Hobart Post-Punk Band The Native Cats: “The satisfaction of a healthy and creative work ethic paying off in expected and unexpected ways”

Handmade collage by B.

The Native Cats make beautiful, poetic music. We’ve been fans of their sonic art and have been watching them evolve for almost a decade now. When corresponding with the Cats’ Chloe Alison Escott (vocals-electronics) about having a chat, we were encouraged to go as deep and challenging, and unrelated to music with questions as we like. Both Chloe and Julian Teakle’s (bass) answers gave as a little more insight into the people behind the music.

Tell us a little bit about how you spend your days of late.

JULIAN: I work in a large public library, so that has been pretty busy recently, with changing restrictions on access. Slightly returning to normal now, but we know what to expect if something akin to these times happens again/continues. Pretty quiet home life, running the label [Rough Skies Records] I operate with Claire from Slag Queens. Having bursts of song ideas for the Cats, and other unfinished non-Cats outlets. Really missing playing gigs, was looking forward to touring on the last 7’. 

CHLOE: This seems like the best place to start from: these past few months of Covid isolation have been utterly devastating for my mental health, as has been the case for so many others. I’m very fortunate in a lot of ways, with a steady place to live in a city that the virus has seemingly barely reached, with a job as a transcription typist that has simply carried on uninterrupted. But my friends and my life as an artist and a performer bring out the best in me, and being cut off from all that felt like being cut off from everything I actually like about myself. And you’ve sent me a wonderful list of deep and challenging questions, and I’d love to dive headlong into each one, but I’ve had very little to do with my spare time for three months except roll depressive, solipsistic thoughts around and around in my mind. So I might dodge some of these as part of my current project of getting back out of my head and into the world. I mean no disrespect! You’ve caught me at a difficult time!

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? What’s shaped this view?

JULIAN: Both I guess? On the same issues/subjects sometimes, it’s really affected by my mood at the time.

CHLOE: I’ve always been an optimist, on every scale from the personal to the global. The work is in staying focused and informed and never being complacent or naive in my optimism. No reassuring inevitabilities, no necessarily linear progress, no “all the racist boomers will die out and elections will start going our way”, no faith in electoral politics to save us at all, honestly. As I write this, we’re about two weeks into worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, two weeks of sustained direct civilian action that has dramatically shifted public opinion not only on police brutality but on the very notion of policing itself, and has already achieved so much more than years and years of incrementalism from politicians and business leaders ever could. I can’t claim that I expected this to happen! But my optimism has always been in believing that it could.

Can you please share with us a life changing moment that has helped shaped who you are today?

JULIAN: Deciding to return to study and Tasmania when I was 28. I’d been living in Melbourne for three years. I was pretty over aspects of my job and living in a bigger city. My last 16 months there was marked by the death of my grandfather, having (not properly diagnosed) glandular fever and my band breaking up just when we staring to get somewhere after some rough times. It was pretty shit.

Coming back to Tasmania was a reset of my life, I’d could use what I learnt in Melbourne, and I felt like I really progressed in a musical sense. I had a better idea of what I wanted, and what I didn’t. I learnt to love writing and playing music again, with Matt & Lisa in the Bad Luck Charms, then Chloe with the Cats.

Who has had the most prominent influence on your life? How so?

JULIAN: I’d say my oldest friend Alex Lum, we met at high school, lived in the same suburb and we both dug sci-fi, comedy and music. He is a year older so he was going to gigs just before I started, so he’d give me heads up on the cool local bands to check out when I started going to gigs. In fact his whole family were super welcoming, we had kinda different backgrounds, his folks were University educated so it was good be exposed to varied cool shit in Claremont Tasmania in the 1980s. Alex and I shared a lot of stuff, worked on projects together and had some crazy fun social times. I wish we’d formed a band in retrospect

Is there a piece of art or music that you’ve had a profound experience with? Can you tell us a bit about it please?

JULIAN: I had a day at work where I was doing some repetitive processing work, I had a Discman to listen to stuff while I did this and there was a good CD store next to my work called Tracks. They had a cheapo copy of Funhouse by the Stooges, and although I’d experienced it in the past, listening to it that day turned me inside out, I listened to it about six times in a row while working. It’s a staggering piece of work, I feel flattened (in a good way) by its subtleties and depth. It’s not trying to be raw, it just is.

