May 2019 16

Dissonance founder and front woman Cat Hall speaks with ReGen about the long and hard road that her life and music have followed, culminating in the band’s latest EP.
 

 

An InterView with Cat Hall of Dissonance

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

In this writer’s estimation, Dissonance was one of the best kept secrets of the darkwave electro/industrial scene. Hailing from the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas, the duo of Cat Hall and David Sebrind crafted a sound that was as aggressive in its beats and textures as it was alluring in its melodic sensibilities, leading to the release of a self-titled debut in 1997 on Hakatak, and then the sophomore effort Reincarnate in 2000 on Nilaihah Records. After that, things went quiet, and although Cat Hall released her Come to Mama EP and later started a new electronic duo, Chlorophyll with producer Nebulae, it wouldn’t be until 2015 that Dissonance would be revived. The band took on a new form as Sebrind’s return to the fold would be short-lived, leading Hall to create the Void album in 2017 with Justin Burning, and the “Sycamores” single the following year with Hakatak founder and Information Society member Paul Robb and producers Federico Balducci and Jack Alberson.
Rarely do I get personal within ReGen‘s pages, but in this case, Dissonance holds a very special and powerful place in my heart. As a young man in search of new dark music in the late ’90s, Dissonance was just the kind of band I needed to hear, with songs like “Unwhole,” “Desolation,” and especially “Fade” both sonically and lyrically giving voice to my adolescent turmoil; so much so that attaining the self-titled album was something of a crusade, leading to my writing a review in Amazon.com. Much to my surprise, it was Cat Hall’s mother who then sent me an e-mail thanking me for the review and expressing great pride in her daughter’s talents. It was then through further reviews on Amazon.com that ReGen Magazine founder Nick Garland recruited me… and the rest is history.
Now, we have the release of the Ascent EP in 2019, in which Hall collaborates extensively with the legendary Jim Marcus (GoFight, Die Warzau, Pigface), along with a bevy of guest musicians and co-writers like Chrys Anthem Wozniak, Junior Kain, Jon Von Herrman, and Information Society front man Kurt Larson. Blending elements of the darkly danceable and aggressive past with the pensive ambience of the later period, Ascent encompasses all that Dissonance has ever been and provides an impetus for an even more exploratory future, with Cat Hall now taking her band into new cooperative adventures. As she speaks with ReGen Magazine not long after the EP’s release, she provides an up close and personal insight into her creative history, speaking fondly of her many musical partners, and expressing excitement for what is sure to be a brighter future for a darkly enticing band.

 

Since the return of Dissonance, several collaborators have entered the fold – Justin Burning on the Void album, Jim Marcus on the Ascent EP, along with various co-writers and remixers. In what ways do you feel their contributions have strengthened the original vision you had for Dissonance? On the other hand, in what ways has that vision changed due to what they’ve brought to Dissonance?

Hall: The scope and breadth has completely changed from my original vision! Initially, I thought David and I would resurrect what we had before – get a band together after writing and start playing some shows. It could not have been further from what happened. It’s been quite an emotional ride – a true journey. David and I began work on Ascent in 2015, and after about three months and two songs into the work, David was out. I felt very strongly about continuing. I feel lost if I am not working on music these days for reasons. I put feelers out for people to work with, had a few interviews and attempts locally in DFW, many times disappointed because I could not find anyone on the same wavelength. Patience has never been a strength I’ve had. Finding a partner to write with, in many ways, is like finding someone to date – you’re looking to form a creative partnership, and it isn’t every day that the chemistry happens. I went on lots of ‘blind dates.’ It dawned on me that I did not have to work with people nearby, or even people that I knew. I was focusing on getting remixes for a track David and I had completed, so at least I might put out a single. Junior Kain came to mind because I knew he’d done remixes for InSoc before; I’d seen occasional posts from him on the InSoc Facebook group, but I did not know him personally. He lives in Brazil. I took a chance and asked him to do a few remixes. We bounced a few ideas around and wound up writing ‘Break Myself.’
It was at this point that you, Ilker put me in touch with Jim in Chicago. That was in October of 2016, and I was over the moon to be working with Jim because he understood me immediately and also knew how to manage the 40-plus vocal tracks I gave him for each song. Anyone that knows Jim knows that he is always working on 10,000 things at once. So, while I waited for him to have time to finish production on Ascent, I put feelers out once more; this time in a Facebook group for music producers.
Enter Justin Burning in Arizona. Justin already had an instrumental album he’d completed and offered to allow me to collaborate and add vocals/lyrics. The music was atmospheric and moody. It was a different style for me, but the melancholy vibe was perfect for what I was going through emotionally at the time. We created Void. It was a great experience, and I think it definitely showcases my most intricate vocal work to date. There’s also Nicolas Pierre Wardell, Federico Balducci, Jack Alberson, Chrys Wozniak, and several other really talented people I’ve had the good fortune to work with. Essentially, Dissonance is no longer a ‘band’ construct – I can continue to create Dissonance, along with other projects, with people across the globe both via file transfer or via my second joy in life, travel! The time it has taken for Ascent to come to fruition has been full of experiences that have stretched me as an artist. We learn and grow when we open ourselves and collaborate with others.

