Faris Badwan is not the most inconspicuous of people at the best of times. Six feet six inches tall, leather-clad with hair covering his face, he strolls into a pre-arranged bar in Dalston, and immediately suggests we postpone the interview. Organised to support a new album from his Rachel Zeffira assisted Cat's Eyes' project, he instead wants to go a gig down the road instead and check out a new band. As we get to the front of the bar, Faris insists on getting the first round in. He justifies temporarily sacking off the interview in favour of whisky and basement post-punk grunge as Gonzo journalism. At this point an angel appears saying no, act professional and reject assertions of being Gonzo. A little devil simultaneously appears saying ‘get the next round in’, and abandon any thoughts of getting the last over-ground train.
Post-show we find ourselves in sat in a candlelit restaurant, largely the reserve of young, trendy Dalstonite couples, but it’s the only place we can hear one another. Alas, not so Gonzo after all. Still keen to avoid doing a conventional Q&A, Faris begins by predicting the questions that are going to crop up over the course of our chat. If he guesses right, we’re not allowed to discuss the topic in question. “What were your influences when writing the album?” is his first prediction. As it happens, it’s not on the agenda. We’re in a win-win situation and Faris is keen to carry on. Deciding that he can interject at any point with these kind of questions, we finally get going.
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It’s been a full five years since Cat’s Eyes eponymous debut and Faris has indeed been a busy man. We agree not to talk about his work with The Horrors - he says most journalists try to make Cat’s Eyes interviews into Horrors interviews, which misses the point entirely. Not talking about one of his side projects doesn’t mean we’re short of content to talk about. In fact, Faris seems to be constantly up to something new: “Rachel (Zeffira) and I live together, so we’re pretty much writing music all of the time. We came up with a lot of stuff that didn’t actually make it onto the album. We could have released a record two years ago but it wouldn’t have been right. For us, this record, this band is just about having fun, really”.
He goes on to explain why they didn’t put out a record two years ago: “all the songs were mainly written, but it wasn’t entirely ready, then we got asked to do a film soundtrack which took a year to make and then, well, we just decided to start writing songs again. That’s the long and the short of it, really. I think a lot of people make records really quickly, then spend the rest of their careers apologising for them, saying they shouldn’t have churned them out so fast.”
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People have a fixed idea of what your band sounds like, but Rachel and I are just two people who could do anything.
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Rachel and Faris wrote and produced the soundtrack for Peter Strickland’s 2015 film Duke Of Burgundy and its dark, eerie almost funereal sound bears no comparison to Cat’s Eyes’ debut record. Faris offers his own ideas on the evolution or changes in a band’s sound and dynamic: “It’s weird isn’t it, when you release a record... people have a fixed idea of what your band sounds like, but Rachel and I are just two people who could do anything. We just like trying things out, and influences from other bands don’t really come into it. To be honest, and Rachel may disagree with this, but she very rarely listens to music. She knows a lot about classical music, but in terms of modern music, she probably knows the least out of any of my friends. And that’s really exciting for me, because she has all these fucking weird ideas, and she’s able to express them. I’ve never met anyone else like that, and it’s pretty cool to work with her”.
fA lot of artists we’ve spoken to say they lose sight of how the record will be received, such is the intensity of the recording process. We wanted to hear Faris’ thoughts on the matter, and whether it was the same for him: “I don’t think you do think about that while you’re making the record as it would be counter-productive and can kill the album. Being influenced by what you think people will think of you is dodgy ground. Music should be a lot more natural, a lot more instinctive. Now though, looking back on it, I want it to be a record that stays with people, something they can listen to again and again”.
One thing in particular sticks in the mind and that is the über violent video for ‘Drag’. At first glance it looks like it could be a follow up to Lady Gaga’s hard-hitting ‘Til It Happens To You’. Faris explains that it’s about something totally different: “It’s about gossip, really, people talking about the relationships of others. It’s a surreal response to what people might imagine Rachel and I are doing in the privacy of our own home. With regard to the violence, it was pretty important for it to look like – there were no victims in the video – it was just all out war. It’s not making fun of any sensitive issues. Everything we write is quite personal, though; I try not to write about vague non-existent stuff.”
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Everything we write is quite personal, though...
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Steve Osborne produced the album, and has worked with Faris on numerous occasions, but Faris says he is much more than just a producer: “He’s done some major stuff with Happy Mondays, Suede and New Order but he’s still a hidden talent. He can do everything, he can play everything, he knows how songs work and he’s got rhythm. Most producers are full of shit, but he’s fantastic. I usually don’t expect a lot from producers, but Steve immediately adds a lot to whichever band he works with.”
We returned to discussing whether Faris could predict our questions, as supposedly we know each other a bit better now. “Where do you see Cat’s Eyes in 10 years?” is the best he can offer up. Once again, it wasn’t on our minds…
Faris and Rachel recently managed to sneak into Buckingham Palace playing an impromptu mini-show, rehashing a couple of the new tracks and playing in front of guests at a private exhibition (of which there is a video online). However Cat’s Eyes have a history of playing in unusual spots – their first gig was, of all places, in the Vatican. The pinnacle of the Catholic Church and spiritual home to over a billion people, the Vatican is, as we all know, a place laden with riches beyond comprehension. As we were talking to a guest of Pope Benedict himself, we had to ask how it felt: “Normally when you get up on stage it just feels quite natural, but in the Vatican it’s obviously different. It’s like it was built by a psychologist. It’s like they thought ‘how can we make people feel as small as possible?’ and lo and behold, they make the ceiling full of fucking gold. It’s insane”.
Faris goes on to tell the story behind the Buckingham Palace show: “Ever since the Vatican show people had been saying ‘you’ve got to do the palace now’, and we had been trying for a while to no avail, but then an opportunity came our way. Rachel is the master of deception and she got the ball rolling asking the right people the right questions... Basically we ended up posing as a renaissance ensemble, playing some weird period instruments. Rachel played the crumhorn, which is pretty weird and sounds kinda like a duck. I was going to play the hurdy gurdy which is a kind of accordion but they wouldn’t let it in... afterwards we got an angry voicemail from some of the palace staff, they released a statement about it. It was fucking insane, think the Vatican times a thousand.”
It takes a certain fearlessness, ambition and as Faris puts it, “no sense of long-term consequences” to try and play the likes of the Vatican and Buckingham Palace and this is something Cat’s Eyes have in abundance. ‘Treasure House’ is another demonstration of their refusal to be pigeon-holed, to try anything, constantly looking to the future with an open mind.
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Cat's Eyes' new album 'Treasure House' is set to be released on June 3rd.
Words: Milo Wasserman