what makes cat shiver
The landscape of Irish pop would be a lot flatter were it not for Cat Dowling. The alternative and slightly out-of-kilter singer broke the mould, among other things. Born in 1972, she grew up in south Kilkenny on the outskirts of Waterford city, where she crashed her mother Mairin Dowd's Morris Minor into the garage door when she was five. "She was not very happy," Cat laughs.
The first song she can remember singing is Bob Dylan's Just Like a Woman at a neighbour's birthday when she was seven. She got a round of applause even before she finished the first verse.
Three decades on, Cat Dowling's music is as passionate and compelling as the woman herself – a former lead singer of Babelfish and Alphastates.
Her debut album The Believer, just out, has echoes of all her influences – like Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Ennio Morricone, Sonic Youth, Billie Holiday, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Bjork, The Ramones, Milan Kundera, Yeats and PJ Harvey – while sounding nothing like any of them.
"Some of these people and musicians, when I heard them first, first read them, they blew my mind and made my skin shiver," Cat says with a smile.
PJ Harvey, she says, is "so intense about her art. I love the way she pushes herself, and everything she does is 120 per cent of herself".
Of Nina Simone, she says, "apart from her musical genius, I loved that fighter side in her". While of her hero Patti Smith, Cat says she loves "her power and the way she goes beyond male/female. I love how raw, intelligent and truthful she is".
You could say the same about Cat Dowling. Cruel, from her new album, is about subjugation. The lyric concerns, she explains, "the rage that boils when someone keeps you down on every level.
"Anger can be a very positive force. It is written from the gut. There's a real tension in it and, every time I sing it, I relive every word".
The beautiful song Somebody Else is inspired and based on a quote by EE Cummings: 'To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.'
The Well Runs Dry, she says, means an awful lot to her for very personal reasons. "It's a really sad song and it's about loads of different painful stuff. Too much to mention.
"It's one of those songs I can't really get into words. But the song just captures it all for me," she says, adding this album is "more honest than anything else I've ever written.
"The new songs are about the highs and lows of being human. I am drawn to issues that aren't so comfortable. Within this, I always strive to leave enough space for the listener to take what they need from it. I never write songs that are closed at both ends".
The title track of this glorious new album, The Believer, could have been written by Van Morrison because of its philosophical depth and vision.
"It basically means save the piece that lives outside of the linear brain. It means save the child/the instinctual piece in us – the most primal part of us. The Believer is at risk of dying out as the left-brained existence continues to dominate modern life," she says.
Having said that, Sing You to Sleep is a love song for her four-year-old daughter Rachel. Cat – and partner Brian, a nurse – also have a two-year-old son, Odhran. "They are really funny and a bit mad. Both are fearless and have amazing imaginations – particularly my little girl. She is gonna be the songwriter and he will be the rhythm section.
"I love being a mother. I love watching the world again through their little eyes. It's way more interesting than the grown-up view."
As for Brian, he has got, she says, "a huge passion for music too. He writes songs, but purely for himself and for the shower".
She met him in the Dice Bar on Queen Street in Dublin in June 2004. They knew people in common. "It was huge chemistry. He fancied me a lot and I fancied him. We clicked straightaway. I guess it was a little piece of magic."
Like her album The Believer, I guess.
Cat Dowling plays Galway Arts Festival tomorrow in the Roisin Dubh; the KnockanStockan festival in Blessington Lakes on the weekend of July 26; Castlepalooza festival on August bank holiday in Charleville Castle, Tullamore; and Valentia Island on September 15. She is also going to New York in October to play a couple of shows. For further information go to: www.catdowlingmusic.com