There are some callbacks to the past on the Ascent EP, with ‘Taste’ featuring original member David Sebrind, and I know you had once covered Propaganda’s ‘Murder of Love’ before the current version. What was it like to reconnect with Sebrind – in what ways do you feel your partnership compared on this track with how you originally worked together?

Hall: I immediately thought of David to work with because he lives in the same metro area, and as we had started this thing together, I wanted him to have first crack at it. We had our first track ready to record almost within a week – it came together very quickl. It was ‘Taste,’ and the chemistry was still there. We followed up shortly with ‘Murder of Love,’ although this took longer, despite the fact, as you mentioned, that we’d done a version of this before. I had originally thought, as we had an earlier version, that this would be a quick one to do; it was not. Then things fell apart.

Without getting too personal, what can you tell us about his current status – is there a chance we’ll hear more from him in Dissonance in the future, even in a remix capacity?

Hall: David and I have been going through similar phases in the past few years, but everyone deals with life issues differently. I have been screaming for an outlet for the anxiety and depression I have gone through as a result of my beloved parents’ decline and death. My father suffered a severe brain injury in 2013, and after that it was a slow decline for both of my parents. My stress had been building for quite some time. I needed to write, to have this outlet. David, conversely, has withdrawn to focus on his life issues. He knows he is always welcome to contribute. Once he’s in a creative mindset again, he may just return! In the meantime, I am always looking for more collaborative friends!

Well, I wish him the best. Regarding the ‘Murder of Love’ cover, what is it about this song in particular that you felt compelled to cover it not once but twice?
Obviously, the original cover was not widely released (as far as I know since it was only on a CDR you’d sent me – alas, it no longer plays), but what was the impetus to covering the song in the first place and the need to revisit it more fully on Ascent?

Hall: David and I did do an earlier version of this in either 1999 or 2000, I think, but only as a demo. It was never released, aside from the rare copy that you had and maybe three or four others floating around somewhere; never released because life got in the way for me back in 2001, and Dissonance sort of dissolved. I have always loved the song. I can relate to having been a ‘victim of love’ several times in my life, as I think we all can. Propaganda was a favorite band back in the ’80s for me. I always loved the richness of Claudia Brücken’s voice. So, when David and I started looking to put together Ascent, I thought it would be quick and fun. David has heard both the new versions of ‘Taste’ and ‘Murder of Love,’ and he is very pleased with Jim’s production – if David likes it, it has to be good!

 

 

On the Ascent EP, you collaborate once again with Kurt Larson (who also co-wrote ‘Gravity Well’ on Void, and who is a member of Information Society with Paul Robb, who runs your label Hakatak and also did one of the remixes on the ‘Sycamores’ single). Tell us about your partnership with the InSoc team, how it first began and how it has evolved since the beginnings of Dissonance?

Hall: I love Kurt and Paul both so dearly. There would be no Dissonance without them. I wrote InSoc a fan letter when I was 17 in 1988 (which they got!) and they have been inspiring me to write ever since! I loved all electronic music. I had a huge collection of 12-inch singles in all electronic genres, but I loved InSoc in particular because their music was so vocal and so full of fun samples and sounds. I had been in choir and solo competitions in school, but watching and listening to InSoc made me want to sing. Dissonance was featured on several compilation CDs around the time Paul was starting Hakatak. He called out of the blue one day in 1996 to ask if I wanted to participate. It was the greatest thing ever! Paul is so much fun to work with; some of my best memories are of working with him on the first Dissonance record and my solo EP… and the day he and I went to Six Flags and rode rollercoasters all day!!! I learned so much from Paul about recording vocals. I stopped doing music for a long time, but I still kept in touch. Kurt sent me their Hello World release in 2014. It woke me up, in a way – it made me remember the joy and escape of singing, so I called Paul to see if he might release another Dissonance record. It is also a habit of mine, and has been through the years, to send Kurt copies of whatever I am working on. While I was working on Void with Justin, Kurt sent me some lyrics he had written that he suggested I use; they suited the mood of the album, so I modified them slightly and wrote a melody for it, and ‘Gravity Well’ was born. Kurt and I had long talked about singing a song together at some point; Ascent seemed a great opportunity.

