Friday, December 10, 2010

SEPARATION: The Absentee Era (2006 to 2010)

SONG - Every/Sum Body

The post-Powerhouse momentum ceased abruptly when the boys went their separate ways at the end of the summer of 2006. Mason left James Madison High School to study at James Madison University. Jay left the country to grow a beard and ride dirt bikes in Paraguay. And Paul was kicked out of his parents' house and forced to live with Russians in a Falls Church slum called MIR II.

Tasked with planning their annual holiday performance drummerless, Paul and Mason had to reconsider their live show on account of Jay's subequatorial sabbatical. Mason, who had been experimenting with Garageband, sequenced backing drum parts for that show. The performance itself also featured a computer-voiced narrator, FDR-esque fireside chat props, and was presented more like a television holiday special than a traditional rock show. Though unpolished, awkward, and poorly received, the show found the Catscan exploring new concepts and taking bigger risks than they had in years.

This step outside the comfort zone paid off when they polished the concept through the Future EP and subsequent "Future Shows" in 2007. Catscan recorded a concept EP of songs written about the year 3000, produced digitally with almost no live instrumentation. It was released on their website for free download and sold physically at the release show. For this performance, and subsequent Future Shows, they re-re-recruited Eric Randall, who had since become interested in electronic dance music. Randall's DJing, along with hip outfits and lighting, brought more of a club feel to these shows. Having pre-recorded backing music forced the band to do more to keep the crowd entertained, including choreographed dance moves, intricate futuristic costumes, and elaborate props.

With Jay's return in the summer of 2007, Catscan began work on a new project. They planned to release a soundtrack album to a zombie movie which they were also writing, both based loosely on The Beatles' Help!. It would be called Kelp!.

As their next Christmas show approached, Mason and Paul found themselves Jayless once again. Though they were content with the experiment that was the Future Shows, Catscan decided to take another big risk by doing the exact opposite. Instead of scaling down to a two-man all electric show, they brought on an additional seven musicians to do an entirely acoustic performance. Four euphoniums, three singers, two guitarists, one percussionist, and an ape played to a surprisingly large audience.

Meanwhile, progress on the Kelp! project slowed to a crawl. Although many songs were written as well as an entire storyboard and part of a script, the project ultimately grew too large in scope for Catscan to handle, and was re-imagined as a half-documentary, half-horror comedy in the style of another Beatles' movie, Let It Be. The title, Get It Free, would also coincide with the launch of their new website which would offer their entire discography online for free. Though Catscan filmed hours of mostly boring footage for the movie, this project too was ultimately scrapped.

The band reconvened briefly in 2009 to record a radio special for WVCW, VCU's college radio station in Richmond. This recording never aired. However, DJ Gonzi and cohorts did play a few Catscan songs and, in keeping with tradition, perpetuated the promotion of misinformation about the band and its members.

At the end of the summer of 2009, Mason&Paul finished up a collaborative transatlantic EP with Richy&Georgie called The War in Arach. The songs were built from samples traded back and forth across the pond, and had a completely different feel than the Future EP and any previous Catscan album due to the bizarre contributions of their british counterparts.

Catscan played one final show as a trio in December of 2009 for the Catscan Solutions, Inc. Mandatory Holiday-Themed Office Party which featured a few new songs and an auto-tuned Christmas karaoke session.

In 2010, there were no shows and no new recordings released. Mason and Paul spent most of the year organizing and archiving all of their work to date: their long history as a band, their extensive discography, their many live performances, their greatest accomplishments, as well as their massive failures. Catscan sat down and chronicled all of it into the very words you are reading. The Absentee Era ends with this sentence. This one, not that last one.

Monday, December 6, 2010

MANIFEST DESTINY: The Powerhouse Era (2003 to 2006)

SONG - Reagan's Ghost

Catscan played a showcase with "5 mad punk bands" at nationally renowned Jammin' Java, a snooty proto-hipster coffee shop, on October 9th, 2003. This opportunity came through mentor Jon Carroll, who joined Catscan on stage for a live rendition of Carroll's Living in an Insane Asylum. This performance also featured David Shelby who had co-written the song with Jon years before. The headlining act, Further From, shared their drum set and guitar with Catscan- who's own equipment broke just before and during their performance. The band thanked their gracious hosts by informing the audience that the show was over and to "go home" just before the headlining act took the stage. Due to this faux-pas, Catscan never heard from Further From, or Jammin’ Java, ever again.

A few new compositions from their yet-to-be-recorded next album were field tested at the Jammin' Java show as well as their second Battle of the Bands at James Madison High School. The following week, Catscan played another Battle at the school’s after prom party, although they were too young to have actually attended the prom itself. They won second place, one hundred dollars, and a free VHS of themselves lip-syncing to Welcome to the Jungle.

Paul was sent off to a prestigious music and arts camp in Michigan that summer of 2004 to study euphonium. Catscan was put on a temporary hiatus, leaving Mason to explore a few other musical ventures. He started a new band with Eric Randall and Khai Phan, a satirical screamo group called Fallen August. Their tongue-in-cheek sarcastic emo music gained them much MySpace fandom, as well as several uncomfortably awkward gigs. Mason and Jay also wrote and recorded an EP called The Romans without Paul and mailed it to him at Interlochen. Shortly after Paul's triumphant return, the band recorded Based on a Fake Story, perhaps their first true classic. Mason, Paul, and Jay put almost a year's worth of effort in writing, practicing, and recording, a radical change from their rougher and more spontaneous recording style.

Catscan started a new tradition of annual holiday extravaganzas with 2005's Christmas on the Planet of the Apes show in Mason's basement, which featured the first appearance by Santa Ape. Because it lacked the technical and performance issues of all their prior gigs, the band felt that this was their first well-received show. Many who attended the show as classmates and friends of the group, left as fans.

The band briefly recruited Drew Gingras, a talented young guitarist, in late 2005, enabling Mason to concentrate more on keyboards and adding another layer to the band's live sound. However, Drew's external obligations to other bands left him under prepared for his first and only performance with Catscan, who decided to revert back to a trio, parting amiably with their friend. While recording their follow-up to Based on a Fake Story, Catscan also grew interested in video and visual media. They filmed several music videos for both Catscan and Fallen August as well as including the experimental horror film, Midgetville with members of the Project Grapefruit Collective.

William Henry Harrison came out at the end of their high school careers. This album felt much darker than any of their previous works. Paul's unavailability gave Mason executive control of the project, who in turn produced a much more aggressive and experimental album. Mason and Paul also recorded a live-in-studio piece called Nostradamus Predicted Hitler with Eric Randall, Khai Phan, and Jeff Smith, which was even more free-form.

Having graduated high school, and with two solid albums under their belts, Catscan began putting press kits together in order to go public. They recorded a split, Yellow Cat, with Yellow People. The two bands played many shows together and formed an indie label, Kaiju Records, for which they also recruited The Norman Rockwells, MC Stonewall Hill, and Richy&Georgie. Catscan's web presence was also gaining steam through emerging social networking avenues and their own website, developed by Marco Ceppi. Mason, Paul, and Jay started preparations for a tour of the east coast, armed with professionally shot photography of the band as well as a collection of their best material. They named this demo collection Manifest Destiny, and felt ready to conquer the music world.