An Interview with Elizabeth McCullough AKA Alpha Cat

0 0
Read Time:19 Minute, 24 Second

“I must admit that doing these written interviews makes me a bit uncomfortable. I am much more in my element in conversation; in dialogue. I have follow-up questions to your questions, as you might have had to my answers. But of course, working within limitations is perhaps the biggest challenge required by any creative expression, so I will of course try to rise to it and do the best I can…”

Elizabeth McCullough AKA Alpha Cat gave me the option to print her opening lines which prefaced her interview or not, and up until now, I wasn’t sure if I would or not, but in the end, I believe in keeping these truly honest and as the artist said them. No, I don’t do this to make myself look good, or cool; I am doing this for the love of music first and foremost, and so as it happened…as it appeared to me, is as it will appear to you. Does that make me a fool? I don’t know. What I do know, is the music of Alpha Cat is honest and real, and it is being given a second life after many trials and tribulations, all of which you will read about below. As it turns out, this is one of my favorite interviews that I’ve done. The back and forth between Elizabeth and myself after she completed the questions, which led to additions to her answers was fun, enlightening and made this one feel very collaborative in a way. Elizabeth’s story as a musician and in life is interesting and I hope you enjoy getting to know her a bit better. She’s releasing her classic (to me at least) album Pearl Harbor as an updated version called pearl harbor 2020. The story of this album is also very interesting and it is outlined below as well. In the meantime, head over to Alpha Cat’s website here, and check it out. After that, dig into this interview. Cheers.

Andrew:
Elizabeth, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever-raging dumpster fire?

Elizabeth:
Well I think this year has been all about the transformation of our entire planet, a recognition of the need to transition from the old ways that no longer serve us, to the new. How it’s worked in my life has been twofold: First: Working unbelievably hard to get this record out, which was and still involves, working with Brett Thorngren on the new masters, creating the artwork to get it to the manufacturers, writing all the pitches, getting all the promotion in place, starting my label (Aquamarine Records) signing my first artist, working with my next artist, collaborating on videos, and of course, researching and writing all my social media posts!

The second and probably more difficult aspect of this year has been my having to transform my OWN life, figuring out what I really want, and what I don’t want anymore, and what image of myself I want to project out into the world. Deep diving into my music forced a deep dive into my past, which was, to put it mildly, traumatic. So going back to these songs, I found whole new meanings and messages, which has enabled me to process feelings that I wasn’t even conscious of at the time I wrote them! An often painful process, but ultimately worth it, you know, for the healing…

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Elizabeth:
Well, I was born in Detroit, so Motown, before my family moved to Florida when I was about one and a half years old, but it must have seeped into my psyche somehow? So my first memories of music were my mothers’ playing Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits, seemingly on an endless loop. And then when I was old enough to start washing the dishes, as I loaded the dishwasher, I would listen to the weekly top 10 on the radio  with which I was OBSESSED. And there were certain songs that when they hit the top spot, I would literally jump up and down screaming and cheering! Thus my enduring love for pop music. And 80’s and 90’s music, and MTV, were a revelation to me!

Andrew:
As a musician, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did you develop your signature style?

Elizabeth:
Well this is a two parter! I already mentioned my earliest influences, so Motown was a BIG thing for me, in addition to Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson (“Tears of A Clown” come on!) and of course Aretha. Then it was a combo of Led Zeppelin, Prince, Tom Petty, CSNY, (but especially Neil Young) Joni Mitchell of course, and then the Cure (Robert Smith, yes!) Nirvana, meaning largely Kurt Cobain, Beck, Counting Crows, and Soundgarden, again referring mainly to Chris Cornell’s writing. My song “Black Hole” was a conscious attempt on my part to write in the style of Beck, with strings of metaphors which seem at first nonsensical, but when you look more closely, ALL MEAN SOMETHING! And are all a reflection of what’s going on in your life, and I believe, in your soul…

As for my “signature” style, well, that came from a much more diverse set of influences than simply music. As my mom was playing Motown, my dad was playing old comedy records, meaning Bob Newhart records. I discovered SNL and Monty Python. There was also a family tradition of reading ALL the works of Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse, so mainstream mystery and light comedic writing, but both of them wrote simply and elegantly. To the point. And when old enough I found that my favorite writers were John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. From all this sprang my love of concise wording and comedic and mysterious language. I also started writing A LOT, stream of conscious style, and filled pages and pages of huge British thin lined notebooks. This started out as just words and sentences, but they eventually began to form into lyrical passages. Some of my lyrics are straight from those notebooks!

