Interview by Barry Egan
Feline pun alert! Positively purring, Cat Dowling prepares herself to sing I’m Not Like Everybody Else. It is not the most obvious track to cover, but then there is nothing obvious about Cat Dowling, a former lead singer of Babelfish and Alphastates.
The song was first released in the summer of 1966 as the B-side to Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks. “I won’t take it all lying down/Cause when I get started, I go to town,” she sings, setting the Windmill Lane Sessions on independent.ie metaphorically alight with her version of Ray Davies’ dig at his brother Dave.
‘Speak the truth even if your voice quivers' - that’s how I feel about this album. Its about saying it like it is
Even allowing for music journo hyperbole (we’re a giddy lot), she makes the song her own.
“It's a totally ‘in your face’ song,” she says. “It’s beautifully simple, yet in its simplicity lies its brilliance. I love the way it’s truthful, cocky but very fragile at the same time. And I’m drawn to that massive growl underneath. It’s a wicked song to sing. Ray Davies, to me, is a poet.
“His lyrics remind me of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry, albeit in a very different way. Very simple, but incredibly potent all at the same time. I wanted to do a cover of a song I would never normally sing.
“I didn’t wish to sing it like the original. I wanted to sing it like it was mine — my song. I guess I chose this song because I felt that I could have written that song!” she laughs.
The comment says much about Ms Dowling, who is like an Irish PJ Harvey with bells on. For instance, the title track of her last album, 2013’s alt classic The Believer, she describes thus: “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.”
Of the new album Is This Love — to which she is putting the finishing touches, and should be out in a few months — Cat says: “I heard someone say once ‘Speak the truth even if your voice quivers'. That’s how I feel about this album. Its about saying it like it is.”
Cat describes the record as being full of “raw energy. It’s got lots of rhythm. When people and events are raw and true, this is when magic happens. All this technical world is amazing, but it’s too easy to squash out the humanity and life from music.”
“I’m a songwriter and I feel things a lot, whether from knowing other people’s stories and emotions and/or my own. And ‘is this love?’ is an age-old question.
“A lot of the songs are telling other people’s stories. There are lots of heartache stories — but not necessarily of the traditional boy/girl kind, there are also ones of father/son and mother/child relationships, sibling love, love between friends, hidden love, true love, animal love...”
The Windmill Lane Sessions were lucky enough to have Cat play Animals, one of the stand-out tracks from the new album.
“Again, this is another ‘in your face’ song. It’s brazen, playing on the primal needs and desires in all of us. I like the dark intensity in it and the subtle growls it holds. It’s a song about running free with your own wolves.”
Buzzing with adrenaline now as she winds down after an emotionally frantic four- hour session in Windmill Lane, Cat says, “There’s a beautiful freedom to making music. It’s not important what other folks think as much as being passionate about what you’re making, and making the best music you can.”
“I’m a harsh self-critic and I pass my own judgments. That’s all I care about. I’m excited about the songs I’ve written. That in itself makes me even more excited. I feel really fortunate to still have so many songs inside me screaming to get out.”
Windmill Lane Sessions: The creative wisdom of the Young Folk