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Building the Waul: Katterwaul 

Brittany Katter on growing up and the two sides of selling your own sexuality

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Are you looking to escape to a world of childlike whimsy? It’s easy—aim for the second star to the right, and go straight on 'til morning. Just know that Brittany Katter of Tucson’s Katterwaul has a few choice words for you should you choose the route less matured. After all, the band’s first full-length release, titled 15 Forever, is named as a commentary on the mental and emotional stasis that seems to cripple men of a certain age.

“It’s about Peter Pan syndrome. It seems like there’s really not a lot of opportunity or reason for men to become men these days,” Katter says. “There aren’t consequences really for staying young.”

The song that bears the album’s title track fleshes out the concept of stunted growth and the futile quest for immortality lyrically, embellished by a steady crescendo that develops into a swirling, chaotic flurry of distorted guitar only to ebb back to the down-tempo strumming from which it all started.

Before you get your boxers in a bunch, it’s important to note that the entire album isn’t set on criticizing the modern man, but rather it serves as an exploration of ideas and themes Katter is confronting in her own life.

“The last album I recorded in North Carolina was a lot of heartbreak songs,” she says. “This album is a social commentary on gender roles, sexual expectation and casual dating. It felt like more of a transition and it might just be because I’m more confident in myself.”

That confidence she speaks of can be seen in her commanding stage presence, which she admits might be more “aggressive” than folks are used to seeing from a female frontwoman. Not demure and definitely not a canary, Katter thrashes around the stage with glimpses of Patti Smith and Kathleen Hanna, listing influences including PJ Harvey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Scout Niblett, Bikini Kill and even Portugese Fado. However, she says that aggression is a double-edged sword.

“Women in rock traditionally hold the role of groupie or sexual object. I’m experiencing finally being on the other side of it,” she says. “There’s a paradigm of men on stage being aggressive and powerful but also singing about love and being vulnerable. Now I’m the one with the power, but I’m still seen as a sexual object.”

Katter references people referring to her music as “sexy” and even how the members of other bands treat her after performing, exploring that idea further in “Sound of My Name.”

“I don’t want to be objectified for expressing my sexuality,” Katter continues, “At first it’s flattering, especially if it’s a band you respect, but then you start to ask, ‘do you know who I am?’ and you start to think of your own self worth like ‘am I taking advantage of my own sexuality?’” While she looks forward to seeing more women taking the lead in shaping the sound of rock ‘n’ roll and becoming less of a spectacle, she admits she sees why it can be a little tough to get up there and take charge. “It’s hard for women to get up on stage. It’s an aggressive statement and aggression is seen as unattractive for women,” she says.

Katter says a recent discussion on Facebook, which she says yielded over 100 comments, had people suggesting a concert to showcase women in music featuring solely female-fronted groups as a way to promote inclusion. She says that idea and the othering it entails made her want to scream.

“Equality means the same. It’s hard because it’s a very subtle sort of discrimination,” she says. “My rule is when you flip it, if it sounds weird, then it probably isn’t a good idea.”

So, instead of hosting a male-fronted band event, she says the best medicine is to get up there and get aggressive—shredding, trashing, yelling and doing whatever else makes sense. She says she owes that initial push to get up on stage to fellow musician Gabriel Sullivan. “There’s such a great scene—a supportive scene—here,” she says. “[Sullivan] was like ‘you’ve got a voice, and if you don’t get in front of people, it’d be a crime.’”

Now, what started “one woman band style” has blossomed into an adventurous four-piece of some of Tucson’s most forward thinking musicians.

“I’ve been a fan of Ben [Schneider], my drummer, forever,” she says. “And I think Jeff [Lownsbury] is the most exciting guitar player in Tucson. He really is a genius.”

Rounding out the group, Katter’s friend Laura Horley volunteered to be the band’s bassist, despite never playing in a band before. “She’s so fearless and she’s the type to just dive in,” Katter says.

And, while the band’s name comes from Katter’s last name, she no longer sees the project as exclusively her own anymore.

“They put in so much time and I try to make it as collaborative as possible … I think they’re better players than me,” she says, adding, “It’s hard for me to say I write the songs. I write the skeleton and they bring the meat.”

Now, Katter says the band has seen the stakes rising in the last six months. Recording the new album (which was done with Head Over Heart’s Jordan Prather at his studio Commercial Appeal) and supporting larger national acts here locally aren’t all the band has cooking. You can expect a 7” with a completely new set of songs released by the new Wooden Tooth Records label as well as a split release from Baby Gas Mask Records’ West Foot Forward series. The vinyl split features the Katterwaul tune “When You Gonna Gimme?,” which asks simply, “When you gonna gimme head?” over and over again.

“I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time we were recording it,” she says.

It’s with that humor, biting wit and strong voice that Katter’s message should be interpreted. She isn’t looking to preach. She’s just speaking her mind.

“The album is more political but it’s more about my own social grievances than making a statement. It’s all coming from experience,” she says.

And, if you can’t get past the message she’s putting out there, then you honestly don’t deserve to listen to 15 Forever in all its bluesy, jammy, psychedelic, shredding glory.

For those who can, the record is available at Wooden Tooth Records (415 N. Fourth Ave.) and online via iTunes and Katterwaul’s Bandcamp page, as well as their Club Congress album release show. ■


More by Heather Hoch

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