Ahead of their show at Hard Rock Cafe Barcelona, as part of Pinktober, Metropolitan chatted to psychedelic rock band Stiff Cats whose band members originate from Panama, Israel and England.
More information about both the concert and Pinktober here.
Members: Pablo Rojas (Bass), Matan Neushtan (Drums), Richard Amor (Guitar), Emily Johnstone (Vocals).
Hey guys. What have you been up to?
Emily: We just did a show last Saturday and it was pretty awesome! It was at Bar Gaelic which is a really cool venue.
Pablo: We started playing really late, at about 12am.
Emily: You’ve got to remember that over here, things work a lot differently than in England. I don’t think I’ve ever started playing a gig in England that late, not even the second set of a show.
And was it a good crowd?
Emily: A massive crowd! I was amazed at how many people were there. The venue is in a cellar, so they don’t get noise complaints and it’s great because it’s super central.
Pablo: The sound in there is very powerful, it’s like a cave. It has great acoustics, very powerful.
Emily: We’ve also been doing some recording. Pablo and Richard are starting their parts on Monday. We also have a gig this Sunday for La Mercè and of course the Hard Rock Café gig in October which we’re very excited for.
So it’s all systems go then. Are you recording new music?
Emily: We’re recording old songs but with the whole band. Richard and I recorded some songs back in Manchester, about a year ago today actually. And of course we’re working on some new songs as well with Pablo and Matan.
Pablo: With different arrangements, and I think we’re making them sound a little darker.
Matan: Heavier and darker for sure.
I have to ask—why the name ‘Stiff Cats’? Is there a cool rock and roll story behind it?
Richard: Yeah, we stole it. Well we stole it off of—
Emily: No one knows this! We’ve never once said this in any interview! So basically, Joy Division. Their first name was Stiff Kittens. But we went for Stiff Cats.
Richard: We’re more grown up than them.
Emily: And we love cats, who doesn’t like cats?
Richard: And stiff things!
Emily: I’d also say we’re all feral too, especially if you see us live, we’re pretty crazy. We’ve actually adopted a feral kitten. She’s called La Lagartija (‘the little lizard’). She’s missing a back paw, but she’s a sweetheart and she gets very feisty at times. She’s definitely like us.
So how did the band form? I think Barcelona was the meeting point, but how exactly did you all come together?
Emily: Well, we [Richard and Emily] moved here looking for a change of pace. We came from Exeter, where we had a band before, and we moved to Barcelona last October, looking for a drummer. We were just going to be a three-piece. It took me so long to convince Richard that we should have a bass player in the band!
So Pablo, you should feel special then! [Pablo laughs and nods in agreement]. When did you decide you wanted to be a four-piece?
Emily: My friend introduced me to Matan and before we even heard him play, we knew he was the one. Just look at that hair! [Matan shakes his impressive hair in agreement]. And then Matan introduced us to Pablo, and now we’re a four-piece. Actually, we might be getting a keyboard player in the band. He’s Chilean, although we aren’t sure when he’s joining.
Do you plan on staying in Barcelona for the foreseeable future?
Emily: Oh hell yeah! We love it here.
What is it about the city that you love?
Richard: It’s not England!
Emily: We love everything about Barcelona, aside from the music complaints.
I was going to ask, do you think Barcelona is a good place for bands to develop?
Matan: It depends very much which style of music you play. There is more of a demand here for Latin music and jazz, rather than heavy rock. For rock music, it’s more challenging. I guess though on the other hand, these guys had another theory, which is why they came here.
Emily: English rock, that’s what’s missing here.
Pablo: People are craving rock now. Every time they come to our gigs they’re like, “this is what we’ve been looking for!”
You describe yourselves as apocalyptic rock...
Richard: I now changed it to apocalypso rock.
Emily: Why have you changed it?
Richard: Because calypso is like dancing…and it’s like dancing while the world crumbles around you [Richard does a little dance with arms in the air].
I’m going to give you a scenario: The apocalypse is upon us and it’s the end of the world. What would be the last song on earth you would listen to?
Matan: ‘Sea Song’ by Robert Wyatt. To get into that trance, meditative state.
Pablo: I would chose anything by [David] Bowie.
[Emily and Richard laugh]
Matan: One of the reasons why Pablo was digging the band so much was because Richard looks like a young Bowie.
