May 17, 2011

New tour springs Elizabeth & the Catapult into the spotlight

Elizabeth & the Catapult defy expectations, blending introspective, deep themes with lighter pop songs that display a well-developed albeit dark sense of humor. Made up of singer/songwriter and keyboardist Elizabeth Ziman, drummer Danny Molad, and guitarist Peter Lalish, the band blends elements of pop, folk, rock, and jazz. Needless to say, they have created a unique sound, one that earned them attention for their first album Taller Children, which has only continued to grow with the recent release of The Other Side of Zero. The Maroon sat down with Elizabeth Ziman to discuss touring, inspiration and,of course music.

Chicago Maroon: You recently finished touring with Sara Bareilles. What was that like?

Elizabeth Ziman: That was an amazing experience. We were basically playing for 2,000 people a night that hadn’t heard of our band, ever, and they had come really early and were really excited about music, which was an incredible opportunity. Also, Sara is one of the best hangs I’ve ever had. The first thing she did was run to everyone in my band and give them the biggest bear hug, you know, the first second that she met us. It was kind of like camp: we were all crying the last day and singing covers with each other on stage.

CM: Where was your favorite performance from this tour?

EZ: All of the southern shows were pretty crazy; I wasn’t expecting that kind of raucous love coming from the South. I think Ashville was the most fun. First of all, Ashville is an awesome city, but there was this vintage place down the street, and I was going to buy a new tutu because I wore tutus, for some reason, every night on the tour. I saw this superhero costume with my initials on looked like a Wonder Woman costume, so I bought it and played in that. Maybe it was that everyone was dressed up or maybe it was that everyone was really drunk, but whatever it was about that was great.

CM: For your new album The Other Side of Zero, I read that you were influenced by a certain book…

EZ: Yeah, well I’m always pretty obsessive about Leonard Cohen. He’s one of my big songwriting muses, but for this album I wrote the whole album on the road while I was reading David Lynch and Leonard Cohen, who wrote a book called The Book of Longing about his experiences in a Zen monastery over the years and his struggles to reach these Buddhist goals. But the whole point of the book is that even if he fails to meet his goals, it’s really just about the intention of trying. The whole process that I was going through, just day-to-day on that tour and in life, but also, you know, the album, was just “letting go.” You know, it’s easier said than done.

CM: You were trained as a classical pianist from an early age, and later planned to pursue film scoring. How has this broad background influenced your own style?

EZ: Well, I wanted to be a classical pianist until I was 15 or 16, and I think that at a certain point I just didn’t want to be locked in my room by myself all day practicing. Even if I were kept company by music, it would have been a very lonely life. I guess writing for films would also be rather lonely sometimes, but at a certain point you’re working with dozens of people so it’s a lot more of a social career....I idolize my favorite movie directors and actors so I felt like that was a good way to put it all together. When I ended up going to school for the more cinematic approach, this jazz singer came to the school looking for a band and cheap back-up singers to go with her on the road. I was somehow convinced that it was a good idea to audition even though I had no experience in jazz singing or scatting or any of the things I would need to know. I did it somehow, anyway, and then I met Esperanza, the bass player, who ended up playing with me for a couple years after that in my band, and she encouraged me to start writing my own songs. I started playing more clubs out in Boston, and two years later, after school, I started doing the residencies and started exploring that side of what I do.

CM: So how do you decide what you really want to do?

EZ: It’s a roundabout way, huh? It’s all music and it’s all the same thing. To tell you the truth, my father went to school to be a doctor, and then he ended up leaving school and being a mime, and then he was an actor, and then he went into real estate. I just feel like I have many lifetimes to figure out what I want to do, and at least it started with music. Most of my favorite musicians started with art school—David Burn, Lou Temple.

CM: You said earlier that you were influenced by your favorite directors. What’s your favorite movie?

EZ: That’s such a hard question. I love Beetle Juice. It’s just incredible; the music to that movie is incredible. It’s just so creepy but still really beautiful. I think that’s kind of what I aim for in my shows. I don’t know if I really get there, but that’s my goal.

CM: I can really see that in the “You and Me” music video, you know, the one with the alien.

EZ: Yeah, or “Perfectly Perfect.” Those are two videos where the songs are kind of cute, and I approached the director of the videos and said, “If we can make this still have that humor but also be a little darker and leave the audience a little confused, that would be great.” So I think that’s what happened. It’s not Tim Burton, but it’s definitely a little awkward.

CM: What are you listening to now?

EZ: I listen to a lot of St. Vincent; I actually also went to school with her. I’m always kind of just blown away; it’s weird for me because we were playing shitty clubs together ten years ago, but she’s incredible. I listen to a lot of a band called Elysian Fields. I really like Sufjan Stevens’s new album too. I was definitely listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits when I was making my new record.

CM: So what’s next for you?

EZ: I’m doing a tour this month and then I’m touring with Lenka next month. I think it’s just going to be hanging out with my friends on the road. It would be really fun to do some more touring this year. I’m always writing as I go ’cause I get bored, so hopefully I’ll get to the studio sometime.