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)
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?
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 David, conversely, has withdrawn to focus on his life issues.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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
1997 Press Photography by Dr. John W. Hall
“Starstuff” Video Stills by Jim Marcus