With her stunning third album, The Nameless, released this Friday (May 7), Cathy Davey talks to State about losing a record deal, growing into her skin as a writer and performer, her ‘vain attempt’ to write a Cole Porter song, and what it feels like to be a ‘pin-up for bed-wetting indie kids’.
The Nameless: is it your most confident record yet?
I think so, yeah. But I find it hard to imagine that anyone would think that their current album isn’t their most confident. I feel the first one was terribly apologetic and the second one was less so, having more fun. This one is more about wanting to make myself happy with these things, and wanting to enjoy a bit more theatrics. It’s something that I would have shied away from before that I enjoy now, making more of an illusion as opposed to trying to abstract things instead.
Do you think you’ve grown into your skin more, as a songwriter, musician and live performer?
Yeah, I have. There was a time, for the majority of my career as a performing or recording artist, whatever you want to call it, when I felt so embarrassed about having something to use to make money from. I had a singing voice that people would like to listen to but I felt so embarrassed to be seen to think that I had something myself, and really embarrassed that I wrote songs that people thought would do well. There was a huge sense of embarrassment about the whole thing and I don’t know why…
Do you think you were signed too early, before you were ready?
Yeah, although it’s probably good that I did do all that. I had to, at some stage. And I wasn’t really that young: I was 23 or 24.
But just in terms of playing live: you hadn’t played many gigs before being signed?
If I hadn’t signed, I don’t know what I would have done. I think I would have carried on writing songs in my bedroom.
And not performing?
Yeah, probably. So I guess that was the kick up the arse I needed. The only thing is, my apprenticeship took so long. It wasn’t until Silversleeve, til half-way through trying to perform these songs, that I started to feel like a human being on stage, as opposed to someone who was a robot, trying to get through, to survive the gig.
State remembers Cathy’s month-long residency in Whelans, where we saw her growing and blossoming as a live performer from week to week. Do you agree?
Yeah, I would agree. With the first album, I never really did my own gigs. I was always on tour with really amazing people like Graham Coxon and Supergrass, playing support in huge, cavernous venues to just a couple of people who wanted to see Supergrass. That did nothing for my confidence. I really needed to be put in tiny rooms with five people who wanted to see me. That would have done me so much more good, which is why I love these Bare Bones tours, because even if it’s just five people, they’re five people who want to see me, and I get something from it and I give something, as a result, and it’s a fair exchange. Whereas, it’s a very unfair exchange with anything else.
So with those residencies, every week, if people came back it was because they wanted to and not because they were coming to see someone else and had to sit through me first.
You’ve spoken in the past about being unable to stand up for yourself in meetings when you first signed a record deal. Do you think you’d be different if you had to sit in those kind of meetings now?
Everyone has their opinion and I guess I thought my opinion wasn’t founded or it wasn’t an educated idea, an educated guess, for how everything was supposed to be done. And I was signing to a label who had worked with such amazing artists, I thought -obviously, they’ll know better’. So it wasn’t that I didn’t stick up for myself: it was that when something was put to me, I said I better try it once so I have an educated guess, and that’s always my approach to everything. But it means then that you’re always trying someone else’s ideas, and that sets the premise or precedent for that. So you never will come across as someone who knows their own mind if you’re always trying other people’s ideas. So that’s how it worked. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, apart from my own for not having enough experience, -cos that’s what happens when you just stay at home, drink hot chocolate and watch The Monkees.