and music scene sexism.

How did Cat Bear Tree form?

The band got together in 2011. Claudia and Zoe already kind of knew each other through shared musical circles/mutual friends and had discussed their shared ideas about forming an all-female band. At this point, Zoe was playing as an acoustic solo artist and Claudia was playing bass in an indie band where she was the only female. They had a few jams together with other musicians but it wasn't quite the right mix and so they left it for a while.

Then a few months later, Zoe got in touch with Claudia to say that she had met a drummer called Sarah and did she want to meet for a jam. We met up and things just clicked straight away in terms of music and personalities. You kind of know instantly when you've made a musical connection with people and we all knew that we'd found a group of people that we got along really well with and could enjoy playing music with for a long time. 

Where did the band name come from and what significance does it have?

The name came from a picture that Zoe shared with the band which shows a bear that’s been chased up a tree by a little cat. We had been playing around with name ideas for a while and nothing seemed to fit. When we saw the picture we just all thought – Cat Bear Tree. We love the fact that the bear's appearance is so at odds with its attitude.

Your new single ‘Spaces in Between’ is out now. It’s a very tense song. What’s it about?

‘Spaces in Between’ shows a darker side to the band and our musical style. It’s not quite so spiky or punky as our earlier material. The actual song is about the gradual breakdown of a relationship. About how sometimes after a while you stop seeing those things in the other person that initially made you fall in love with them. You stop noticing and respecting the things that once made you work fantastically together.

It’s about how one person finally has the courage to admit that ‘We can't keep trying to make this relationship work as too much has happened. Too many mistakes have been made and things won't ever be as good as they once were.’ It’s kind of sad in a way, but its honest. 

Who are your inspirations?

Our inspirations are other bands and musicians who are great at what they do and who do it on their own terms. Acts who have the ability to play live sets that you remember for decades and who make albums that you continue to put on, and listen to the whole album without skipping tracks. Musicians who connect with their audience.

Is the fact you’re all women in the band something you feel is worth talking about or is it just something music hacks like to focus on?

The fact that we’re all women wouldn’t be something to talk about if all women felt as supported to join a band as guys seem to be. Unfortunately, we sometimes get the ‘you’re great players - for girls’ comment. We’ve had it directed at us with a positive sentiment behind it, but it demonstrates a mindset in many, for whatever reason, that it is a hurdle women have to jump over when wishing to learn/play/record their own music – some men seem to think that women aren’t as capable and treat them badly.

Whether it’s the world of rock music, football, or skateboarding... Girls shouldn’t have to climb a mountain to be appreciated or accepted on the same level as guys. While this mindset remains, positive female role-models will encourage and show women that being in a band is possible and normal and can be one of the best things to do in life - creatively, socially, physically and psychologically.

What music are you guys loving at the moment?

Between us, we've got quite an eclectic taste in music. Some music that we've been listening to recently include Sia, Marnie Stern, Kimberly Anne, Angel Haze, Denai Moore, Chris Pureka, Kal Lavelle, Foals and Savages. Sarah has also probably secretly been listening to One Direction in her car!

All three of you sing. How do you go about working out your vocal harmonies? Do you plan them when writing the songs or is it instinctual as you play together?

Harmonies are mostly formed instinctually, as the music is generally. A typical song is written by someone playing something – a riff, a beat – while hanging in our practice room. If it catches someone else’s ear, we all join in, jam around it for a while – no talking – hopefully someone presses record on a phone voice recorder. It develops, perhaps some melodies and words come.

In that space anything is allowed. Total creative freedom. A song naturally forms, ideas and structures are discussed, space is filled where it feels right. The song usually takes many weeks of listening outside of practice times, development within practices, until it’s at a point where we all feel comfortable to play it live. Usually, it’s in the form it’ll be recorded in, with the exception of our next single, which has a couple of verses which were written in the studio and we’ve had to learn how to play and sing them at the same time, live.

Was it a plan from the start that you would all sing? How did it happen?

No, it wasn’t the plan but I’m not sure we actually had one at the start. Zoe was already an established vocalist and she was to be the singer in Cat Bear Tree. However, gradually with her encouragement and our combined love for the dreamy vocal harmonies of bands such as Warpaint, Fleet Foxes and The Staves, Claudia and Sarah started to find their voices too.

We realised how utilising our three vocals provided more texture and layers to our sound that we all felt was needed. All of us singing has become a really important and enjoyable part of our song writing process and we feel this side of our sound is continuing to grow.

How do you find the music scene in London right now? Do you have a favourite place to play?

Generally the London music scene is great and we feel very lucky to live in a city where so many varieties of live music are readily available and largely free! Having said that, it can be a bit hit-and-miss with regards to the quality of sound at a venue and the amount of passion a promoter has for hosting live events. At our level of playing, we realise you can’t be too picky but it makes such a difference to artists when a venue offers you small bonuses like free booze or payment for expenses.

We like to be fair to our fans too and therefore always lean more towards playing free entry/low ticket price gigs. It’s this combination of things that is not always easy to find in such a hugely competitive city like London.

One of our favourite places to play right now is at the Finsbury Pub in Manor House. We have recently hosted two very successful live music nights there and had an awesome time with great support at both. The venue is a great ambassador for live music, the space is just the right size with a big stage and good backline, and you can tell that the promoters really enjoy live music.

We all live in South London so we do also enjoy doing regular gigs at the Brixton Windmill. We get on well with the promoter and can trust him to put us on with similar bands, which makes a big difference to people’s enjoyment of a live music night.

What’s next for Cat Bear Tree?

We have a lot of gigs over the next few months to promote our new single ‘Spaces in Between’ which, did we mention, is available on ITunes and Bandcamp along with our EP, Let’s Share Hearts, that we released in August 2013. We hope to play a few festivals this summer and then who knows… We’ll see.

We’ve got lots of ideas and material. So far, we’ve been releasing music independently, which works well for us but we would at some point like to work with a small record label to put something out. For now though, we’re just enjoying being in a band together.

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