Monday, November 29, 2010

BRITISH INVASION: The Transitional Era (2003)

SONG - Election Day

Freshman year of high school, Paul befriended faux-British rapscallion, Jay Swanson. Paul duped Jay into thinking that he was a Canadian and, due to their shared fake connection to Her Royal Highness, they bonded. Coincidentally, Mason and Jay were also previously acquainted through their church’s youth breakfasts, watching The Truman Show and breakfast burrito eating contests.

At the time, Catscan was auditioning many talented young drummers in search of a fourth human member. None made any meaningful connection with Mason, Paul, or Jeff. It became apparent that personal chemistry was more important than technical ability during the auditions.

Jay, who also worked with Mason on the Hawk Talk staff and dabbled in roguish shenanigans with Paul in the Ratskulls, heard about the tryouts and mentioned that he owned an old drum set. Although he didn't know how to play, and had no musical background whatsoever, Jay pulled the dusty set out of his attic and practiced for a formal audition. Though significantly worse, technically, than many of the other drummers, Jay's enthusiasm and like-minded worldview won him the spot in Catscan. He vowed to hone his skills and study music theory in order to become a more competent and contributing band member.

Jay, Jeff, Mason, and Paul only recorded one CD together, The Candidates, a politically-charged rock album, inaccurately quoted in the Hawk Talk as "for your brain, because it's real". However, during these sessions, the four members were only in the same room together once. Jeff's long distance relationship was not working, and the others eventually came to the sad conclusion that it would be best to become a power trio. Jeff was forced into retirement shortly after the release of The Candidates. E.D. was also phased out around the same time.

As Jay's drumming prowess grew, so did Catscan's concentration. Rather than simply writing and recording, the focus shifted to rehearsal for another gig… opening for a loud Floridian band at the biggest venue in town.

Friday, November 26, 2010

BOOYA: THE JEFF SMITH ERA (2002 to 2003)

SONG - On Line


Red disbanded in early 2002. However, its two members, Jeff Smith and Eric Randall, remained musically active with Catscan, though they were not granted official membership. As the collaborations grew more and more frequent, it seemed as if the quartet was destined to eventually merge into one supergroup. But Paul and Mason feared that with added egos, certain issues regarding the band's name and artistic direction would come into play. Their vision for the band up to this point had been very singular, which made Catscan somewhat xenophobic when it came to such matters. Despite their trepidation, they weren't so stubborn as to waste the unique chemistry they shared with their former "nemeses".

Mason, Paul, Eric, and Jeff often rehearsed, and recorded, as a traditional rock band- two guitars, bass, and live drum set. Several songs with this lineup were written and recorded for an internet community dedicated to their favorite Super Nintendo RPG, Earthbound. Several recordings with Eric’s drumming wound up on Catscan's albums MetalHead and Mechanical Advantage.

This intense period of collaboration came to a climax when the quartet found an opportunity in socialite playboy Sean Kenny, who was planning to have a big house party. He asked Catscan to headline this event, who in turn asked Eric and Jeff to help them put on their biggest show ever. The band practiced feverishly for this event, having learned that an ill-prepared show can never be a success. All of their practicing was made moot, however, when Eric announced his decision to not participate in the show mere days before the event. This forced Mason, Paul, and Jeff to do a complete overhaul of the show with an alternate percussionist. If it weren't for E.D., they would have been forced to cancel it entirely.

Although the performance itself was modest at best, the overall experience proved to Paul and Mason that Jeff would make a great addition to Catscan. He possessed the perfect balance of talent, personality, and reliability, allowing him to fit perfectly into band's core artistic vision. Additionally, Jeff was left-handed, which made the band more symmetrical. Mason and Paul asked Jeff to write a song as initiation, solidifying his membership, which was featured on the next album. Now a four-piece, like The Beatles or The Ninja Turtles, Catscan felt more like a real band than ever. Mason on keyboard, Paul on bass, Jeff on guitar, and E.D. on drums.

