Come Gather Around Us
Indie Musician Profile with singer/songwriter Catherine Feeny from Portland, OR by Richard Turgeon, author of Indie Rock 101
Portland-based singer/songwriter Catherine Feeny’s angelic voice and haunting melodies started garnering mainstream attention when her song “Mr. Blue” was featured in the 2006 film, Running with Scissors, and TV’s The O.C. Her second album, Hurricane Glass, was produced by U.K. musician Sebastian Rogers and released to critical acclaim in 2006. She’s also toured with such musical luminaries as Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega, Dr. John and John Prine.
Catherine recently released a new DVD, We Are All in the Same Band, that documents the tour and performances of her ensemble folk rock band, Come Gather Round Us (CGRU) she formed with Sebastian, who also now happens to be her husband.
Catherine was good enough to answer a few of my questions about her life as an indie musician, how she’s promoting her music, and working with her band and spouse.
Rich: How do you balance your solo work with CGRU?
Catherine: The best thing you have to go on as an artist is your creative urges, so as much as I can, I respond to them. If I am bored and tired of pulling my own wagon all alone, I start writing for the band and talking to Sebastian about making a band album. If I feel excited about moving in a new direction, one that doesn’t necessarily suit the band, I have the ability to do that. The band is new comparatively, so I’m still figuring it out.
Speaking of Sebastian, your Come Gather Round Us bandmate is also your husband. There’s touring, collaboration, recording together. Sooo… What’s that like?
I can’t imagine it any other way. We are so lucky to get to travel together, create together, share so many experiences—it’s unifying. Of course we fight and annoy each other and stifle each other at times, but both of us are fairly in touch with ourselves and able to communicate when something’s not cool. And even when we disagree, we are starting from a place of having a lot of common ground. I think it’s important, also, that we each have our own things too—so we have time apart, and we come back together excited and happy to be there.
How did you meet the other band members?
We met Jon through a friend of mine from college. We went to see him play with his bluegrass band, Jackstraw, and before the end of the show, Sebastian was talking about what it would be like to have a musician of that caliber playing our songs. And then we met Mike through Jon. Initially we borrowed a Wurlitzer electric piano from him—Mike has a great instrument that he maintains himself—and then we went to see his band Trashcan Joe play, and we thought he was great.
How did your new DVD We Are All in the Same Band come together?
We got to know a really talented and energetic filmmaker from Seattle named Keith Rivers. Sebastian produced some music for him—he’s also a talented songwriter—and in return, Keith offered to shoot the recording session for our second album. We came back to the footage and the editing process a long time after the initial recording, and Sebastian had the task of learning to import Pro Tools files into Final Cut Pro and mix audio for film—a lot of it in one terrifically long overnight session. He made some creative choices with the sound that really strengthen the DVD and keep it varied and interesting from beginning to end.
What channels are you selling the DVD through?
We are selling it through CDbaby.com [See my interview with CDBaby founder Derek Sivers in my book, Indie Rock 101. – Rich]. We love that it is a local company and we have friends who work there. But I’ve had a relationship with them since 2003 when I self-released my first album, and have always been impressed with how well they handle a huge volume of artists.
I sold directly from my website for my last solo album and it was a bit of a nightmare—a lot of my fans are in England, which means filling out hundreds of customs forms, and then it just so happened there was a mail strike going on in the UK at the time and some albums never got there. So, I’d rather someone else handle that end of things, if possible.
Do you see the DVD as a give to current fans, or a promotional vehicle to help garner new ones?
We love making things and putting them into the world. Of course, a DVD is going to be more for people who already like the music because its more expensive and it’s more of a commitment to sit down and watch a film than it is for most people to put on some music in their car. We had all of these cool videos—both live performance and art videos that people had made for us—and it seemed logical that we would put them all together.
Where has the film screened, and are there plans to continue screening it in theaters or other public events?
We showed the first bit of the DVD at the release party in Portland. It was a great night—our friend Daniel Dixon was also releasing an album that he’d worked on with Sebastian, and a big band from Denver called Paperbird played too. The energy all night was really positive, and it was so cool to see part of the DVD on a big screen. I am looking into other screening opportunities as well.
As an independent musician, what are some of the best ways you’ve found to make new fans and increase your fan base?
Touring is a good way, but it’s slow when you’re playing to small audiences. It’s great if you can get a support slot with a good artist who has a bigger following than you do, but those opportunities are very sought after. Things like Pandora seem to help. I’ve had the good fortune to have music placed in some television shows and films and to be featured on a music program called Sun Studio Sessions, both of which have been massively helpful. Being part of a music community—one that you take from and give back to in a real way—increases your chances of not only getting touring and TV opportunities (which increase your fan base), but of enjoying life as a musician.
What was your label experience vs. being an independent musician? What do you see as the pros and cons of each?
The differences, in my experience, are pretty much exactly what you might expect. With the label you have means, but more pressure to succeed and less creative freedom. As an independent artist, you have total creative freedom, no pressure, and limited means in terms of making, marketing and promoting albums. Generally I enjoy being an independent artist, but I can’t say that I don’t still dream of finding that ideal label that loves everything I do exactly the way I do it and takes care of all of that troublesome business of getting the music out there. I guess I am a kid who just wants to play all day! : )