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Elizabeth and the Catapult
small town movie breaks big city band
by: Leitel Molad - June 9, 2009

The latest Renee Zellweger movie, “New in Town,” was a critical flop. But for Brooklyn band Elizabeth and the Catapult, it was their first Hollywood break. The soundtrack features “Race You,” an irresistibly catchy tune from their upcoming album “Taller Children.”

The Catapult’s whimsical piano-driven pop would probably fit better in a Wes Anderson film than a hackneyed romantic comedy. But singer-songwriter Elizabeth Ziman says she got a kick out of hearing her song during the movie’s key scene: when the small-town food processing plant finally finds the answer to its financial woes. “Suddenly it was like, oh my god there is a light! It’s tapioca! ‘Race You!’” Ziman says. “And as I love all things gummy and glutinous, this was very exciting for me.”

I talked with Ziman and bandmates Danny Molad and Pete Lalish about what other big things lie ahead for them.

You just made your new record, “Taller Children,” in Omaha. How is the experience of making music there different than in New York?

EZ: There’s this kinetic, high-paced, almost neurotic, volatile energy in New York. A lot of musicians feed off of it. But when you leave New York, and go to someplace like Omaha, which is like being in the middle of nowhere, with lots of steak...

DM: We don't want to insult people in Omaha, it is a metropolis.

EZ: It’s up and coming, it’s up and coming. But it’s still a bubble, and it felt much more calm and peaceful, and it centered me while recording there. The pace of the recording process was a lot different from everything we’ve experienced here.

Up until now your music has been self-released, and, Danny, you did a lot of the recording in your apartment. What was it like going to a professional studio?

DM: I was pleasantly surprised at how we were able to connect. We all played at the same time, we were in different rooms, and we were all miked so perfectly. In my home studio a lot of stuff is recorded separately and layered, and compromises are made. Like I won’t play a traditional drum set, so as not to disturb the neighbors...

EZ: We had a lot of noise violations recording and rehearsing in our houses, so we definitely have a leg up when we don’t get yelled at by our neighbors.

DM: It’s nice to be able to hit a cymbal with a stick!

Omaha has a pretty well-known indie music scene, which your producer, Mike Mogis, is tapped into. Tell me about some of the guests you had play on the record.

EZ: Mike is all about using friends and family. Tilly and the Wall happened to be in town and Mike came up with the idea to have tap dancing on our record. Some might find it difficult to find the correct song to make that effortless and work. We have this whimsical, cynical, quirky song “Perfectly Perfect” and we had a tap solo in the middle and it worked perfectly.

PL: And then Mike was like, oh, two string players of mine that play in a metal band called Judgment Day are gonna stop by and say hi... and we’re like, ok, we need all the string players we can get. Then anticipating, what are two string players in a metal band called Judgment Day are going to look like, let alone sound like? And it was one of the best surprises on the record. Within an hour we had these amazing things recorded with them.

You also have a lot of guest players at your live shows, which keeps things interesting and spontaneous. And that’s part of your performing philosophy.

We have this challenge and this rule that we never repeat the same show, because we’ve played most of our shows in New York for four years now. So we have to keep it fresh and exciting for our audience and ourselves. We sort of over-exacerbate this rule: we try to get as many new songs, new covers, new arrangements, and different friends coming up on stage as possible. But now that we’re going to be on tour, it’s going to be new for us to have to really try out the same set for different audiences every day.

So what will it be like to be on the road with just the three of you?

DM: It’s a different thing when you go on the road and tell the same story to a different audience. You exude a different energy when you know that there are people who haven’t seen you before. We’re really excited to have that more often.
EZ: And it can be fun to have to strip down. We’ve talked about arrangements, but it’s also about the songs -- delivering songs in an effective way, whether it’s simple or complicated.

PL: We’ve also become multi-instrumentalists. On shows where we know we’ll be limited with the number of people, we definitely try to take on a lot more ourselves.

EZ: Pete plays bass, guitar and keys, and Danny plays guitar and drums, and I try to play guitar, and play piano, and sometimes I just like to sing, not have strings attached and not feel tied down to an instrument. Keeping things experimental is a side of bands I love -- there’s a courage, a fearlessness with certain bands always changing it up. And that’s what we’re always striving to be.

With the economy being like it is, how does it affect you as musicians?

We’re definitely affected less than everyone else because we’re coming from less. But I think we have more to write about with the dynamic happening in the world now. Actually, the title track on the album, “Taller Children,” is dedicated to all those big boys on Wall Street who couldn’t handle their money responsibly. So we’re definitely aware of what’s going on.


"We had a lot of noise violations recording and rehearsing in our houses..."

Elizabeth and the Catapult
"Taller Children"

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what it is

Brooklyn indie pop band gets New York, Hollywood and everywhere in between, to dance. RIYL: Jon Brion, Joni Mitchell, The Bird and the Bee.