Catwalk might be my favourite musical discovery of this year. They've released two 7 inches so far: one in 2007 and one in 2008, both on the Yay! label. Both singles are fantastic. Information about this Oxnard, California trio was hard to find, so I thought I'd ask frontman Nick Hessler some questions myself.
Nick, you’re the only one who plays on both singles. Is Catwalk intended as a band, or as a sort of solo project with an often changing line-up?
Although Catwalk is my main project, it has always been a band. The reasons behind our frequent line-up changes consist mainly of a lack of interest, communication, etc. It feels like we’ve been through so many line-up changes, but we really haven’t. It just feels that way because there are periods where we’re active as a band, then we take some time off for various reasons and things change. Our current drummer, Robert, has been the second most consistent member besides myself. There was only one point in time when he wasn’t our drummer and that was only for a short while. He’s been with me since the beginning and was in the group once again shortly after our second 7 inch was released.
Can you give us a short history of the band so far?
Catwalk is a story of highs, lows and line-up changes. I started the group during the summer of 2005. I had received a four-track cassette recorder the previous Christmas and began writing/recording my own songs after I purchased a guitar for $20. At first it never occurred to me to start my own band to help flesh out the songs, as writing and recording was just something I sunk deeper and deeper into doing. Once I realized I wanted to start a band and take things more seriously, I began to consider who could help me along this journey.
Robert was the first person who came to mind to play drums, as I’d been acquainted with him for some time. There used to be quite a few shows in the area and that’s where I got to know him. Usually the bands were bad and when they were, we’d go outside and talk about starting a band. After he said he’d play, he told me about a girl he went to school with named Diana who played guitar. I figured if she can play guitar, she wouldn’t have too much trouble learning bass. I met her, she learned some songs I had at the time and that was the beginning of Catwalk.
After playing together as a three-piece for about a year, things weren’t working out and we decided we needed to find a new bass player. During this time, I had also been playing drums and bass in another band called WNDRKND, and that’s where I met John Knestaut. Not only did he play well, but he was one of the only people I knew that played bass, guitar and keyboards, so I asked if he had any interest in joining the group. He joined and things worked out well for about a year and a half and within that time, we released our first 7 inch off Yay! Records.
For a few months, the band wasn’t very active and I considered a whole new line-up to compensate for my loss of direction. I felt things were falling apart and I had to pick up the pieces before the band was almost non-existent. During this period, I thought perhaps a new drummer would help things fall into place. Cris is Eric Bello’s (founder of Yay! Records) brother and was Maria’s drummer for a few years. Since he hadn’t been in a band for some time, he joined Catwalk and was around during the recording of our second 7 inch. In respect, we let John go not too long after Cris joined, as he wanted to pursue school and other things... Once again, we found ourselves looking for a bassist a third time. I met Kristina Maples my freshman year of high school in an art class and later found out she was dating a friend of my brother’s. I got to know her and found out she could play guitar/bass. When the opportunity arose, I asked her about playing with us and she was very enthusiastic. At this point, my spirits were high and I felt the best thing to do would be to get Robert back.
With this current line-up, I’m beginning to feel more and more like we can accomplish anything we want, in terms of music. We’ve been taking our time with achieving a good foundation and I’m really confident with what is to come in the near future. We’re currently working with my brother K.C. as a second guitarist to fill in the blanks and help with our live sound. Very excited!
Hope this suits a “short” bio!
Are you spending a lot of time being Catwalk? Do you play shows often?
I spend about 75% of my time on writing and recording material for Catwalk. We haven’t been playing shows lately because we’re working on new material and rehearsing with a new guitarist. When it comes to performing, we like to take our time with things as we’ve had a handful of shows that didn’t quite go as planned. Unfortunately, our absence leads people to believe we’re no longer a band. Not the case! We should be out conquering the world within the next few months.
How do you come up with new songs? Is it a team effort or do you write alone?
All the material so far I’ve written the parts for myself. It was never a set rule, that’s just how it’s been so far. We have so many unfinished songs that I’d like to get those out of the way as best as we can before working on newer material as a group. Certainly if ideas arise, we’ll work as a group.
Primarily, I write songs the same way most songwriters do. Although it’s different almost every time, an idea will initially be played on a single instrument, usually guitar or organ. Depending on how many parts I’ve come up with and how complete the song is, I’ll program a drum beat and record a rough demo to have some sort of reference and foundation. This way I can hear the song as a whole and then begin the shaping from there. At this point, melodies develop (but not always), changes are made with the bass and drums lines, etc. With the way I write, the music and lyrics are two different processes I work from. I usually have lyrics written that I bring to the completed song and see what does and doesn’t work, although there have been times when the lyrics have been written on the spot to suit the melody I have in mind. But as I said, it’s different every time!
