post brought to you by: dyson
I’ve been following the evolution of Elizabeth & The Catapult since the early 2000’s. My first introduction to their music was at a Berklee studio. I was assisting on their killer track ‘Waiting For the Kill’. I remember hearing Esperanza Spalding rip through a ridiculous bass line and then watched as elements were placed on top of it—it really made me rethink how songs should be put together. I was in pure awe and admiration (and still am).
Here we are, nearing a decade later and Elizabeth & The Catapult are still going strong. About to release their second full length album The Other Side of Zero, I couldn’t be happier to see Elizabeth’s brilliantly written songs, played and produced—once again—with the amazingly talented Danny Molad.
I was lucky enough to chat with both Elizabeth and Danny about putting together the new record. Check out the interviews below but before that let’s chat about The Other Side of Zero for a little bit, shall we?
Even before I spoke with Danny and Elizabeth, I knew there was something different about this record. It flows extremely well from track to track, and of course has all the elements of what makes Elizabeth & The Catapult a joy to listen to, but it has something more. (Not quite sure what that “more” is just yet.)
However, they seem to have fully discovered themselves and as both of them described it, this record had a big focus on being “in the moment”.
Have a listen to two tracks off of the brilliant, The Other Side of Zero, while you read the interviews:
Elizabeth & The Catapult – Go Away My Lover (male vox by Jeff Taylor)
Elizabeth & The Catapult – You & Me
Pre-order a copy for $5.99 Record due out Oct 25th.
dyson: Since your last record, your lineup has changed a little bit for The Other Side of Zero
danny: Yeah, now it’s just Elizabeth and I. We are the The Catapult, I guess that would make me The Catapult. Blake Mills played a lot of guitar on the record. He’s this sort of 23 year old guitar prodigy, that makes him sound like he’s some sort of Steve Vai freak or something but he’s more of a pop, avant-garde prodigy if that exists. And then Tony Berg, this producer we worked with, played a lot of guitar and bass on the record. We had a lot of other people involved but the bulk of it is just Elizabeth and I. On the title track we had Gillian Welch and David Rawlings singing on it.
dyson: The album was recorded out in LA?
danny: Actually we started demoing the record at my Dad’s lake house in Austin, TX. I flew with all of my equipment out there, borrowed some things from some friends who live in the city. We made a bunch of noise and got about 70% done and the label (Verve Forecast) suggested recording with a producer. At first we weren’t really into it but then I put in my 2 cents and said “Well, unless it’s with this guy…” I had happened to be listening to a lot of Tony Berg’s records at the time and loved a lot of the things he did with Jesca Hoop, the Phantom Planet record he made, and this Michael Penn album I really liked.
dyson: How much of it got carried over from what you did from the demos?
danny: I feel like 30% of the record was done in Austin. Some of things are right in the moment and it’s not always about getting the best sound even though I had recently upgraded all my gear so it wasn’t an issue of fidelity, it was always more of a performance thing.
dyson: Does this record compare to the construction of Taller Children?
danny: Taller Children was even more of an animal. We had been recording for 3 or 4 years off and on and then we got offered a record deal. To me it still feels like sort of an all over the place record, I think The Other Side of Zero is a lot more focused. It definitely feels like it was made in one place which I really like. It makes it feel more like of a work of art rather than a “best of” kind of thing.
dyson: After a number of listens, I would say the one stand out track is ‘Go Away My Lover’.
danny: It’s actually funny you mention that because that was the one track that was not done with Tony. After we had made the deal with Tony we had some time to take a week to go work with Alex Wong who is one half of the band The Paper Raincoat. He’s just a friend and we did this one track with him. The guy who mixed the record mixed that track as well so it gave it this feeling like it came from a similar place. It would make sense that it would be a stand out track because that’s one we spent the most time on and worked on layer by layer the most.
dyson: On Taller Children, ‘Momma’s Boy’ was my favorite track and ‘Go Away My Lover’ has a similar vibe.
