Propelled by the bouncy piano stylings and classic pop sensibilities of Elizabeth Abby Lynn Ziman, Elizabeth & The Catapults — rounded out by guitarist Pete Lalish and drummer Danny Molad — find common ground between the Ben Folds Five and Feist on their hotly anticipated debut Taller Children, scheduled for release June 9 on Verve Forecast.
A product of New York City’s Greenwich Village, Elizabeth & The Catapults combine jazzy sophistication and joyous, bouncy pop melodies for an irresistably catchy sound that’s as carefree and playful as the last day of school on the title track and the hand-clapped powered “Race You.” In a flash, however, Elizabeth & The Catapults can change course and immerse themselves in the rich, neo-soul grooves of “Right Next To You” or drape a curtain of lush melancholy over the gorgeous, string-laden “Rainiest Day Of Summer.” And they’re not afraid to tackle Leonard Cohen, doing their own swooning, almost orchestral version of Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” (a more stripped-down and raw live version is included below).
Refreshingly open lyrically, Taller Children takes the occasional dark turn, but as Ziman says, ” … Taller Children is an ode to all of the adults who just never quite figure out how to grow up.” For some, that means a life full of whimsy and the feeling that there’s nothing that needs to be taken so seriously that it affects your ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. Then there’s the other side of the coin, the people who never mature enough to take responsibility for their own actions. Perhaps Taller Children would make sense for either party.
Ziman talks about the group’s new album and her Greenwich Village roots in this recent interview. And for more on Elizabeth & The Catapults, visit www.verveforecast.com or www.elizabethandthecatapult.com.
The title of the record, of course, alludes to that extended adolescence that some — make that almost all of us — never grow out of, but the record doesn’t sound like a condemnation, or a celebration, of that. Rather, it seems to explore all of the issues that come with being caught between youth and maturity. Would you agree?
Elizabeth Abby Lynn Ziman: Yes, there are just the inner struggles that occur naturally. Despite trying to come to terms with adulthood, I still always want to return to the simplicity and naivite of my former years.
You grew up in Greenwich Village. To us who haven’t lived there, and who probably mythologize the place to the point of absurdity, it almost seems you would be an oddball there if you didn’t do something artistic. What is it about the place that encourages artistic expression?
EALZ: I grew up down the street from The Fat Black Pussycat (now a kind of seedy/touristy Mexican restaurant) and Cafe Wha. These were the places that Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Richard Prior, Woody Allen, and Joan Baez all had their start at open mics in the 60′s — that’s pretty heavy. I felt Bob’s presence always.
Did audiences in the clubs there take to your music right away?
EALZ: New York has a pretty eclectic open minded audience, obviously. It was a good place to have our start.
Your heroes are Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, and you can hear that on a song like “Complimentary Me,” but you certainly move away from those influences in short order. What do you admire about the both of them as artists and where do you think you deviate from them?
EALZ: They are unbelievably imaginative storytellers. And they have a fearlessness with form; they let the lyrics guide the music. Some of my songs call for that, others are guided by the melody. Sometimes I’m more moved by the concept behind the song–other times I’m caught in the hands of the music.
Two kiss-off songs, “Momma’s Boy” and the title track, start out the record. Do these stem from any personal experiences?
EALZ: Of course, I’ve been in multiple relationships where I’ve been expected to be the responsible one. I’m taking cooking classes this summer — but for now I can hardly make a decent omelotte.
There’s a push-pull dynamic that seems to be going on with Taller Children, where you’ve got a song as playful as “Race You” and something so sophisticated and graceful as “Rainiest Day Of Summer.” Did you want the record to reflect those two aspects of the band’s personality?
EALZ: Definitely, we’re proud of the sheer range of the songs—that’s something we have no control over.
There’s nothing guarded about the lyrics on Taller Children. All the cards are on the table. You’re wearing your emotions — be they sadness or joy or anger — on your sleeves. Is that just how you are, that girl with ” … the demons in her head who refuses to make a deal yet?”
EALZ: No comment.
Belief and loss of faith seem to be at the core of “The Hang Up.” And there’s sort of a resigned feeling to the music and vocals at the end, and a sense of c’est la vie — that everything will be alright in the end. Is that what you wanted to convey with that song?
EALZ: I didn’t want the ultimate “break up” song on the album to be to sound like the ultimate break up song! It’s upbeat and lighthearted for a reason. It’s always good not to take yourself too seriously.
“Right Next To You” is, perhaps, the jazziest song on the record. You’ve got all this great, bouncy pop stuff going on, and then you hit us with this real soulful, late-night thing. It’s probably my favorite song on the album, because it’s so different from your usual indie-rock thing and your vocals are really nuanced. How did this song take shape and how did you approach the song from a vocalist perspective?
EALZ: That’s one of the only love songs on the album, I wanted to be as direct and simple as possible with the performance — just think about the words and go for it.
How complicated are the arrangements on this record? You hear something like “Everybody Knows,” and some of the more theatrical pieces here, and they’re so well-crafted they seem as if they took a lot of hours to construct.
EALZ: I worked on the string arrangements for “Everybody Knows” for a week straight. I first wrote them for a show we had at Joe’s Pub a year ago, and then I fleshed them out a bit for the record. That’s definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I had during the process of the record. I’m quite happy with how that one came out. Hopefully Mr. Cohen would agree.