Chris Catalyst is probably one of the hardest-working men in music…
As well as writing for, fronting and being the driving force behind Eureka Machines, he is first-call guitarist for Ginger Wildheart’s solo work and touring player for Sisters of Mercy. Ian Savage caught up with him in rehearsal for a chat prior to Eureka Machines embarking on an eight-date UK tour…
Hey Chris, good to speak to you – you’re hitting the road on Thursday, with various supports from town to town; although it looks like Tropical Contact are doing many of them with you?
Yes – we don’t always get to pick the bands that open the gig due to promoters knowing better than us who’s going to sell extra tickets. However, when we do, we make sure they are brilliant. There’s some great bands on this tour; To The Bones, Dead Sea Skulls, Blacklist Saints, Role Models, Supercharger amongst others… bands very much after our own hearts. Independent and fantastic. Tropical Contact are new on the scene, and have some great tunes and are good mates. Can’t wait.
What’s the ‘Golden Ticket’ thing you’ve arranged for London all about?
I generally hate the whole ‘VIP’ ticket thing, where the band sell a ticket at five times the cost for a pained five-minute grip-and-grin which they invariably don’t want to do. We wanted to find a way of doing something a little extra, charging a bit more but importantly not leaving anyone feeling ripped off. So we’re going to do a half-hour acoustic set, everyone gets a signed poster and a cup of tea, and it’s only £6 more than a regular ticket.
We have to find new ways to subsidise touring. We do alright in certain places, but we have to take a chance on some other places to make a tour work and be worthwhile. Knowing that some of the dates might not be as healthy as others, I wanted to find a way we can make a little more money (to keep the tour afloat) without at any point ripping anyone off. We (very gratefully!) have the kind of relationship with the people that come and see us to make this work.
I think we’ll do it again in future.
This will be the first ‘proper’ Eureka Machines tour in about eight months – what have you guys been up to?
I went and did the ‘Albion’ album with the Ginger Wildheart Band, which was a great experience and a fun learning curve. Otherwise, having babies and paying mortgages. Oh and Christmas… Christmas was great. I miss Christmas.
It seems that you personally put in a lot of the legwork for organising Eureka Machines, how easily did this jaunt come together?
It was and is a massive ballache, and it’s getting more and more difficult. Small venues are (understandably) less willing to take a risk on a band that they’re not reading about every other week in the NME/Kerrang/etc, despite the fact that the NME is selling fewer copies weekly than websites like yours get hits in a month.
There’s a huge shift occurring at the moment, which is empowering little bands like ours, but some people aren’t quite as quick to catch up. So you get some venues offering you £0 to come and play for them in towns 250 miles from yours. The problem is that if they’ve no money (or love) invested in the gig, then they’ve no real reason to go out and promote it.
We’re lucky in one sense that we have a handful of promoters (some of whom have become friends, some of whom were friends to start with) who are really into the band, and up for helping us out. The other side of that coin is that in other towns, we don’t have anyone, as we don’t have the sway of an agent or management to swing any kind of dick.
This is also why we rarely get any festivals, despite routinely selling more tickets (in London at least) than many of the bands playing on the smaller stages.
Is there anywhere in particular that you’re looking forward to playing over the next few weeks?
I’m looking forward to them all for lots of different reasons. We have a bit of a thing now where we only do gigs that we know are going to be good, so there’s less chance of us tipping up in Mansfield and playing to eight people… again. So we know it’s all going to be great.
If I had to narrow it down… London is always brilliant, and Glasgow because last time sold out. But we’re looking forward to all of them, we like dossing around with each other, and there’s always a couple of old friends to see. Getting to piss around with your mates is a real privilege of touring.
You’re up for a few gongs [‘Band of the Year’, ‘Album of the Year’, ‘Frontperson of the Year’ and ‘Release Artwork of the Year’] at the Pure Rawk Awards on Friday, where you’ve historically done pretty well – what’s your feeling for these?
Any awards thing where it’s voted for by actual people is brilliant! The Pure Rawk people are tireless promoters of great underground rock music in the UK and beyond, and it’s an honour and a privilege to know them, let alone be up for awards again. We’ve got our fingers crossed.
What’s in the pipeline after the current UK tour?
I’m busy for a bit with the Sisters [of Mercy], then we’ve a couple of UK festivals, and some more dates towards the end of the year. I’m writing a lot at the moment, the aim is for another album – or two – within the 18 months.
There’s no huge rush, and I needed some time to get my head back into writing mode after last time. This sounds over-dramatic, but I invest a lot of myself into this stuff, and it seems to take me a little while to recover.
The idea of getting back on the horse and writing and recording an album immediately after I’ve done it is akin to the idea of lasering my feet off. It’s taken me ’til now to recognise and welcome this.
There’s been various worrying rumblings on-and-off over the last few years about the longevity of the band – how’re things in the EM camp at the minute?
Things are always great in terms of ‘us’ – we are four great pals, we all like the music (I hope!), and we always enjoy knocking around with each other. However, I’m not a great believer in flogging a dead horse, so if the interest isn’t there, then we’d knock it on the head. Fortunately, right now, we are lucky that the interest does seem to be there, so that’s good news for us all.
It’d be lovely to say that we just do it for the four of us, and that if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus, but that’s just not true. If no-one turned up to our gigs or bought the music, then unfortunately I think you’d see an end to it pretty sharpish.
If our music were that of a three-piece Oasis-a-like band, and it was all dead easy to do and remember, then maybe we’d do it for the fun of it. But as it is, we work incredibly hard on it all, and to spend weeks in a rehearsal studio to then go out and play to single-figure audiences seems a bit Saxondale.
