The BIG Über Rock Interview - Chris Catalyst (Eureka Machines) Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 10 February 2018 04:00

Chris Catalyst SunflowerChris Catalyst is something of a rock ‘n’ roll hero here at ÜRHQ. Not only does he front one of the best rock bands in the UK (and dare we say, most successful independent ones to boot!) but he has built a library of impressive and exciting gigs with bands including Sisters of Mercy, Ugly Kid Joe and the Ginger Wildheart Band. He’s probably the only man in the world who can go toe-to-toe with Random Jon Poole in the personality stakes and makes every band he’s in.


Following the (ahem) characteristically brilliant solo debut, ‘Life is Often Brilliant’, last year, Chris is now back with the Eureka boys to serve up a brand new Pledge campaign for album number five, titled ‘Victories’, alongside a rarities collection which, if its anything like past out-takes like ‘Scapegoats’ or the band’s version of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, will be an absolute corker. But enough fawning; here’s the man himself to tell us exactly what he's up to at the moment…


We are midway through the recording process for our new album. The Pledge campaign is going really well and our wonderful army of supporters have turned up in droves. About ten minutes ago I finished recording my main vocals for the record. So I am celebrating with some Quorn cocktail sausages and a cup of tea. I'm basically Keith Richards!


Last year was a very quiet one for the Eurekas – does it feel good to be back in the saddle, so to speak?


It's been totally fantastic to do some creative stuff again. I do like writing and getting this stuff together. But most of all it's been totally ace to hang out with The Lads again. We are, after all, mates and, what with life going on and some of us being (relative) grown-ups with careers and children, we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like. So making some new music gives us the excuse to hang out a bit more and have some laughs. Which is ultimately why we do this.


How has the time apart affected the band? 


It hasn't, really. We pick up conversations we started 18 months ago as if nothing happened. We're still in touch when the band aren't doing anything, anyway. There's usually something going on (involving curry).


The last record had got something of an overarching theme to it, will this one follow suit? 


Sort of. I'm a bit more comfortable writing more personal lyrics these days, some of which seem to have struck a chord. I think there's an unavoidable element of following on from both the Brain Waves album and my solo album, certainly thematically. But, as is usually the case with Eureka Machines, there's generally a positive outcome in the end. I've got an idea of the shape of the record, the start, and the middle and the end, which is always very important to us. And for the first time it's more attuned to the lyrics than the tunes. We'll have to see how it all comes out in the end, anyway.


How has working on ‘Life Is Often Brilliant’ affected how you’ll approach this new record?


Chris Catalyst Life artI'm a lot more confident in my writing than I once was, and ‘Life Is Often Brilliant’ sort of galvanised that for me a bit. These days, I just write, confident in the idea that something good will come along sooner or later and if it doesn't avail itself quickly, I can move on to the next thing.


In the process of writing this Eureka Machines album, I accidentally wrote a few that ended up seeming a bit more 'me' - by which I really mean 'slower', ha ha. It's becoming clearer to me how to delineate this stuff. The EM material is really written to sound great with the three of us singing, the too-loud guitars, and Wayne beating the crap out of his drums. So actually it was nice to think 'maybe we should strip it back to more of the 'live' sound and do away with some of the bells and whistles. (Inevitably, the further we get into the recording process, the more bells and whistles come back into view!)


'Brain Waves' was able to chart last time round – do you think that 'Victories' will follow suit?


I would love to see that happen again, if only to mildly annoy the people who don't get us. We seem to have captured a few people's imaginations with our funny little band, and those people seem to be very supportive - which we are in turn incredibly grateful for. I just hope we continue to do what we do, enjoy ourselves, serve those people well, and pick up a few new friends along the way. If that happens, I don't see why we can't do even better than last time, when we managed a week at 75 in the charts. Maybe ‘Victories’ might leap to the heady heights of 74, or even 73.


What can we expect of ‘Victories’? How’s recording gone so far?


As I mentioned, the idea at the start was to do something a little more akin to the live experience - the four of us in a room, playing at maximum velocity and volume - and I think we've managed to capture that. We've got a really good live feel, mainly coming from years of playing together, rehearsing the songs a LOT, and using a decent mix of warm analogue studio gear, great sounding instruments... and a little of the usual digital trickery (we don't have the budget not to!).


Musically, I wanted to be a touch more punk rock (which fits nicely with the production vibe we are going for). I've been listening to a lot of Bob Mould/Sugar, Weezer, Ramones, The Bronx and so on, and although the album doesn't sound like any of those bands, it has a more direct and in-your-face approach down these lines for sure. Ultimately, it still sounds like us, though.


The nice thing about being our band is that we can do what the fuck we want, and so we don't have to manage expectations too much, other than our own, which is basically always being our own favourite band in the entire fucking world. And that's the sound of this record.


Where did the title ‘Victories’ come from?


Eureka Machines Victory artworkThe first song I wrote for the album was called 'Little Victories', and I really liked the word 'victories'. Also, it's a very minor play on the fact it is our fifth album, hence 'V'. I think every day you get to do the things you want to do, and make the art you want to make, is a little victory, and I try to never forget that.


(Initially when I started writing the album, I had this brilliant idea for making a concept album about how the four of us might travel the world, saving the planet with our funny little tunes. We were like Scooby Doo and his gang, in the Mystery Machine. I then realised this was an incredibly fucking stupid idea and got on with writing a proper record.)


What’s inspiring the songs this time and where are you guys at stylistically these days?


There's a lyric in that ‘Little Victories’ song which goes “The usual pleasant themes/Burst hearts and broken dreams”, which about sums it up. Regular viewers might know a bit about a few things that happened to me over the past year or two and I suppose it's automatic that there's a bit more on that - but maybe focusing more on the next stages of all that. Musically, we're all into such a lot of different bands.  As mentioned I've been a bit obsessed with Bob Mould lately, and also listening to a lot of Manics again. Beatles, too. There's a bit more Lennon than McCartney this time, though.


Are there any tracks that you’ve written for this album that you’re excited about fans hearing?


I am a bit too close to it right now to know what is particularly good or not, but off the top of my head, there's a good one called 'House Of Butterflies' which is one of those twisty-turny ones that we do a bit, like 'Love Yourself' or 'Sleep Deprivation'. There's some great stuff in there, and my favourite line I ever wrote.


I also really like one called 'The Next Line' which is a lot more plaintive and straightforward than some of our more histrionic stuff. I like the words to this one too, a bit more candid than usual. I've worked harder than ever on the lyrics for this album, and have enjoyed the more 'heart on sleeve' approach I found on Brain Waves and Life Is Often Brilliant.


What can you tell us about the Rarities album, which is also available through this Pledge campaign?


Eureka Machines Rarities artworkWe've been a band for ten years this year, and it seemed a good time to put out some tracks nobody has heard yet, and some tracks people keep asking for. So it's a double album, one disc with a bunch of stuff we recorded for albums but never saw the light of day, and one disc with a bunch of the covers we've recorded over the years. Some for pledge updates, some that people pledged for (we did a 'We Cover Any Song You Ask For' thing on the last two Pledge campaigns) and some that we recorded for other things that never saw the light of day.


None of this is second prize - there's four of my absolute favourite Eureka Machines songs of all time on the first disc, in 'Everybody Knows', 'Sing', 'Born Ready' and 'Always Wrong'. They were just either not finished when it came to pressing the albums, or there was something about them that didn't fit in with the rest of the tracks. 'Sing' in particular is a monster, I've no idea why we haven't put that out already. We recorded it for Brain Waves but we couldn't get the mix to sit right at the time. Anyway we've finished it now so that you guys can hear it for yourselves.


The covers are a lot of fun too, you've heard quite a few of them but it's the first time they've been on CD and there's some new ones in there too. There's going to be 30-35 tracks on this album, and I think some real gems on there.


‘Victories’ hit its target in around three hours this time round – does this kind of success embolden you to stick with the PledgeMusic platform?


The Pledge platform is a neat little package which works well and looks nice. What is important is the PEOPLE who make it so that we can do these stuff, those who come together and join in and help propel us along into being able to make the records we make. The community around our band is unbelievable at times, both in and outside of music, people coming together to have a good time, to forget about the nonsense that goes on Monday to Friday, and sometimes on a deeper level to support and help each other out personally with Actual Bad Stuff. We just provide the soundtrack.


It was also great to see updates and bonuses right away on the release – how important was it to you to be able to connect with fans that little bit extra? And, by extension, how important is it that other bands get in the habit of doing that for Pledge campaigns? 


I would like to think that one of the reasons we have sustained a modicum of success in this - and in fact grown things slightly - is by running organised and fun crowdfunding pre-order campaigns. People who invest in our band deserve a bit of extra love, and we are no strangers to love. We really enjoy putting things together for those people - be it the covers, or the video updates, or acoustic bits, or interviews, or whatever. We don't take the piss on prices, and we try to keep things non-corporate in approach and feel. I think people respect that, as we respect them.


It's all about striking a balance. I know of one band who won't charge any extra for selling signed CDs. Which I think is admirable and punk rock, both idioms which I subscribe to. BUT that extra few quid we charge for a signed CD or drum head probably amounts to the difference between us getting paid for the time we spend doing this - for some of us, that's time away from our families, time off work - or doing it for free. I am fortunate that this is my job - fucking hell, some days I wake up laughing - but I can't afford to do it for a laugh. In fact, I can afford to it even less for a laugh - if that makes sense - because I don't have another job to fall back on.


The idea of selling a meet and greet makes me feel a bit icky, so that's out. But then I know of a few bands who wouldn't be able to tour without doing those. The punters who want that get what they want, and the bigger picture is that the band can continue touring. You pays your money, you takes your choice. Just so long as you're doing stuff you feel comfortable with. Everyone has their level, and what's right for one isn't right for another.


Ultimately, I am a fan of music myself and I know what I would want from my favourite bands if they were to launch a crowdfunding campaign.


The disconnect comes when bands who have forgotten what it's like to be a fan - those who no longer care about music - try to imagine what their fans would want from something like this. They're just doing it for the kudos, or (worse still) the money. Our patrons know we're not businessmen, so will forgive us putting something back a few weeks or things occasionally going a bit awry - but they also are not stupid and know very well when they're having their legs lifted. People vote with their feet, and our numbers are still (very steadily) going up, so that'll do for me.


One problem when bands cock things up is that some punters lose faith in the medium, rather than the band in question. I've heard many times 'Well I pledged on such-and-such a record and it took three years for me to get it and it turned out it was a bunch of shit demos/a cassette recorded in an empty swimming pool... I won't be doing that Pledge thing again'. That's not crowdfunding's fault, that's the fault of bands who don't give a shit about the people who support their art and their privilege as artists.


Running something like this is not that difficult, really. It's just a question of being organised and prepared and working out how much things cost and how long things take to make. Plus being aware of your own limitations in terms of time (and, occasionally, patience). Don't start something you can't finish!


With ‘Life is Often Brilliant’ you ran a diary for a while that was a really great insight into your life as a working musician, but it cut out at January 2017 – do you think the entries up to the release of the album will ever see the light of day? (also, hope the rest of the year treated you better than the end of 2016!)


Ha, ha, there were a few reasons that diary finished when it did. The main being that that ended the bookmark of that particular album/period. Some reasons were more logistical. Some time-related. And a few others. It was a good eviscerating tool at that time, and my life is a bit more dull right now. I don't know how much people want to read 'This past few weeks, I've been to the studio every day, and eaten some Quorn picnic eggs.' You get to see that on the Pledge updates, anyway! 2017 was a year that, on my deathbed, I will definitely refer back to as 'a year'. I had some of the very highest highs, along with some of the lowest possible lows. So far, 2018 has been a lot more positive and a little more settled, which suits me much better.


We really like 'T’Yorkshire' EP – am I right in saying ‘Babies’ is one you’ve been wanting to do for a long time?


Chris Catalyst'Babies' by Pulp was actually one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar. It came out the same year I started playing guitar - 1994 - and is really easy to play. My sister and I used to sing it together, which, when I think about it now (with the lyrical content), is maybe a bit weird. Anyway, it was really nice to record a full band version with the lads. I love all of those songs. It was great doing something (a cover of 'Don't You Want Me' by The Human League) with Victoria Liedtke again, as well. I still see Victoria a lot, she is only up the road from me, but I've not done anything musical with her since we did 'Albion' with the Ginger band in 2013.


It was also a LOT of fun doing a Beautiful South song - 'I'll Sail This Ship Alone'. The 'South (as no-one ever calls them) were another formative influence on me - coming from Hull you can't escape the Heaton Hook - and although Rawk fans might baulk a bit, this is more like a soul standard than the slightly schmaltzy Mum And Dad pop that they became more renowned for.


The final jewel in that particular flat cap is 'Spinning Round' by the lesser known (but no less seminal) Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Again, spending 12 years playing in The Sisters Of Mercy has meant I'm never far from those classic M62-belt drum machine bands, and these were one of the best. This one is a bit more for the rock dudes.


Are there any plans for a tour later this year? 


There's no firm plans but we will definitely be aiming at some gigs. We have an ostentatious plan to celebrate our ten years of being a band, which I am praying I can make it happen.


You can support Eureka Machines’ ‘Victories’/’Rarities’ campaign HERE.


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