And though in the end I was never on track to be a famous photographer, through my photos, I realized that the things that I was capturing in those images were symbolic! And that is how I came to believe that life is a metaphor for what is really going on inside and outside of us. For those who choose to pay attention, that is. So my “style” is a combination of my love for precise language married with my openness to receiving the messages.

Andrew:
My understanding is that in February, you’re releasing an expanded edition of your 2001 album Pearl Harbor. What led to the reissue? Tell us more about the release. Where can we get it, and what formats will it be on?

Elizabeth:
Simple answers first. The official release date is 2/17/21, but it is available now from the alphacat.band website as a discounted pre-order until Feb 16. After that, digital downloads and streaming will be available everywhere. All the usual suspects, and some I guarantee you’ve never heard of, since I haven’t! Physical CDs, which contain all the original artwork, (except the updated cover image) will be available from the website and CdBaby. And of course, I’m sure pirated editions will be online for those who want to buy the record without the artist getting any of the money! Digital downloads from the Alpha Cat site will also include all the lyrics.

As for the original Pearl Harbor LP, aside from the fact that there was an exploded bomb from WWII on the cover and its unfortunate title, there was something few even realized at the time of its long planned release in October 2001; that it contained sound effects of a glass building falling down. After 9/11, this was all simply too much for radio to even acknowledge the record, let alone play it. And this despite the fact that the theme was actually perfect – a journey through darkness back to light; but people couldn’t get past the cover, and so after all that work, by everyone involved, it essentially fell to the scrap heap of history. 

So back in 2019, as I was preparing to launch Thatched Roof Glass House, I listened to it again when on vacation that August, and decided it deserved another chance; that I was going to re-release it. This with of course no inkling of the coming pandemic and the nightmare which 2020 would become. And another thing; my motivations had shifted 180°, because in 2001, I wanted to be famous, and now I realize that that isn’t what I want at all, and that it was never about me. And something curious happened: because I knew that I was going to put out Pearl Harbor again, I did virtually no promotion for it, but as I watched the stats play out for TRGH, I began to notice that in spite of having had virtually no promotion, Pearl Harbor was getting more streams globally than my other two records combined.

Andrew:
In 2019, you released Thatched Roof Glass House. I really enjoyed this album. It was your first in over a decade, right? Why the long gap between records?

Elizabeth:
Well, it’s pretty well documented that I was making a record in LA in 2007, and had a breakdown that took me all the way out, literally until early 2019. I started losing my voice during the recording process, and eventually when trying to sing the vocals for a track called “Wichita” I simply couldn’t get a take. So I gave up, and climbed into a cocoon for 12 years to heal. And believe me, when I was in it, it did not feel like healing, I just wanted to be dead, and if I couldn’t be dead, the next best was to be unconscious. So, I literally slept for most of those years, with the occasional foray into the outside world. Now from the other side of it, I see that each time I left my bed I was planting a seed; the most significant being that I took an intensive ProTools course, and that led me to Brett Thorngren. And lo and behold, when I finally came out of it, he was there: ready, waiting and eager to work with me. I thank the universe for him every day!

Andrew:
More on Thatched Roof Glass House. Tell us about the recording process. Lyrically, what was your inspiration?

Elizabeth:
TRGH was recorded in a small studio in Reseda, CA called Bright Orange Studios. I had gone out to LA specifically to work with Jason Smith, with whom I had done a lot of gigging in LA, who was a great supporter and believer in my work, and a consummate musician. He is one of the best drummers alive. Period. He hooked me up with Doug Pettibone and Reggie McBride. The actual working and hanging out with these people was actually a joy! Doug showed up with a literal truckload of guitars, and I’m pretty sure he used every single one. Jason was so committed, that for the song “Wichita” (his favorite) he brought the biggest kick drum I’ve ever seen, because he felt that this quiet little song needed a very specific sound. And Reggie didn’t talk much; I’m not sure why. Jason told me he had worked with Elton John, and it was only recently that I discovered he had also worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Parliament Funkadelic, among countless other greats. Needless to say he nailed every song. And what needs to be said is that when I decided I wanted “Mona Lisa in A Comic Book” to have a Motown sound – well, who could’ve been better? I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him better. Maybe in the future?

