“This racist homophobic shit / Your whitewashed bible belt critique/ I’m pro-choice, you’re no choice / you plead the 5th, I use my voice…” Caterina ‘Cat’ Speranza, the wild cat vocalist of London-based punks Cat SFX, has a lot to say.
We first met Cat during the late-’00s indie boom, when she was fronting promising provocateurs, The Vincent Fiasco, aged just 16. 13 years on, and with an album in the works and slated for release next year, we caught up with her from her kitchen over Zoom, to talk turning her back on indie stardom, mental health and why Cat SFX are the punk heroes we need in 2020.
Hi Cat! So we last saw you when you were in the band, The Vincent Fiasco…
“[My family have] got quite a history of depression and substance – my dad was an alcoholic and my mam remarried when I was about 10. It was just horrible, so she chucked me out. I went to live in this squat in Camden and I met lots of musicians through that. One of them was David, my guitarist in The Vincent Fiasco. It was a good band: very punk and unpolished and maybe we weren’t the best musicians, but we did quite well. We opened for Interpol at the Astoria. But then I started getting into the scene a little too much and taking things that I shouldn’t. We had massive interest from all the labels, but I knew if I signed a deal that would be it and I’d spend all the money on drugs.”
What happened after the band split?
“I had people say to me, ‘Why did you do that?’, but I was saving myself. I knew it was heading towards disaster. I went to live in Italy and I started hanging out in the music scene there. I met an A&R from Sony ATV and I started writing lyrics. There was this band called The Kolors who won one of the biggest talent shows. They’re like a rock band but they sing in English so they needed somebody to write their lyrics for them. I wrote four of their singles and it was a 4x platinum album. That made me really want to come back and do my own thing.”
Alan McGee has said of you: “In a different time, [she’d] be a punk hero”. How did you end up signing with Creation23?
“I met Alan first when I was 15 or 16 when I played [Alan’s Notting Hill club night] Death Disco. Then when I came back to London, I had a tiny bit part in it his film, Creation Stories, [the forthcoming Irvine Welsh-penned biopic based on Alan’s 2013 autobiography, Creation Stories – Riots, Raves and Running a Record Label]. I sent him ‘Doom Generation’ and he absolutely loved it and he said, ‘Let’s do a record.’ He’s so, so punk. He’s 60 now and he hasn’t lost that ‘fuck everyone’ attitude.”
How did Cat SFX come together?
“I met [guitarist] Gordon Mills, who used to do a lot of the ’00s bands, and we really hit it off. He’s got a raging side too. I can really rant with him. And that’s what ‘Reunite’ was. It’s therapy of some sort. Sometimes I just get so fucking angry and I grab a pen and paper and start writing.”
What are you writing about in the new music?
“It scares me that there are so many young people with mental health issues that are not getting the help that they need. Mental health is a massive deal for me. I’ve got my own problems and there’s been all these cuts to mental health. I got a letter myself from the NHS saying, ‘We can’t see you anymore because of Covid cuts’. Then there’s [Tories] voting to not give the kids free dinners. You can’t believe it’s 2020 because you can’t believe this is happening. I’ve got such a rage inside me about it because there’s all these people suffering and I don’t know why we’re not doing something about it! It just feels like the working class are just being shit on. I look on my Facebook, and there’s all these people saying, ‘You shouldn’t have kids if you can’t feed them.’ Do you know how many people have lost their jobs because of Covid? That’s the other thing. People are so cold. I can’t understand it.
“Maybe Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t have been the right guy to lead the country, but why do [the country] keep voting the Tories in? It’s like turning back to the 1800s or something. It feels like the rich are looking down just going, ‘Ha ha ha’, and it’s really sad.”
You released ‘Doom Generation’ earlier this year which includes the lyrics: “I’m the product of a hush-hush topic.” What are you talking about there?
“I wrote ‘Doom Generation’ just after Caroline Flack killed herself. I hate this when someone does something like that and people post, ‘If you need to talk, come round to me the kettle’s always on.’ Fuck off; no it’s not. You’re posting it for likes, not because you actually give a shit. Then there’s this whole thing with Big Pharma that really pisses me off the most. You go to the doctor and it’s like, ‘Here you go, take a pill.’ There’s no responsibility. I think we’ve become a culture that’s been completely cut off from our feelings. I was put on an anti-depressant and it really fucked with my head. I tried to come off it and – oh my God, it was worse than coming off hard drugs.
“I understand that therapy costs money and costs the NHS money, but you’re going for an easy answer giving people pills. Why have there been NHS cuts? Why is there not money there? Why [is the Government] not investing in young people? Why do they not care about this generation?”
What is the change you would like to see?
“I wish there was more understanding of this generation. Young people are dying and I think so much more could be done. But I don’t think that’s going to be done while we’ve got Tories and Donald Trump.”