The Catheters
By Brian Foley

The Catheters are being cheated. This is, of course, assuming they ever had a chance in the first place. The race for the prize in which I’m referring to has nothing to do with music, but instead the realms in which it is judged. Somewhere along the vast highway of music appreciation (which has become a desolate boring place), originality (of all things) was crowned king of the hill and put up on a pedestal for all the passerby’s to live up to. What is sad is that it is really all a dirty trick that we have fallen for. You live for the archetype, but are given a red right hand if delivering up something too similar. Iggy, Morrison, Reed, even fucking Rotten Johnny - man, these were the archetypes, still are. Yet, years later, artists, great goddamned artists, are being scolded for drawing blood from the influence. The question is, when are we gonna get over the archetypes and start really appreciating elements like substance, vitality, delivery, sensuality, and for that matter soul?

The point of all this, you ask? Injustice, remember. Now that you have been braced - get ready - I’m going to tell you what the Catheters sound like. Take the Dead Boy’s Sonic Reducer and mix it with the Pink Fairies Do It. Want more? Okay. Take all frustration of the worst Saturday you’ve never had - sitting on a couch, drunk and confused, at a party you don’t want to be at but you went to anyway because your girlfriend left you and you needed to get out - though she turns up anyway, so you drink more and do some lines in the bathroom with a girl you don’t even know and she starts kissing you which makes you feel sick but you realize it’s the music coming from the living room making you feel that way and you can see the sound coming out of the stereo speakers, jabbing at your eyes like knives, and just before you vomit and pass out you watch your girlfriend leave with some other guy, but you know it’s okay because the music is loud and you can feel yourself melting into that couch.

And what, ladies and gents, was the music on that stereo? The fucking Stooges, of course - Funhouse to be sure. This may seem like a broad generalization and even hypocritical to the argument at hand, but the Catheters understand the Stooges more than any other band has since they stopped making records in the mid-Seventies. Sick, right? Wrong. It’s all there. The slop, the spit, the balls - not to mention the minor chords (giving it the same dangerous edge Ashton did), uneducated guitar solos, unwelcome, (but not inappropriate) high pitched, mind fuck screaming. But most importantly the Catheters - not one of ‘em, but all of ‘em - share the same spirit as the archetypes. They are not poised waiting to be heard. It is an assault, lucky to be ignored. Because good rock’n’roll does not come along like this often and you’ll be kicking yourself for buying all the hype (whatever it may be at the moment).

The nice thing about the Catheters is they are simple. They are playing a basic, blues-based rock’n’roll. You can’t wax too musch philosophically about them - it’s only four chords, right? The band consists of Brian on vox, Leo on Bass, Davey on drums, and Derek on guitar. The impressive thing about the Catheters is that they’d been a band since 1995. What began as an outlet for bored, middle-class white boy teenagers playing Black Flag and Ramones covers in garages and teen centers has grown into a band of adults still dealing with that same boredom.

Talking with the band at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA as they made their way across the country with Cherry Valence and Federation X this past summer, you even get the feeling these boys are no different than the crowds that hang around outside the record shops in every major city. It is a certain familiarity one can associate with youth.

“We don’t know what it is to be an older band,” says Leo when asked if their youth has ever been a concern. “(I mean) Davey was sixteen when we put out our first single on Sub Pop. To be sixteen and do that definitely deserves some notoriety. At this point though, we’re older and we can all drink legally and so forth. It just isn’t a concern.”

“Do you really want to be forty years old and be playing to twenty or thirty people each night?,” says Davey. “It’s easier and more fun when you’re younger.”

Though their youth has always been a part of their press packet (they started out when they were barely freshman in high school), the Catheters tend to downplay this factor. This could be because it’s old gossip, or maybe because when a band is younger in numbers, critics tend not to give credit where credit is due as someone who may be a few years older. Even an article about a high-profile band like the Strokes can’t be written without mentioning they’re all in their early twenties.

