Interview: Cat Dowling is embracing the other world

Cat Dowling

Cat Dowling

Like every other Irish person, Cat Dowling is delighted with the June sunshine, asking me if I’m anywhere near a beach. Sadly not, but Dowling, who ducks out of a manic O’Connell Street to take my call, is as bright and breezy as I imagine an Irish seaside is today.

Her first solo album, The Believer, was released last month to much acclaim. “I’m really pleased with it,” she says. The album was released completely independently, and Dowling is proud of how successful the gamble has been. “Ireland is so small, which means I’m building it [fan support] the old school way.”

While some artists balk at the availability of music on the internet, Dowling sees it as an opportunity to share her music further afield. Along with the traditional channels of radio and TV, she’s enthusiastically embracing social media. “With Twitter, the world is a lot more open. People can find you. The internet world, there’s a lot of movement. People can find you with blogs.”

Speaking of exposure, ‘Come On’ the first single from The Believer, garnered attention when it was used to soundtrack a trailer for medic drama Grey’s Anatomy on RTE. Dowling is happy with the song’s appearance on the ad. “It’s interesting, pure bizarre how it happened. Some [at RTE] just came across it.

“Any outlet that allows people to hear your music, whatever outlet, as an independent artist,” is a good thing, according to the Kilkenny-born singer. While she certainly would have reservations about some companies using her songs, she doesn’t believe in being precious about her music.

“You’ve more songs,” she says, saying that she has much of her second album written. A new mother, she says she uses every gap of free time she has, and can now write a first draft of a song in a couple of minutes. “I feel very fortunate,” she says, of her recent productivity. “I get edgy when I’m not writing. It keeps me settled.”

Formerly the lead singer with Alphastates, she is enjoying her solo freedom, but she says collaboration has its bonuses too. “Alphastates was my learning ground, I was really quite green. I’ve gained a lot of confidence. I grew up with brothers, and I kind of thought, who the hell wants to hear a chick singing?”

She says the band gave her a lot more confidence in her abilities, and her musical partnership with former Alphastates guitarist Gerry Horan has a “kind of magic”.

“I am a songwriter and I don’t have to labour over things. Gerry is much more technical. I played him a few songs and he said ‘go for it’.

“Someone like me needs encouragement.”

She says her bandmate’s support (he co-produced the album) was a welcome confidence boost, but she is enjoying the freedom going solo brings.

“It’s easier being a solo artist, the decision process,” she says. “It’s not a democracy. You don’t have to please anyone.”

It’s clear that to the listener that Dowling is writing music that she likes, instead of music she thinks people want to hear. She says that being genuine is the key to writing good music and it’s important for the artists themselves to like what they’re doing.

“I know I like what I’m putting out,” she says. The dark undercurrents- and often overcurrents- at play in The Believer seem quite a contrast to the bubbly woman herself.

“They are quite dark, but there’s an underlying strength there,” she says. “I like to be cryptic. I like having space for people to crawl in. It [songwriting]’s not like a mathematical equation, you don’t know where it’s coming from.”

One such song is the lead single, ‘Come On’, which is dark, yet uplifting. I mention the video, an absorbing animation. The sky, grey as pitch, overhangs a dull suburban house. Inside a girl is watching TV, ignored utterly by a gossiping woman and a snoozing man. On the news we see that earth is doomed; a planet is heading straight for us. But the main character is not going down without a fight.

It seems to exemplify the album’s themes of strength and independence. Dowling loves the animation too, which was directed by Marc Corrigan.

“It’s about survival,” she says. “He used old footage from the 1920s, and from the war.” But the most important thing for her is that the song is enhanced by the video, rather than the other way round. “It made the song shine, come alive.”

The Believer is out now

The Believer is out now

Likewise, the striking album art hints at the magical journey ahead of the listener. A silhouetted woman beseeching to the wild, followed by a small dog. It must represent something deeply symbolic, right?

“The artwork got delayed,” Dowling explains. “It’s a puppet, and a photograph. I loved the photo and got in contact with the artist. It was one of those things that was meant to be. It just landed in my lap, this image.”

A lot of things are falling into place for Cat Dowling at the moment. “I just want to continue and keep singing and making records,” she says. A couple of projects are in the pipeline, not least the second album. Dowling sees a huge potential in the Irish music scene, saying the recession has encouraged risk-taking.

“It’s not possible to do everything by yourself- it’s good to figure out how the world works, but I prefer the other world, the creative world.”

The Believer is available for download on Bandcamp now. Read our review of the album here. Cat Dowling is playing the Pavillion Cork in a free event on June 19. For more information on upcoming gigs, check out Cat Dowling‘s Facebook page. 

*Lead image by Tom via Josephine Nestor

The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle talks to Irish musician Cat Dowling about beaches, art and going it alone… 

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