Tunes to DIY for

Bedsit rockers Catoan are making a little go a long way.

It’s probably just as well, for the sake of their collective complexion (not to mention sanity), that Catoan are at the stage of their career where the DIY ethic is an imperative rather than an ideal.

Because if their imagination and ambition were given full rein, chances are that the Belfast five-piece would never see any daylight.

“If money was no object we’d be hauling in the Ulster Orchestra and spending all day on one guitar riff,” smiles lead singer, and main songwriter, Paddy McKeown. “It would probably take us about four years to record one track.”

“I can see signs of it already,” bass player, Cavan Fyans, sheepishly admits. “There’s a Chinese Gong at the end of one of the songs and, when we were recording our EP, we spent an entire evening trying to work out a single cymbal sound. Poor Rob, our drummer was cheesed off. You could see him sitting there wondering: what the hell am I doing with these freaks?”

On first encountering Catoan – post-Keane, post-Coldplay – you could be forgiven for finding little new in their brew of emotive, expressively vocaled, white boy raincoat rock. But patience, in this case, lends its own rewards.

While completing a music degree in England, McKeown wrote a dissertation on “Philip Glass and a lot of new wave minimalism,” and a spell living in New York finessed an urge, on his part, to point his song-writing in challenging directions.

Dig deeper below the honeyed melodies and – in the jazzy bedding, and discordant string arrangements – you’ll find a more demanding and confrontational listening experience than you’d imagine.

“I don’t feel in any way bound by verse-chorus-verse-chorus,” he says. “And there’s a strong desire to experiment amongst all of us. I mean I can remember seeing David Kosten (renowned producer and, as Faultline, purveyor of prime icy electronica) at a festival in New York and he was inspirational. He had mic-ed up an old tube to a sound unit and was opening and covering up one end with his hand. He was creating these amazing feed-back loops and building up a collage of melodies. On one hand it was really simple, but on another it was incredibly sophisticated. I really respect people who have that kind of relationship with music.”

Like Glass?

“Exactly. He’s worked with Bowie and Eno, written soundtracks and opera scores, but I read an interview with the Irish musician Ciaran Treacy there, and, even though he’s hardly world famous, Glass wanted to work with him too. They met, apparently, in the corridor of an apartment block, started talking, and Glass almost invited himself along. You get the impression he just loves being involved in the creation of music – and doesn’t seem to mind what kind of form that takes.”

Budding signs of a similar open-mindedness can be spotted throughout Catoan’s first mini-album, And I Will. If at times they veer towards worryingly blustery terrain, an interesting percussive tic, or unexpected left-field detour, soon re-establishes them on more fertile and interesting ground. According to McKeown, the band are far too inquisitive to allow themselves to get trapped in a cul-de-sac.

“We’re always changing things. The songs themselves are always changing. If you see us play live now, they’re very different from what we have recorded. It’s very organic. But one of the reasons we wanted to release a CD was to put it to bed and get on with the next stage.”

Given that their debut, self-produced, release already sounds so effortlessly accomplished (it could take its place on the shelves at HMV without anyone dreaming that it hadn’t been invited), you can only imagine the heights this band will reach once they get some proper backing. But as far as the front man is concerned, thoughts of the future consist of: “Waking up with Rachel Bilson,” laughs McKeown.

“Although if I’m honest I haven’t really given it that much thought. Really I’d just be happy making enough money to allow me to keep up making the music I want to make. That’s all. I’d be happy with that.”

Catoan will be touring Ireland in August.


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