Pick up our cyan blue vinyl variant of Catbite's new album, limited to 100.
Philly ska band Catbite formed in 2018 with former members of The Snails and vocalist/keyboardist Brittany Luna, a jazz-trained singer who caught a Snails show upon moving to Philly in the early 2010s and said to herself, "This is what I gotta do." At the same time Catbite was forming, Mike Sosinski of DC ska-punks Kill Lincoln was launching his new record label, Bad Time Records. Catbite and Bad Time took a chance on each other, and in 2019, Catbite put out their self-titled debut LP, the first new release that Bad Time had ever put out (following represses of older Kill Lincoln and We Are The Union albums). Bad Time continued to build its roster, signing some of the best newer ska and ska-punk bands in (and outside of) the U.S., and shining a much-needed light on the current DIY ska scene. By the time the media began catching on to ska's latest generation, both Bad Time Records and Catbite were at the forefront of it.
This Friday (8/6), Catbite will follow their self-titled debut with their anticipated sophomore album, Nice One (which you can pre-order from us on blue vinyl). Their debut helped establish the Catbite sound -- a heavily 2 Tone-influenced take on ska with bits of traditional Jamaican ska, American third wave ska, power pop, garage rock, and more -- and Nice One solidifies it. Compared to the debut -- which was recorded in four days with no real expectations -- Nice One found Catbite putting much more time in, working more collaboratively, obsessing over details, and bringing in producer Davey Warsop, who pushed the band to perform at their fullest and helped them achieve a bigger, warmer, cleaner sound than they had on their debut. They also brought in some key collaborators, including Jer Hunter (JER, Skatune Network, We Are The Union) on trombone and Esteban Flores (Matamoska) on keyboards/organ, to help flesh out their sound, and they incorporated a cover of "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," the 1994 classic by Latin pop legend Selena. Brit says that the cover reflects her own Latina upbringing, and that she hopes it can help bridge the gap between the U.S. ska scene and the South American ska scene, which is gigantic but gets overlooked North of the border.
Nice One is loaded with upbeat, infectious blends of ska and power pop that get stuck in your head very quickly -- previously released tracks like "Asinine Aesthetic," "Call Your Bluff," and "Excuse Me Miss" already feel as instant-classic as the standouts on Catbite's debut -- and it also has slower, rocksteady-tinged songs like "Bad Influence" and "Stay." Many of Catbite's influences are decades-old, but impressively, Nice One never sounds retro at all. It feels like a modern DIY record, but it pulls from The Selecter and Elvis Costello instead of the usual indie and punk influences that modern DIY tends to pull from.
Ahead of Nice One's release, I spoke to all four members of Catbite about their new album on BrooklynVegan's Vans Channel 66 show, and below is a portion of the interview in article form. Catbite also have upcoming shows, including a BrooklynVegan and Bad Time Records presented New Year's Eve show in Detroit with We Are The Union, Grey Matter, and Dissidente (tickets).
Read on for our chat, and pick up our cyan blue vinyl variant of Nice One. It's limited to 100 and it's the last available first-pressing variant of the album.
BV: So you were supposed to play the West Coast, but then COVID hit, but you still had the plane tickets and said "let's use 'em," and you recorded your new album with Davey Warsop. Can you fill in some of the blanks on that story, and talk about why you wanted to work with Davey?
Tim Hildebrand (guitar): I kind of started the relationship with Davey. I saw his old band Suedehead, who were a super awesome mod, like Elvis Costello-y, The Jam... awesome rock n' roll band. They went on tour with Social Distortion years ago -- I had just found out about Suedehead online, we went to the show just to see them, and we were talking to him a little bit and telling him about our band, and he was like "cool, cool." And then I had been following him online and stuff for a while -- and he's got a new band called Sharp Shock which is great too -- and he used to run the Hurley Studios and stuff, so I know he's just a great producer. He's just kind of like always been in the back of my mind as like "I really would like to have him produce music for my band at some point." And then two years ago, his band Sharp Shock was on tour with The Interrupters -- and I've worked for The Interrupters, like doing driving and stuff, and we've become friends -- and they invited me to come hang out, and their tour manager Dave Irish was like "hey you should talk to Davey from the opening band, he's a great producer and he'll probably love your music." And I'm like "I actually already know this guy... but okay yeah!"
