It's All Greek To Me; An interview with Katrina Cain of TOMKAT

For TOMKAT, a band based out of Denton, Texas whose work spends much of its time buried in the grey areas between pop, jazz, rock and dance music, the idea of coordinating complex sounds and musical meters is at the heart of their cross-genre investigations. Led by the haunting croon and ache of Katrina Cain’s voice, as well as the dynamic rhythmic interplay that exists within the band, TOMKAT is looking to express their native pop and electronic instincts without sacrificing their evolved temperament to the confines of a modern musical marketplace.
TOMKAT’s full-length album, Icarus, was recorded in July of 2016 with Tanner Landry of Fort Worth Sound, though the music had been written and sat waiting for over a year prior. The band had longed for a more electronic element than their current sound possessed, and found those pulsating and metronomic sounds with Trenton Hull (synthesizer), who joined the band for just one show and a handful of rehearsals prior to jumping with both feet into the studio.
The songs on the album ebb and flow, with “Drowning” beating a dance-pop spasm into your feet and others, like “Phoenix” soaring through your tired mind. No song should be taken more lightly than the other, however, as Cain’s surprisingly dark lyrics attempt to convey the emotional and psychological issues surrounding the female experience through the ages. While “Teardrops” calls to mind a slow jam complete with ’90s style vocal harmony, listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll hear a woman struggling with crippling failure beneath a mask of smiles. Similarly, “Persephone’s” hauntingly beautiful chords belie the true meaning, a story of incurable desire told not by the victim but by her abductor. Though the album is fraught with darkness and despair, the group keeps returning to a singular theme that blooms from the darkness with every track, ending in “Phoenix” resounding chorus: “Once and for all, I rise; Once and for all, I’ll fly.”
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Cain to discuss the record. This is what she told us.
When did you first begin writing the material for Icarus?
Some of the songs on Icarus are some of the first songs we ever performed! When the band first formed and started playing shows, we didn’t have enough money to record a full-length album, so a few of these songs, including the title track, “Icarus,” have been around since 2014, and were first performed in January of 2015, yet are just now making it onto a record for the public to listen to.
Tell us about the record? Is there a cohesive theme to the tracks? Or is more a collection of songs?
I think you can hear a lot of different musical influences in the record, which makes it feel like a collection of songs that demonstrate all of the different styles we’re able to play. However, lyrically there are a lot of themes pulling it all together. I drew a lot of inspiration for lyrics from Greek mythology, and a bit from the early Roman era. That helped shaped songs like “Icarus,” “Persephone” and “Phoenix,” plus “Pompeii,” which was inspired by Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in AD 79. All of these general concepts are really just vehicles for the main theme of rising from failure, which is present in almost every song on the album. Some of the songs touch on heartbreak, some on personal goals, and some. like “Pompeii,” on imminent death. But all of these different songs have the main idea that you have to face that failure head on, and hopefully, rise from it.
Is Icarus your debut release? How long has Tomkat been around?
Icarus is our second release, but our first full-length album. Our first release was an EP (called Big Love) of three songs, and it was released in June of 2015. TOMKAT started rehearsing and writing in the summer of 2014, went through a personnel change and some musical soul-searching. We finally played our first show in January of 2015.
“Drowning” has a quality to it that would make it very difficult to pinpoint what era it’s from. I know it’s new. But if I didn’t know better, I would believe you if you said it was 1984 or 1998. Do you think about current sounds when you’re writing?
Truthfully, we don’t really think about what is current or what is old when we’re writing; we kind of just follow where the song takes us. Sometimes we try to emulate a particular vibe or artist, but it never quite works out. If I told you the band I was trying to emulate with “Drowning”, I think you’d be shocked. I had a specific sound in mind that I really wanted to capture and the song ended up being exactly the opposite of that. Our own voice always seems to take over, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Since we are such a collaborative band, our songs often end up pretty far from where they originally started, but I think that’s a good thing. If it wasn’t for all the varied viewpoints of the band members, we wouldn’t sound the way we do!
The lyrics for “Drowning” are quite haunting. Is the song actually about someone drowning? Or is it meant to be allegorical for being overwhelmed?
Actually, it’s both. Originally, I wrote the lyrics to cope with feeling totally overwhelmed with life. Sort of like, when you’re feeling really down and disappointed in yourself, and the people around you aren’t supportive. You can tell they’re just sick of watching you fail and complain about it. That’s where the inspiration for the first verse and the choruses came from: “Fine lines in your face say it all/ Shut your eyes you won’t watch me fall/ Got my demons that I’m wrestlin’/ I give my all just to give it all in.”
When we were in the studio tracking the band, Jonny, our drummer, told us this terrifying story of almost drowning when he was much younger, in his early twenties. He described this feeling of just letting go because he couldn’t swim anymore. His last hope was that maybe, just maybe, if he just floated, he would drift towards the shore instead of further out to sea. It’s literally a miracle that he’s here today. You could hear a pin drop in the studio when he told his story, and after that, it took on a different meaning for me. It helps me perform it better live, to have his perspective about an actual near-death experience– instead of feeling introspective when I sing, there’s more of a feeling of fighting for life.
Is it hard to be an electronic leaning act in such a rock and roll fueled region?
Yes, definitely. I think Dallas has such a wonderfully broad spectrum of artists, and that keeps it fresh! It does seem that there’s a huge indie rock and a pure rock and roll scene, juxtaposed by a solid hip-hop and R&B community. We don’t really know what genre we fall into, so we often get paired with acts that are really different from us. It always makes for interesting shows, though!
What artists are you listening to these days? Any Denton faves we should know about?
I should probably take a poll from the whole band for this question — all of our musical tastes are so varied! Personally, I’ve always been way into Little Dragon and Poliça, but I recently found RAC on my Spotify and absolutely fell in love. Andrew has been listening to a lot of Jakub Zytecky lately. From Denton, we are loving Wesley Jensen, RHU, and Terra Collective.
What’s next for TOMKAT? Videos or touring?
Both! We’ve been quiet about it so far, but we have a music video for “Drowning” that looks amazing and we can’t wait to release it! We’re hoping for a Spring tour, but we’ll have to keep you posted on that one!
Catch the band live here:
11.02 • Drugstore Cowboy (Dallas, TX)
12.08 • Swan Dive w/ Dossey (Austin, TX)
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