In a blast from the past, ReGen Magazine presents this 2005 InterView with Cat Hall and Nebulae of Texas electro act Chlorophyll.
An InterView with Cat Hall and Nebulae of Chlorophyll
Originally featured in ReGen Magazine, October, 2005
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
While they never achieved the level of stardom they perhaps deserved, after two finely crafted and well-received albums, the duo of Cat Hall and David Sebrind – collectively known as Dissonance -seemed to disappear from the musical map, leaving behind them a small legacy known to a small, but devoted fan base. Four years later, Cat Hall has resurfaced with producer/musician Nebulae to form Chlorophyll. Having released its first two songs on the internet, the band presents a more musically varied approach of electronic textures coupled with organic instrumentation, as well as Cat’s signature dark melodies, ReGen recently had the opportunity to speak with Chlorophyll about its forthcoming musical endeavors. We’ll get to see the record set straight on just what happened to Dissonance as well as what the future holds for Chlorophyll, proving once and for all that good thing do truly come to “Those Who Wait.”
It’s been four years since Dissonance’s last album, Reincarnate. Since then, the band has pretty much dissolved. To clear the record, why exactly did Dissonance end?
2001 – Got engaged and moved to a scary state (mentally and geographically).
2002 – Came back to Texas and to my senses; did not get married.
2003/2004 – David was working on a side project, I’m unsure of the details.
2005 – Nebulae and I were brought together by supernatural forces… really.
Where is David Sebrind these days? Are there any plans to collaborate with him in the future?
Hall: David is working on his own these days. I think I heard that he’s been traveling in Tibet or Nepal. Dissonance is still Dissonance, and if the right opportunity comes, then he and I will work together again.
Chlorophyll is Cat and Nebulae. How did the two of you come to meet and form the band?
Nebulae: Interesting story. I have been involved in music production for 15 years in various cities. Recently, I relocated to Dallas. It was as if a musical void had entered into my life; the number of artists available in the city with whom I could work was literally zero. I turned over every stone, talked with as many people as I could. Yet none shared with me the vision and direction in which I wanted to go. Desperate, I went to a church to see if I could find someone in a nearby church choir. There, I met someone who mentioned that she had a sister who was once in an electronic/goth band. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. I called Cat that night. Soon afterwards, we met to discuss music and started work on our first song – ‘Those Who Wait’ came out of that collaboration, and we knew we had good chemistry, so we kept forging ahead.
Hall: It happened just that way. I got a phone call from someone I didn’t know who said my sister had referred him to me. I called her, and sure enough, she mentioned that at her barbershop chorus practice (which is held at a church) someone had come looking for singers; she had given him my number. I knew that we’d be a good team when I found that we shared a love of kung fu movies. Our first meeting was at one of my kung fu movie parties… The House of FIying Daggers.
Nebulae: Ah, yes, very good film.
Let’s get a little history. What other projects were the two of you involved in before you came together to form Chlorophyll?
Hall: I got started in 1988. My first year in college, someone approached me who knew that I sang (I’ve always been into choir and voice); we’d gone to the same high school, but I didn’t know him. So Bob Durham and I founded Vis-a-Vis, an electronic jazz collaboration of sorts. It was fun, but far from polished. Brady Blade, our drummer, went on to work with such acts as Emmylou Harris and the Brand New Heavies. I was very into the club scene from ’87 through about ’97, I really liked electro-pop and was a huge fan of Information Society. I met them at a few of their shows and began corresponding with Kurt and Paul; we’re still close friends. I never knew Jim very well. I was also close friends with Will Loconto from the Texas duo T42 (at the time, they were signed to Columbia and were produced by InSoc). He toured with InSoc for a while as well. I considered them to be my mentors in electronic music. I met David in 1993 and we started working on a few songs. About the same time, InSoc broke up. Paul Robb formed his HAKATAK label shortly thereafter in 1996. Paul knew I was writing and so he listened to our demo and decided to sign us. That’s the short version without all the juicy details; if I were to include the juicy bits, this would be a novel.
