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Members include DafyddIuean (left band in 1995; later joined the Welsh band Super Furry Animals), drums; PaulJones (former member of the Welsh-language punk band Y Cyrff), bass; CerysMatthews, vocals; OwenPowell, guitar; AledRichards (joined band in 1995), drums; MarkRoberts (former member with Jones of the Welsh-language punk band Y Cyrff), guitar. Addresses: Record company--Blanco Y Negro, 66 Golborne Rd., London, England; Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10104 Phone: (181) 960-9888; (212) 707-2533 Fax: (181) 968-6715; (212) 405-5665 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although Catatonia boasts a wide range of influences, from classic rock bands to jazz and soul singers, the Welsh-based Britpop band earned recognition not as imitators of the past, but for their own spirited music. At the source of the group's appeal stands vocalist/guitarist Cerys Matthews, a brassy singer with an extraordinary voice, as well as a back-to-basics approach to entertaining audiences and having a good time. "Cerys has the sort of voice that sends over-emotional hacks dizzying off into reams of praise," wrote Paul Whitelaw in a review for Melody Maker. "She's soul without bluster, skipping desultorily from tender-as-a-bruise cooing to a scabrous taunt, from awestruck glee to impossible sadness, sometimes in the space of a single syllable. At times it's truly astonishing--painfully beautiful, naked, helpless and entirely uncontrived. Like Bjork, there are times when she sounds like a 10,000-year-old child, weary and wise, yet wide-eyed and crackling with the sheer wonder of being alive."
However, Matthews can't take all the credit for bringing Catatonia so much notoriety and a string chart-topping albums and singles in Great Britain and throughout Europe. The other members of the quintet, likewise, contribute greatly in making Catatonia such a huge success. They include guitarist Mark Roberts; bassist Paul Jones, a former member, along with Roberts, of the Welsh-language punk band Y Cyrff; guitarist Owen Powell; and drummer Aled Richards, who replaced original drummer Dafydd Iuean, now a member of another popular Welsh band known as the Super Furry Animals.
Catatonia formed in 1992 after Roberts encountered Matthews performing acoustic versions of Jefferson Airplane and the Jam songs on a street corner in Cardiff, the capitol city of Wales. The two subsequently found that they shared similar musical influences--a diverse list of performers that included Billy Holiday, Eric Cantona, John Lennon, Rolf Harris, Abba, Soft Machine, Bob Marley, and Dolly Parton--and decided to form a band. Next, Matthews and Roberts hooked up with Jones, Powell, and Iuean, and within a few short months as an official group, Catatonia had signed with the independent Welsh label Crai. In 1993, the band released their first two singles, "For Tinkerbell" and "Hooked," the first of which was named NME (New Musical Express) "Single of the Week."
An instant favorite of the British music press, who adored Matthews' bluesy voice and enthusiastic persona, Catatonia followed their debut outings with "Whale," another NME "Single of the Week" in 1994, and "Bleed," the band's first top ten hit on the British indie chart released in early-1995 on the independent Nursery label. In April of 1995, after Iuean departed and Richards joined on drums, Catatonia signed with the Blanco Y Negro label, an A&R source run by Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis and owned by WEA U.K., which handles marketing, sales, and promotion. Travis had previously cut the song "Whale" for his Rough Trade Singles Club.
Outshined Other Newcomers
Soon after signing, Catatonia started touring relentlessly with bands like Marion, Salad, and Puressences, acts which at first received greater press attention than the Welsh newcomers. However, Catatonia pressed on, and eventually left the others in their wake. In the meantime, Catatonia set about writing songs and recording a debut album with producers Stephen Street--who worked with the Smiths and Blur, among others--and Paul Sampson at Maison Rouge Studios in London. With 1996's Way Beyond Blue, Catatonia enjoyed their first taste of success. The album, propelled by singles such as "Bleed," "You've Got A Lot To Answer For," and the band's theme tune titled "Sweet Catatonia," brought the band major exposure, including extensive airplay, an appearance for the Radio 1 road show, and a place in the British top 40. The group became favorites, too, as subjects for Britain's gossip columnists, largely for Matthews' celebrating the group's success about town.
In addition to performing in the United Kingdom, Catatonia made an attempt to break through in America, crossing the Atlantic to play shows in New York City, Los Angles, and Austin, Texas. But because of record company chaos and bad timing, their debut never saw release in the United States. Nonetheless, back home Catatonia's popularity continued to escalate, and by May of 1996, they had completed two national sell-out tours.
