CATHERINE MOAN is the musical vehicle of Philadelphian songstress Angel Jefferson. Her rework of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Fools’ launched her into the world of electronic pop.
Part of an emerging group of independent North American female synth artists that include DANZ CM, GLITBITER, CLASS ACTRESS and MECHA MAIKO, the debut CATHERINE MOAN album ‘Chain Reaction’ is a short but sweet collection of eight dreamily innocent synthpop songs with a consistent sound and feel running throughout.
The album’s lead single ‘Drop It!’ captured the mindset of many and craved the excitement of nightlife. Set over a classic four chord progression, its proclamation was to “keep this fire burning ‘til the record stops turning, ‘til the lights and the drugs stop working…”
Angel Jefferson talked to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about being CATHERINE MOAN and provided some insight into her ‘Chain Reaction’…
How did you become interested in making pop music with synthesizers?
I first became interested in making pop music on a whim when someone offered to gift me a cheap sampler and I realized how intuitive and easy it could be at its bare minimum. After years of obsessing over and listening to so many pop musicians and imagining if that could be me, I felt that spark and reached out for it to see if I could manifest that.
Great question! I have a few demos sitting on my laptop where I went for a more alternative indie vibe with just a guitar, drum machine, and vocals. In the end, it just didn’t feel very authentic to me and what I wanted to be making.
There’s also a few demos I worked on with a friend that was kinda witch housey and darker than what I usually make, but for similar reasons, I just felt like I couldn’t follow through because it didn’t feel like what I wanted to say was coming through.
The up-and-coming British singer-songwriter Hattie Cooke uses just GarageBand for her recordings; did you opt for a hardware set-up or take advantage of what modern software had to offer?
Just checked out Hattie Cooke and wow what a talent! I wish it wasn’t a debate that people even have, but I think if we have the means to use it. I will always favor modern software because it is so forgiving and intuitive. Not to deprecate myself but I am a very instant gratification brained person, and GarageBand gave me just what I needed as a jumping off point. All the songs on my first EP were made entirely in GarageBand, it makes the songwriting process so fool proof for a beginner. As someone who at the time had never made music before, it really gave me the tools I needed. And while I have nothing but respect for people who opt for fully analog, I enjoy the simplicity and comfort of a digital workspace.
Technologically, is there any particular synth that you don’t own but particularly covet?
The Prophet, I use the digital version a bit and it is just a powerhouse when it comes to the dreamy, melancholic, cinematic timbres I like to look for. Another synth I would love to have is the Moog Minitaur, I love using the virtual Moog Mini and when I found this compact bass centered synth they made, I immediately got starry eyed because the bass sounds it makes are so tasty. Unfortunately I don’t have it like that when it comes to money. so it will never be a justifiable purchase!
Were there any particular acts that you looked up for your more predominantly synthesized template?
The acts that I look up to the most are FEVER RAY, CHRISTINE & THE QUEENS, and CHVRCHES. I think all of those artists do a really great job of taking a diverse array of synthesized sounds and interpolating 80s and 90s “vibes” and making them sound really fresh and modern.
In North America, there are a number of emerging female synth artists like DANZ CM, GLITBITER, CLASS ACTRESS and MECHA MAIKO, do you feel any affinity or kinship with them?
I’ll have to sit and listen to all these artists, I’m definitely a huge fan of Danz. I listened to a lot of COMPUTER MAGIC when I was first getting into production, I was very inspired by the DIY bedroom synthpop vibes.
There was been a significant sonic leap from your self-titled debut EP to ‘Chain Reaction’ in terms of production values, although ‘Cut It’ indicated you were interested in more European music forms? How do you look back on your first work as “Catherine”?
The production quality leap absolutely came from entrusting someone else to do the mixing and mastering. The CM EP was kind of a crash course in songwriting and production for me, and once I knew I could do it, I didn’t feel adverse to the idea of letting someone else in to help get it to a more professional sonic quality. While I started off with a DIY mindset, I ended up favoring the idea of being more collaborative and passing the music around to other ears to get it the best it could be rather than leave it sounding raw.
I look back on those first tracks fondly, it was a very exciting moment for me. They are sloppy, weird and unconventionally structured songs from a brain with little to no musicality and I hope I can channel that in future work.
Why did you feel the need to create the CATHERINE MOAN persona to channel your creativity?
I think the persona originally came out of a desire to be discreet and not attached to my real self. It seems like it’s a bit easier to act with more bravado and confidence when you’re pretending to be someone else. But to be honest CATHERINE MOAN is 100% me, it’s just a cooler sounding name than my real one.
You came to wider attention with a really good cover version of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Fools’, your choice was interesting not just because it was a B-side but because it was written by Alan Wilder, the man many fans cite as being the sonic soul of the band’s imperial era, what was your approach in your reinterpretation?