What would you call your biggest musical influences, and what are current bands you like?
So many things play a role in influence. I wouldn’t say they’re the biggest, but musically I have a lot of respect for The Cure because they’ve achieved a position in which they can play any kind of music that pleases them and it’s been successful. Currently, I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic/dance music and “High Ball Me!” by Moose.
"Bringing the fun back in pop!", is what the YAY! label aims for according to their website.
Is it fun being an indiepop band in this time?
To be honest, I’ve never seen Catwalk as an indiepop/twee band. But I think that because we’re on a label that primarily releases that kind of music and maintains the concept, it’s hard for us not be associated with the whole thing. Essentially what makes us a “pop” band is that our music isn’t targeted at any specific group and is intended to appeal to a wide audience. What kind of band we’re aspiring to be, I’m not sure but I’m okay with that.
I’ll answer the question regarding our current status. It’s been very fun and generally we get lots of support. When we want to take time off, we can. When we want to play a show, Eric will set one up. Eric has been so faithful and supportive to us, it’s almost easy being a band no one’s really heard of! Our music never would’ve been heard outside Ventura County if hadn’t been for him. So being a band on an independent label gives us the freedom of doing whatever pleases us.
What level of ambition does the band have? Are you secretly dreaming of bigger success, or are you happy with the relatively small scale things are happening on right now?
Of course we dream of bigger success! I’m hoping that somehow being on an indie label will help us climb to being recognized by a major record label of some sort. I think that’s why some bands release their music through indie labels, to become successful by developing a large, devoted fan base and then attracting the attention of a major label. An indie label gives you more opportunities to get yourself heard than if you were a band financing your own way. I am however happy with the support we’ve got from around the world, just as long as people are listening!
Can you describe the Oxnard music scene?
I’d say Ventura, which is the next city over, has more of a scene than Oxnard. I wouldn’t say there aren’t bands because there certainly are, but there just isn’t much happening it seems because there really aren’t many places to play around here. Besides a few cafes and record shops, there’s only one music venue for the “bigger” acts, but unfortunately we locals can’t all be Snoop Dogg. There is only a small handful of places to play in Oxnard, and most of the bands that play are either from Ventura or are out-of-state bands on tour. They all come and go, but Oxnard has never been short of punk and metal bands and the same with Ventura. There has been some “60’s revival” psychedelic music coming from the surrounding areas this past year or so, as well as singer-songwriter type musicians. I’m also aware that there is a large underground hip-hop scene here, but I’m not too familiar with that.
2007 and 2008 have been pretty good years for indiepop, with lots of small labels popping up worldwide, giving many bands the chance for a release. Do you feel part of a bigger pop scene outside the local Oxnard scene? Are you aware of what’s happening in Europe for example?
I do feel we’re more known elsewhere. There aren’t too many ways for people to find out about us around here because there’s nowhere to play really. Eric has told me a lot about what’s been happening in other parts of the world, so I do have some knowledge of it. He’s told me more people mostly buy Yay! records everywhere else but here. I know he has struggled to get things in gear here in southern California because it’s been so much easier everywhere else. I really wish I knew why it’s so difficult here, besides the fact that a new venue here never survives longer than a few months. I’m not even sure how much promotion in record stores would help. But I’m really not that hopeless. I know of a few groups here that are changing the pace of things, and one is actually fronted by a good friend of mine with whom I often collaborate (LSD), Love’s Secret Domain and ZealBound.
What was the first record you bought as a child and what was the first concert you attended?
I can’t remember the first record I bought, but I remember listening to some Tom Petty and Iron Butterfly records my mom had. When I was very young, I was often around 50’s and 60’s pop and country music from my mom. The first concert I attended was some large orchestral benefit concert, I believe.
Do you have a preference for vinyl personally as well, or is it just the label that chose to release vinyl only?
I’d like for Catwalk to release CD’s because not everyone has a record player. I do like vinyl, but not my preference.
So far you've released two singles on the YAY! label. What can we expect from Catwalk in the future?
Possibly another 7 inch record or two, and then hopefully a full-length album. We have well over 100 unfinished and unheard songs so there’s plenty to expect! We have plenty of material for a few albums, but we want to take our time piecing it together. It’s also possible a west coast tour will follow our next release, and then the full-length. Chances are once we’ve tightened up with our new guitarist and start playing live again, we’ll start recording the next single. So keep your ears open because we haven’t even started this journey!
Thank you Nick, I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more from Catwalk!