Are there any plans for further collaboration with them that you are able to talk about at this time?

Hall: I’ll say it – I have long begged to do harmonies and backing vocals on an InSoc record. They know I am willing. Maybe one day they will make another dream come true and let me. Until then, I shall pine. Aside from that, I would love to work with Paul on anything. I love his work.

The first Dissonance album was on Hakatak in 1997 – what was it like to come back to Robb’s label after so much time?

Hall: I cannot know how it is for Paul, but for me, it is like coming home. I could be on any number of labels, I suppose. But I know Paul – I truly consider him family.

 

 

While these sounds have never been alien to Dissonance, Void and the ‘Sycamores’ single were very much on the more down-tempo and ambient spectrum, with Ascent returning to a more upbeat and forceful style (aside from ‘Drive’) somewhat akin to the older material. How would you say these releases were reflective of your mindset at the time, and what would you say brought things back to the more rhythmic sounds on Ascent?
Do you think at this time that newer Dissonance material will continue where Ascent left off, or will it once again take on a different character and sound?

Hall: It’s an interesting observation – two sides of one coin. All of the material was written concurrently, Void and ‘Sycamores’ while waiting to complete Ascent. My music and lyrics are like me in that they are emotionally forthright, and I imagine they will always be consistent in that regard. I have long wanted to get back to my roots, musically and Ascent does that – it reminds me of where I came from, yet keeps the emotion of where I am. I do have more unfinished material that was intended for a release entitled Precipice. It does seem to be taking on a character of its own. That being said, I love the pace and tone of Ascent. We’ll just have to see what comes.

Aside from Dissonance, you do quite a bit of nature photography on your Instagram, some of which encompassed (if I’m not mistaken) the cover art for Ascent. What do you most enjoy about this activity, and in what ways you feel it connects with your love of music?

Hall: Jim actually did the artwork for Ascent, but I did specifically request the mantids or dragonflies/damselflies. The mantis on the cover is actually a ‘hybrid’ that Jim created. I love insects and I do a lot of nature photography. I find solace in long walks much the same as I do when singing. I am consistently amazed with the beauty and life that is right in front of us all the time – birds, flowers, insects, snake (there are a lot of snakes in Texas), patterns in tree bark. I also like to travel to the South Pacific a lot. I try to capture as much of the joy and wonder in photographs as I can to bring home.

What else do you have in the works that you can tell us about? What’s next for you and Dissonance?

Hall: In the immediate future, Jim is working on a video for ‘Starstuff!’ ‘Starstuff’ and ‘Poison Kiss’ will be released as digital maxi-singles in May and June, most likely, with remixes from Wiccid, Stær, Silver Walks, Oneiroid Psychosis, The Gothsicles, Decedent, Federico Balducci, Danny Saber, and others! Kurt and I will also be working with the incredibly talented Zeke Prebluda on a video for ‘Poison Kiss.’ I have another project that’s a bit shoegaze with a recent colleague in the U.K., Nicolas Pierre Wardell, called The Insatiable Disquiet. The first release is a self-titled EP released on Shoredive Records on March 8, 2019. He’s already sent me nine more tracks to work on, so I’m looking forward to recording soon. There’s also the partial Dissonance album, Precipice, and in addition to these, I’ve done some vocal work for a new SINthetik Messiah EP!

Let’s talk about your other musical outlets – you just mentioned The Insatiable Disquiet, and while still electronic, the sound seems to place a greater emphasis on the organic drum sounds and piano. In what ways did you find Nicholas’ sound and approach moved you in ways that you might not have otherwise felt or noticed in the most aggressively electronic sounds of Dissonance?

Hall: Every writer I work with is, indeed, different, and different composers pull different sounds from me, different moods. I love working with different producers! Nico’s percussion is innovative, and the song structures are unique; not always following a basic structure. I do feel that there is a difference in tone with each writer I work with. There’s also a different style of production with each co-writer. The Insatiable Disquiet has more of a shoegaze vibe to it. It can be melancholy, but also hopeful at the same time.

 

 

Similar to what I asked before, do you find that the lyrical themes you approach are affected by the sound of the music at all? Or to put it another way, does moving from one band or project to another dictate what you’ll be singing about?

Hall: Lyrics, for me, are not necessarily project-driven. Often times, I will write lyrics first and then tailor them to fit a certain piece of music I’ve been given. Other times, music will create a mood, so they can be music-driven as well. As you’ve seen through the different Dissonance albums, the tone does indeed change, both musically and lyrically; the one thing that remains consistent is the way I record vocals. It does vary in aggression (Come to Mama being on one extreme, and some tracks on Void being on the other), and there are always layers… and lots of them!

You also for a time had a project with Nebulae called Chlorophyll, and we’d conducted an InterView back then (2005 or 2006 I believe?). Not unlike Dissonance, it was a very electronic sound, although perhaps more dance-oriented and less aggressive. What can you tell us about what happened with Chlorophyll?

Hall: Chlorophyll was great fun, and Abid is a really innovative writer/producer. He got busy raising a son, passing the bar exam, and becoming a lawyer in New Orleans; another instance of life taking precedence over music. He was instrumental in advising me in setting up my home studio to record my own vocals, though; so was Kurt Larson. Through my singing career all the way through the Chlorophyll years, all I did was sing. Now, I actually record and edit myself as well. Years of watching paid off.

Reflecting on Chlorophyll, in what ways do you feel it satisfied your creative needs after Dissonance entered into that long period of inactivity? On the other hand, in what ways was it a different experience all together?

Hall: I don’t think I realized how much I missed singing until I started working with Chlorophyll. I had stopped after Dissonance’s Reincarnate in 2001 and was not looking for a project – the project came looking for me! My sister sings as well and was a member of a barbershop chorus. Abid happened to be looking for singers and went to one of their rehearsals in search of one. Carla knew I’d be what he was looking for and she put us together. Magic was made! Our first track was an epic masterpiece. When we stopped working together, I tried to fill the hole with other things. I did not succeed. I missed music, but I was not inspired to do anything about it until 2014 (and did not act on that until 2015).

What is the possibility of you and Neb working together again? With the palette of Dissonance being so varied now, would Neb’s style have a place in Dissonance, or would such a collaboration simply have to be Chlorophyll?

Hall: I’d absolutely work with Abid again if the opportunity came. He does great work, and Dissonance would be honored to have tracks written or remixed by him. However, since we have worked together as Chlorophyll, anything new would probably surface under that title.

 

 

What do you find to be the most difficult aspect to recording such lush harmonies? Do you ever find yourself getting lost in the myriad of your own voice(s)?

Hall: Here’s a great story regarding that. I once got very excited about a track and spent about six hours completing 50 layers of vocals/harmonies for it. I accidentally overwrote the file and it was lost! I panicked a bit, took some deep breaths, went to bed and slept on it. The next morning, I woke up and spent another five hours recreating the entire thing. I remembered each part; I was afraid I might not. The second version had better enunciation and intonation. In short, I have spooked myself before, worried that I could not recreate my own work, but I can always hear when some element is missing. I am ultra-tuned-in to vocals on whatever I am listening to. I won’t reveal the particular song, but it was on Void.

What kind of exercises or routines do you employ to keep your voice at its best?

Hall: I sing almost every day. I also swim laps; the swimming really helps with breath control. I also frequently listen to myself in order to critique my enunciation; lyrics mean nothing if they cannot be understood. I sing, in part, as a means to be understood. Music can express emotion in a way nothing else can. I have always been very forthright, emotionally, and it is my sincerest hope that my voice conveys all the emotion I try to express.

Performing live is no easy feat (and just seems to be becoming more difficult these days). That said, do you hope to take Dissonance back to the stage, and if so, since so many different collaborators are involved now, what would you feel would be necessary to translate the new material to a live show?

Hall: I would love to do live shows. I have been focused so much on writing new material and recording with people who live far from me that I have put nothing together locally. I may sometime in the near future put something together; the main drawback being that it would be nearly impossible to recreate all the vocals live… that and finding people that would be willing to learn the material.

Anything you’d like to add? Anything we’ve not talked about that you’d really like to include?

Hall: I am looking forward very much to the remixes and videos being released! These will be in late May and June. I’m hoping to continue working with amazingly talented people and record as much and as often as possible.

 

Dissonance/Cat Hall
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1997 Press Photography by Dr. John W. Hall
“Starstuff” Video Stills by Jim Marcus

 

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