Another thing that really touched me was the movie ‘Good Vibrations’, it’s set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and follows the journey of Terri Hooley, who ran record stores and labels. Most music bio-pics are awful, usually glamourising shitty situations, never getting to any reality or wonder of being involved in music. There’s a reason why ‘This Is Spinal Tap, as ridiculous as it is in parts is the still one of truest of music films. Anyway, there’s a scene where Terri sees the Undertones for the first time. For me the scene, and the reactions of Richard Dormer who plays Terri conveys the pure joy of discovering music and letting it course through you. It was quite emotional for me seeing this cos I know this experience and it’s the best.

CHLOE: My first girlfriend, when I was 20, was an American on a study abroad program. We fell desperately in love, and we were together for three months before she had to go back to the US. A while later she told me she’d started seeing someone new, and, look, by 20-year-old having her first experience of romantic jealousy standards, I handled it well, but it still utterly consumed me, just a flood of overwhelming emotions with nowhere conclusive or productive to go. Then one night I was listening to Night of the Wolverine, by Dave Graney ‘n’ the Coral Snakes – new to me at the time, but it’s my favourite album of theirs now – and a song I’d never paid much attention to before suddenly appeared to me with startling clarity: the closing track, “Out There (In the Night of Time)”. In four verses the singer reflects on good times with an old lover, sees them happy in a new relationship, has a simple, beautiful, physically impossible dream about them, and ponders broader questions of imagination and possibility, and there’s a tremendous sense of peace to the entire thing. I was so young and lost and distressed in that moment, and that song gave me a way to feel. It wouldn’t have necessarily worked the same way for anyone else in that situation, but I was receptive to it, so it worked for me. Art affects and changes us all in subtle and imperceptible ways, over and over and over again, but that song at that time gave me a response I simply didn’t previously possess, and I’ve carried that full awareness of the power of a song or a film or a story ever since.

What are the things that you value most in regards to your creativity?

JULIAN: The satisfaction of a healthy and creative work ethic paying off in expected and unexpected ways. It doesn’t always work out that way, but you can attempt a red hot go I guess?

CHLOE: It saves my life, over and over and over.

What’s the best idea you feel you’ve ever had?

JULIAN: Forming a band with Chloe. It’s paid off in so many fun, challenging and satisfying ways. First time I saw Chloe play I knew she had considerable talent. I brought my experience of doing music for about 15 years, and I can be a pushy bastard, for all the good reasons, natch. It’s been weird and tough sometimes, but which band isn’t. It’s been a real privilege to be part of, and step back and witness, our progression.

CHLOE: Gender transition. The idea of myself as a woman. Nothing else comes close.

The Native Cats released Two Creation Myths earlier this year; what’s its significance to you?

JULIAN: I’ve been very happy to release the last two Cats record on mine and Claire’s label, very satisfying to have this control and see hard work pay off. I love the idea of stand-alone singles, entities unto themselves. Inspired by a lot of my favourite artists, maybe not with the times? But fuck it, this is one of the joys of DIY and independent music.

CHLOE: Two Creation Myths in particular stands out to me as a wonderful sequence of one-on-one collaborations I was fortunate enough to take part in: developing the instrumentals with Julian, which I then went away and wrote lyrics for on my own; recording with Ben Simms and being present for the entire mixing process, coming up with ideas on the spot and explaining them as best I could and watching him click and drag and bring each one exquisitely to life; devising and starring in music videos for each track, one in Melbourne with Julia Suddenly and one locally with Izzy Almaz, which is honestly fast becoming one of my favourite creative outlets on earth; and giving Molly Dyson just enough guidance and direction on the artwork for her to deliver something vivid and stunning once again. Those collaborative processes – leading and being led, being surprised and being inspired to even surprise myself – are at the very centre of what brings me joy about living as an artist.

How do you keep yourself inspired?

JULIAN: Watching and learning from friends and peers. Maybe a little envy of someone who’s written a corker tune, can be nice to get that little push. Have many friends who work in other art fields, great to have yarns about where our processes intersect and sharing ideas. The Hobart visual art scene is fkn amazing and inspiring. Funny when I find have more in common with visual artists than other people doing music.

