The Austin music scene is simultaneously rich with remarkable artists and hollow with disingenuous hipsters. I didn’t know which I was about to see when Chris Catalena and the Native Americans took the stage at North Door for the “Here Comes the Time” LP release party. However, my jaded bias caused me to think these were just city folk playing cowboy dress up to add an artifice of authenticity to an expected country sound.
From the first note, however, this Bryan, Texas native immediately changed my mind. He is a genuine cowboy pianist.
“Here Comes the Time” is decidedly Americana folk with an unexpected psychedelic undertone reminiscent of Rhode Island’s Deer Tick. Chris’ piano playing dominates his songs with a pleasant simplicity while his voice haunts around the piano and the accompanying instruments fill the gaps of the story.
“Here Comes the Time,” co-produced by Rob Campanella of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and released by Pau Wau records, was written entirely in Chris’ Laurel Canyon cabin except for the tracks “Telegram” and “Dr. Napalm,” which were previously written and recorded in his Texas hometown.
Although Chris Catalena is a Texan through and through, this album was an expedition which found its home out west.
The Texas tracks hold a bit more of a twang than the California born songs, reflecting the transformation of the writer and his movement across the American Southwest.
On stage, Chris Catalena and the Native Americans, wearing their cowboy hats and boots, played each song with the facial stoicism only a cowboy can have while conveying so much sentiment
There are emotional ups and downs from track-to-track, but Chris’ vocals and piano carry a level lightheartedness through even the saddest lines, moving the listener onward to a hope-filled end.
Each song became the paragraph of a letter written to “you” about a young man’s journey through love, life, heartache, and humility. The lyrics are literally presented as a letter on the back of the album sleeve, beginning “Dear Gentlemen And Kind Ladies And To All It May Concern.”
Both the physical as well as musical presentation of the album as this letter creates a unique intimacy with the listener. Though each track can stand alone as something rich and meaningful, the album as a cohesive piece portrays beautifully the outpouring of a lover’s thoughts to his beloved.
Throughout the album, the lyrics tie the threads together with echoing ideas of evolving love, personal growth, and days and delusions past, as illustrated so clearly in the title track and penultimate paragraph of the letter:
“Here’s to hereafter. Let’s push on through, harder. Gone are the days when knowing was easy. Here comes the time of new understanding, and of no demanding.”
The unpretentious American sound and heartfelt lyrics illicit images of driving along a desert highway, windows down, covered in dust, cigarette in hand, chasing the sunset in a desperate response to a letter from a lover past.
[Begins post-show in the bathroom of the green room when we’re both a little sloshed]
We leaked three songs then one unofficial release. But I think maybe next week everything will be on iTunes.
Two of the songs, you were saying you had recorded here and the rest …
Actually two songs I recorded in Bryan, Texas. I recorded in Bryan, Texas for two of the songs: “Dr. Napalm” and “Telegram.”
And the rest you did in Los Angeles?
So, you had “Telegram” and “Dr. Napalm” online, and you also had “Here Comes the Time.” I mean, I might be imagining it, but I felt like Telegram and Dr. Napalm had more of a Texas twang to them than “Here Comes the Time.”
I think that was only natural in that I wrote every other song in LA in my cabin in Laurel Canyon. I just kind of hid away and wrote some songs. And whenever I moved there, I had never lived anywhere but Texas. And I felt like I needed to acquire the vibe of California and Los Angeles and Hollywood and Laurel Canyon. I think that’s where the distinction lies, in that it was just environment.
Why did you think you needed to acquire that vibe?
Well, because a lot of my heroes are from there and in that area. The Birds and The Doors and Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson and so many of those guys I love started in that area. I have this weird philosophy about environment, and I think that in different environments, obviously, you pick up different things, like different songs. Like whether you’re a writer or a songwriter or whatever you do, I feel like you do it differently in any given place you might go to. I think that’s the natural distinction. I try to stay true to that. Like whenever I went to LA, I didn’t think as much about country music or Texas twang. I thought about Randy Newman and Nilsson and just, like, Los Angeles singers that I love.
But you are from Texas, right?
