Music

We got The Creases’ frontman Joe Agius to interview Faris Badwan from Cat’s Eyes and The Horrors

As a teenager and budding musician The Creases’ frontman Joe Agius used to obsess over photos of The Horrors’ studio setup with its piles of synthesizers, drum machines and pedals. So when the opportunity to interview the band’s leader Faris Badwan came up, Joe jumped at the chance to speak to his hero about Cat’s Eyes – his collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira – and their new album Treasure House.

Read Joe’s account of the interview below. Treasure House is out now via RAF / Kobalt Label Services.

An unknown voice on the other end of the line lets me know we’re connected. I nervously explain to Faris that I’ve never actually interviewed anyone before, he laughs and says he respects my honesty – apparently a lot of clearly inexperienced people pretend they’ve been doing this for a long time. I ask him if there’s anything he definitely doesn’t want to talk about, to which he says nothing really, but if there is, “I’ll probably just reply with a joke answer.” He laughs. I laugh with him, quietly worried I won’t be able to tell the difference.

It’s here that I also decide to leave out the fact that we’ve actually met briefly before: a couple of years ago when I snuck into a press only show for his brother’s band LOOM in London. The main reason I don’t share this with him is that our only real encounter was standing beside one another at a urinal after the band’s set.

I’ve been sneakily previewing the new Cat’s Eyes album Treasure House on repeat in the week leading up to the interview. We talk about the few differences between this record and its predecessor – one of the most immediate being the move from the duets of the first album to hearing Faris and partner Rachel Zeffira swapping lead vocals for each track on Treasure House.

Before I can even ask when they started writing for Treasure House, Faris tells me they never really stopped writing between each record, it was a natural progression. “There’s some tracks on Treasure House that we wrote before, or around the same time, as the first record. The actual record’s been done for about a year. I’m really glad that people will finally get to hear it. It’s a record that we’re really proud of.”

Dodgy overseas phone connections don’t make for a smooth interview. Our line disconnects three times before Faris moves rooms and we can finally hear each other well enough to continue. I can’t help but imagine him walking through the rooms of The Horrors’ cluttered self-built studio.

I ask about one of my favourite Treasure House tracks ‘Be Careful Where You Park Your Car’; a song that wears the duo’s shared interest in ’60s girl groups like The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las on its sleeve. Faris tells me that this track was actually written before Cat’s Eyes debut, when Rachel first became fascinated by the era. Surprisingly, he says it came about when she was learning the harmonica. “When Rachel learns a new instrument,” Faris says, “she plays continuously until she learns it inside out”.

We talk about lyrics, something that’s an easier discussion within Cat’s Eyes than with The Horrors. “It’s more autobiographical,” he agrees. “My writing in The Horrors is personal too, but in a more abstract sense”. It’s the “upfront” and “naive” approach to lyrics that Faris especially loves about ’60s girl groups, something he also relates quite closely with Rachel’s writing style.

“Rachel knows a lot about classical music, but in terms of modern music, she probably knows the least out of any of my friends,” Faris explains. “And that’s really exciting for me, because she has all these weird ideas, and she’s able to express them unlike anyone else. I’ve never met anyone else like that, and it’s pretty cool to work with her.”

Before the new record, Faris travelled with Rachel to her deserted hometown in British Columbia, Canada. It’s here that Faris was able to have “a journey back into her past”, and where the duo shot the eerie lyric video for Treasure House’s first release ‘Chameleon Queen’. The album wasn’t written or recorded in Canada, but Faris says the trip helped the couple to find a “deeper relationship and understanding of each other”.

Kicking off with Primavera Sounds in Barcelona this weekend, Cat’s Eyes are about to play a string of shows in the UK and Europe. As someone who’s never had the chance to catch a Cat’s Eyes show, I ask how they’ve managed to translate the albums to a live setting, as most of their songs are largely acoustic and orchestral. I’m told the first record ended up being a lot more electric on stage through Faris’ added electric guitar.

With the new record and upcoming shows, Cat’s Eyes will feature an array of orchestral instrumentalists, backup singers, and Rachel playing as many instruments as she possibly can at once. “It’s not the most simplistic way of doing it,” Faris admits, “but we try the songs in a lot of different ways and they’re written in a way that that can kind of work. I guess, when we write, it is important that they can be translated live.”

The band recently gate crashed Buckingham Palace under the guise of a Renaissance act project and pulled off a similar stunt in 2011 when they performed as “a visiting choir” at the Vatican. Connections Rachel has made through her orchestral and classical background were vital in helping the band to talk their way into these unusual venues, using made up documents and group names. But although there are some plans for further stunts within heavily guarded venues Faris says they need to stay top secret.

“The Vatican and Buckingham Palace were probably two of the most fun experiences of my life,” he says. “Buckingham Palace was so intensely weird and even on the day, it was a lot weirder than the video showed. Normally when you get up on stage it just feels quite natural, but in the Vatican or the Palace it’s obviously different … For those weirder gigs, it’s more about blending in and fitting into the setting in a kind of subversive way. We could come in and do something dramatic and offensive, but it’s more fun this way. Really, we just went in and played a bit of recorder.”

Was there was any backlash from the royal or papal offices after they realised the band wasn’t exactly the type of group they thought they’d booked? “There were a few angry voicemails,” says Faris with a laugh. I can’t help but picture him breaking out into Cat’s Eyes’ heavy ‘Sunshine Girl’ or ‘Count In Fives’ from the thrash-y garage era of The Horrors to a stunned crowd of the Royal family’s closest friends and family.

From here, our interview turns into more of a casual conversation and I’ve almost forgotten who I’m talking to when we’re suddenly interrupted by a voice announcing that our time is up. I thank Faris for the chat and he tells me he enjoyed the questions. Teen Joe screams internally once again as I say a final goodbye and hang up the phone.

Cat’s Eyes’ new album Treasure House is out now via RAF / Kobalt Label Services.

The Creases will launch their new single ‘Impact’ with a run of East Coast dates next month playing at the Wolly Mammoth in Brisbane on Saturday, July 2 at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on Thursday, July 7 and wrapping up the tour on Saturday, July 9 at Sydney’s Newtown Social Club.