Horrors frontman Faris Badwan unveils Cat's Eyes

The Horrors' Faris Badwan and classical musician Rachel Zeffira on their collaborative effort Cat's Eyes, and how they got the Pope's blessing

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 04 Mar 2011

“The thing I’m most happy about with Cat's Eyes is that it’s very accessible,” says Faris Badwan of his new outfit. Given that the project in question is a collaboration between himself and the Canadian soprano and classically trained multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira, The Horrors frontman is probably justified in his concern.

A collision of two disparate music worlds runs the risk of being perceived as overly pretentious, or simply damned as unlistenable. Badwan admits that this is why the intention was always to make things comparatively straightforward, even if they did end up straying from the original blueprint. “I had made Rachel a girl group compilation and she made one for me with [Hungarian composer György] Ligeti and a lot of classical stuff, and then some fairly weird Italian ballads which I really liked. Then I started talking about doing a girl group, which is the kind of music I’ve collected all my life and have always wanted to do. When we sat down to do it, it evolved pretty quickly from all those influences.”

Zeffira expands on the rationale behind their uncomplicated approach: “Neither one of us wanted to directly imitate a retro sound, we wanted to take the songs as far as we could and apply whatever our expertises are; in my case, for example, thinking of orchestral arrangements or bringing an oboe into it. The simpler the song was, the more we thought we could do with the arrangement without losing the accessibility of the song. We don’t want to alienate people by trying to get too clever.” So, the girl group never materialised. Instead, we have something depicted in their press release as bringing together ‘all kinds of dualities – pop/classical, traditional/avant-garde, acoustic/electronic, virtuoso/novice, male/female, happy/sad and, why not, good/evil’.

Which all sounds intriguing, but what does it actually mean? Badwan, whilst suggesting the sonicscape could be likened to an updated version of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound technique, “blending the instruments together, thickening the sound,” steadfastly refuses to elaborate further, suggesting that the interpretation of the listener is what’s most important. “What we’ve done is create the Cat’s Eyes world. We want people to come to the world of the record, rather than the record come to them. People seem to care about things more when they discover them for themselves.” Zeffira openly admits that it’s a tall order to define their sound precisely, saying: “I’m not sure about describing it because I hear terms getting thrown around for other bands, including The Horrors – words like shoegaze and Krautrock – and I’m quite unfamiliar with a lot of that stuff, so I wouldn’t know how to describe our music.”

What she and Badwan do seem to know though, is how to make an entrance. In December of last year the duo performed a somewhat amended version of their track I Knew It Was Over, complete with accompanying choir... at St Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican, not-quite-humble abode of Pope Benedict XVI. As debut gigs go, with several "high ranking" cardinals in attendance, it certainly beats being the warm-up act for Friday night karaoke. Zeffira, who had performed there before and thus made the initial suggestion, explains that whilst there was an element of duplicity in the stunt, it was undertaken in good, ahem, faith: “None of us were sure if we would be able to pull it off; we did sneak in cameras and there was a bit of an underhand approach to it. I didn’t call up my contacts and say ‘I’m in a band called Cat’s Eyes and we’re going to launch a single there...’ They didn’t think they were watching a rock band with a member of the Horrors. We didn’t want to offend anyone and upset people. The Vatican is a very serious place. I was raised a Catholic, so we made it as appropriate as we possibly could.”

The pair release their debut album, the Steve Osborne-produced Cat’s Eyes in April and this has been preceded by the four track Broken Glass EP, available now as a download, or two 7” singles. None of the tracks on the EP appear on the album, as according to Badwan: “I think a record should be coherent and the tracks that didn’t make it onto the album, it wasn’t a case of them being weaker ones, we just wanted something that felt like a whole from start to finish.”

In fact, it seems that the pair are quite a prolific partnership, with work having already begun on album number two. The thought of holding back until they’ve gauged reaction to the freshman effort is not something which has occurred to Badwan. “Yeah, but I can write one without having to wait for the reaction of other people, can’t I? Pressure is relative and comes from other people. If you've totally withdrawn into your own world to make something, then you're not going to be able to listen to people outside that world – which I like.”

Zeffira admits that it is a world where "a lot of it is new to me, but I am excited about getting on a tour bus," although she is still coming to terms with the whole process of being interviewed. “I see things written down and, oh man, I sound like a major twat. I’ve got things my friends quote to me to this day that I swear I didn’t say in the interview but somehow ended up being printed – I know I probably did say these things in the heat of the moment but it's still quite strange."

With The Horrors due to release their third LP this summer, the Cat’s Eyes live schedule has been somewhat cherry-picked to avoid a clash with any impending tour. Badwan chose Glasgow (along with Manchester and London) because “I was asked to name three cities and I’ve always had a good time playing Glasgow, so it makes sense really.”

The pair are currently rehearsing their live set, adding a full band in order to realise the sound of the record on stage, with Badwan promising that the end result will be "more aggressive than on the album, which is a good thing."

Zeffira harks back to their auspicious live debut in the home of the Sistine Chapel, suggesting that adapting to the challenges of the live arena is a necessary, yet fun part of the process. "We rearranged the song in the album for the Vatican and it sounds nothing at all like the album version. On the album there’s an acoustic piano, synths and tonnes of other noises that you wouldn’t find in the Vatican. When we did our piece there we knew we wouldn’t be able to hook up amps and hire a grand piano. We just tried to make it appropriate. So, for our live shows we will rearrange everything to suit that particular environment." Sounds like a holy enticing experience.

Broken Glass EP is out now via Polydor

Debut album Cat's Eyes is released on 11 Apr via Polydor

Cat's Eyes play St Andrew's In The Square, Glasgow on 15 Mar