August 18, 2020
Tune-In Tuesdays #83: Cat Dail on “Red Pill”
Indie singer-songwriter Cat Dail sits on a dark brown wicker chair, holding an electric guitarSource: Cat Dail
With a demeanor as warm as midwestern summer sunshine and a heart of gold, NYC-based indie singer-songwriter Cat Dail amplifies awareness surrounding misogyny and race in her lustrous, jazzy new single, “Red Pill.”
Recently, we spoke to Dail via telephone to learn more about the single and the movie it’s made for. We also discussed the importance of women producers in the music industry, among other timely topics.
Tell us a little about yourself and your music
I’m originally from Kansas City. I came east for school and the day after I graduated I drove my not-even car full of belongings to New York City [laughs] and started there, working in the arts in a couple of different forms.
Before too long, I started my band, which was called Distant Cousins. We had a great time all through the 90s and early 2000s. We did a lot of CMJ — College Music Journal. We were touring a lot of schools, bars, and clubs; writing original music; and learning A LOT.
After almost 10 years with that band, we all just wanted to get married and have kids, so we left amicably together. [Laughs] we’re all still really good friends.
Then I had some kids and stuff. But it was 9/11 when I was pregnant, and it didn’t make any sense to make a solo album, but I just felt so compelled to do it at that point. That was kind of the beginning of my solo career.
I think I’ve put about five records since then — on my own label. And I’ve had a lot of fun! I’ve been able to perform and do some music for film and television, y’know, stay creative and keep working with some of my favorite people.
That’s amazing, it sounds like you’ve been able to do so much. It’s funny, your original band was Distant Cousins and now it’s like all of your kids, being born around the same time, get to be distant cousins [laughs].
Right!? I think there’s a throughline in all of the experience, which has to do with community and family. I think you might be right about that.
What are some of your core values, both personally and musically?
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You’ve heard of the corona roller coaster, right? You know, when sometimes you’re feeling up, creative, engaged, and then, you pull your head up for a minute and look around and see how upside down everything is? I’m starting to realize that connecting musically, in person, with bandmates and audience members, collaborators all, had a big cleansing energizing effect on my body and mind. I really miss everybody! So, I’m especially looking forward to some live streams coming up in the next week or so with @spinmag , with @WomenWhoRock and a few others. Gonna be FIRE??just to play a little bit ?? Stay tuned ??✨#IMissLiveMusic #SaveOurStages #Meantime #RemoteRecording #NewMusic #Livestreams #RedPill
Wow, well, I just said the word community and I’ll say it again. But I’m human, and I’m a female, so I’m a humanist and I’m a feminist. Especially these days, more than ever before.
And I see that you’ve got an awesome link for Black Lives Matter on your website, I found some really great blog posts about climate change, so I really appreciate what you’re doing at The Burgundy Zine!
Thank you! It’s an open platform for expression, so we want it to feel unbiased, but at the same time we like to use this platform to promote the things that truly matter — saving the planet, helping others, important sociopolitical issues. For example, there have been a few writers who identify as LGBTQIA+ who’ve talked about things they’ve dealt with and it’s really touching to read their stories, too. I really appreciate it, I’m glad we share those values!
Absolutely, right on. I’m with you sister.
So, what initially sparked your interest in music? What inspired you to pursue it as a career?
I’ve always been super drawn to music. It’s always been my favorite thing. Like, I can clearly, vividly remember being a teeny little kid in school when they had you doing rhythm sticks and a triangle, stuff like that, and just being INTO IT [laughs], y’know?
But when I was a little bit older, I got made to take piano lessons from a super grumpy, rigid person who didn’t make it fun. I didn’t like it, so I figured, “Well, I’m not an instrumentalist,” or, “I’m not a musician.”
It probably wasn’t until I was 20 when I picked up the guitar. But always in between, I was singing. I was part of every choir at church, school, and musicals. That was always my favorite thing.
As far as making it a career, I don’t think any smart, deliberate, thinking person is going to make that a career.
It’s not really the most practically maneuver, but it’s not an option, truly, to not make music.
Having been in the industry since the 90s, what have you learned so far?
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TBT One of my all-time fav #photoshoots with one of my all-time fav #Cocreators #VisualGenius #MusicFamily #TalentedArtist Hero @mark_shaw ❣️#Reflections #AllTheAngles #FretDontFret #Champagne #ForMyRealFriends #MirrorImage #Rhythms #BeatsAndBubbles #BubblesAndBeats #SmilesForMiles #TheFightForLoveTour #veuveclicquot #CatDailMusic #TourLife #FightForLove
Wow, Valerie! These questions are deep [laughs].
Well, I’ve learned that a creative life is really a rich life — rarely is it rich in material things, but for me, to have the privilege of playing at CBGB’s and having a residency at the better end, having Clark Gayton produce my latest record, and working with Harvey Goldberg — I’m not trying to name drop, I’m just trying to express gratitude for the people I’ve met and the processes, all of that.
