CAT Waxes Poetic on Psychedelic Trips, Going It Solo With ‘You Belong to Me’ and the Future of The Pierces
CAT’s debut solo single, “You Belong To Me,” is like a heaping dose of Ambien: the sinister love song—which wouldn’t sound out of place on a playlist alongside Lana Del Rey and Bat For Lashes—puts you in a daze. It makes you feel gloriously sleepy, cozy and almost suspended in time, as if you’ve just entered that fleeting, hazy astral space between wake and dream.
One half of Los Angeles indie pop rockers The Pierces—the duo she, full name Catherine Pierce, formed with her sister Allison Pierce in 2000—CAT emerged from the band’s 2015 hiatus in January, roughly a year and a half after the siblings announced a break to pursue individual music projects.
Individually, CAT’s music is retro, though not kitsch; haunting, though not too cerebral. It’s pure lilting Twin Peaks atmospheric bliss, with a modern feminist twist (case in point: “Hard to Be a Woman”). It makes sense, then, that her first offering as a solo singer-songwriter was written after one hell of a psychedelic trip, inspired by the way the plants seemed to speak to her and the way the moon seemed to stalk her one magical, mind-blowing evening.
Weeks after the release of the equally enchanting music video for “You Belong to Me,” I caught up with CAT to talk about her experience writing the song, her fascinating travels across America as well as South America, and what Pierces fans can expect for the future of the sister duo.
You did a lot of traveling over the past year or so. Peru, Joshua tree… Some beautifully diverse, magical places. What did you experience and learn on your ventures?
I went to Peru a couple years ago to do an Ayahuasca retreat in the jungle and it was really amazing. You’re kind of dropped in the middle of nowhere, with nothing familiar and there’s, like, no electricity. You’re sleeping in wooden huts and there’s animals everywhere—spiders! So you have none of your comforts, and you feel really exposed and vulnerable. Then you’re kind of indulging your self-conscious, and your soul by taking these ancient psychedelics. It was a pretty intense experience. I feel like it’s definitely shaped the music, and it just kind of changes you.
That’s cool. Especially if you’re going places where maybe you don’t speak the language or it’s just something so different from what you’re used to, I find that you discover so much about yourself, because you really have to be your own grounding force.
Exactly! You’re taken out of your bubble and all you have is yourself basically. I didn’t know anyone on the retreat, so it was really just an interesting way to find my own strength because I’d never imagine I’d go to the middle of the jungle. [Laughs] It’s just not something I thought that I would do, but then a friend of mine suggested it and she talked me into it, and then she dropped out in the end! I loved it, it was such a great experience. In Joshua Tree, I went and did a silent retreat where you just meditate six to ten hours a day. That was really insane, too! I don’t know why I keep doing all these things. I mean, I love it, but it’s hard. You grow so much and learn about yourself.
Have you ever been to Sedona?
No. My friend was telling me about it, that there’s these vortexes there that are in the canyons? Have you been there?
I went two years ago with my boyfriend and it is just so… I don’t know, there’s a cool mystical energy there, and the natural vortexes. You feel so serene and relaxed, but there’s also a lot of adventurous things you can do too. Also, it’s gorgeous! There’s nowhere else that looks like it. Speaking of mystical experiences, I read that you wrote “You Belong to Me” while tripping on mushrooms?
Yeah! I’m not a big pusher of drugs or anything, but I do love psychedelics. I think they’re really important for just the collective consciousness. Especially at this time. They uncover all the bullshit and you see what is really true about yourself and what’s true about human nature. It’s such a beautiful experience. They call them “teacher plants” because every time you take them you learn something. It’s like an ancient technology to unlock parts of your brain. It’s amazing.
I think when it comes to any type of mind-altering substance, I believe something that is more natural is the way to go.
As long as you’re in a safe place with people that you trust, I think it’s beneficial. It’s so ridiculous that alcohol, which kills thousands of people a year and is so unhealthy, it’s not good for your body or brain—that’s legal. But then these other plants that promote peace and learning about yourself are illegal. It’s just so strange. I mean, I love a glass of wine here or there but it dumbs you down. It makes you make bad decisions. Marijuana and psychedelics let you make better decisions about your life. [Laughs]
While you were tripping, what sort of visions did you experience? How did that influence the song and the music video?
My thing, which was mushrooms at the time, is you take a tiny, tiny bit and it’s supposed to be just a mood booster like having a cup of coffee. It’s supposed to be really imperceptible, but I am really sensitive, and I was like, oh my gosh, I’m having visions! I went for a walk and I thought the plants were moving. There’s this aloe plant in my neighborhood and I was like, talking with this plant. Then I looked up and the moon was coming out; it sort of just followed me as if I was having this whole experience with it. So that’s where the first line came from. I just felt so connected to nature and everything around me. The rest of the song came pouring in. I ran home and wrote it down.
I love that you mention the opening line, about the moon, because when I listen to it it’s so visceral. The video is so dreamlike. When you were planning the concept, did you create a moodboard of images? Is that something you like to do?
I have done that before, but with this video we did not. It was me and my friend Anthony Langdon and he is just very impulsive and spontaneous. We literally said, let’s just run around the neighborhood and film beautiful stuff! We wanted to convey a feeling more than a story. I was so happy with the way it turned out. As we were shooting it we sort of looked back at the visuals and went, oh my god! That was beautiful!
I feel like a lot of artists when they’re planning their videos it’s very structured, or a systematic approach, which is great. I think it’s necessary a lot of the time, but maybe a little bit restrictive, creatively and artistically.
I’ve done the structured videos and sometimes it comes out great, and sometimes you’re right. It adds stress to it. With this it’s kind of just following my instincts instead of having to answer to someone who has to have all this structure and storyboards in order to show all the people at a label who are gonna approve everything. This has been a really amazing experience. I’m the only one I’m answering to, so it feels like it’s fully my expression, which is a new experience for me.
Is it quite different between how the structure was before with the band?
It was so nice being in a band with my sister at the time, because we had each other’s support. We were each other’s sounding board. It’s also nice to take it all on and just really figure out what I want to say and there’s no one else with an opinion. Sometimes that would cause a little bit of strife between us and it’s nice to have it be your own thing, but it’s also scary because if it fails, you fail alone and you don’t have anybody to commiserate with. [Laughs] It’s a new experience.
It’s a good challenge, I think. How did Allison react when you first played her the track?
She loved it. She’s been so supportive… I went with her to her photo shoot the other day and we really are still involved in each other’s lives and projects in that way, but it’s such a different feeling because there’s no… Look, there’s always a sense of competition between siblings, but that’s been taken out of the picture and now we’re just supporting each other and loving each other. It’s been great.
You’re working on your debut solo album now. When you started, what were some of the aspirations you set for yourself?
I try to just stay in the moment. I love the actual creation process. If I start to think about the outcome, it can bring on anxiety and fear. I love recording songs, so that’s what I’m doing right now. I love being creative with visuals, so that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m putting it out at a little piece at a time and it’s just been so lovely to see the fan’s reactions and people calling me and telling me they love it, that’s so rewarding. For me, that’s you want: people to connect to your music and be moved by it. That is the ultimate goal. When I get that feedback, I feel really visible.
That makes sense. I was watching the video and I’ve seen a lot of Pierces fans who are being so supportive of you and I was so happy to see that.
Me too! There were a few people who said they were mad about it, but for the most part people are supportive. [Laughs] I think Allison and I will probably make music together again at some point. We both just really needed to do this. We both felt like there was stuff that we wanted to say on our own, and things to do on our own. It’s a good thing to get out.
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