She moved from Virginia to New York City five years ago to go to art school and try and make it as a painter. After the art scene didn’t work out, she began performing music via MTA venues. Exactly one year prior to this interview, her music video for “Brooklyn Girls,” the first single off her Brooklyn EP was premiered by Noisey and received a wide range of opinions – mostly negative towards the video’s portrayal of what we already knew to be true, the gentrification of north Brooklyn.
One year later we sat down with Catey Shaw before a packed show at Highline Ballroom to talk not only about the impact of the video and the opinions surrounding it, but how she fits into the Brooklyn music scene, the “Brooklyn Girls” music video, finger banging, painting, and so much more.
P&W: You’ve been cutting your teeth so to speak around the LES and Brooklyn music scene for a few years now, how does it feel to start playing larger venues?
Catey: It’s different for sure. I got used to that little club thing, and some of the best shows we’ve done are in those little packed places, but the way that I approach a show is still very much like that where it just feels like a room of people I know. I think it could end up being a good thing if I play it right. I still just have my whiskey and have fun up there, if I try changing things around, I may get too nervous and that might be a problem.
P&W: Since The Brooklyn EP came out in 2014, what statement do you feel you’ve made in the local music scene with it since then?
Catey: Well each song kind of has its own little thing, but what I really wanted to do and the reason I love pop music and want to make pop music; is to be reachable to all sorts of people, and not have it be some exclusive indie style of music that only hip and cool people know about. I really like the idea of making a universal style of music, which is pop. It’s something everyone can connect to and no one’s too cool or not cool enough for it. When I put “Brooklyn Girls” out, I was trying to reach people like myself, someone living in Virginia wearing a 50s prom dress to 9th grade math class and people would make fun of me. Of course I thought that I was cool but I didn’t have anything letting me know that was actually me being cooler than everyone else. It’s like wait a minute, I was cool! Looking back it’s easy to say I’m glad I did that.
P&W: Since you mentioned “Brooklyn Girls,” the video became a viral sensation and got a lot of mixed reviews. Did you ever worry that the popularity the video was getting as an Internet sensation was getting in the way of the song and what you were trying to say with the music?
Catey: When it was happening, yes. The song came out on a Tuesday, on Wednesday Noisey posted it and then I had a show at Baby’s All Right on Thursday, but that whole Wednesday the whole Internet was freaking out at me. I took it took it very personally.
P&W: Well it’s your art, you should
Catey: Exactly, it’s my name. I’ve never wanted to have a stage name because I want to be held accountable for everything I do. There’s no stage Catey and real life Catey, this is just who I am. So when that was happening it felt like a personal attack, people were coming into my home and telling me that I’m an awful person and all of these things. Then the next day when we played the show at Baby’s, it was a packed house and I could finally play the song on stage and let the song speak for itself. I think that was when I reminded that the whole viral aspect and opinions didn’t matter at all. It was also one of the best things to have happened, I mean it gave me kind of a name to work off of. It’s great that starting off with a negative thing like that gives me kind of a chip on my shoulder to fight back against. Once the video stopped getting a ton of plays, you’d see that people were still listening to it on Spotify, they’re listening to the song itself. That what happens when you make things I guess, you can’t tell someone how to perceive your art.
P&W: Is that your favorite song off the EP?
Catey: It’s tough to say, my favorite song might be “Human Contact,” but then there are other songs of the EP that are really meaningful to me as a songwriter and going through that process with songs like “Show Up,” where I was able to show my personality a little more and not be so rigid.
P&W: With your new single, “Rumble In The Park,” how does that compare to what you did on The Brooklyn EP?
Catey: “Rumble In The Park” turned out to be this great transitional tool from The Brooklyn EP. When we started writing after the EP, we were really able to move forward with just basslines. My main co-writer is a bass player and we when we click the best artistically, is when he’s playing some funky bass line. There’s all these songs like “Uptown Funk” that are making it okay again to really express that funk side of pop music. I mean I was really into disco as a kid and Jay was into 80s music, so finding that median makes it easy to write a song like “Rumble In The Park.” When we were working on that song, Jay mentioned his friend was wearing a shirt that said ‘finger banger’ on it, and he said, oh we have to write a song called finger banger! Immediately in my head – I’m like no we’re not writing a song called finger banger (laughs) BUT we could write a song about a lesbian gang called the finger bangers and it all took off from there. I mean it was right after the “Brooklyn Girls” video thing happened so I figured if people are going to say shit anyway, let’s just do whatever the hell we want!
P&W: Is that just a small taste of new music we’ll be hearing from you in 2015?
Catey: Definitely. That song is still on the end of The Brooklyn EP era if you will, and moving into the new stuff it’ll be tied together a little bit sonically.
P&W: You play some ukulele. Have you ever considered doing some very stripped down music with just vocals and the instrument?
Catey: You know, I’m not super attached to the ukulele; I picked it up because I wanted to write songs but I didn’t play any instruments and someone left one at my house. It’s only got four strings so it’s not very intimidating, it’s easy to play chords and so it’s really more of a utilitarian thing for me. When we started putting music out, it kind of became like a shtick with this cute girl who sings and plays the ukulele. It wasn’t very true to myself. When I put it down I can finally just run around on stage. I’ll keep it around if it has its place in certain songs. Sitting in a room by myself with a ukulele has just never gotten me off, it’s not my thing.
P&W: How did you come to learn your way around the NYC music scene coming from Virginia?
Catey: I had no idea what it was like. When I came here music wasn’t a big goal, it was just something I did on my own. I was a painter, I am a painter. I came to NYC to learn to be a visual artist and go to school for it. After a few years I ran out of money and started playing ukulele and singing on the subway busking for money, then when I met Jay he pulled me out of the subway and into the studio to start writing. Initially I was trying to write jingles for commercials and stuff like that, then one day I started messing with this stupid sample, which ended up turning into “Run Run Run” and everything changed. I always had it in me via my musical family, but was a little more pulled out of me as my first live was art.
P&W: What are you better at, painting or songwriting?
Catey: Oh God. I don’t know (laughs). Most realistically I’d say music because of the position I’m in now, that and painting is kind of dead. I’d feel more honest because I’m the better painter, but most people don’t know as much about painting as they think they do about music, so I could just say I’m a great painter and they’d believe me (laughs).
Article: Tom Shackleford