I’ve also learned there aren’t enough women involved in music. I think it’s like, 30 percent of the music industry is women, and it’s only like four or five percent when you start talking about producers and engineers.
When you say, “I’ve been doing it since the 90s,” I probably would’ve thought then that by now there would be more women in it.
I don’t really know why that is. I guess that’s something I’ve observed, or that I’m especially aware of now.
Now that you’ve mentioned it, I never really hear of female producers or female-run labels. It’s very rare.
It is relatively rare. The numbers show that it’s rare, but I think if you’re in the industry, you’re going to bump into them because the ones that do it, do it well.
The ones that don’t do it very well have so much other stuff to uphill battle that they bail, I think.
I wish there would be more spotlight on the women who are [producing and engineering], because there are some unbelievable women at the board in the audio world, just sort of behind the scenes in general, making it happen. They’re bringing special skills and perspective to the scene.
Y’know how — especially in the last couple of years — there’s been a lot of push towards promoting women in STEM? It would be cool if during all of that, it was also brought to girls’ attentions that they could be an audio engineer. You can do these technical positions that aren’t necessarily like, “You have to be a computer programmer,” or “You have to be in a lab,” or “You have to be making airplanes.” You can do all of those, but you can still be creative with engineering and technology, too.
There have been some really cool programs lately where they do Ableton Camp for little girls.
Maybe because I seek them out, or they seek me out, but there are a lot of pretty cool groups like Women Who Rock or Women’s Audio Mission. They’re putting a spotlight on those female geniuses.
The Ableton Camp sounds so nice. I haven’t heard of that yet.
Right? And I think it’s little girl’s only, so it really does empower them to be and talk about it the way they want to and not feel self conscious or be competitive in that other way.
So, if you could go back in time to when you were first starting out in music and give yourself just one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Oh my God [laughs], one piece!? I don’t know, I’m kind of not-big on advice because I’m just learning all the time. But if I were going to advise myself, I’d probably tell myself just to be braver.
I think I was kind of weary of that in the beginning, partly because I’m midwestern and I was raised that it was impolite to talk about things like that.
Now that I’ve had a couple of kids, lived in the world, I see climate change, I see the outrageous social injustice. That’s really on my mind.
If I could go back, I’d probably say to get to that work sooner.
I’m glad that you have found your voice over time. Bringing things up to date, tell me a little about your latest single, “Red Pill.”
“Red Pill” trailer (2020)Source: Red Pill
It’s written and directed by a woman, Tonya Pinkins, who has won a Tony Award, an Obie Award, an NAACP Theatre Award. Her resume is crazy. She’s been on broadway for years, she has a podcast — which I also do the music for
She’s just an amazing, super talented, visionary woman of color. She started making this film last fall and another incredible woman called Vicki Gohl, who’s a very good friend of mine, called me and asked if I would be interested in doing the music for this film. Of course, I said yes right away.
When they started filming it was November. I went down to see them in Catskill, New York at the Lumberyard Sound Stage to get a feel for the shoot and what the picture’s about.
I wanted to do that to honor her message because I’m supporting her message, so Tonya’s actually a co-writer on the song.
I took it to my friend Joel, we did the demo, and we’ve been doing it remotely. I basically think of “Red Pill” as a kind of song with a great horn-section.
I agree, it has a very jazzy sound to it. Who were some of your biggest inspirations while working on the track?
I’m so lucky that on my last two records, “The Wonder,” and “Fight For Love,” I had the opportunity to collaborate with one of my all-time favorite musicians and now really great friend of mine, Clark Gayton.
Clark is just kind of a legend. He’s played with everyone from Clark Terry to Sting, to Bruce Springsteen to Rihanna. I mean, he’s really the man.
We’ve been really good friends for a long time, so when [“Red Pill”] came up I asked him if he would produce it for me. And he did.
That was a great process for us. He’s one of the world’s greatest trombone players, so we have Clark on trombone, the amazing Craig Dreyer out of New York on saxophone, and then Barry Danielian on trumpet.
Those three guys really, really showed up for the horn section. I practically had to talk Clark into it [laughs], but we’re both really glad I did.
And then the drummer is also someone who’s played on my last record, he’s another hero of mine, Shawn Pelton. Shawn has a list of appearances as long as your arm, and he’s probably best known as being the SNL drummer.
Scott Sharrard, who’s from Little Feet, played guitar and Ben Stivers came in to put the rhodes piano on. The bass line, which is so amazing, is by Andy Hess.
So we really wanted to make a song that was kind of spooky and sexy like the movie, that would tell the message of the movie without revealing its plot. That was a challenge, but I think we did it.
It sounds like there was an amazing team behind it, so many brilliant minds came together — including yourself. I’m excited to see the movie for the track, too! Is there anything you can say it about it or is it all still on the down low right now?
Thank you. The movie’s going to be amazing — I’ve seen the trailer and kind of a rough-cut, but not the whole thing, of course. They’re in post-production right now.
