THE WELSH ARE
COMING! THE WELSH ARE COMING!
An Interview with Catatonia's Cerys Matthews
by Herb Wright
TransAction London Correspondent
Is this the first time you're in America?
The second time, actually. We've done three gigs here just over a year ago. That was S X SW, which is like LA and New York coming together in Texas. That was the first...yeah, then. At the moment it's just, like, promo, promo, promo. It's doing interviews and things like that because we're comingover in July to do a proper tour for the first time.
Headlining or a Loolapolapalooza thingy?
It's a Horde tour, whatever that is,[A huge crowd of bands playing to a huge crowd of people -ED] not a loolalohla. And we're also doing some dates in small clubs, I think. Ah, yeah...we like the small clubs.
What's the ideal size of club to play?
Big enough to have a good dressing room.
Do Americans categorize you as being another English band?
Well, to be honest, no. They seem to know about the music scene in Wales. They're asking us all about it, and if it's the new Seattle. It's quite funny because Seattle's just one city, isn't it? And what's happening in Wales is that the bands are from all over the shop. It's more of a vibe thing than a geographical thing.
There's even a dedicated magazine about Welsh bands.
The Welsh Band Magazine. It's amazing, that, because the two girls [who publish the magazine] are English and they've learnt Welsh. I couldn't translate English into Welsh without a lot of hassle, and I'm Welsh. They must be nutters!
As the dividing line between the now all but meaningless label "indie" and mainstream fades, Catatonia are deftly stepping on to the mainstream stage.
What's the song International Velvet about?
Well, in the first verse is basically saying, in a poetic way, uhm, 'Wake up sleepy Wales: land of old culture and Celtic charm.' It's historical, really, about all the stuff you're brought up with at school and things you associate with your country. The most modern major Welsh artist is probably Tom Jones [classy open-shirted '60s crooner appealing to the Mums- HW] and then you have your Shakin Stevens [awful open-shirted 70s crooner appealing to the Mums- HW]. And Shirley (Bassey) obviously... Manics were the first kind of moderns. When I was at school, there wasn't much of a thing for bands going on, modern bands- (it was) mainly cover bands...
Wales has kind of been let alone for a long time. We've existed outside of the trends and were allowed complete freedom to carry on doing exactly what we wanted to do. That's reflected in the the music.
With the new album you seem to have moved onto a wider stage. You're reaching a broader audience.
Yeah. We're selling more albums per week of International Velvet than we ever sold of Way Beyond Blue.
Was it a conscious decision to create a bit more commercial sound with this one?
No not at all. We've just matured as a band, and I've grown more competent as a vocalist The sound is more developed.
You've had quite a bit of chart success with the song Mulder & Scully.
That helped. Did I tell you that we just went platinum this morning?
And for the first time we're on daytime radio. I think that's the biggest change. I've always felt that our songs are very very poppy, y'know -- very poppy. It's a pleasure that people -- my sister for one -- now know the songs. She's into singers like Maria Carey and that and Gloria Estafan. To me that's a sign that we're getting into new territories.
You must have faith in what you're doing. It's like the crock at the end of the rainbow, but the biggest buzz is, like, simply singing and playing and listening to stuff you enjoy y'know. And that won't change. I sing all the time, you can't shut me up!
Who do YOU listen to?
Well, Radio 2 artists, y'know, old 60s bands. Also, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield-- all the classics. There's so much brilliant music out there. I just like good songs and good singers. Even on Way Beyond Blue, our focus was to make the very best music.
What would you be doing if the band had still gotten nowhere by this stage?
I just wanna sing for the rest of my life, so I'd still be playing in the pubs, places round where I live, y'know. We've been doing this for 5, almost 6 years, and you don't do it to get the approval of others. You do it because you love it. Getting the approval of others means you've got an easier life style and less financial pressures -- less worries about getting money to pay for your fix of music. You expect success, though. You must have faith in what you're doing. It's like the crock at the end of the rainbow, but the biggest buzz is, like, simply singing and playing and listening to stuff you enjoy y'know. And that won't change. I sing all the time, you can't shut me up!
What current American music do you like?
I like Ron Sexsmith, and there's this guy, what's his name? Elliot Smith. The Dandy Warhols are a little bit flash for me.
What about the image? You used to wear white tracksuits, now it's amazing ballgowns.
I couldn't go along with grrrl power anymore cause I'm reaching maturity, (now it's) lady power! Nah, I change like the wind. I just like dressing up. I had my track suit phase, then the Spice Girls started wearing my shoes, my platform shoes, so I had to change because I don't want to be doing the same as everybody else. I've got my hippy period at the minute. I had my Queen period with my tiara... I wear what-the-hell I want.
What about your reputation for drinking?
I just get excitable... I'm a kid at heart and alcohol is my favourite drug.
Do you take it easy on the booze before a gig?
No, not really. But I'm much more relaxed naturally now, cause I've been blessed with a new monitoring system... like a headphone system -- a lot of people use it now -- Celine uses it, hahaha. That's made a hell-of-a difference. Before that, I started having problems with my voice and that helped.
Do the boys in the band feel overshadowed by your huge media image?
No, cause like, Mark approached me, when he was looking for a singer, with the whole purpose of looking for a singer who would allow him to take a backseat. They love it, they're laughing all the way. I'm their bloody workhorse, but it's a role I relish. I love it. We work together as a band, we get along and stuff.
Mark approached me, when he was looking for a singer, with the whole purpose of looking for a singer who would allow him to take a backseat. They love it, they're laughing all the way. I'm their bloody workhorse, but it's a role I relish.
Who does the song-writing ?
People always conclude the lady only writes the lyrics. Is there something wrong with a lady's brain that she can't write melodies, or what? There's about four writers in the band and we all write melodies and three of us write lyrics. We're lucky to have a lot of writers. I might come in and find a song completely done, but mostly it's a mixture of us all. I bet that you could never tell who wrote what. The male members of the band are very in touch with the feminine side!
Your fave song on the album?
Jonny Come Lately. I think the next single's gonna be Strange Glue.
Is it all going in any particular direction?
Accapella and spoon playing! Hahaha!
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