Andrew:
As a songwriter, you often touch on some interesting subject matter. I know often times songwriter’s lyrics can be deeply personal, and other times they’re merely telling stories. Which is it for you?

Elizabeth:
This will be a short answer. Both. Mostly real life, and a couple of imagined stories that turned into real life later. Imagine that?!

Andrew:
Your work has evolved so much over the years, but your delivery and style still shines through. What would you say the through line is which overarches your work?

Elizabeth:
I am committed to the message I’m trying to convey. And it has to be true. I’m not the best singer for sure, but the phrasing and delivery of my lyrics is tantamount to me.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of the music industry a bit. What are a few things you would like to see change for the betterment of both the fans and artists alike?

Elizabeth:
I think they’ve already changed. Of course there’s a ways to go, but let’s face it; we are now a global community. The age of Aquarius, baby! We are connected by technology. What needs to be ironed out is a process that some artists have already begun, getting their music to as many ears as possible, and their concerts to as many eyes and ears as possible. Now that most everyone knows Zoom, it is possible for concerts to be performed for a global audience all at once, so ticket prices can be much less, artists can conceivably make more money, and everybody wins. I personally NEVER liked huge concerts, and besides the tickets being outrageous, unless you spent thousands on your ticket, you are essentially watching the concert from a Jumbotron anyway! Why not just watch from home? I spent a wonderful evening this summer streaming a live (clearly old) Tom Petty concert, while seated comfortably under the stars. What could be better than that? Small clubs, my favorites, are at the moment nonexistent.

Andrew:
Are you only into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?

Elizabeth:
I have pretty much everything. I still like to buy CDs, because as I am also a visual artist, I am interested in the artwork. If they include lyrics, all the better. And I try to buy direct from the artists when possible, and if not, from the smallest shops I can. Anywhere but Amazon, except as a last resort. No more money for Bezos! What the hell good is he doing with it anyway? There’s a wonderful irony that he is now only the 2nd richest man in the world! Of course Elon Musk brings his own issues, but at least his vision extends beyond simply making money.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why
?

Elizabeth:
Obviously, Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits. The Cars: The Cars. Prince: Purple Rain. Joni Mitchell: Turbulent Indigo, and of course Court and Spark. The Cure: Boys Don’t Cry and Wild Mood Swings. The Police: Synchonicity. (Again, obviously) Nirvana: Nevermind. Soundgarden: Superunknown. Beck: Mutations. Counting Crows: Recovering the Satellites.  (This might be getting ridiculous at this point!). These are but a few. But I have a special place in my heart for Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, especially with the recent rerelease and the “new” tracks which seem to me to be messages from beyond the grave, at the precise time when we need them.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you?

Elizabeth:
Dionne Warwick. Smokey Robinson. Marvin Gaye. Aretha. Beatles, Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty, CSNY. Neil Young. Joni Mitchell. Beck. Kurt Cobain. Nada Surf. Of course this is a partial list. Newer artists I love are the late Juice Wrld, Halsey, MGK, Sia, Adele, and of course the Biebs. Love me some Justin Bieber. Pretty much anything by or with Rihanna. And I actually really like Post Malone. (Hint: If they’re really popular and I didn’t mention them, there’s a good chance I’m not that impressed…). And when I first heard Billie Eilish, after she had blown up on Soundcloud, but before the rest of the world had heard of her, what listening to her said to me was: “NOW you can put out a record!”

