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Cait Brennan


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To say Cait Brennan has lived many lives is truly an understatement. She’s been a schoolteacher, a working screenwriter, a dyed-in-the-wool indie record store clerk, a newspaper reporter, a printing plant grunt. She’s changed her name more times than she remembers and has occupied more genders than there are on the map. But one thing, above all, has burned bright at the center of everything: her music.

A singer with a powerful, singular five-octave rock voice, a prolific songwriter, and a multi-instrumentalist who plays every note on her own home recordings, Brennan worked for years in secret, creating gorgeous, otherworldly rock sounds that have never seen the light of day—until now. Discovered and championed by musician and production wunderkind Fernando Perdomo (who’s worked with Linda Perhacs, Emitt Rhodes, Beck, Fiona Apple and Jakob Dylan among many others), Cait Brennan’s debut album is here at last. Debutante will be released worldwide on 22 January 2016.

Songs came pouring out before she was old enough to write her name. Before her fifth birthday, family and teachers recognized her as a musical savant, with an uncanny ability to play any instrument that was handed to her. She was constantly singing, recording her creations into a secondhand tape recorder in her family’s tiny trailer. Those early tapes are all but lost now, but the songs never stopped coming.

But home life wasn’t easy. Her parents never married, and by age six, Brennan was living with her great-grandmother, a seamstress for thoroughbred horse racing. They traveled the country in a station wagon selling jockey silks and horse blankets, and Cait absorbed a huge variety of musical influences, from Bowie-era glam rock to pop one-hit wonders to Bakersfield country, from Tejano and Norteño to the 1920s and 30s jazz and vocal 78s her grandmother treasured. It all fueled her creativity, and the songs kept coming, dutifully scribbled down and tucked away for some distant future world.

From there, things took a turn. Raised as a boy, she rebelled against her assigned gender in her teens, causing a minor uproar in her conservative 80s school. She worked up the nerve to play a few live shows, but rural Arizona was not exactly ready for gender diversity—or her unusual sounds, which were miles away from the hair-metal of the day. Some violence ensued, and she retreated into her own world for too long. But still the songs kept coming, poured into notebooks and onto primitive cassette recordings, passed like secret treasure among a select group of friends and admirers.

And what songs. Cait’s uncanny gift for melody combines with a dark, wry humor that cuts through everything she does. Her lyrics can be merciless, even to herself. Especially to herself. Her love songs are starkly beautiful, but devoid of treacle. She approaches each moment, each imperfect character with unflinching honesty, with a lyrical, poetic flow and a microscopic attention to detail. And sneaky, dense jokes and references to culture both high and low.

Survival came first, and she embarked on a series of mini-careers in education, in music retail, in film. Her film writing earned her several prestigious fellowships and produced films (2012’s comedy Love Or Whatever, 2014’s acclaimed short Policy Of Truth), but in Hollywood she was as much an outsider among the shiny and artificially plumped as she had been in the redneck backwater where she’d grown up. With the tragic early death of her father, the renowned session and touring guitarist Ron Dobbins, for the first time she began to reassess her longtime musical secrecy.

In 2011, inspired by the fiery reunion show of one of her favorite local bands, she decided it was time. New computers and software enabled her to finally create her own demos of the huge, multitracked glam-rock thunder and apocalypse vaudeville she’d always heard in her head. She’s never been your basic folkie singer-songwriter; she’s always been more Bowie or St Vincent than Bon Iver.

A few open mics and some marathon live-band karaoke sessions with childhood friends helped spark her passion for live performance. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me interviewed her on Grace’s show “True Trans”. Neil Gaiman discovered her cover of David Bowie’s “Five Years” and proclaimed it ‘glorious’. David Bash, the power pop impresario behind the long running, multi-city International Pop Overthrow festival, championed her cause and booked her in Phoenix and Los Angeles. And in Los Angeles, she met a young indie pop wunderkind named Fernando Perdomo. They shared a bill, and became mutual fans—and fast friends.

Perdomo immediately recognized the need to record Cait Brennan’s music and get it out to the world. Brennan had long dismissed recording a “real” album as something that was out of her reach, financially and otherwise. But Perdomo’s persistence is the stuff of legend: with Chris Price, he helped bring Laurel Canyon psych-folk legend Linda Perhacs back to music after four decades, and had a hand in helping the titanic Emitt Rhodes breathe life back into his music after an equally long hiatus. Brennan was a different story—essentially a brand new discovery with an unrecorded catalog hundreds of songs deep—but the passion was the same.