Brittany Luna (vocals, keyboard): He was like, "make sure to bring an album, and give him the album, 'cause he's really gonna love it," and we're like "okay!" So yeah, we went to the show, and we met him, and we gave him the album, and then we didn't hear anything for months, and we're like, "oh, I guess he hated it?"
Tim: He was on tour!
Brit: I know! I was just self-conscious and was like "he probably just hated it and he's not gonna message us or say anything about it," but yeah I just didn't even think, "oh they're on tour, he's not gonna have time..."
Tim: He literally had a vinyl record, he wasn't gonna play it in the van. [Laughs.] But yeah, he ended up reaching out to me on Instagram two or three months after that, and I think this was right before the pandemic at this point, and he said he would love to produce us at some point. And we weren't even thinking at all about a new record because we were gearing up to do a bunch of touring for 2020. And then the pandemic hit, and we had the plane tickets for LA, and he's in Long Beach, California, so I shot him a message and was like "hey we have plane tickets for this time, if we wrote a record, would you want to produce it?" and he said yes. And then we started writing a record. We gave ourselves like three months to write this record, and we weren't ready, and then luckily Ben got attacked by a dog...
Ben Parry (bass): Luckiest man alive.
Tim: He works at a dog day care and he broke up a dog fight and ended up breaking his arm right before we went to California. He had to get surgery, and a plate but in, and that actually really helped us out. We basically rescheduled it for November and finished writing the record and then flew out there, and, we're there for 10 days, and two and a half of those days we didn't do anything because Davey's girlfriend got sick and we thought she had COVID, and that was terrifying.
Ben: This was the week the news about the vaccines had come out, so everything was still up in the air and everyone was still really anxious about the situation in general. We were like, "Is this even a good idea to be out here right now? Is it even a good idea to be on a plane?"
Tim: Yeah flying was terrifying! They don't put any separation between you, and we all had middle seats, and we're just like "oh my god we're all gonna die."
Brit: I had three masks on.
Tim: But yeah we got to the Airbnb and we basically were at the Airbnb and the studio the entire time, like didn't leave anywhere. We walked to the beach once. But yeah, we didn't even finish the record because of the days that we lost, and then we recorded the rest of it with our friend Lucas Kozinski in Philly -- he works at this studio called Sleepless Sound Studios. He helped us finish it up with backing vocals and the finishing touches, but we couldn't even do that for several months after we got back to Philly, because there was a new stay-at-home order as soon as we got back to Philly. So we were sitting on an unfinished record, super motivated, and then we sat around until like the second week of January, and then finally finished it in like two days.
Chris Pires (drums): We were leaving LA to come back to Philly as LA was shutting back down, and like Tim said we couldn't book studio time for a few months, and there was definitely an element of "Man, did we mess up? Did we not make the right decision to go out and record? Did we rush this?" There was just so much uncertainty and we were definitely doubting if we made the right decision to record this record. But when we were able to get the rest of it done in Philly, and when we started to get the mixes back and the record started taking shape, we were like "Yeah, okay, this was a good idea."
BV: Sounds like a hell of a journey.
Chris: It was! Also we wrote this record in under four months, we didn't have any songs when we started rehearsing in July. And we had to write this entire record without playing it in front of any audience, so we couldn't gauge crowd feedback, we couldn't gauge "this part worked, this part didn't," so that was another element of recording it, like "alright, we're just gonna trust our instincts."
BV: Other than the logistical aspect, what would you say differed about writing this new album compared to the debut?
Tim: I think we all put a lot more group effort into this one. For the most part, our songs start as a bare-bones thing between Brit and I, and then we make little GarageBand demos and then we send it to the other members, so going into practice, they kind of have an idea of what's going on because I'm terrible at explaining things in person.