Starting their freshman year at James Madison High School was sort of a rebirth for the group, allowing them a clean slate and a fresh start, which, in part, inspired their self-titled 2002 album, Catscan!. Sadly, Jeff’s relocation to Manassas that summer decreased his availability, and involvement, somewhat. However, he remained an important member and joined the band on-stage for a Battle of the Bands in 2003. Although Catscan did not win first place, their performance stood out among the other more generic garage bands who participated. They played to their widest audience ever and were featured prominently in the school newspaper's coverage of the event. The Hawk Talk also started a new tradition of misquoting and misrepresenting the group.

Although they didn't know it, this would be Catscan’s very last performance with Jeff.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Frustrated with lackluster performances and overall poor reception, the band considered the advice of their peers- Catscan needed to get a drummer. They were determined to be taken seriously and knew they had to dispel their image as "that little band" by adding another player to the ensemble. Reluctant to conform, they found a way to both satisfy the standard set by 90's rock bands and maintain their artistic integrity by recruiting non-thinking and non-human percussionist Electronic Device, henceforth referred to as E.D., a Yamaha keyboard with pre-set drum loops and license-free auto accompaniment. E.D. provided a steady and reliable foundation for the band's music during this period.

The trio began work on their first compact disc that summer. At the same time, their ex-band mate, Eric Randall, alongside left-handed euphoniumist, Jeff Smith, founded their own rock band, Red. Although they were rivals on occasion, Catscan and Red also worked in tandem. Following the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, the two bands came together on September 12th to record two compositions in an act of patriotic resilience: Ramen and Cup o' Noodles and Kickball. The songs were featured on both of the band's first CDs, Catscan's Cats I've Known and Red's self-titled debut album.

Sadly, the band continued to struggle when it came to live performance during this era. Many of the studio techniques simply proved too complex to be replicated live. An ambitious undertaking, the infamous Thoreau Middle School Generator Breakfast taught Catscan many valuable lessons, including Murphy's law. Faulty sound equipment, squeally microphones, shoddy instruments, and unprepared guest musicians attributed to Catscan's biggest on-stage train wreck of all time. Paul felt the effects of PTSD and crippling stage fright while Mason vowed to learn from their mistakes and move forward. E.D. seemed the least phased by the debacle.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mason and Paul began playing open mic night at a local coffee shop, Jammin' Java. These performances, unlike the nightmarish and Hindenburg-esque disaster that was the Generator Breakfast, found Catscan stripped down to their most basic, all-acoustic elements-- guitar, euphonium, and singing. By eliminating most elements that could go wrong in a performance, little did. These minor victories gave the band some much needed confidence. Catscan began preparing for another larger-scale rock show, with Eric Randall and Jeff Smith, as a four piece collaboration. The Little Band era was coming to a close.

Friday, November 19, 2010



It was the new millennium, and like their country, which was changing around them, it was a new beginning for Paul and Mason. That summer, the duo made the decision to change their name to Catscan, because Earwacks was a pretty stupid, awful name. The band still found it difficult to produce anything, however, given the fact that they had no means of recording.

Finally, in October of that same year, with one drum and a small keyboard, the band wrote and performed their first song at the town community center near the bike path, in hopes that passersby might hear their music. Next, they went to Paul's grandma's house and recorded the song along with others they had written in shop class on an old dual cassette deck they found in her basement. This first recording, My Bad, the title itself an apology for the lack of quality both sonically and technically, marks Catscan's very first album. The first copy ever was sold for a half-pack of gum to one of their peers in that very same shop class at Henry David Thoreau Middle School.

For their next album, which was also written and recorded in a single day, Catscan recruited Mason's close friend, Eric Randall, to play guitar and sing back-up. Eric also worked closely with Mason in writing and recording The Joy of the Guitar, which celebrated Catscan's first rock instrument. Paul was mysteriously absent from this session. Catscanime and its follow-up, Nebulicious, were never released for reasons unknown today. Eric unfortunately left the band due to "creative differences" after the Nebulicious session.

Once again a duo, Catscan continued to release marginally higher quality cassette tapes which they sold for actual money; three dollars each.