So a fourth album might be on the cards…?
Yes, I think so, although how we’ll do it depends entirely on my frame of mind at the time! I keep having different ideas of how to do it – people keep talking about the album being dead, but if you WANT to do an album, then it’s as alive as it ever was. It’s the artist that kills it, not the fans. I like albums; I like a start, middle and end – the journey is intrinsic to the art, as wanky as it sounds.
In spite of all this, there was a point when I wanted to do a solo project of two or three tracks a month, for a year, with podcasts and playlists and regular studio video updates and so on, and then a (very eclectic!) double-album at the end of it all. Some months would be Eureka Machines, some months solo, some months with guests etc.
Plus, you could stick a different item on to buy each month – handwritten lyrics, new shirt designs, signed drumsticks, etc (again, with the emphasis very much on keeping it reasonably priced – some bands do not get this). However, I realised that if it didn’t go down that well, then I’d be stuck with having to write, record and produce two or three songs a month for the remaining nine months where everyone was bored of the idea – or we had no money to do it with.
I’m not a huge risk-taker, so decided against that… for now. If we do a fourth album, and it goes down well, then that might be an idea for the future. In fact, it’s definitely an idea for the future.
I think a reasonably-priced ‘subscription’ type service might be a really good way of doing things. Possibly even the future of doing things. I suppose if people like the idea, they can tell me on the internet.
Is there any new material in the current setlist?
We gave away a free track during the Pledge campaign that people seemed to like called ‘Born Ready’, which was left over from the Champion The Underdog album, so we’re doing that for the first time. It’s a bit of a ridiculous one, but we like it.
Current album ‘Remain In Hope’ has been well-received pretty much universally, any part of it that you’re particularly proud of?
I think it’s the best of our three albums, although as usual, my favourite tracks are the ones that other people aren’t that bothered for! (I think Believe In Anything is my favourite song I’ve ever written, but hardly anyone else has mentioned it.) Some of the orchestration and production is great on that album, and I’m very very proud of it, I think we all are. (Although I’d have maybe left Sgt Pepper at home during the drop section of ‘Love Yourself’.)
A lot of time and effort went into the making of that album, and the Pledge campaign itself. As you see another pledge from a real person drop into the box, there’s a palpable feeling of ‘this is why I’m doing this, this is who I’m doing this for’, and I’d like to think that it shows.
Eureka Machines notoriously don’t take themselves too seriously, particularly when working with [award-winning video-making team] Ash TV – anything further video-wise planned to support ‘Remain In Hope’?
Again, this sounds a bit over-dramatic, but I think your art should be an extension of your personality, and all we are is all we can be – obviously to the best of our abilities. I learned a long time ago that I wasn’t Thom Yorke, or Tom Waits, or Liam Gallagher, or Johnny Rotten, or any of those people, and decided instead to become the best Chris that I could be instead. (For me, life is a long, hard, interesting, weird and brilliant struggle to do just that.)
I think I speak for all of Eureka Machines when I say that none of us take ourselves very seriously. We do like to have a piss about. Ash (and Richy) are great mates and as much part of the band as the four of us, so we have a lot of ideas together about how to make a video which we’re all going to enjoy, and hopefully reflects the spirit and the personality of the band and songs.
I see videos all the time and think ‘who are you trying to kid’? Four white blokes playing in front of a wall. No soul, no spirit, no emotion. Trying to be cool is the worst habit in music, be it rock, metal, indie, grime, whatever. You’re four lads straight outta Didcot, be yourselves, that’s way more interesting than being a fourth-rate Oasis/Guns n’ Roses/whoever. Find your angle and sharpen it.
It reminds me of when Tim Smith from Cardiacs (who has the most beautiful soul of anyone I know) told me off for wearing sunglasses on stage as he said I had lovely eyes as it is. (I was wearing them in a piss-take Toy Dolls style, but anyway, you get the point.)
I had a lovely idea for a video for the song Wish You Were Her, but I think the tracks on that album are finished now. I can’t really imagine making a video for a song which came out over a year ago, unless we had a reason to believe it was going to get 100k+ YouTube views, or a load of TV. Which we don’t.
Ash mentioned something the other week about filming a band ‘Come Dine With Me’, which I think could be amazing.
A few to finish on – if you could take ANY two bands past or present out on the road with you, who would it be?
For us to support? Off the top of my head… Supergrass and The Who. To support us? Two bands who we played with who I always loved but have finished were Black Dynamite and Lorimer, although Lorimer are back under the name Cyanide Pills, and they’re as good as ever.
With World War 3 possibly imminent from the Russia / Ukraine crisis, what’s the number one item on your ‘bucket list’?
(I think Obama is wise enough to avoid getting involved and starting WWIII. It’s easy to forget how gung-ho the last lot were.)
I’d like to go to China, despite its appalling human rights record.
I’d like to go back to Australia and do some backpacking.
I’d LOVE for Eureka Machines’ albums to come out in Japan and do really well, so that we can tour there regularly.
And I’d probably like to move to Scotland in about 12 months’ time.
Use the word ‘discombobulated’ in a sentence.
The brute force of Wayne Insane’s onstage post-bhuna guff discombobulated not only the rest of the band, but most of the audience, along with several passers-by outside.
Vampires or werewolves?
Pop star or rock star?
Being able to go to the paper shop in my slippers.
Thanks again for talking to us Chris, have a great tour and we’ll see you in Leicester and Walsall!
We’re really looking forward to it – come see us at the merch stand after.
Eureka Machines’ UK tour kicked off in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on Thursday 6th, and includes dates at Leicester’s Firebug (Friday 21st March) and The Goldmine Centre in Walsall (Saturday 29th).