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CAT VET: Don’t Call Us Cute.

September 4, 2011

Text by Maddy Court. Images by Evan Kaucher.

It’s a quiet Tuesday night in Cedar Park. A dozen and a half people file into the Unholy Trinity House, which contrary to its contentious name, is a basement laundry room decorated with Christmas tree lights and a portrait of President Obama taped to the water heater.

Four bands are on tonight, including Cher Horowitz, a punk quartet from San Francisco who encourages everyone in the audience to take off their shirts (with limited success). After several rowdy performances in the sweaty room, West Philadelphia’s own CAT VET, the final act of the night, takes the floor and begins a rumbling session. All geographical biases aside, they get the crowd bouncing, slamming and head-nodding the hardest.

CAT VET is the collective sound of roommates Dawn Riddle, Jesse Riggins, and Kristin Hankins. Dawn and Jesse alternate playing guitar and drums, while Kristin sings lead vocals. Their set is a raw jambalaya of noise that, in the grand tradition of lo-fi punk, makes distinguishing the precise lyrics impossible. On one song, it sounds like Kristin sings the words “cat vet” over and over.

The definite set highlight is their song “Time Boner.”

All Kristin has to do is divulge that it’s a song about the fourth Terminator movie and the audience goes crazy, screaming out Arnold impressions.

“Are any of you even old enough to have seen the Terminator movies?” someone in the crowd sasses during the Unholy Trinity show.

The majority of the crowd, however, rushes to defend CAT VET’s credibility and for a moment, there’s tension. Thankfully, the song starts before things get too out of hand.

When they’re not playing local venues or touring, Dawn, Jesse, and Kristin retreat to their home, dubbed the Bathhouse because it has an old sauna. The Bathhouse is cavernous in that high-ceilinged, echoey way of West Philly Victorian rowhomes. The trio frequently offer it out as a crash pad for wandering punk groups.

After the Unholy Trinity House show is no exception. Members of Cher Horowitz make BLTs in the Bathhouse kitchen and it feels like a summer camp for punk bands.

In the living room, Jesse’s cuddles with Cher Horowitz’s bassist, telling the joke about the guy who walks into a psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but Saran wrap.

“And the doctor says, ‘I can clearly see you’re nuts!'” Dawn bursts, stealing the punch line.

Jesse, 28, and Dawn, 29, go way back – they were neighbors in Portland, and both coincidentally moved to Philadelphia, where they met Kristin, 23. The trio moved in together and bonded over a shared love of Dirty Dancing, which Kristin watched every day in a post-breakup slump.

They made the leap to band mates during the summer of 2010. One of the band’s favorite songs is entitled “Dirty Dancing.

There’s not much significance behind the name of the band, for the record. Jesse simply overheard a guy at work say he had to take his cat to the vet. She thought the name sounded cool.

Over the year and a half since their inception, CAT VET has become a staple of the small but loyal basement punk scene.

In some ways, the scene’s smallness can also be stifling. The members of CAT VET admit that it sometimes feels like they’re playing the exact same set list with the same line-up of bands to the exact same faces at the same few venues.

“There’s a network and we all kind of know each other,” says Jesse.

Weary of exhausting their welcome, they’ve put themselves on temporary hiatus from playing at The Marvelous record shop in West Philly. The Unholy Trinity House may be next to be barred.

They are also tired of being referred to as a girl band.

“People will come up to us after shows and say, “You sound like Bratmobile,'” says Kristin. “Like, that’s the only band they’ve heard of with girls.”

CAT VET’s got nothing against Bratmobile, they just do not think they sound much like them.

“People say we’re cute,” Jesse adds. “I hate being called cute. If we were dudes no one would say we were cute. They’d say we were dudes in a band.”

Yet CAT VET remains unfazed in the face of backhanded compliments and inaccurate Riot Grrrl comparisons. The trio is resolute that anyone can start a band and go on tour. They would especially like to see more women playing music.

“I think there are fewer women in bands because they’re intimidated and when they do, they’re discouraged,” says Jesse. “Start a band. Just do it. Stop being a baby and just do it.”

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