Protagonists is a series of interviews about life, identity, and pursuing passions…
Cat Hunter is just about the most good natured person you’ll meet. Altruistic, but with the passion and drive for it to mean something, she’s heavily involved in helping reconnect isolated groups in society such as the homeless and the elderly.
As a drummer, she’s toured extensively with dance troupe, Tap Dogs and, most notably, is currently performing with Sydney folk favourites, Little May.
What’s Little May up to at the moment?
We’re coming to the end of the album cycle. We released our first album in October and we’re about to do a big tour supporting City and Colour. We’ll get to play some cool venues like The Enmore.
In May we’re doing our own headline tour. That’ll be fantastic. We get a really good reception overseas. We just need a little bit more time touring Australia to build up more of an audience here.
Is there anywhere you didn’t expect to have fans?
Germany was the big surprise. [We] had amazing turnouts to all the shows and they had pretty diehard fans. One guy travelled six hours with photos of the last time we’d played.
But yeah, they got there early and waited for soundcheck. To go to the other side of the world and have people excited to see you is incredibly encouraging.
What are your favourite venues?
We always go back to the Workers Club in Melbourne. It’s where we played our first gig outside Sydney. They do cheap rooms for bands, so all six of us will pile in there and stay in bunk beds. It’s like camping. We tend to go back there because we love the cafes around and it was the first big roadtrip we did.
[Also] When we played with Mumford & Sons, we played in Jersey Shore. They made this stage on the beach. Everyone came off the boardwalk. On your left was the Atlantic Ocean and on your right was the theme park and boardwalk which was really cool.
Was that the same show you were a dancing rainbow for The Flaming Lips?
Yes, we were asked after our set if we wanted to dress up. We had the choice of mushroom costumes, which were singular, or two people could be the rainbow. Mark and I aren’t too dissimilar in height so we went for the rainbow suit! It’s used in ‘Do You Realize?’
It was super heavy and you couldn’t see much so the crew helped us onstage and told us the moves they wanted – mainly arm waving and swaying. It was all pretty surreal with the sun setting over the beach. At the end of the song there was a massive explosion of rainbow confetti which rained down on everyone.
You’re not fazed by filling the space of outdoor venues?
No. The girls are relatively quiet singers. In smaller venues I have to be mindful of that so they can actually hear themselves. Outdoor venues mean I can play as loud as I like and get a bit more into it. I quite enjoy that.
[However] It can be harder outdoors – depending on where the wind’s blowing, sometimes you can’t really hear the crowd so you’re like, “are they even enjoying this?!” You can’t hear them clapping. Obviously a sold out show is ideal anywhere because the place is rammed and the energy is amazing.
If you’re in an early timeslot at a festival, people might not be fully engaged – walking past or waiting for the next act. Does that bother you?
We’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve had decent crowds considering how early we’ve been playing. The last festival run we did was Falls. We were on in the early afternoon but had a really good turnout. It’s chilled, which is good because the album really lends itself to that, sort of easy afternoon vibes.
Where’s your focus when you’re drumming? I imagine it like juggling – if you focus on the individual balls, it doesn’t really work and that’s when you drop things. You have to kind of let things go out of focus and rely on feel.
Yeah, 100%. You’re only really focused when things aren’t going smoothly. So when you’re in the zone you don’t even think about it. It’s the best feeling. You’re one with everyone else and you’re all creating this thing that’s just working and it’s a really joyous feeling. It’s awesome.
But when stuff is going wrong, it can be a bit tougher. If the girls can’t hear very well or there’s a problem with sound then I’ll try and lift a bit and throw off more energy. I become more focused on trying to work as a team rather than just sitting and enjoying my role.
Do you have a shorthand on stage to communicate?
In the beginning we had signals for each other or we’d even just be like ‘SLOW DOWN!’ But after playing together so long you can just read each other’s body language or eye contact.
It’s like your best friend – you can tell when they’re upset or really happy or if something’s bothering them. You spend so many hours playing the same songs and working on different instrumentations or ways to mix it up that you can just kind of read the person.
Beyond the standard drum kit, what’s your favourite percussion item?
Hannah had this great little shaker but she lost it. So Mark bought her a new one and it’s a cucumber. That’s my new favourite. I haven’t had a go yet though.
It always strikes me at indoor shows that things are incredibly dark on stage. Is that tricky when you’re looking around for gear?
Definitely. You have to pre-plan. You have a stick bag so you can have that hanging off your floor tom. You can grab sticks if you drop them. Then I like to have a few drumsticks placed around the kit just in case. More of a safety net than anything.
You try and pick up a stick mid-beat. Otherwise you have to really think about what the important parts of the beat are. The backbeat which you hear on the snare drum usually on two and four, that’s something you want to emphasise. If you drop your left stick, that’s usually what you play the backbeat with, so you’ll have to sub in some right hands. You just try and make it as smooth as possible and hopefully no one notices!
Do you worry about tinnitus?
Definitely, tinnitus is such a horrible disease. I already get a few high pitched notes going off so I do everything in my power to make sure I’m protected. I always wear earplugs during rehearsals and most performances and when I’m watching gigs. The musicians’ earplugs from an audiologist only cut out the top and bottom damaging decibels so you can still hear everything perfectly.
When you say ‘high pitched notes going off’, like a ringing in your ears?
You get like a sudden high pitch note which lasts about 20 seconds before it goes away – I think it’s the dying scream of a hair in your ear, which is comforting.
Have you ever been heckled?
We did a gig called Party in the Park at North Sydney Oval and a couple of people shouted ‘show us your tits!’ Which is annoying because they wouldn’t shout that to [male musicians].
Did Mark lift up his shirt?
Mark was thinking about it. But no, we just ignored the comment at the time. We were playing that gig with The Jezabels and Hayley actually came out and told them where to go, which was awesome and probably something we need to do as women in music. It’s really important to not stand for those sort of comments and hopefully we can change the culture of music.
Lauren from CHVRCHES is good at that. She’s never shy about calling people out.
Yeah, she’s been excellent for calling out people both online and in the crowd. Also Beth [from Best Coast] did an article recently talking about over-sexualisation of female musicians. She also talked about sexual harassment within the industry itself which rings true for most female musicians. We shouldn’t even need to say female. We should just say musicians, but it’s not the case.
In the songwriting process, who’s the main driving force?
The three girls share it between them. They’ll get together and write. Or they’ll just email ideas and everyone kind of adds to it. Once the song has a bit of a structure and they know what they want to do with it then they’ll show it to me and Mark. Sometimes we’ll add our own stuff, or sometimes the girls have a strong idea of what they’d like so then it’s just about facilitating that. They’ve got a really cohesive writing process.
Your mum got you into drums quite early, right?
Yeah she signed me up. Dad’s always been a massive music fan though. He’s always got something pumping through the house like Radiohead or Sigur Ros or Muse. His alternative rock music is a definite influence. Music was considered cool, rather than, “Oh no, you want to play the drums!”
That support was instrumental (‘scuse the pun) in my career. And learning discipline. Mum would sit and watch me do my scales or my rudiments – I did piano as well – just making sure that I was actually practising. Mum’s a teacher so [her approach was], “if you’re gonna do this, do it.”
Tell me about your side-project, Engages.
It’s about connecting people. Teaming up young people and old people based around common interests with the hope of building sustainable relationships. There are lots of facts and figures around anxiety and lack of connection for young people. Mental health is an issue. On the other hand, we have an ageing population who can become isolated and lonely. So it seems like a natural pairing to me.
What was the catalyst?
I think working at a golf club was interesting. Seeing people come in and have those friendships, then, as golf became too hard, playing bridge. The saddest thing is when bridge players don’t have partners, you kinda just get left out and socially isolated.
I also did a business degree that I wasn’t using for music. It made sense for me to try and put the two together to come up with a solution.
Have you got the requisite support?
All the facilities we’ve talked to have been really excited by the idea. Obviously there are a few natural barriers. Things like having to get background checks for working with the elderly. Money can be an issue. Insurance, things like that. So if we can start off under the branch of the day centre and be qualified under their insurance that’ll help a lot.
I had a meeting with my co-director the other day. We spoke about how we have to put it on the backburner for a bit while I’m touring. To start it up then have to stop would be really detrimental. So while music’s going really well, it’s sad that I’ve had to hold off on this. We have all the material and all the contacts. Everything’s ready to go. We just need the time, basically.
You’ve also been involved in volunteer work with homeless people.
I did that for two years. That was every Monday night just going and chatting with homeless people, telling them about the services available to them. Every now and then the council does a day where they can get their hair cut or get new clothes or a dentist appointment.
I know the latest Young Australians of the Year have set up a mobile laundry service along similar lines. But a lot of people can be daunted by charitable work simply because there are so many causes. It’s hard to know where to start.
That’s definitely a massive barrier. Working out where your passions lie is the key, otherwise you run out of steam. Also, what are you able to volunteer? Do you have money? Do you have time? Do you have experience? It’s about being proactive, reaching out to people and seeing if they want your help.
Once you reach a certain level with music – in a band and having graduated from formal education – how do you improve when you’re your own taskmaster?
Maintaining the desire to improve is easy because you’re surrounded by so many incredible musicians. That’s inspiring and makes you want to work harder. The actual improving bit is tough because you could just sit around and stay at the level you’re at.
There are so many resources out there, whether it’s collaborating with other musicians or even just using the internet. Getting masterclasses. There are so many things you can do.
I’ve been really lucky to work with a bunch of musicians in an all-girl drum squad called Drummer Queens. Joe Accaria, the music director who came up with the idea is amazing. To learn from him has been a really awesome experience. That’s made it easy for me to stay positive and motivated.
I’ve been working with one of the girls, Paris, who’s also sponsored by Ludwig. We’ve been talking about putting together a video and trying to promote women in music and women in drums.
Ludwig sponsors about 13 artists across Australia – two of us are female. Hopefully we can come up with something which will encourage more female drummers and put them in the spotlight so they’ll get endorsed and celebrated.
What bands are you into at the moment?
Saskwatch are amazing live. We just played a gig with them in Perth. Gang of Youths are incredible. Young Fathers. Beach House. Sufjan Stevens. Meg Mac, too.
Any bands you were relieved to find out are super nice?
Cloud Control are the nicest people. I think that comes across in their music.
I’ve always enjoyed the crowd interaction from the main guy, Al.
Yeah, he’s very funny. Quite quirky.
Do you have any recurring dreams?
When I’m having them, I know what’s going to happen and I’ll slow it down and manipulate it, but when I wake up I never remember. You’re probably better off asking Annie. The latest artwork for Little May was all based on dreams she had. You can see all sorts of creepy, strange things in there. One has this big whale in it – she’d dreamt the whale was chasing her and her siblings around East Lindfield.
By now we know to expect anything from Annie. She does the most amazing drawings.
As you go on bigger tours, does that galvanise the group dynamic?
Definitely. The first big tour we did, we were living together in this rickety old house in Hudson in upstate New York. The kitchen was on a slant. We had one bathroom. The toilet didn’t flush properly. And there were five of us. Mark was sleeping in a hallway. Liz’s bedroom was essentially the kitchen. It was an interesting time and really brought us together. That was a really challenging tour.
Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Things affect your morale. You always have to adapt and pull together to make it happen. As a result I think we’re getting pretty resilient and have this amazing bond.
It’s very close knit. Annie and I went to primary school together and we’ve all been to high school together. It’s cool being able to grow up with these people then travel the world with them.
Little May is touring from March supporting City and Colour, before launching their own headline tour in May 2016.