Protest Is Power: Catholic Action Interviewed

Protest Is Power: Catholic Action Interviewed

Glasgow group on coronavirus disappointment, political dystopia, and their new album...

Like hundreds of other bands Catholic Action were looking forward to this year’s SXSW, but the cancellation of one of the world’s leading showcase festivals because of the coronavirus was just the beginning of a tsunami of festival and tour cancellations in the music calendar.

Their North American live dates also got cancelled, but it wasn’t all bad news for the Scottish indie group. Unpredictably, punk rockers Dead Kennedys came to their rescue.

Having supported them in the UK and Europe last year, the American band knew that Catholic Action were in the States and invited them to play in Philadelphia.

“That gig was really great”, Chris McCrory enthuses. “The money from that meant we could pay for our flights and go home without being out of pocket. We got lucky in that sense.”

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The prospect of releasing a second album also helped keeping spirits up. What’s known as the difficult second album often defies belief and ends up being a better record. ‘Celebrated By Strangers’ just happens to follow this glorious trend.

Catholic Action comprise bassist Jamie Dubber, drummer Ryan Clark, guitarist Andrew Macpherson, and even if McCrory, frontman, songwriter and producer, refers to it as a “strange album”, it is an album they are very proud of.

“Maybe we allowed ourselves to be mislead a little bit on the first record”, McCrory explains. “Not entirely, but in the sense that we went into a world that never really interested us much in the first place. With this album it’s much closer to who we’re as people, semantically and sonically.”

‘Celebrated By Strangers’ is a record of honesty, openness with a distinct ease at tackling theme and genre. The album focuses on being inventive and inspiring, it creates a sense of no creative boundary.

“There’s a lot of anger and alienation on the record, but it’s a hopeful message. The thing for me is that it’s not just complaining about stuff, it’s a call to action, it’s easy to complain, but it’s not easy to suggest a way out”, McCrory states.

A range of themes are dealt with such as mental illness, isolation and the state of things. “People are being alienated from their neighbours, alienated from their friends. It came out of frustration with the way things were. Ultimately, no matter what there will always be a light, I think that’s a real positive.”

With the degree of openness around mental health generally being on the up, the song ‘There Will Always Be a Light’ explores the important topic. “I basically wrote it when I was trying to stop myself tail spinning in a panic attack”, he admits. “It ended up becoming my favourite song on the album, maybe it’s the song that’s closest to me personally.”

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But anger also drives some of the energy. There’s anger about politics. “I never wanted it to let me consume me to the point where it made me a bad, cynical person, it’s not worth ruining your life over”, he says. “It’s tongue in cheek, there’s a serious message behind, it does come from a real place. One way to cope is that we see it through a humorous lens, that’s how the songs end up as they’re. You have to laugh.”

‘One of Us’ tackles a country in deep poverty depicting the social implications of isolation and intoxication. The call to arms of ‘People Don’t Protest Enough’ and ‘Go Away (Four Guitars for Scottish Independence)’ leave strong marks. An inspired snapshot focusing on the current climate, it pokes fun while seeking to inspire change and hope.

McCrory voted yes to Scottish independence back in 2014. He would vote the same again, he says. “Politically Scotland is quite different. It’s a little nation, but you get to the point where your vote has been wasted and ignored so many times. Aware that Scotland tends to vote consistently one way, but we’ll see what happens. I’ve been quite angry at everything that’s transpired, and you can probably hear that in some of the songs.”

“The main thing, especially for some Scottish voters was to remain in the EU”, he says. “We’re a small country, being part of the European Union is a good thing for Scotland but some people were scared to vote for independence as it may affect that. A couple of years later Brexit comes along, it’s one thing after the other. In the past five or six years there’s been a lot to be cynical about with politics.”

Scottish indie and guitar music are naturally close to McCrory’s heart, with names like The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub and Primal Scream popping up in conversation, alongside international groups like My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, and Sonic Youth and electronic, experimental acts Can, Neu! and Harmonia.

Through his work as a record producer, he divides his time between Glasgow and London with occasional visits to Liverpool. His “Top of the food chain” producer influences include Brian Eno, Tony Visconti, and contemporaries like Dan Carey and John Congleton.

“The whole thing with Eno is that he uses the studio fully, and that’s something that we took on with this record as well. But at the core of it, there’s these kind of quirky, funny songs that are total sing along”, he explains.

Dividing recording time between two studios changed the overall result, “I like how it sounds, it’s interesting. I enjoy records where you listen and ask what the sound actually is. All my favourite artists balance sonically, not necessarily out of experimentation, but through some norm of essential, classic songwriting. Beneath the fooling around there’s always a melodic core as opposed to something that’s purely experimental”, he concludes.

“I’ve always wanted to make a record that balances that,” he proclaims. “We’ve gone close on this one. it’s definitely a record that we’re much more proud of, it’s closer to who we are, that’s the best compliment you can give it. It feels true!”

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'Celebrated By Strangers' is out now.

Words: Susan Hansen

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