danny: It seems like on anything we’ve ever done the stand out track has been this unexpected happy accident, which is fun. I think it kind of proves the natural evolution of music. I think the reason people are always searching for something new and why people get attracted to new artists is because whenever said indie artist tries to make something, they’re not always aware of what they’re creating. (Goes on to reference Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Wilco…)
dyson: I saw that you’ve got a few gigs with Jukebox the Ghost. They put on a hell of a show—you excited for those dates?
danny: Oh yeah, it’s nice to play with a male because first of all, I always think it’s better when male artists get paired with female artists because otherwise, you can get pigeonholed.
dyson: Did Elizabeth write the majority of the songs?
danny: She basically wrote all the songs and then brought them to me and Tony. Though, Tony did also have a lot of involvement in the writing process and co-wrote a couple things with Elizabeth. After the songs were written, Tony and I would listen and try to bring them to life. This was fun because in a way it allowed me to do what I like most which is to produce. Even though Tony was producing the record, it was kind of like I was given a song and portraying it how I imagine it should be portrayed. It’s important to me that it never becomes a monarchy. At the center of it is Elizabeth and it will always be that way, but I think it’s important to have a democratic environment when working with somebody new. And Tony was very much into having us be happy with the record we were making at the end of the day.
dyson: What music has been inspiring you the most lately?
danny: Even though it came out a while ago, the Dark Was The Night soundtrack. There’s a track on there by Sufjan Stevens that may be one of the greatest recordings of the past 10 years. What else… I’ve been listening to a lot of Arthur Russell, I’m crazy about Dr. Dog. And have you heard the solo stuff by our guitar player Blake Mills? (I had) That record is called Break Mirrors and oh my god, that’s my shit right now. I can’t get over that record.
dyson: I spoke with Danny and we got into a lot about the general sense of making the record but I want to talk more about the songwriting with you.
elizabeth: Well, I initially started writing the album a couple months before we headed into the studio. We were preparing something for John Schaefer from NPR who supported us for years and years even since our little EP that only you had heard of… well he was the only other person who had heard of it. He discovered it and had us on the show about 5 years ago.
He was commissioning a show at the Lincoln Center and basically said “I’m assigning you to write all these songs”. I had been reading Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing which is a collection of poetry.
I went through break up central this year so I started writing all these songs. A lot of them about healing a broken heart but also more Buddhist bits like songs about wrestling with your own mind and then mind over matter and letting things go and letting things be the way they’re going to be. And so most of the songs were in that theme while we were doing the record, Tony loved them but thought there was more to write. So I actually ended up continuing on with the theme and writing a lot more of the album when I was out there during the record making process. It was very new to me to be very spontaneously writing because our last record was written over years and years. So it was really of the moment.
dyson: I agree it sounds like really cohesive piece but the one song that does stand out to me was ‘Go Away My Lover’
elizabeth: That one was right before we left while I was hanging out with my friend Alex Wong from The Paper Raincoat. I told him this was a song I just wrote, and that it was just a very honest break up song and he loved it. So we did that one a month before we left to make the record. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record actually, I love how it came out.
dyson: What’s the plan for the record besides getting everybody out there to fall in love with it like I did?
elizabeth: I think we’re just going to put the pedal to the metal kind of thing right now and play as much as we can. We’re going to do as much radio as possible, radio is really my favorite. I love doing radio shows. I don’t mind getting up early in the morning, I love the setup and how broken down it is. I just love to chat about the record and be really casual about it. So hopefully we’ll get some really good radio spots but now we’re just really concentrating on making the live shows fun and doing something different every time.
dyson: I’m a vinyl junkie, am I going to be able to buy this on vinyl?
elizabeth: That’s a really good question… That was my request for the last record. Even before we got the record deal and were discussing everything I asked “Is this coming out on vinyl??” They basically said “We don’t even know what our budget is for you? We don’t even know who’s producing your record? What are you talking about?” Basically that was my most important inquiry but this round I think we have to see if we can even afford it. But oh god it would be so much warmer, especially for a darker record. (turns to ask the others in the van about the vinyl release) Nooooo. That’s so sad. Can we get just one? I think I’m going to ask for one.
Pre-order a copy for $5.99 Record due out Oct 25th