The Rocket Party, an end-of-the-school-year celebration, was the first of many blunderous, ill-received public performances by the band during their early years. This was due in part to their shoddy equipment and audiences filled with disruptive and unforgiving pre-teens who literally sabotaged the band mid-performance. It seemed that the Gods, like their peers, were against them. Another gig opportunity came when Paul's sister invited them to perform at her high school graduation pool party. This second live outing was better received, perhaps due to the slightly more forgiving and mostly non-disruptive older audience, who were likely pre-occupied with water noodles.

Catscan found guidance in two mentors, Jon Carroll and Richard Sanger. Carroll, an old family friend, donated old recording equipment as well as sage advice which vastly improved the band's sound. Sanger, Paul and Mason's middle school band director, taught them music theory and the importance of discipline in performance. Without a doubt, they were the two most influential adults on the impressionable boys, aside from Mason's supportive parents who gave up their basement for the cause.

The band's sound was maturing exponentially. Each release was better than the last in songwriting, production, and performance. By the time their last cassette, C:/Robo-Stick, was released, Catscan felt it had developed far enough to abandon the already outdated medium of the cassette tape, and move onto compact discs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010



Mason Daniel Shelby. Raised in historic Vienna, Virginia, he was one of two twin boys born to David Arthur Shelby and his wife Allison Larie in October of '87. Always a curious child, his initial interest in insects ironically developed into a paralyzing phobia. Mason loved to draw and longed to one day be a cartoonist. At an early age, young Mason worked as an understudy beneath some of Vienna's foremost pianists. Though it ‘twas trying at times, the experience planted a musical seed which began to grow and grow.

Paul Nicholas Tsiaperas. The son of a draperymund, John Keith Tsiaperas, and poet, Denise Devries, little Paul was the youngest of three. Though he had a penchant for causing trouble in the classroom, he was a moderately bright boy who used his right brain more often than his left. Against his will, Paul was enrolled in the school wind instrument corps and studied euphonium, the tuba's unpopular cousin. He liked orca whales and dreamt of becoming a marine biologist. These interests would one day inspire some of his magnum opuses.

Paul and Mason met in Mrs. Simpson's kindergarten class at Cunningham Park Elementary School but only became close friends in the third grade when the two collaborated on a rain forest themed science poster. This was the tiny spark which started the fire of comradery and a friendship which would last a lifetime. The two proceeded to work on an extracurricular project, The Book, which was a collection of short stories and poems by some of the more creative students in their class. There were several volumes of The Book, all which, unfortunately, have been lost in time. However, the spirit and verve with which the boys wrote and illustrated The Books was just a glimpse of their future glory.

In the sixth grade, during an otherwise uneventful lunch hour, Paul nonchalantly proposed an idea which started simply as a means to woo their female classmates.

"My friend Mason, Dude, we should start a band. Your faithful friend, P. N. Tsiaperas, Esquire"

Mason liked Paul's suggestion, and though the two possessed no instruments and little knowledge of songwriting, they began composing simple melodies and lyrics under the moniker Earwacks. Their debut album and hit single was to be named Q-Tip. Other titles included Fast Food, You Tore My Heart Out, and Scooters. Although no songs were ever recorded and no documents from that period remain, this was truly the pre-cursor to Catscan.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Bad 2010: Ten Years of Catscan


Tune in to the Internet Mondays and Fridays for your bi-weekly installments as narrated by Arthur "Big Daddy" Shelby, featuring new recordings of ancient songs and other rare artifacts from each era.

Episode 1 - EARWACKS: The Pre-Catscanbrian Era
Episode 2 - MAD BAD: The Cassette Tape Era
Episode 3 - ARMS RACE: The Little Band Era
Episode 4 - BOOYA: The Jeff Smith Era
Episode 5 - BRITISH INVASION: The Transitional Era
Episode 6 - MANIFEST DESTINY: The Powerhouse Era
Episode 7 - SEPARATION: The Absentee Era
Episode 8 - THE FUTURE: The Unknown Era

ABCDE! A Big Catscan Decennial Extravaganza on December 18th