CHLOE: When I need inspiration and I can’t find it, and I’ve made sure I don’t just need something to eat or to catch up on some sleep, I usually find that the problem is dissociation. Losing touch with myself as a unique person with moves and responses nobody else in the same situation would make, or at least not in precisely the same way. Once I’ve found myself in the crowd, once I’m fully aware of being Chloe Alison Escott and not, say, just any old anonymous interchangeable post-punk vocalist – which isn’t to say such a thing even exists! Every artist has their own idiosyncrasies, whether they consciously foreground them or not – that’s when the inspiration starts to flow again.

What is both a positive and negative experience you’ve had related to your band?

JULIAN: Playing the Meredith Music Festival in 2018 was one of the best playing experiences of my life. Normally I dislike festivals and camping, but we had a good crew of friends with us, and Meredith has a good rep for not attracting punishing dickheads. We were treated really well and played one of the best sets of our career. We also really bought our in-between song banter game.

Getting ripped off by promoters has been super rare for us fortunately, but the one time we did was for a gig we wouldn’t normally play, but we’re always up for new experiences. We (meaning I) provided backline for the headline act, which I had to transport via cab. It wasn’t the headliner’s fault, but I think bands should be a bit more aware of what’s going on around them. Anyway, it was a slog of a gig to an unfriendly audience, and then we didn’t get paid. I had to warn a few local acts about working with that promoter again. I was pretty angry.

CHLOE: I’m yet to have any negative experiences in this band that haven’t led to something positive somewhere down the line. Though perhaps that’s just my outlook on life – mistakes to learn from, opportunities for empathy, being knocked off one path and onto an arguably better one, that’s some of the best stuff life is made of. We had someone we’d known for a long time working very closely with us who reacted very badly to my gender transition. He privately messaged me about it, we wrote back and forth a couple of times. At first I thought his questions were from a sincere place and he was trying to understand, but, no, he’d made up his mind that I was misguided and thoughtless and selfish, and his questions were all rhetorical, intended to hurt me. I phoned Julian and told him that I couldn’t work with this person anymore, nervous about how he’d feel or how he might react – I’d only been an out trans woman for a couple of weeks and I already felt like a stereotype, making trouble, complaining, getting offended – but he didn’t hesitate for a second in taking my side and deciding we wouldn’t be working with this person any further. So that negative experience led to Julian showing his dedication as a friend and an ally, our bond grew stronger, and, as a bonus, our records also got a lot better from the lack of this person’s influence. But that’s an extreme example. Sometimes the negative is that someone says they don’t like the drum sound on one record and the positive is I make sure it’s better on the next one.

What are some things that bring you great joy?

JULIAN: My family, especially seeing my nieces and nephew growing up. My friends. Being able to still do interesting things with music after 26 years.

CHLOE: Jon Bois. Joe Pera Talks With You. @i_zzzzzz on Twitter. Destroyer songs. Destroyer interviews. Hunter Harris’s favourite line readings. The Fall covering “Black Night” by Deep Purple in 1982. Public Image Ltd on American Bandstand in 1980. Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall breaking character for seven minutes during the first Bottom live show in 1993. Michael Kupperman. Michael DeForge. Michael Brough. Jason Schwartzman in Listen Up, Philip. Everybody and everything in A Serious Man. Freckle invites two beautiful skateboarders up to their apartment. 

If you could change the world, what would you do?

JULIAN: Greater social mobility. Free education and health. Greater access to the arts for everyone, that doesn’t talk or punch down.

Do you have a philosophy you live your life by?

JULIAN: Live, and let live. It doesn’t always work out like that, but I guess it’s a good start.

Are you a spiritual person?

JULIAN: I don’t know. Music, art and experiences feel profound sometimes, but not always. I understand how spirituality and faith can be a balm for some people. I like to be grounded in something real, but I get the appeal of some intangible something or other. I hate hippies and religious nuts and I detest the idea of someone’s increased “spirituality” being used as some psychic superiority.

CHLOE: If you watch A Serious Man and Uncut Gems back to back you should get a pretty clear picture of where I’m at spiritually right now.

What keeps you going?

JULIAN: Family, friends, music, food, good times.

CHLOE: What keeps me going even in my lowest moods is that I would like to see and take part in as much of this story as I can.

Please check out: THE NATIVE CATS on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram.