The first thing you notice as you enter Faris Badwan’s Camden studio is a barrage of strange sounds: feedback rages, machinery clanks and distant air-raid sirens roam in and out of your aural register. What we’re hearing are out-takes from Cat’s Eyes’ soundtrack to psycho-sexual drama The Duke of Burgundy, which better-suited the classical songwriting of Rachel Zeffira, Badwan’s Cat’s Eyes partner and girlfriend, than his own experiments.
Although the song sketches were deemed too obscure for an arthouse film about two sadomasochistic women in a sexual relationship, it appears to be Badwan’s idea of mood music – much like the jumble of animal skulls that line the shelves constitutes his idea of decor. We’re here to get the skinny on Cat’s Eyes’ forthcoming second record, but since Badwan hasn’t brought recordings and refuses to describe his music, we’re making do with his idea of an interview. “They’re songs,” he sighs at one point. “I don’t know how else to describe them.”
It’s been four years since Cat’s Eyes released their self-titled debut, a darkly intriguing curio inspired by ‘60s girl groups. In the four years since, the band have chiselled away at an expansive follow-up, taking a year out for The Duke Of Burgundy and intermittently pausing for Badwan to record with The Horrors. Glimpsing an ornate harmonium in the corner, I ask if the pair have unearthed any obscure instruments since ‘Cat’s Eyes’. He shrugs. “I mean, we used so many instruments on the first one that it wouldn’t be possible to completely move.” Confused, I ask if he means they’re using fewer instruments, or just new ones. “Well, it’s very different,” he frowns. “I think we just moved on. Do you want any chewing gum?”
He holds out a trick stick of gum, the kind kids use to fool their grandparents, and cracks up as the rubber spring snaps against my finger. Remorseful, he spends the next hour redoubling efforts to say something useful. We get an outline of the record: it’s 90% done, awaiting a typically elaborate production job; Zeffira has mastered a tricky oboe technique called “multiphonics”, the oboist’s equivalent to guitar feedback, although how they’ll incorporate it is unclear; most intriguingly, the opening credits song from The Duke of Burgundy, a bucolic lullaby sung in spectral sighs by Zeffira, has inspired a dramatic turnaround for the singer. “It was the final straw for her,” says Badwan. “No more singing softly.” On the new record, which splits vocal duties evenly between her and Badwan, former classical singer Zeffira will use her soprano voice. “It hasn’t turned into some weird opera thing,” Badwan clarifies, “but we definitely found a good place for it.”
After two hours of talking, Badwan decides wants to share a song after all. “I’m gonna play you a tiny bit of the beginning,” he says, “but only because it has Rachel singing on it.” From his Mac speakers flow 15 seconds of epic, piano-based choral music, faintly resembling The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ being sung by castrato choirboys who’ve just been told Jesus is in attendance. It sounds astonishing, and when I say so, Badwan smiles broadly: “Thanks. Glad you like it.” Asked if it’s reflective of the album, his smile fades, but it’s soon replaced by a mischievous grin. “No,” he chuckles, averting eyes to his boots. “I guess it isn’t representative at all.”