Scored Hits with International Velvet
The later months of 1997 brought the band even greater success with two major hit singles. The witty "I Am the Mob" came first, followed quickly by "Mulder and Scully," a song inspired by the X-Files television show that entered the British singles chart at number three. Then, in early 1998, Catatonia released a second LP, the critically applauded International Velvet. "The new songs are some of the saddest, most righteous, tough/forlorn classics you'll hear all year," wrote Whitelaw in his review of the collection. Making its chart debut at number 11 in Britain, International Velvetcemented Catatonia's pop-star status, with Q magazine eventually listing the record as one of their "90 Best Albums of the 1990s" and Melody Maker naming the outing "Album of the Year." The song "Road Rage" was named best single at the Q Awards. The band also scored three Brit Award nominations that year for best group, best album, and best single for "Road Rage," as well as a Mercury Music Prize nomination for the celebrated release.
"Right after we finished recording, I think we knew that International Velvet was a special album," said Matthews, as quoted by Atlantic Records. "We had stumbled an awful lot until that point and we had been working so hard. There was a desperation about it. We'd been on the road pretty much solid two years. When it came time to record, we were just spilling our guts, really."
Catatonia continued to tour non-stop in support of the album, including a sold-out headlining tour and several music festival appearances. After International Velvet's European release, Catatonia landed several high-profile gigs, playing at the Lisbon Expo, the World Cup in Paris, and fashion week in Milan. "We did a press conference in Denmark," marveled Powell, as quoted by Mark Jenkins in the Washington Post, "and there were people there from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, all of them saying, `Two of your records are in the top 10 in our country.' I didn't even know that we'd released records in Poland and Latvia. The fact that you can communicate with people in those countries without ever having been there is quite a thing to get your head around."
In the summer of 1998, barely a month after the album's American release, Catatonia came to the United States. to participate at the H.O.R.D.E. festival, joining well-known acts like Blues Traveler, the Barenaked Ladies, and Paula Cole. Most of the audience had never heard of them, despite them being one of the biggest-selling acts in their native Great Britain. But the band themselves admitted they knew little of the other bands. "People say, `Oh yeah, you're playing with Blues Traveler. That must be great,'" Powell told Jenkins. "To be honest with you, none of us know anything about Blues Traveler. What do they sound like?"
Topped the British Album Chart
The group concluded 1998 with a British arena tour with another well-known Welsh band, the Manic Street Preachers, then traveled to Australia and New Zealand for the first time to perform. Here, the band tested some of their new material, songs--including the top ten hit "Dead From the Waist Down"--that would later appear on their next album, Equally Cursed and Blessed. Produced by Catatonia and Tommy D (who previously worked with the Sugarcubes, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Shamen) and released in Britain in 1999, the album debuted on the British chart at number one and showed the group's growing confidence in their songwriting abilities. "It's a much more reflective album than International Velvet," explained Matthews for Atlantic Records. "It's a lot more thoughtful. That sort of made sense at the time because everything was happening so quickly and International Velvet had gone so madly. So yeah, they're more thoughtful songs altogether ... darker maybe even."
After switching to Atlantic Records to distribute International Velvet, Catatonia finally began to win over fans in the United States. The album was released in March of 2000, and Matthews appeared on the cover of the April issue of Details magazine, as well as in feature stories in both Interview and Nylon. "I've got absolutely no expectations," Matthews said, however, in an interview with Los Angeles Times writer Marc Weingarten about the group reaching the same level of success in the United States. "I did two or three years ago. I wanted to come here and mesmerize everybody, but it's a big country and you've got a lot of good acts now. I just want to enjoy it."
by Laura Hightower
Formed band in 1992 in Cardiff, Wales; signed with Welsh label Crai, released first two singles, 1993; signed with Blanco Y Negro, 1995; released debut album Way Beyond Blues, 1996; released the acclaimed International Velvet, 1998; released Equally Cursed and Blessed, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Way Beyond Blue (U.K.) Blanco Y Negro/WEA, 1995.
- Catatonia 1993/1994 (U.K.) Crai, 1998.
- International Velvet (U.K.) Blanco Y Negro/WEA, 1998; Vapor, 1998.
- Equally Cursed and Blessed (U.K.) Blanco Y Negro/WEA, 1999; Atlantic, 2000.
- Billboard, July 4, 1998; November 6, 1999; March 11, 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1998; January 27, 2000; January 29, 2000.
- Melody Maker, November 8, 1997; January 31, 1998; March 28, 1998; December 15-21, 1999.
- Rolling Stone, May 25, 2000.
- US Weekly, April 10, 2000
- Washington Post, August 9, 1998.
- Atlantic Records, http://www.atlantic-records.com (May 24, 2000).
- Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com (May 24, 2000).
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