Yes. From Bryan, Texas.
Ok, so I have to ask you this question. In the wake of Pharrell and The Redskins, your band name…
Pharrell and The Redskins?
Yes, Pharrell and The Redskins.
I love Pharrell and The Redskins, but I don’t know if their name is going to stick. It was revoked by the Supreme Court for their trademark. Was it the Supreme Court or the senators? It was either a bill or… No, it was the federal trademark office revoked their title.
My name, like, shouldn’t offend anyone in that it is a double entendre. And even if you were to interpret it as being depictive of the Native Americans, the first settlers to the United States of America, I still think it’s more endearing than anything else. What about Pharrell ? What happened to Pharrell ?
He had that controversial photo of him wearing the “Indian” headdress.
God bless him. I mean, you know… I think that… I don’t know. I couldn’t really say anything about that. I love Pharrell . I’ve watched a lot of his interviews, and I think that he is probably one of the most well-meaning artists of our time. I wouldn’t think that he would intentionally disrespect anyone. I don’t know about the controversy. I don’t think it’s cute to cheapen the culture of people who are indigenous to this country, but I also don’t think it takes anything away from them to pay tribute to them. If that makes sense.
That makes sense.
And that’s what I tried to do. I’ve noticed some bands wearing headdresses and people doing it at festivals and parties. To me, it’s just Native Americans being maintained by anybody who may dwell upon this continent.
[And then someone needed to use the bathroom where we were doing the interview]
Tell me more about that band name, the Native Americans. I thought it would either be the whole cultural appropriate thing, or not even necessarily referring back to Native Americans as Columbus’ Indians but native Americans as in the American folk. I mean, your music is definitely a folksy Americana tribute back to Willy Nelson and the whole country vibe. I could see the name having the meaning of not necessarily talking about “Indian” Native Americans but
Everybody in a modern sense
Yes, people now.
Yeah, like right now. I have no idea who my father is. I was adopted. So my native American… I mean, What the fuck am I?
But I’m going to look into that Pharrell thing. I really like him. I don’t know how you feel about him, but I think he spreads such a good message.
[And then I met Josh]
One thing I have to say in compliment. Listening to your music online, and then seeing your performance, it definitely evokes my memories of driving through the Southwest a lot. And then reading your little blurb in the Austin chronicle, you talked about it as kind of being the journey and your travels and…
They were definitely written on the road.
It kind of seemed like the classic “next great American novel” within album form.
I like that. The way I look at it like that in some ways… Maybe it’s romantic to look at it that way, but that’s definitely the way I look at it.
That’s pretty traditional American.
That’s the way I wrote my lyrics on the back of the records.
I was wondering about that too.
I definitely feel like it tells some kind of story. I didn’t even put it in the order that it’s in. The producer did. And I looked at it, and I had to take a step back and say wow he did that. He saw the story line. I was only the conduit of it.
Telling the pieces and he put them together.
I was the writer and he was the main editor. I owe a lot to my producer, to Rob Campanella and Nelson Bragg. I was just really lucky in making that record in that there were a lot of people who were veterans in the music industry who were there to help me.
That’s really awesome. One more question, and don’t be offended by it. But… how do you take what you’ve done and raise it above all the hipster bullshit?
I think maybe make country music. Like straight up, like an all fucking country record of the songs I’ve been singing. Separate it from being able to be put in a genre. I think that may be the way to do it.
I mean, if someone came to your show tonight, not knowing who you were. See you, Farmer John here. It’s like, “Look at that hipster asshole.”
Yeah, I find it strange that people judge people so much based on… Well it’s only natural though that people base people on… judge a book by its cover. Which is fine, but I’ve encountered that. I’m from Bryan, Texas. People dress like me going to HEB. Like middle aged people. Then there’s modern trends. Mostly I ignore all that.
You’re just staying true.
I’m the same kid I was growing up in Bryan, College station. That’s how I handle all that. I’m just a small town kid. I know a lot of people try to act like they are, but I don’t judge anybody based on that. That’s my take on it. Judge not…
Lest ye be judged?
Yeah, totally. I go back to the Bible on that.