It’s going to be an incredible film. I think the closest thing to compare it to is “Get Out” because it’s a social, racial, horror, mystery-thriller.
“Get Out” film trailer (2017)Source: Get Out Official Trailer 1 (2017) – Daniel Kaluuya Movie | Movieclips Trailers
It’s a cool story. I don’t want to tell too much about it, but it’s basically a group of … friends. They rent an Airbnb, leave the city for the weekend, and come in touch with a part of the country they’re not used to interacting with… I’ll leave it at that.
It’s very profound and incredibly timely. I’m really proud to be associated with it. It’s an honor to support Tonya, and the cast is incredible.
Ruben Blades is in this movie; Kathryn Erbe, who’s in “Law & Order;” Colby Minifie, who’s in “Fear the Walking Dead;” Luba Mason, who was in “Chicago” on broadway.
There are just a lot of super talented, very cool people on this project. You should definitely check out the “Red Pill” movie, and you can follow @redpillmovie2020 [on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram].
That’s awesome. So, the upcoming music video for “Red Pill” was directed by PBS and ESPN documentarian Gordon Skinner. What was it like working with him?
Gordon is one of the greatest guys. I met him years ago. We were introduced by the great Martha Redbone, who’s an incredible singer and activist in New York City. She sang back ups for me on a couple of records.
I think the first time I worked with Gordon, he was filming us live at Rockwood Music Hall… Maybe that was it?
But we’ve been friends for a long time. He worked on my music video for the song “Flow Zone” last year.
“Flow Zone” by Cat Dail music videoSource: CAT DAIL FLOW ZONE MUSIC VIDEO | Cat Dail Music
So we’ve worked together more than once, and I just thought it would be a great fit for him to work on this one. He’s really good at taking footage that someone else has shot and making it make sense in an original way, which is what we’re presented with in the film, in some ways.
It’s been a cool project and I think the video will come out when the movie comes out.
I’ll keep an eye out for it! What do you hope listeners take away from your latest single and the upcoming film?
I hope they take away whatever they need [laughs]. I hope they take away a good lil’ buttshakin’ groove and an earworm that sticks with them. And I hope that stuff is effective to deliver the message of “Red Pill,” which is really a message about awareness.
The song and the film are about about white supremacy and misogyny, which is so heavy, right? I don’t want it to seem like the song is some kind of dirge, or something, it’s not. It’s very bright.
I hope that people like the song, enjoy the song — enough to catch the message and feel that.
Overall, how do you hope to impact your listeners through your work?
I guess I’d just keep sayin’ what I’ve been sayin’ [laughs], which is to try to build community. I think there’s a long, long — I was going to say a long history, but that sort of understates how intrinsically music and activism are linked.
As I said, for me, I could definitely still write some songs about the boy who broke your heart, and how bad you want that girl, because all of that’s about the human condition. It’s all incredibly important.
But I feel like my goal at this point, and my goal as a musician, is to reflect the times. Maybe hold a space for community to build, or join, to make a difference.
… I say that in all modesty [laughs], by the way.
I know, but it’s really beautiful! My mom always said, “Shoot for the moon and at least you’ll still make it to the stars.” So I think you have to have that big-picture mindset and those big-picture goals, to have that core value in your heart and let it show. Even if it just does a fraction of everything you hope, you’ve still made a difference.
Well I think your mom sounds like an amazing person and I agree.
Now, what’s next for you, Cat? Do you have any additional music in the works? Perhaps an EP or an album?
Yes! Always, always. About a year and a half ago, I was introduced to Stu Brooks. Stu is just an amazing person, he’s one of the world’s greatest, most badass bass players. He’s worked with people like GriZ, Matisyahu, and Meshell Ndegeocello. Just a very cool dude.
We really hit it off, I gave him a couple songs to remix and he killed them. So we put one out, which is called “Can’t Buy Love (Stu Brooks Remix).” We’re gonna drop another one in about a month.
I think we have seven remixes so far, so we’re trying to figure out if we want to do 10 or whatever. But we’ll put it together and have it out, probably by middle of the winter.
It’s a very cool experience to do remixes. It’s a completely different way to approach and present your song. As a songwriter, it’s very cool to boil it down to the essence and then boil it back up.
It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you, Cat. I’m so excited for the music video, the film, and I can’t wait to hear more of the remixes. But before wrap things up, do you have any additional comments or final thoughts to share?
Aww, thank you. Well Valerie, I just want to be grateful to you and thank you so much for being you, doing what you do, putting The Burgundy Zine out there. You’re doing a really good thing. I’m glad and honored to be part of an indie community with you.
And follow me, please follow me. [Laughs] Please buy my records. Can’t forget to say that.
But mostly, I’d say that I hope everyone will stay healthy and happy. Keep fighting for love.
Give Cat Dail’s “Red Pill” a listen on Spotify now!
Be sure to follow Cat on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to keep up with her next releases.
You can also check out the “Red Pill” movie’s website here and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Last — but most certainly not least — don’t forget to vote in the U.S. Election on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
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