The Bucket Playlists interview with Catalyst

 ‘I think this album is very versatile, there are a lot of dynamics, it’s very emotional for us’

by Sara Seddon at The Bucket Playlist

St Gallen alt rock duo Catalyst released their third album (after two EPs), A Normal Day last month (October), offering us a slice of rock that is full of surprises.

The duo comprises Dominic Curseri (vocals and guitar) and Ramon Wehrle (drums): ‘When we were teenagers, we applied for the same job at a music shop,’ Curseri said. ‘They took both of us, which made no sense, but we became friends. The shop went bankrupt, maybe because of us (laughs). I also had a school band and Ramon asked me to jam with him, he was so good. This was about six years ago, we’re 25 now.’ Their name is a reference to ‘a catalyst as a process amplifier’, according to Curseri. ‘We liked it because we thought it had something to do with energy,’ he said.

A Normal Day comprises 10 tracks ranging from full-on alt rock to grungier tracks, all of which sound as if a huge band is behind them rather than just two people. I say that I like the irony of calling their album A Normal Day when we live in times which are anything but normal. ‘There’s a lot of duality in what we do,’ Curseri said. ‘I painted the cover art out of pure emotion. It turned out to be a chaotic picture, everything’s going to hell but we liked the idea of that representing a normal day.’ (The artwork depicts a house on fire with mountains behind it and a volcano erupting in the distance.)

Their sound has evolved since their first EP as they have experimented sonically, adding in more layers: ‘We wanted this album to sound more professional,’ Curseri said. ‘The songs have become more melodic. I think this album is very versatile, there are a lot of dynamics, it’s very emotional for us. I do all the lyrics. Sometimes we just jam but sometimes one of us comes with a finished idea. We layer in a lot of guitars overdubbed with some bass guitar.’

‘For me, it’s fun to make up characters and stories’

‘Jolene’, one track on the album, kicks off with an enormously hooky riff and turns out to have been inspired by the Dolly Parton hit of the same name, although it bears no relation to it: ‘For me, it’s fun to make up characters and stories,’ Curseri said. ”Jolene’ is an interpretation of Dolly Parton’s song but it’s more about what happens to her after that song, it’s a continuation of her story. I love The White Stripes’ version of ‘Jolene’. Her character fascinates me, she’s a Bonnie & Clyde badass, it’s a mind game.’ I ask him what pedal he is using on ‘Jolene’ because I love its fuzzy, slightly squeaky sound: ‘We use a fuzz pedal but I think you mean our Octaver pedal. It makes everything sound gigantic, it adds an octave up and down, so that dirty sound really gets blown up.’ And brilliant though the recorded version is, the live version knocks it out of the park. I sit through their sound check and the subsequent gig on the day of our interview and live, it has an insane energy, with Curseri amplifying the riffs and cranking up the volume and Wehrle drumming ferociously as if his life depended on it. 

‘Spacecraft’, on the other hand, has a very different provenance and sonic feel: ‘It’s more like a theatre piece, Curseri said. ‘There are different characters saying different things, although I play all of them. It’s about an alien who lands on earth and gets rejected – you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of conservative people here (I say that I have), it’s a reference to that.’

As a band, they went through a grunge phase where they listened to a lot of Nirvana and sludge metal band Melvins and Wehrle is a big Pearl Jam fan: ‘Black’ is my favourite song,’ he said. I say I can hear grungy undertones on the album and Curseri agrees: ‘There are some grungy artefacts left in our music,’ he laughed.

‘Pedals are a rabbit hole’

Curseri’s Death by Audio fuzz pedal makes an appearance on many of the tracks, including ‘Fairytales’: ‘We have hundreds of pedals but always end up using the same three,’ he said. Wehrle grins: ‘It’s a never ending story,’ he said.  Curseri agrees: ‘Pedals are a rabbit hole,’ he admitted. ‘You always want a better tool, it’s a bit of an excuse to buy more!’ He says he is more restrained when it comes to buying guitars: ‘I’ve played the same guitar for 15 years, a sunburst Stratocaster with a black pickup plate.’

‘Sunshades’ has more of a retro vibe, with Curseri describing the main riff as ‘impulsive and soaked in adrenaline’: ‘I wrote the chorus and then we had the rest in half an hour,’ Curseri said. ‘Sometimes you have an idea and it’s so logical what happens next. This song’s about this female character who’s like a badass.’ I say I am spotting a theme and he laughs. ‘Haha, yes! There’s this line in it “And she fights with all the boys in school”. I have a lot of female friends  who have had a hard time and I got bullied pretty badly in primary school, maybe this is an attempt to encourage my younger self. Kids can be brutal.’

Musically, they have different inspirations. ‘Lyrically, I’ve been inspired by Nick Cave and Radiohead,’ Curseri said. Wehrle has a different take, citing The Beatles and Jethro Tull. However, the Swiss music scene is  a complicated beast. ‘The scene is quite big but it’s a golden cage,’ Curseri said. ‘It’s pretty easy to land a gig and you get paid a nice amount of money but it’s harder to leave the country. It can be hard to get heard and to get played on the radio if you’re not mainstream pop. When people are listening to music, they gravitate towards pop that everyone likes but what you want to hear is something interesting that you don’t know. One cool band we like is Elio Rica, they’re also from St. Gallen. We really like Dirty Sound Magnet, they’re absolutely crazy, they’re straight up geeks. Their guitar player plays the guitar every single minute, he just goes on stage and keeps on playing!’

(Photo from left to right: Dominic and Ramon.)

This story first appeared on: https://inthebucketplaylist.com/ on November 25th.

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