An Interview with Heiko Schneider of theCatherines

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theCatherines have just released Bingo!, there fourth critically acclaimed album. We catch up with Hamburg based Heiko Schneider to talk about his love of the great pop composers, McCartney day dreams, the digital vs physical question and drunken recording sessions:

Thanks for agreeing to answer the following questions for Jangplepophub Heiko

Your music always imbues a sense of retro that even the most discerning listener cannot always identify the source of. Why is the retro aesthetic so important to theCatherines?

It’s not really a chosen decision. I always loved all kinds of music but the era that stuck to me the most over the years is probably pop between 1966 and 1976.

As a kid I listened to The Beatles, The Byrds, The Kinks, Beach Boys (etc) and when I started to really collect vinyl sunshine, baroque and soft-pop were always a main focus. Also I’m a big admirer of the great pop composers like Bacharach, Wilson, Rundgren… So when I sit down to write I guess this all is so deeply rooted in my DNA that I can’t really help it.

I wouldn’t call it retro because I think these songs and melodies I’m referencing are really timeless. Soundwise theCatherines started in the vein of jangle- and fuzzpop of the eighties. So I guess it’s that combination of influences that make our sound.

You are a prolific writer? Is it important to theCatherines to release with such frequency?

I wouldn’t say it’s important but it’s really fun :).

Nowadays it may seem a bit weird to release an album every six months or so but when you look back to the sixties it was not so unusual. I mean The Beatles released two albums every year between 1963 and 1965. The Byrds released five masterpieces from 1965 to 1968. Of course I wouldn’t dare to compare our body of work with any of these classics in any way, but it shows that it can be done. So why shouldn’t we?

Also because this is a home-recording project and not a band that tours we don’t have to spend time between releases to sell any records. We are constantly in our teenytiny studios to write and record.

Would you say that your music has changed significantly over the course of your last four albums? How does your eponymous debut differ from Bingo! Have you ever / would you still class yourself as a fuzz-pop act?

It’s hard to evaluate your own art, but I would love others to say that our music has gotten more refined over the three years.

The debut was really about guitars. I wanted a wall of sound of jangle and fuzz. For album two and three I added more keyboards and orchestral sounds. And with “Bingo!” I took both approaches to the max.

There’s the good ol’ jangle-fuzz on “I’ll Drift Into the Night” but also the weirdo brass and string commotion on “Two Is A Party…”. So I guess and hope “Bingo!” sounds more diversified than the first album.

What acts would you suggest most influence theCatherines aesthetic?

Hard to say because I work really ‘eclectic’. There are many influences even while I arrange and record. It happens that I start a song with a certain aesthetic concept, but end up with a different one.

There’s one song on “Bingo!” where I sat down with the idea of recording a really lazy rocking guitar pop song in the style of Teenage Fanclub or Velvet Crush or something like that… and laid down the first tracks. But that night I saw a documentary about how Steely Dan recorded “Aja” so when I returned to the song the next day it changed. I reduced the fuzz and added some new chords and some brass-sounds and all of a sudden it sounded really clean and seventies-ish.

For another song I wanted a melodic chaos of instruments in the vein of early Van Dyke Parks. But there are so much more influences. From The Byrds to The Pastels, from Syd Barrett to Elvis Costello. In the end I hope all comes together to sound just like theCatherines.

What were the last 5 releases you acquired?

I think these were The Last Detail which are Erin Moran and Fugu, The Regrettes and Pinky Pinky, Wes Montgomery’s “A Day in the Life” album and probably some really cheesy late 70s, early 80s disco album which I buy constantly…

We give you the famous Janglepophub time machine and guarantee you success in any decade you decide to travel to…what decade would you select and what would you consider as ‘success’?

I would choose the seventies and I really would love Paul McCartney to say in an interview that he heard a fantastic new song on the radio and he wondered why he hadn’t come up with it and he thinks the band is named theCatheters or something…

I have always considered your sound as a ‘vinyl sound’. If you had been around in the vinyl / jangly heyday of the mid to late 80’s, would the likelihood of widespread acclaim be increased in comparison to today’s digital age?