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Elizabeth:
My friends and collaborators. I try to prioritize them. I’ve had to let a lot of people go from my life in the last few years, as I began to realize that they weren’t, had never, treated me the way that I deserved to be. The magic of that is that for every toxic person I remove from my life, a new supportive and loving person comes in! As for collaborators, they either start as friends, or they become friends. At least that is the way it has worked out so far, and the way I like it! I have also started giving a lot to charities, plural, because there are so many that I make monthly smallish donations to at this point that I simply can’t keep track of them. When my credit card number was stolen last month it was a bigger problem because of this, thanks to some yahoo in Georgia who spent $12k with my card – going to Six Flags, eating at Texas Roadhouse, well you get the picture…(Also things I would never do!).

Watching movies is a big one. When I was in the city I had an AMC Stubs membership, which allowed me to go to THREE MOVIES A WEEK for $24 a month! Boy, did I use that! I could leave a movie if I was tired and come back to watch the rest another day, or see movies multiple times if I wanted. When Prince, (my beloved!) died, I saw “Purple Rain” every single day for the week it was playing in tribute! You could go to Imax, Dolby, (a revelation!) any movie at all. When that stopped, and after the Black Lives Matter protests died down, which gave me great hope, and there was no theatre either, it was like, “Why am I still here?”

Astrology. I actually used to write columns, back in the day, and still do readings for people. One of the gifts of the pandemic is that I had the opportunity to study under a MASTER, Steven Forrest, whose seminars always immediately sold out, so I could never get a ticket! Post-pandemic: got to attend an amazing three day event, which made me an exponentially better astrologer! The I Ching was my first foray into spiritual guidance; before a friend did a reading for me I was a total non-believer, but boy did that reading convince me! And also tarot. I have a select group of astrology and tarot YouTube readers that I try to watch every day. Books: during the pandemic I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs, of musicians and comics mostly; currently John Cleese. When my father died I started reading what my mother and I would call the “trash” magazines, because I had to sit in their house in Tennessee for a week waiting for his funeral, and didn’t really drink, so that was my escape. Then it became my main job in life to buy them for my mother and send them to her, after reading them first of course! Even after she died in March, that has persisted, both as a brain treat to go to sleep with, and I’ve also realized that it helps me to see what people are thinking about, and it informs my social media posts, as well as keeping me up to date on new books, music, TV and films. I primarily get my news from either Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert, both of whom I adore, and Seth Meyers, John Oliver and TMZ. I also love Jimmy Kimmel, but my DVR will only allow me to record two shows at once, so I had to make a hard choice! He got such a raw deal over that old blackface fiasco, since the monologue he did after George Floyd was murdered I felt explained white privilege better than I have heard ANY white person I have yet to hear or see.

And last but really first, my cats Pedro and Fiona. Cats get such a bad rap; ALL my cats have been incredibly loving and present for me. Pedro, through my 12 years of wanting to be dead, in a significant way kept me going, kind of like Ricky Gervais’ character in “After Life.” He wants to kill himself, but then he realizes he has to feed the dog! Pedro is now about to be 14, and yes, I’m gonna say it: he is the light of my life. And when Fiona came into the picture, the two year old black cat that did not take to me for a long while, well, she was going to be euthanized because she was a) black (see a pattern?) and b) old. At two! So I couldn’t have that, and brought her home with me. And now that we’ve moved to the country she has really come out of her shell. She hangs out with me, always purring, as she sits in either my lap or on the back of my chair, keeping me company as I work on the computer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I will NEVER  trademark my animals! They are not money-makers, they are SOULS.

All of the above informs my music! My first single off Pearl Harbor 2020, “Cling” is a direct rip from the I Ching!

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve maintained a strong DIY approach throughout your career, which is awesome. That said, what advice would you have for young artists just starting out? How do bands stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Elizabeth:
Honestly, I don’t have time to answer this sufficiently. Suffice it to say that there are some great resources online now, which make it possible to get your music to the world without getting screwed by a major label. CdBaby is great. Reverbnation has tons of opportunities constantly. And as far as foreign promotional websites, I recommend three, and these tried and tested: ipluggers, Airplay Buzz, and Musosoup, which is strictly British but I’ve made some great connections, gotten interviews and even made friends from that site. Avoid Tunecore at all costs, they are crooks! Truth!

Interested in diving deeper into the work of Alpha Cat? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

Social profiles
%d bloggers like this: