Exclusive: Q&A With Elizabeth & the Catapult

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Elizabeth & the Catapult bring a decidedly whimsical point of view to pop folk. The Brooklyn-based trio consisting of Berklee College of Music amigos — vocalist Elizabeth Ziman, guitarist Pete Lalish, and drummer Dan Molad (plus additional maverick musician friends who lend a hand from time to time) — has been garnering well-deserved attention for their breakout LP, Taller Children. Largely produced by Bright Eyes visionary, Mike Mogis, the album’s chockfull of catchy, poetic tunes with backbone.

E & the C arrived at The Alcove in Los Feliz full of good cheer, despite LA being the last stop on a cross-country tour that saw Van Morrison (the band’s van) clocking over 9,000 miles. After ordering drinks, the group got chatty with Flavorpill LA’s Jane McCarthy about Tom Waits, NPR, and what happens when a cartoon character and a Muppet make a baby.

Flavorpill: I saw you guys at the Troubadour on Thursday and it was fantastic. What has been the best show?

Dan Molad: My personal favorite was in Atlanta at Eddie’s Attic which kind of has a reputation the way Living Room does in New York or maybe Hotel Café here where you know you can go any night and the music is at least somewhat enjoyable. We got our first-ever standing ovation in Atlanta, and that was really cool, really crazy.

FP: Do you change up the songs you play on any given night or do you pretty much stick with the same set?

Pete Lalish: We like to try out new stuff, to have the possibility of a disaster.

Elizabeth Ziman: The semi-awkward can be fun. We’re good at tripping a little bit, and being like, “Oh you’re so nice for forgiving us”… We were always really proud that we would play new songs at every show, but on tour we found the discipline to not be A.D.D. We actually had a set that was kind of the same every night, and we just switched around a couple of songs.

FP: It sounds like you have a lot of material. What was the narrowing process like for Taller Children?

EZ: It was like a Model U.N. with the label involved and the managers. It was actually really difficult. You have to look for the flow between the songs, the shape of the album, the story and theme. But we definitely have so many songs we want to get on this next record. We’ll be touring for a while so by that time, we’ll be bursting with songs.

FP: Do you write while on the road?

DM: Elizabeth’s writing while she’s flossing.

EZ: I can usually jet to a piano and pump it out, but on tour without a piano, it was hard. So now I have a lot of lyrics. Maybe I’ll pick up the uke, and then I’ll be set.

FP: You’ve mentioned Tom Waits as being a big inspiration for the album, particularly his song, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.”

EZ: Yes, the one thing that tied the whole album together is this fighting against growing up thing, but realizing you have to, you know, get your act together. And Tom Waits is one person I think all of us have in common as being a huge influence. He’s such a major force in songwriting.

FP: Speaking of growing up, you all met at Berklee College of Music, right?

DM: Elizabeth first saw Pete at this dive bar where he was essentially playing noise rock.

PL: It was “we’re annoying people in a bar” kind of music.

EZ: It was really good though. People were not annoyed. I freaked out about the music, and then I stalked him… was it weird, Pete?

PL: Elizabeth kept coming up to me at the time, over and over, and I’d never really had girls talk to me before at shows. Then she said, “Come to my birthday party.” At her birthday party, she was like, “We’ve got to hang out,” and I was like “Yeah, sweet, this is in the bag.” Then the first time we hung out, all she did was talk about her boyfriend.

EZ: Who was my boyfriend at that time?

PL: The American Apparel model… Anyway, then we played music and wrote a bunch of songs together. The first day we played, we came up with parts we recorded for our EP.

DM: Then a couple months later, I was in the only non-music class I had to take at Berklee besides English, which was health, and I was in health with Elizabeth.

FP: Was the health class musician-specific? Did they teach you about staying away from drugs when touring?

EZ: No, it was all about using condoms.

DM: The teacher had this scale of straight and gay. He was like, “Most guys sit a little bit not completely on the straight side. They’re like a little gay. Like you, Danny, you’re a little gay…” I spent a lot of the class watching Elizabeth and a couple other people give the teacher funny looks and kind of negate things he said. So after class, a bunch of people would go hang out at this pizza shop, and Elizabeth and I got to talking and exchanged CDs from our bands.

EZ: Then we all moved to New York and started recording.

PL: And here we are, years later. Even though this is our first official tour, we’ve been playing together for almost five years.

FP: Where do you play?

EZ: Rockwood, Joe’s Pub, Highline…

PL: New York’s small but there are so many venues. A lot of the venues that originally attracted me to move to New York have been shut down, but other places are opening like the Bell House in Brooklyn.

FP: There’s a circuit.

Elizabeth: A circuit of friends, a circuit of places. We kind of had this homegrown thing. Our audience has actually changed — we watched it grow from friends to strangers, which is cool.

FP: Would you say there are pretty well-defined steps for going from a core audience of maybe twenty, up to sixty, then to like a hundred, and so on until you’re really known nationally?

EZ: No. It depends on the day and the weather report. We’ll have huge audiences some days and then other days…

PL: Everyone has such a unique, different experience. There’s no real way of planning everything out, but I think good music gets out there regardless, one way or another… We’ve had a lot of support in New York from WNYC, NPR in New York. As we’ve been traveling across country, the thing we’ve heard consistently from people is they know about us from NPR stations. NPR, it’s something we really respect and look up to. It’s a good feeling to know you’re on some sort of right track, you know, that you’re in the hands of —

DM: — elitists. Just kidding.

PL: An audience that you feel a part of.

FP: I read that you wanted your band name to have a similar whimsy to James and the Giant Peach. In that vein, wanted to ask (and you can answer about each other if you like), what cartoon or Disney or storybook character are you most akin to?

PL: I’ve always thought Danny, if only for the physical appearance, looks like Curious George.

EZ: Pete is like Pooh Bear. He always has honey in the morning, and even though he can have a lot of energy and be really out there, he has a very centered inner thing going.

DM: For Elizabeth, if there was a way a pig and a superhero could have a baby, she’d be WonderWoman and Miss Piggy’s baby.

PL: Yeah, Miss Piggy has a crazy ninja chop, and Elizabeth has a really high kick.

If you’re in New York on September 3, stop by the Music Hall of Williamsburg to see E & the C play along with Jeff Taylor.