Brennan cashed out her life savings to fund the studio time, rolling up hundreds of dollars in loose change—nickels and dimes dating back to the 1970s—a sweet and strange financial legacy left to her by her grandmother. The bank clerk who had to cash in all those quarters may never forgive her, but it was enough to get her to Los Angeles and to Perdomo’s boutique studio in sunny Reseda.

What followed was a whirlwind. In the sweltering July heat, Brennan and Perdomo ripped twelve of her best songs from her extensive songbook and recorded them in just five inspired, manic days and nights—in a week when both were playing multiple shows in the LA area. A thirteenth song was spontaneously written and recorded during the mixing process. Brennan sang every vocal, from the darkest-night depths of “Black Diamond” to the stacked, soaring high harmonies of “Madame Pompadour” and “Father McKenzie”. The duo split production and instrumental duties, with Perdomo taking the lead and playing what Brennan calls “the badass virtuoso stuff”, like the Brian May-tribute guitar solo on “Harmony Lies” and the titanic four-horseman drumming of “Black Diamond”.

With the record in hand, there was one small problem: Brennan had spent every penny she had—and then some—just covering the recording. There was little left to work with, let alone to press vinyl, make CDs, do a proper digital release.

When Brennan posted her project on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, she had what she calls “my George Bailey moment.” The downtrodden yet eternally upbeat hero of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ almost lost it all, until he was suddenly saved by all the family, friends and strangers he’d ever helped over the years, and so it was with Cait. Laura Jane Grace, Neil Gaiman, actor James Urbaniak and the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle all posted online support. Friends, family, and total strangers came out in huge numbers to help, funding her entire goal in less than 69 hours; all told, over $7500 was raised to bring Debutante to the world.

With her debut finished, Brennan is already recording the followup, to be titled “Jinx” as a cheeky nod to the “sophomore slump” that often bedevils new artists on their second record. But with a hundreds-deep song catalog and writing on average one new song every single day, there’s little risk of any slowdown. Jinx will be recorded in part at the legendary Emitt Rhodes’ home studio in Hawthorne, California—birthplace of the Beach Boys—with Brennan, Perdomo and Chris Price collaborating. Few artists have ever been allowed such a rare privilege. “It’s like a trip inside Wonka’s factory,” Cait says, laughing. And that’s just the beginning of the surprises.

"For someone who has been working in solitude creatively for so many years, to suddenly open the door and find so many people there to lift me up — it's very emotional,” Cait told the Phoenix New Times. “I literally gave everything I had to make it happen, and my friends and family and a ton of people who don't know me at all also gave big. So it's my job now to live up to that leap of faith.”

”In all those dark times, when I felt most lost and alone, music was what got me through. Big Star's Third, Hüsker Dü's Warehouse, Nick Drake, the Undertones, Bert Jansch. That music kept me alive. Kept me from giving up. I like to hope that maybe the songs I've made might mean that much to somebody else someday. That it might help somebody else to get through, when they're in that place. In those moments when you feel most alone, sometimes music can save your life. It saved mine."

She might be the most unlikely, and most reluctant, rock star in history. But the secret is finally out.

———

“Cait Brennan is a singer songwriter with a unique brand of glitter glam soulful rock n’ roll sung straight from the heart. Plus, you gotta love anyone who can channel Roy Orbison, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, and Etta James in the space of a single set!”
— David Bash, International Pop Overthrow festival

“Cait Brennan has created a singular work of pop music and I urge you to support it. Harkening to the days when pop music albums were created to get lost in, with lush harmonies and intricate multi-layered arrangements, Debutante has its roots in English pop, roughly the decade between "Penny Lane" and "This Year's Model," taking in "Diamond Dogs" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and stuffing in healthy chunks of Aztec Camera as well, with lyrics that are simultaneously deeply personal and broadly universal. The fact that it was recorded in the space of time usually set aside for fine-tuning a snare-drum sound makes her achievement all the more remarkable." — Todd Alcott, screenwriter “(Debutante) may become a life-changing experience for someone out there…Cait Brennan is someone who deserves to be brought to the forefront with this album. I've heard it, I've lived in it, I've loved it. It fits.”
-Marc Nathan, veteran A&R executive

“Her story is an example of why we should be thankful for who we are, what we have, and most importantly, what we have to share with others…one of the amazing things about human beings is their ability to thrive in the face of just about anything… despite being thrown the most difficult curveballs life has to offer, some individuals manage to create beauty, save lives, or raise the bar for the rest of us. Cait Brennan is one of those people.”
— Tom Reardon, Phoenix New Times.

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Phoenix New Times December 2015 (link)

unicornbooty.com December 2015 (link)