Recording that first album (Dissonance) is one of my best memories. Paul is a fantastic producer, and so much fun to work with. I am in awe of him. We had great times working together. After the Dissonance record, Paul and I worked on a side project together. Unfortunately, it was never released. I plan on reworking some of these tracks for Chlorophyll. ‘Bitter’ is one. Paul’s label took a backseat when he moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles and so did promotion of Dissonance. He was doing music for commercials (and actually won some Cleo awards for his work). During this time, I worked on my side project with Paul, flying to L.A. often. I also began collaborating with Signal 12 and Oneiroid Psychosis. Signal 12 was sort of darkwave and OP was straight up horror gothic. I got engaged at this time and moved out of Texas. These last two collaborations could be considered mistakes… they drove a wedge between David and myself geographically; and without going into all the details, nearly pushed me to never want to record again. Reincarnate still turned out to be a wonderful CD. Darker than our first, it was produced and released during this very dark period for me. I came back to Texas after a few months, but David and I were on different schedules, and he was working on another project. We talked about recording but our schedules did not coincide. Later, I met Nebulae… Chlorophyll began.
Is the band only the two of you, or is there anybody else involved? Are there any plans to bring anybody else into the fold?
Nebulae: I prefer to have very few cooks in the pot. I find that you get a lot more done when there are fewer decision-makers. Cat and I are both of the same mindset here. We want to shape our sound together, and we do it very well when it’s just the two of us. If we need other musicians for gigs, we’ll hire as necessary. Otherwise, it’s just us, and that’s how we like it. And while I’m at it, let me just say working with Cat has taken my music to a whole new level. As your readers already know, she has an amazing voice, and I’m very proud to be working with her. I feel that our collaborations have and will continue to break new ground for both of us, and that’s what great music is all about. Who needs more people in the band?
Hall: I agree completely with Nebulae here. I’ve never wanted more than one writing partner. I’ve only ever worked one-on-one, and that’s the way I like it. I ‘ve done my best work with Chlorophyll. Nebulae and I work well to gather. We don’t really need anyone else.
What is the overall concept for Chlorophyll. If there is one? What do you hope to accomplish musically or thematically?
Nebulae: It’s early, so we have yet to develop an overall concept. Suffice it to say that we both think very big and our music tends to be vast, as much as we try to keep it simple. I think Cat put a moratorium on simple when she created 12-part stacking harmonies for ‘Those Who Wait’ within one hour of our first recording session. I suppose adding strings on my part didn’t help. If there is a way to encapsulate the concept, I’d say it’s dark, emotional music that blurs the line between electronic rhythms and organic depth. What I’d like to accomplish is to destroy the boxed-in mindset of most people when it comes to music. I hate classifications and genres and I respect bands that can do many types of sounds. There is always a sonic signature, but beyond that, the more you can stretch yourself, the more creative you can be. To that end, our first three songs have been all over the map. ‘Those Who Wait’ starts off soft, and ends up with breakbeats and vocal complexity. ‘April 8′ is just a good oI’ pop song. ‘Bitter’ will rock your world without ever being considered a real ‘rock’ song and in the mean and harsh parts of the song you still have these pretty guitars. I just love those kinds of juxtapositions, the ones that make you really think.
What roles do the two of you play when writing music together? Is it strictly Cat handling vocals and lyrics and Neb handling music and composition? What is your collaborative process like?
Nebulae: Basically, I procrastinate and Cat smacks me in the ass. Kidding.
Nebulae: While we work together closely, you are somewhat correct. I start by creating a lick or a basic structure with chords or what not. Then we get together to review it and see if it strikes a chord with us. Cat then handles the vocals and lyrics, and I provide some minor input. We then get together to do vocals, usually in Cat’s closet (best vocal booth I’ve ever used due to all the black clothing, absorbing both color and sound, and creating the perfect mood). Then I go back to my studio and rework the song by adding instruments, processing the vocals, and building the song. Cat has input in all steps of the production as I make updates and changes. A typica| song takes us about 100 hours to complete.
Hall: The magic of Chlorophyll…
From your songs, ‘Those Who Wait’ and ‘Bitter,’ Chlorophyll seems geared towards a more organic sound than Dissonance (i.e. strings, acoustic guitar). For Cat, was this a deliberate departure from the more electronic sound you’ve been associated with? For Neb. how do you find a balance between organic and synthetic sounds?
Hall: For me, actually, no. I don’t conceptualize my music by the instrumentation. I conceptualize through vocal style and chord structures. If you look at it that way, then I haven’t really departed. I’m still all about stacking vocals. The music has changed, but I consider that instrumentation really has more to do with production than songwriting. You could have a great song and it will work with guitars or synths or voices or drum and bass or you name it.
Nebulae: Brilliant question! I think it was ’84-’85 when the answer finally came to me. I was really into The Smiths and Depeche Mode, and I couldn’t figure out why some bands stuck to guitars only, while others were strictly into synths. It seemed to me not necessary at all to have those distinctions. Then I heard New Order’s album Brotherhood, seamlessly integrating bass lines, guitars, drum machines, and synths. While my sound is now considerably different from my early works, which had a lot of New Order influences, I still go back to some of the things I learned from those guys. For example, they would say that every part of their band is an instrument, even the vocals. They would say that all decisions are made for the benefit of a song, not a band member’s ego. They would talk about how they rehearsed and experimented for hours trying to mix and match instruments that no one had even thought about… creating combinations that made no sense. While New Order isn’t the most musically adept, they are very good at creating great music that breaks down boundaries. I took these concepts and really made them part of my creative process. Now, I constantly try to put together instruments that may seem like a bad idea at first, like sampling drum sounds, and then pitching them to make electronic stabs; taking a string pluck, and distorting it into a drum sound; using a square oscillator to create a blippy bass sound, and then working that into an acoustic guitar ballad. Whenever I have bizarre ideas, my first question is, ‘Why not?’ After trying it, if I scrap the idea, that’s fine too. My philosophy is that if you’re not scrapping at least 50-75% of your ideas. You’re being way too safe and not creative enough.
As for finding the right balance, I think that my music will always have a blend of electronic and organic sounds. That’s probably because I don’t see any distinction between those ‘types.’ An analog synth is just as much a real instrument as a violin as much as a human voice, if that makes sense. Therefore, all sound-generating devices have equal opportunities to be part of my sonic palette. When I start to create a song, the sonic palette comes together, based on my current inspiration. Often times, the song will write itself, and I’m just the hired help.
With so much music equipment and gear so readily available and affordable, and more people making music at home, how does the band keep up with technology and music?
Hall: A lot of crap…
Nebulae: What all this technology does is create a higher standard to make even better and more polished music. To that end, I work really hard to make music that people will think is professional and of the highest quality. In short, there’s no excuse to not produce exactly to that level, now that anyone with a few hundred dollars can do so.
How would you feel your music fits in with the current landscape of electronic music?
Nebulae: The current landscape of electronic music is so diverse. I took a DJ class in Denver, where I finally understood the distinction between deep house, progressive house, two-step, garage, and (as they call it not-so-affectionately) fluffy gay eurotrance. It was interesting to realize that electronic music had changed and evolved into so many genres and styles. At first, you had artists and DJs who distinguished themselves by going into and defining a particular genre. Now you’ve got people who are crossing over into multiple genres. I think Chlorophyll will always remain ambiguous with respect to where we fall in the grand genre spectrum. This will not only be evident in our albums but also in our remixes. And other than country or hip-hop, I think anything is fair game. With electronic music, obviously, we would draw on my EDM background and Cat’s dark goth roots, but those do not drive, limit, or define us at all.
Hall: I must admit that I pay little or no attention to what else is going on in the music scene. I write from the inside out. It’s funny that Nebulae mentions my ‘dark goth roots;’ I’ve never seen what I write as ‘goth.’ Dark, perhaps, but I’ve never classified Dissonance or other work I have done as anything other than ‘Cat’s vocal style.’
Nebulae: I meant to say, ‘Your light-hearted, fruity-colored, bubblegum pop roots,’ but then realized that you’d probably beat me.
Your music was released as MP3s on FiberLineAudio.com. With more and more music being sold on the Internet these days, how does Chlorophyll view the industry in terms of record labels? Are they becoming obsolete, or are they still necessary for musicians and bands today?
Hall: The lyrics for ‘Bitter’ are a good reference for how I feel about the music industry and my experience with labels.
Nebulae: Yeah, ‘… fuck bitter, bitter, bitter me…’ Don’t get me started about the music industry. That’s a very long and cynical conversation. The issue for me is quite simple: record labels are not interested in the artist, only money. Long gone are the days where artists are carefully developed over time and their creativity is allowed to flourish. Listen to Radiohead’s first record… could you imagine OK Computer coming out of that tripe? How many bands get to be like U2 anymore? One album performs poorly, and a record label drops you, meaning that artists now play it safe, meaning that the creativity is completely removed from the equation. I think music fans are desperate for really creative interesting music, and I think that any label that doesn’t foster that will have trouble. It’s not online music sharing that’s hurting the music industry; that’s actually the best advertising out there. It’s the lack of taking chances, and allowing artists to be brave that is destroying it and creating the crap you hear on MTV or pop radio these days. With the advent of satellite radio and the internet, I think the entire model of the music industry has changed. Labels that keep fighting it will eventually become obsolete. FiberLine, Beatport, and other online labels have the right idea, but they still have some work to do to figure out how to handle this new model under which the consumers are all operating. On that note, as an artist and producer, I’m also still trying to figure out how this new model will work for me. I know that once a record is online, I can forget about any real sales coming from the record. So what else can I offer that will enable people to support my art?
When can we expect to see a full album? Will it also be released through FiberLineAudio.com, or are there plans to release it on a label?
Nebulae: At the risk of sounding strange, I honestly believe songs and records are alive and they tell me when they are complete and how they want to live afterwards. Therefore, this album will be done when it tells us it is done. At the current pace, I’m expecting an early spring release. Then again, what’s an album these days? We’ll release songs as we create them, and then possibly some remixes. Then somehow, we’ll do something special for the album release… maybe master it so that all songs blend together (something I do for almost all my records – it makes me feel pretentious and grandiose). As far as where we will release, that’s up in the air. We may look to online labels that actually fulfill CDs. Cat and I will deal with that issue after the record is complete.
Has Chlorophyll played live yet, and if not, does the band have any plans to do so? What would you like to see accomplished in a Chlorophyll live show?
Nebulae: Live shows are simply a lot of work. We are focusing on getting our songs done, and I’m also balancing a day job and a family. So it’s just hard to conceive of playing live right now. Having said that, FiberLine is working on a showcase in Miami at the Winter Music Festival in March, 2006. We might play at that show, so stay tuned. If opportunities in Europe presented themselves for live gigs, we’d be open to those discussions (hint, hint). Down the road, when we get really huge, I’d love to play to a large audience, have roadies and groupies worshipping me, and have sweaty bras thrown at me by my fans while on stage. Well, we all have dreams.
Hall: As for me, I would prefer not to have bras of any sort thrown at me. I don’t think I’d want sweaty jock straps thrown at me either, for that matter. Europe would be lovely, and, as I have an Asian fetish, we must plan trips through China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. We’ll branch out to the rest of Southeast Asia soon.
Nebulae: Don’t underestimate the power of the sweaty jockstrap, my friend.