Chris: That's true.
Tim: It's a disaster. But yeah, we're really good at running through this bare-bones idea and the song will just start to take shape, and then we kind of figure out where it's going, and it's always a group effort. But the first record was a lot less of that, it was more complete songs that me and Brit would bring. We also kind of rushed the [first] record. There's only seven originals on that record, and then an Elvis Costello cover. We were barely a band at that time. We didn't have any long term goals, we were just writing stuff and then had enough for a record and then we recorded it. And we recorded it in about four days total. I think we spent like $500 recording that record, it was with our friend Jimmy Riley. And he's not like an experienced studio recorder, he's like a live sound guy, and he was just kind of doing it for fun and experience, and we were kind of doing it for fun and experience, and it turned out great. But this record...
Brit: We definitely put a lot more thought into this record.
Tim: Like the songs changed like a million times before we landed on the way that the song is gonna go, whereas the other record we were just like "sounds good, let's record it like that."
Chris: Yeah, I think this record -- to me, art in general is attention to detail, and I think with this record there was a lot more paying attention and workshopping stuff and making sure that the final product was exactly what we wanted. I feel like the Catbite sound was definitely on the first record, but it was a little more of an investigative process of figuring out our sound, and I feel like this record is our arrival. This is our sound, this is us.
Brit: I think also, at least for me, working with a producer like Davey, he really brought out something in me vocal-wise. I feel a million times better on this record; he really knew how to direct us and pull out the best in each of us.
BV: What would you say are some goals with this album, either lyrically or conceptually?
Ben: Finish it!
Tim: I mean, this band is like built on deadlines. We started this band because we booked studio time and made it happen. We booked a show before we had a drummer or songs, and we made it happen. And it's the same thing with this record. We're just really good at, if we gotta do something, we're gonna do it. That's just personally how I work.
Brit: We just need to light a little fire under our behinds.
Tim: The songs are always kind of consistently love, anti-love, mental health-related stuff, which is just what comes out of us. It's never been a goal for this band to be like, "All of our songs are gonna be political, all of our songs are gonna be about love, all our songs are gonna be about partying." We just write how we feel and it just kind of ends up being pretty consistent.
BV: The record has a Selena cover on it. Can you talk about the decision to include that?
Brit: Yeah, so I'll start off saying by I am Latina, so I love Selena. My dad is Peruvian, and I grew up listening to Spanish music, and just as a little kid, like seeing the Selena movie, I was like "oh my gosh, look at this person who just looks like me, doing what I've always dreamed of doing." So it was just kind of a personal touch; I think I am very white-passing, lots of people actually think I'm Asian, but I wanted to be like, "This is me, this is very ingrained in who I am," and I just kind of wanted to let people know. And also, the ska scene in Mexico and Southern Los Angeles and South America, it's huge. Bands are playing like to stadiums full of people, and I feel like there's no bridge, it seems -- lots of people don't even know about South American ska bands in the U.S. I think. So I'm hoping that maybe this can be a bridge to that, for people to dig into it and know that there's more than just U.S. ska bands or UK ska bands.
Chris: This was also an awesome opportunity -- so, our great, great friend Esteban Flores [of Matamoska] played organ and piano on just about all of this record. Esteban is a huge champion of the East LA ska-punk scene, and also the Mexican ska scene, so it was great to have him be a part of that song, to put his own touch on both the rhythms of the keyboards, but also the soloing as well. So that was another awesome experience, to have him be a part of that bridge.
Ben: He played a shredding, wicked solo.
Tim: He's actually flying out for our record release show, we're going to be playing as a five-piece which we've never done.
Nice One officially arrives 8/6 via Bad Time Records, and Catbite's sold-out album release show is that same day in Philly with The Best of the Worst and Froggy. Multi-cam footage of the show will stream live on the Skatune Network YouTube channel at 7:30 PM ET.
Get Nice One on blue vinyl.