I would love to think that! But it’s also possible that we would have drowned in the wave of all the fantastic and much more cooler bands then. The digital age also has it’s benefits. We have loyal fans from the USA to Japan, from Australia to Singapore. We are on the radio in California and in Italy and even in Germany. So we really can’t complain.

Are there any dominant themes that tend to re-occur in your lyrics and if so why do you think they are so prevalent?

I have to admit that most lyrics evolve from a first single line – that is the song title. My ambition always is to have a title that is kind of weird or funny but also meaningful on it’s own.

This means, I sometimes don’t have any clue where the lyrics are going from then. However, the dominant theme is maybe relationships: how people act, how people are cruel or loveable, complicated or reliable.

I also tend to write about current trends without being too obvious. Like “Heart Collector” and “People Take Selfies Of Each Other” which are obviously about social media without shouting it out too loud, I hope.

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I am not totally certain why, but I always get the feeling that your songs are written quickly. There is that endearing existentialist immediacy about them? What is your songwriting and production process?

When I started theCatherines early 2017 I just came out of a project where every song recording was kind of protracted and difficult. So I wanted to start something really simple and fast. The first songs were written and sometimes even recorded in a one-night-session. That was the dogma.

Even now I sometimes write and record a song in a few hours. “Mrs. Grumpy and Mr. Hopeless” was written and recorded on a Saturday afternoon. I was supposed to meet with Sandra but texted her “sorry, can’t come, just came up with an idea for a song” – a few hours later I sent her a rough mix.

“I’ll Drift Into The Night” also was a quick one. I needed a last song for the album and had worked on one for days without any progress. At first it sounded like a Sondre Lerche ripoff but didn’t go anywhere. Then I got a bit drunk and recorded it in the style of Sailor‘s “A Glass of Champagne” – stomping bass, 12-string-guitar, hammering piano and so forth. That was funny for like a minute. Then I threw that away, grabbed my guitar and jammed to one of my favorite chord-progressions: G, hm7, em7, C, G, A7… That was okay but when I put the capo to the third fret it not only sounded totally different, also my voice, cause it now was a bit too high for me to sing, all of a sudden sounded like Dennis Wilson which was kinda inspirational in a way.

The rest took about an hour to write. Recording that darn guitar solo took longer.;) When I compose at the piano things can go on for a while also. Producing a song differs totally. Especially when I write and record the orchestral parts. The arrangement of the brass parts for “One Is A Party…” took some days. But since I do everything by myself it’s all done very quickly because I don’t have to argue about decisions – for the better or the worse.

You always release albums in some sort of physical format? In this click infused musical world is there still a need for the physical format release?

The first singles were released only via digital on Bandcamp, But then the Spanish label Mondo Canapé wanted to release a cassette.

I didn’t knew that there is kinda a special interest for that format. I didn’t even knew the abbreviation “K7”! But then it sold out almost overnight and we gained more fans worldwide. And when I had enough songs for the next album I liked the idea of publishing it on my own label TeenyTinyTapes because I liked the format, it’s kinda cute isn’t it?

 “Cheers!” also sold out very fast. Then the label Fadeawayradiate Records even did a re-release of the debut on CD that also went very well. So it seems there are still enough people around who like to keep their favorite music on a physical format. Me included! I still buy vinyl and I still don’t stream!

What sort of influence would you want theCatherines to have on younger indie pop bands that look up to the group?

I am not sure anybody looks up to theCatherines. And I still get very much influence from younger indie pop bands, so…

Would you ever release music from any other acts of your TeenyTinyTapes label?

Never say never. But no plans.

If you were to create a motto that defines theCatherines what would it be?

Keep it simple and refined.

What is next for theCatherines?

We have three songs for motto or tribute compilations in the making: one yacht-rock song is already finished. Next we’ll do a cover of a Prefab Sprout song and another one of a TV Personalities song. That will get us through the lockdown!

Thanks so much for your time Heiko and keep safe! 

 

 

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