Published June 1995, The Aquarian Weekly


Catherine

Better Living Through Noise

"You'd have to really scrape the bottom to describe our worst gig." laughed guitarist/vocalist Neil Jendon.

"Really!" exclaimed guitarist Jerome Brown as he looked around at the small club (The Saint, Asbury Park, NJ) his band, Catherine, was playing that night, "This is heaven compared to some of the places we've found ourselves in. It's actually clean and the manager was nice to us."

"We honestly enjoy playing smaller clubs," added Jendon. "We get a chance to really see how the music goes over with people - how it hits them."

With the first single, "Songs About Girls," from their debut long playing CD Sorry, (TVT Records) doing well on the charts and MTV's 120 Minutes, the five friends from Chicago that comprise Catherine are basking in the slight glow that moderate success brings.

"It's great to be able to say, 'I make my living playing guitar,'" enthused Jendon. "But, we got together because we liked each other, not because of any musical genius, social alienation, anger or burning desire to be stars."

"If it all works out and we become successful, great!" continued Brown, "but just being able to say that we did it, we had fun and we're still friends is fine by me. I can always go back to selling shoes."

"That's right," laughed Jendon, "Jerome is the Al Bundy of rock 'n' roll." (Jerome proceeds to accurately guess the shoe sizes of the writer, a TVT label rep and an opening band member to prove his mettle as a true 'Bundy-ite'.)

Well into the second week of a planned two- or three-month tour to support the new album, Catherine - Jendon, Brown, Mark Rew and brothers Kerry and Keith Brown - still get along amazingly well.

"We haven't been on tour long enough to really get on each other's nerves yet," laughed Jendon.

"There's absolutely no ego happening here at all," added Brown. "We kick each other's asses regularly in video games, any other aggression we have gets let out on stage."

"We named ourselves Catherine when Neil and I got together back in 1990," he continued, "because we thought more people would come to see us if they thought there was a woman in the band."

"There seemed to be a female bassist or vocalist in virtually every band on MTV at the time," laughed Neil. "We thought we'd be better off if we pandered to the masses a little."

"It didn't work." chimed in Brown. "Actually, I feel kind of sorry for the people who did come to our first bunch of gigs - they never came to more than one."

"We really weren't that good at all," agreed Jendon, "we combine melody, noise and pop elements now back when we first started, we were just noise."

"We always have enjoyed making a racket," said Brown. "It just took awhile to make the racket sound like anything."

The swirling, droning, psychedelic brand of noise-pop the band plays; a dark, moody mix as sonic as Lush, as shoegazing as Kitchens Of Distinction and as anguished as the Pumpkins with a sense of humor; fits in well on today's alterna-charts - a far cry from the abrasively experimental guitar caterwaul Jendon and Brown amused themselves with four years ago.

"We just got better with time," said Jendon. "We all got really comfortable playing together, figured out how to melodically fit three lead guitarists into one song, and got tired of denying our pop influences."

Things really came together for the band in 1991 when Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins heard a Catherine demo and agreed to co-produce the band's first EP, "Sleepy."

"Kerry being married to D'Arcy (Pumpkins bassist) may've had a bit to do with Billy hearing us," remarked Brown. "I think it's more Chicago being the right place at the right time, as well as us having a good band and a bunch of good songs."

"The 'Billy connection' did help us get heard," stated Jendon, "but it ultimately comes down to good songs. I think we would've gotten signed with or without Billy's help."

It has been a summer of all things Chicago. Urge Overkill, Liz Phair, Pumpkins, Veruca Salt like piranhas on flesh, record execs have rushed to sign anything remotely Windy City-based - geography didn't hurt Catherine.

"Scenes are more media hype than anything," cautioned Jendon, "but they do come in handy."

"Chicago's been okay," added Brown. "It's a fairly supportive scene. I think the feeding frenzy has moved on to another town by now though."

"Luck has as much to do with it as talent and location," concluded Jendon. "Luck, and the conviction that what you're playing actually needs to be played."

-- AL MUZER