I can see the resemblance…
Pablo: Exactly, but Richard doesn’t like Bowie too much!
Emily: My apocalypse song to listen to would be ‘Snow Don’t Fall’ by Townes Van Zandt. But that’s today, maybe if you asked me tomorrow it would be something different.
Do you have any favourite places in Barcelona to hang out together?
Emily: We really enjoy playing at Nevermind in el Raval. It’s really cool, it has a skate park inside the bar. We’re also thinking of having our EP launching at Sidecar (on Plaça Real).
Pablo: We might be releasing the EP in December.
Emily: But we haven’t even been a band for half a year, maybe verging on six months. We don’t want to rush with creating the music.
Matan: The writing process can be strange. It seems like every time they come out of the toilet, they’ve written a new song!
I was going to ask, where do you get your inspiration from to write songs?
Matan: Yeah, in the bathroom!
Emily: Actually, I wrote Electric Velvet in the shower. And I just wrote one now on the metro, it’s called Walking my Devil [Emily rubs her hands mischievously].
Who are your influences, musically or otherwise?
[Rest of the band laughs]
Richard: Jimi Hendrix, definitely.
Emily: Yes! We actually kicked out the first bass player we had because he didn’t like Jimi Hendrix.
Who doesn’t like Jimi Hendrix?
Emily: Exactly. Who doesn’t like Jimi Hendrix!
Richard: Put that on record please. We kicked him out because he didn’t like Hendrix.
Pablo: We love Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd too.
Matan: Black Sabbath is a huge influence and Queens of the Stone Age. And what about the Fat Whites?
Emily: The Fat White Family, my favourite band!
Did you always see yourselves being in a band from a young age?
Richard: I only started playing the guitar when I was 16.
Matan: For me, since I was three, I knew I wanted to be in a band—from being exposed to things like Slash’s solo in ‘November Rain’ and thinking, “look at that sexy man! I want to be just like him!” Also my brother was a great guitar player and he was my role model. I didn’t know what instrument I’d play, but I knew I wanted to be a musician.
Emily: My situation was strange because my father was a musician so I was always exposed to music. One of my first memories is sitting on someone’s shoulders and my mum going, “that’s your daddy,” as he was on this huge stage. (Emily’s father is songwriter and record producer Phil Johnstone who worked with English musician Robert Plant for over eight years). So we were always around the piano or in the car singing with six-part harmonies. It was always crazy.
Pablo: My family was never into music that I liked. I had to look for the music myself. I used to want to be a philosopher, or an astronomer. I never thought I’d do music, ever. I started playing the drums when I was 18 but before that, I was a big geek. Actually I’m still a geek. But I’m a bad ass dude!
[Rest of the band laughs,]
Let’s move on to talk about Pinktober and your upcoming gig for them. What does it mean to you to be part of this Pinktober campaign?
Emily: Everybody knows someone going through the terrifying experience of dealing with cancer. A family friend of mine has just had a really severe case of breast cancer, and Richard knows people close to him, including his aunt, who have suffered too from cancer. I think she might actually be coming out to Barcelona for the gig too which is amazing.
Richard: It’s going to raise so much money and awareness for such a worthwhile cause so we’re excited to be part of it.
Emily: It’s something that affects so many people and is such an ordeal for those suffering with it. To help and to be part of something great like this, which raises awareness and support from people of all ages is something we are so happy to be involved with. And to help in such a positive way, through rock music, is brilliant!
What’s next for Stiff Cats?
Emily: We’re finishing recording and putting out our new EP. We’re getting some artwork done too for that and hopefully some festivals are lined up.
Finally, I have to ask you, do you think Rock and Roll is dead?
Emily: Oh hell no!
Richard: It’s not dead, but it’s dying.
Emily: No, people are trying to kill it. But they haven’t succeeded and will never succeed.
Pablo: I think the myth of Rock and Roll is dead. People used to see Bowie and think he was an alien, and things like Ozzy [Osbourne] eating a bat and Robert Plant making a deal with the devil and people believing all that. Nowadays that doesn’t happen.
Matan: I think the legend of Rock and Roll is dead. There’s still great musicians out there, it’s just that rock music has stopped being commercial.
Emily: The hysteria around it might be dead, but it isn’t a myth or a legend. Rock and Roll is what you feel. It’s not dead, it’s just hidden.
Stiff Cats, it’s been an absolute pleasure. See you at the Hard Rock Café!