Interview | Faris Badwan (Cat’s Eyes, The Horrors)

Cat’s Eyes is the harmonious pairing of two very different musical backgrounds, catalysed by 60’s girl group music. Comprised of The Horrors frontman Faris Badwan and soprano, composer and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira, the duo release their sophomore album, Treasure House, this Friday. Treasure House is first studio album since their 2011 self-titled debut and the first full length release since they created the soundtrack to Peter Strickland’s film, ‘The Duke of Burgundy’.  Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in 2015 and produced and mixed by Steve Osborne (New Order, Suede, Happy Mondays), the record sees the duo delve further into their dreamlike 60’s-infused chamber pop. After blagging their way into a performance at St Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican in 2011, the pair followed up the stunt at Buckingham Palace this year, once again under the guise of pre-renaissance music group. We had a chat to Faris Badwan about how Treasure House came to be.

Treasure House is out this week – how are you feeling about it’s release?
I can’t believe how long it’s been finished for basically. Some of those songs were written before the first Cat’s Eyes album was finished. The actual record’s been done for about a year. I’m really glad that people will finally get to hear it. It’s a record that we’re really proud of so that’s cool.

Have you had a chance to play much of the new material yet?
No, not yet, we have rehearsed. That’s a lot of fun because we’re not really a band, Rachel and I write together and when we record, it’s not like when you record with a band, everyone plays their instrument and you go and do it. With us, we write with one instrument and voice, in a really stripped down form and then we add stuff in the studio and they really take on a new thing. It’s exciting because you don’t really know where they’re going to go. We usually try out, sometimes, six or seven versions of each song. We’ll try one up-tempo, one without drums, Rachel will sing it, then I’ll sing it. We explore quite a few different avenues when we record and play different things. For example, Rachel learned to play the Theremin for this record which was fun.

60’s girl group music was obviously a catalyst for Cat’s Eyes existence is this a genre you’ve always had an interest in and listened to? 
Yeah, definitely. It’s the main kind of record that I collect. I have quite a lot of records but in terms of the 7 inches that I look for and that I prize, I would probably say are 60’s girl group ones. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do – I always wanted to do a girl group and it kind of mutated when I met Rachel. It kind of turned into something else that wasn’t straight ahead ‘girl group’. When we began, that kind of catalysed it.

Your live show seems to change and adapt to the venue you’re playing in, whether it’s Buckingham palace or the Vatican, or a music venue and sometimes involves choirs and a lot of different instruments – was it your intention when writing that the music is malleable in that way?  
Yeah, we want the songs to be – in terms of the actual structure and the chords – quite simple and direct. It’s not the most simplistic but like I said, we try the songs in a lot of different ways and they’re written in a way that that can kind of work. I guess, when we write, it is important that they can be translated. With stuff like the Vatican,  it’s sometimes more of a challenge to get them to fit in in these kind of unusual contexts. If you went to the Vatican it would be much easier to unveil a really offensive flag, the shock tactic kind of thing. In this case, it’s kind of the opposite to what we do. For those weirder gigs, it’s more about blending in and fitting into the setting in a kind of subversive way. It’s more fun.

What would be your ideal setting for Cat’s Eyes music?  
It depends. Although it takes a lot of planning, the Vatican and Buckingham Palace were probably two of the most fun experiences of my life. Buckingham Palace was so intensely weird and even on the day, it was a lot weirder than the video showed and the video’s weird. It’s something people don’t think to do or don’t want to try – I guess there’s a lot of risk involved which is cool. It keeps things entertaining, you don’t really know what’s going to happen which I appreciate. I get bored very easily.

When it came to creating the soundtrack for the ‘Duke of Burgundy’, did you find it was it an entirely different experience working with visual stimuli? Did the way in which you work together change at all? 
Yeah, definitely. It was definitely very different to writing songs or albums for yourself. It was interesting because I’d never done anything like that before. Rachel, had done a few things. With this, we felt pretty lucky really because it was our first film soundtrack as a band. Peter Strickland got in touch with us after he heard our first record and we were talking about maybe doing something in the future. We were involved even before the film was cast. We saw the script and it was immediately really visual and atmospheric. That was really exciting for me to see how a film can build up from nothing.

There’s such a strong aesthetic with all of your output as Cat’s Eyes  how involved are you in the visual side of things? 
We do everything. For me, everything ties in and we enjoy being creative with all of that stuff. As someone who collects records, I love them as a format and things like the videos and the artwork, it’s just another great aspect of being able to release things, I guess.

The video for ‘Drag’ is so great – how did that come together? 
I suppose, when we came up with the idea, it was intended as a kind of surrealist response to gossip and the way people can assume certain things about other people’s relationships or the way they interact. It was a surrealist take on that. Before we filmed the video, I drew out the different scenes in my sketch book before we shot it. It was important to us that there weren’t any victims or exploitation of any kind of sensitive issue, it was more a surrealist take on what can go on behind closed doors in a relationship. Rachel and I generally aren’t that violent at home. The thing that was fun about it as well was, we had a stunt co-ordinator that had to make punches look realistic and things like that which was cool because I’d never done anything like that before.

Your label RAF has been running for quite some time now – what sparked your decision to create the label? 
After our first record was released on Polydor – as well as some of The Horrors’ music as well – it kind of felt like, especially now, it’s never been easier or more direct to reach people by releasing a record yourself. That was something that I’d always wanted to do, since I was a kid or even before I started making music, I always thought it would be really great to have your own record label and do stuff like that. That for me has been something that I’ve always wanted to do.

What’s in store touring wise for Cat’s Eyes after Treasure House’s release?
We’re going to try some different types of shows. We’re going to hopefully do some shows with a full orchestra like we did on the first album tour. For the first record we had a 30-piece orchestra which was amazing. I’m up for really pushing things and seeing how far we can take the songs live.

Treasure House is out June 3rd via RAF/Kobalt.