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The Cats: Make Music. Drink Beer.

January 12, 2016
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TheCatesOnline02Text and images by Michael Bucher.

Sitting outside Titan House in the glow of a South Philly sunset, The Cats are drinking together before their set later tonight. There’s a case of Miller Lite retro cans and blue and orange bottles of MD 20/20, something the company calls a fortified wine. Drinking, The Cats agree, is consistently a part of their writing, recording and performing, and it works. When asked what they wanted from the band, Brett Green put it simply – “a good time.”

“I think the beer drinking has intensified since Brett – particularly Brett – and I joined the band,” says Greg Fowler.

The Cats are a group of friends who have known each other from a lifetime in the DIY music scene. Their ages range from 30 to 40, and none are caught up with worrying about making music to make money.

They just like playing shows and making records and getting drunk together.

Vocalist Manon Gordan and guitarists Ben Schorr and Colin (who doesn’t like associating his last name with the band because of “tin-hat type paranoia”) have only gone on tour once after their first album, Big America, was released in 2013.

In the last year, the band added Fowler and Green, friends of different band members since high school. Fowler proudly explains how he got the former drummer to leave by convincing him it was negatively impacting his free time.

Schorr remembers Green being similarly enthusiastic to join. When he asked Green if he wanted to play bass for them, he gave a simple but definitive, “Yup.”

This June, the band put out a new EP called Grave Desacrator + 4 that falls right in line with the lo-fi early ’90s indie sound the band first emulated when they started as a Guided By Voices cover band in 2012. The fuzzy guitars and Manon’s muffled vocals feel like the damp, dark, South Philly basement shows they naturally gravitate toward. They had cassettes made because it would have taken too long to get them pressed before a four-day tour in October, stopping in Huntington, West Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, Pittsburgh and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Extended tours are difficult, though, for the maturing band members.

“We all have jobs and I have kids,” says Colin, who’s wearing pink framed sunglasses and a matching bandana tied around his forehead. “It’s hard to explain to my wife, ‘Honey, watch the kids for a week. I’m gonna go make no money in a van with my beer drinking buddies.’”

As hard of a sell as that might be to his wife, the band sees that scenario as a picture of success.

“We all kinda grew up in the DIY punk scene and we were always kind of disillusioned with the officialness of stuff,” says Fowler. “I think in the back of everyone’s mind was ‘Ah, I think this would be great to do this as a job.’”

Schorr and Fowler had a taste of officialness when they were in an experimental hardcore band together called Towers, but the taste was more foul than the MD 20/20 they’re drinking.

“Towers did a record with a label that had distribution, but all that amounted to was a review in a big magazine that trashed the record,” says Schorr. “It was stupid.”

So now the band doesn’t count on anything like that. They produced Relax on Everyone in 2014 with their own money and sent it around to anyone they thought might like it. The album was mentioned in a few year-end lists, including Best Reasons to Write Fuckin Record Reviews, Dusted in Exile and Philadelphia City Paper. Long-time friend of the band and WFMU DJ Thomas Storck featured The Cats on his eclectic noise/industrial/electronic radio show.

“The Cats aren’t like a lot of other stuff I play on the show but I still think it works,” says Storck, who was a DJ with Schorr at Drexel’s WKDU and was quick to pay attention to the band after first hearing them. “In terms of accessibility, I think they have potential to have a really broad fan base.”

The accolades and kind words still don’t change the band’s outlook. After they finish playing their set in the basement, drenched in sweat, they quickly begin packing up. Colin has a spare shirt in the car because he has work that night in New York City.

“Was it badass?” Schorr asks the band, in his best South Philly Italian accent.

“Oh, it was badassss,” the bandmates reply, content as can be.

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