So I mention the Strokes to them, then I watch their eyes roll. The Strokes are the picture-perfect embodiment of mainstream rock - hip clothes, catchy melodies, and utterly non-threatening. The same goes for the White Stripes, the Hives, etc, etc... Though most of the bands are earnest enough in that they have not changed their sound to fit a commercial standard; the Catheters are quick to point out the differences.

“There seems to be a lot of fashion with those bands,” says Davey. “They all have outfits. We’re like t-shirts and jeans.”

“Basically our fashion is...” begins Leo, then pauses, unable to think of something witty or clever to remark, “yeah... uh, never mind.”

Though the differences between the mainstream and the underground are self-explanatory like night and day, it hasn’t stopped the media from crossing over trying to sniff out the blood of the young. This has led to the Catheters garnering some attention that may have been previously unavailable had they not come along at the right time. Write-ups in music moguls such as Britain’s Mojo to being the centerpiece of The Face’s new music issue has brought much attention to the band.

“Our label told us we were going to do an interview with The Face. None of us had ever heard of it,” says Davey.

“We went there on a couple hours of sleep, totally hung over,” says Leo laughing. “They took a bunch of pictures where you can see our faces. We had huge bags under our eyes and shit.”

Most likely the reason the Catheters had never heard of The Face is because it is mainly a fashion magazine, which shows the different medias branching out into a musical territory. And with so much hunting going on, bands who might never of had a chance to be seen in such a light are now getting those opportunities, even if they’re in odd formats and contexts. However, the Catheters don’t think that has anything to do with them.

“It seems our record came out just as the rock thing was happening,” says Leo. Whether or not it’s a coincidence is whatever. It seems if there were going to be a press quotient on our band, as individuals, it would be right after our album came out regardless of what was going on otherwise. It happened to coincide with bands like the White Stripes and the Hives.”

And what of this new album? It’s nothing short of a concept record, but without a concept. Entitled Static Delusions and Stone Still Days, the album represents just that. There are no stories like a “Berlin” or socio-emotional commentary like an “OK Computer,” but there is a running theme of defeat, confusion, and frustration that make it a very forward, cohesive album. Recorded in a 36-hour marathon, these themes are not only found in the lyrics but in the sound of every instrument, ever note - an atmosphere that is absent from most modern rock records. It is even in the artwork of the album, which is aesthetically miscut to fit the CD jewel case, the writing blurred as if you had too much to drink and the front cover - static from a television. Whether it be the desperation in which they play, or the harshness of the sound quality, the spirit is undeniably there. But ask the Catheters of this spirit and they’ll meet you with blank stares.

Derek, when pressed for answer about the album’s theme, is only able to say, “Just very frustrated and not too happy. Getting kind of restless. Too much sleep. Sitting around house and not really doing much.” At a loss for words he stares at the floor allowing Davey to try his hand.

“We were kind of coming up with the concept, just kind of about being lazy,” he says. “There was an idea with the TV and it turned into what we have now. I don’t know how. But that static is an actual TV.” The confidence in his voice fades and I’m not sure what he has told me has to do with anything.

“I think throughout writing the album we were all in similar moods,” says Derek, but Davey interrupts, “Just going with the whole thing about being lazy and how the record is loud and everything’s fucked up,” he says. “It looks fucked up.”

Though the Catheters may not be able to put their finger on what exactly they were after when recording the album, all questions seem to lose their importance and fall to the wayside when the band takes the stage. They rip through their set, sweating bullets, Brian falling on bended knees, Leo and Derek stumbling around violently and Davey going through a number of drumsticks and throwing them viciously into the crowd. It is here where the Catheters reign and build their own archetypes. This is where they’ve gained the reputation of being the “best live band on earth,” as quoted from a live review from Gigwise online magazine. But they are not the first to make the claim, only the first to put it in ink (so to speak).

Talking to the Catheters is like talking to acquaintances you’ve known for years. Listening to their records evokes many bands before them. It is this air of familiarity that seems to work for, rather than against, them. You can think of it as added layers to their sound - more context, more history, more depth. Because Static Delusions and Stone Still Days is a product of four simple guys making something not so simple. A rock record that works on more than one dimension.



©2004 Skyscraper Magazine.
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