‘Construction Time Again’ is a VERY good album! Specifically the deluxe edition with all those B-Sides, the idea to cover one of them came from intensely listening to that record last winter. I almost covered the song ‘Get The Balance Right’, but ‘Fools’ has that whimsical fun energy that I really feel a connection to. When I was recording the cover, the first thing I wanted to do was make it unique to the original, I changed the key to be in a more comfortable vocal range and cut out the entire middle of the song and made up a riff inspired by the original’s composition.
The album’s title ‘Chain Reaction’ reflects some of your emotive impetuosity but has this enforced lockdown helped you become more patient or do you feel that life is short and you should “go for it”?
100% Life is short, go for it. While the album is melancholic at times, I don’t regret chasing the highs that lead to a lot of my disappointments and painful memories. Hindsight is 20/20 and regret lasts forever, but you never know unless you take chances. The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of spontaneity and huge life altering decisions and I really wanted to channel the manic and introspective elements of that in my songwriting.
I think those moments of my life were the true catalyst for me to even start songwriting, that’s the real chain reaction huh haha.
So was ‘Drop It!’ composed before or during the lockdown, what was the song’s genesis?
‘Drop It!’ was composed in the middle of the pandemic! I had this fling with someone where we would just dance around my room to our favorite songs, and it made me long so much for the bright lights and booming bass of the clubs. I channeled that into the song, very intentionally writing a really basic pop song in a tongue-in-cheek generic method.
Creating in lockdown was a challenge for anyone, but you managed to produce a charming and optimistic video for ‘Drop It!’ too?
Thank you! It was honestly a happy accident, I was scrambling for ideas and the idea hit me like a bolt of lightning. The intensity of manically trying to make something deep or provocative in the confines of my bedroom sparked the idea to do something extremely constricted to just one color and scene. It ended up working very well as a metaphor for how I was feeling when I wrote the song.
‘Wasted’ is like a cousin of ‘Drop It!’, and substantiates a sonic continuity that runs through this album?
Yes! It was a very deliberate decision to have those songs in succession. I wrote them both with the same synthesizer, my Korg Minilogue. And they both somehow conveyed such opposite spectrums of an emotional scale and it felt like a good yin and yang of my 2020 mania.
The striking of an anvil is a recurring percussive texture on ‘Faces’, was this as a result of listening to DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’?
YES! I wrote that song before the ‘Fools’ cover and I was so enthralled by the percussion of that album and was really trying to mimic some of the sounds. When I was writing the track, all I could think about was someone just banging on drums like a hammer.
‘Lucky Lobotomy’ has to be the song title of year and is quite funky, what is this actually about?
That’s my favorite song on the album right there! The idea from the song came from this emotional state that is close to hysteria when it comes to infatuation. Like sometimes you just want to just shut your brain off or at least just hit the brakes but it just isn’t possible. The chorus is just a mantra to myself to be low key and calm down, a cognitive behavioral therapy to subdue my erratic lovesick mind.
The sound of the album deviates slightly with some guitar on ‘Body Work’ and ‘The Ordinary’, where does this influence in your sound come from?
Specifically the guitar on ‘Body Work’ is influenced by post punk bands like JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER, it’s certainly my most moody song and I really wanted a very emotional guitar tone to fit the energy of that track.
‘Skin Graft’ is quite sombre yet wonderfully dancey, which kind of sums up the sad/happy dichotomy of your music?
I’m glad someone is noticing this song! ‘Skin Graft’ was the last song I wrote and to me it was the cherry on top of the albums theme of converting heavy emotions into palatable danceable pop songs! My thesis when it comes to my music is even when I’m at my saddest, to make the tracks something you want to bob your head and sway too, because if you’re gonna be in your feelings, you might as well have some fun! And in truth I’m a very optimistic person, even when I’m at my lowest, I try to aspire myself into happier more light-hearted thinking.
As an album, ‘Chain Reaction’ is short and sweet and leaves the audience wanting more, where do anticipate you might take your music in the future?
Thank you! Right now I’m in creative limbo where I’m not 100% sure what to do, but I know I’m not calling it quits anytime soon. I want my next assortment of songs to be dancier, catchier and impossible to get out of your head. And I think what that entails is being more serious and tending to the music more. ‘Chain Reaction’ was very much me trying to prove a point to myself, that I as an amateur with no musical upbringing can make an album.
You played your first live gig as CATHERINE MOAN recently, how was it? Do you consider yourself a natural performer?
My first live shows have been electric! I had never performed before and I was really afraid but I really think I’m a natural performer. Once I’m on the stage, I just want to dance and influence the people watching to dance to, it’s just pure fun honestly.
What’s next for you?
For now it’s focusing on playing live and getting my sea legs, because I think it’s going to take a while to really get the chops to become a quality life performer. But I really want to get back into the studio writing, all in due time I guess 🙂
Thanks for the great questions, and of course thanks for sharing my music and being a supporter!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Angel Jefferson
‘Chain Reaction’ released by Born Losers as a transparent electric blue vinyl LP and download, available from https://catherinemoan.bandcamp.com/album/chain-reaction-2
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
23rd November 2021