Cleveland’s indie-neo soul trio, the Katy, a band with an aesthetic vision and something to say, has been breaking the music mold in Cleveland for the past five years with its funky, jazzy, sly, soulful, seductive and groove-driven stylings. This month, the threesome dropped its first full-length album, The Katy, alongside a music video for the single “Market Cornered.”
The Katy is a three-piece group with Cathalyn on bass and lead vocals, Eli Hanley on keyboards and Ashanti Allison on drums. The name comes from “She Caught the Katy,” a blues standard by American blues musician, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actor and film composer Claire Fredericks, Jr. (who’s better known by his stage name Taj Mahal) and James Rachell.
The Katy’s 9-song album pops off with the Curtis Mayfield-esque “Bonnie Single” and takes the listener on a journey from there. In the song “Elbow Room,” the drums and bass slap catchy in the beginning, then the keys slip in building something like a complex sonic 7-layer cake before moving into an almost tribal call and response. On this album, the instrumentation, vignettes of electronic sounds and human utterances and the layered harmonies and surprising melodic phrasing are all well thought-out and arranged with care and precision.
There are decisions being made on this record which are emblematic of a group that has vision and is refreshingly experimental while still offering mature, creative clarity.
“Market Cornered,’ ‘Camaraderie,’ ‘Elbowroom’ and maybe another one, I've had demo bass lines for but, mainly finished the lyrics 2017-19, sneaking to write poems and lyrics on scrap paper at my old job,” reveals Cathalyn. “We ended up being able to work with Pete Min, an L.A based engineer who mixed the album for us. 'People are FreE’ was fun and special to have on the album. It's a cellphone recording that we edited of an exercise we were doing in rehearsal one day. We switched instruments with Ashanti on Bass, Eli on keys and I was playing drums. ‘Bonnie Single’ we sampled from a really old rehearsal recording of us. Dan Fernandez helped out with drum programming on that. I wrote most of ‘Elbowroom’ all at once at my old job. Thinking and walking I heard the bassline and first couple lines, started writing the lyrics thinking what would I say if I could just stop the room and say what's on my mind and thinking about sort of a theme for our band, like the Clash has ‘Garageland.’ 'Elbowroom' we reworked a few times and had some recordings from a while ago, used some live too. We recorded claps together live and it's special. Ashanti and I both sing towards the end. We had Patrick Graney playing some percussion, and Jake Ford did some guitar parts too for that one.”
Since the release of the Katy’s infectious 2017 EP, Collage, recorded and mixed by James Kananen at Cleveland’s Bad Racket Studios, the band garnered the attention of Ideastream Public Media’s Sound of Ideas program, and they were included in their showcase in 2019. They also caught the ear of Grammy Award winner and Dayton native Van Hunt. Cathalyn reached out to Hunt saying she wanted to open up for his Cleveland date in January of 2019.
The connection was made, and in 2019, the Katy ended up touring with Hunt on 11 dates, including stops in Montreal and Toronto. On the tour, the band tightened up its songs and absorbed a lot about touring and the music business. The tour led to an opening slot for Washington D.C.’s electronic music duo Thievery Corporation at Newport Music Hall and to Hunt taking the reigns as the Katy’s manager and coming to Cleveland for their recording sessions.
“I was mesmerized by the band as most people who heard them,” posted Van Hunt on his Instagram. “Cathalyn oozed charm. With an eye on artist development, I asked the Katy to let me help with the recording process for their album. That turned into me becoming their manager, with LCP Music doing the day-to-day.”
Cathalyn says she’s inspired by Billie Holiday, Tiffany Haddish, Joe Strummer, James Brown, Van Gogh, Jimi Hendrix, Room Full of Mirrors and Yayoi Kusamais. She’s originally from Memphis, TN and moved to Cleveland at the age of 7 because her father is a music minster and he found work at a church in Cleveland. Cathalyn says that Memphis is “a special town to be from musically” and that growing up in the church influenced her especially how she plays the bass deriving some of her style from Baptist gospel music and learning from her father. She came up learning to play viola and sang in acapella choir. She says that’s how she learned to layer her harmonies. She draws from her roots pulling this all together on songs like the poignant “People are People,” which helps propel the social consciousness of the record with the line “did they put my reparations in the mail?”
“When I lived at home with my parents, my dad and I would come home from work and decompress and talk all night about navigating life and our perspectives on the current events," she says. "He's a musician too, an amazing songwriter, vocalist and keyboard player. I learned the process of songwriting from watching and talking with him. He'll say, ‘People are people.' So much truth in that. I started to write ‘People are People' as a joke song to myself, venting about my job at the time and life. ‘Did they put my reparations in the mail?’ was kinda tongue in cheek at first and then with the election then, reparations really started to become more in the news as an issue for the campaigns. As I wrote, I started to meld my thoughts about what’s happening in the world, reacting to the more aggressive racism and tension I noticed at my job as a result of things and how I felt as a black woman living it.”
In conjunction with the album dropping, a music video was released for the track “Market Cornered.” Cathalyn self-produced, shot and edited the video on her MacBook in iMovies. The track is a “banger” with its infectious sinister, pocket-groove bass — the Spencer David Group-like organ with an alluring "pillow-talk" beat. This song is sexy with a daring message of the reclamation of self with the lines “I may not be the wit/I may not be the It/I may not have it all together/But I’m born of love/And made of leather./You don’t have the market cornered.”
“A lot of the songs stem from a similar lens, 2017 Trump time-2020 pandemic, through my eyes as a black woman and also my own stories,” continues Cathalyn. “’Market Cornered’ is a cathartic song I wrote about me navigating the music scene as a black woman, speaking to some of my experiences and more generally people who don't get seen.”
Cathalyn wanted the music video to highlight strong black artists in her sphere and the result is a gritty, flavorful and slick visual representation of the group with scenes filmed at Now That’s Class and Cleveland’s Warner and Swasey Observatory. The video features swaths of colors, slow and reverse motion, scenes of graffiti, the band smashing computers, bottles of wine and guitar amps. Black women confront the camera including a bald Roberts at times in coveralls, or a fringed leather jacket and even in dresses seductively dancing in a silver spiked collar injecting meaning in the spoken line “do right by yourself and wake up.”
“I learned a lot about myself through the process of the album and saw our band, friends and the world change,” concludes Cathalyn. “The songs on this album meant a lot to me, like I mentioned some of them I wrote as an older teen and am seeing my perspectives change through the process of writing. Not all the songs are directly personal but, it felt like a relief to have them out in the world. I've been proud of us but it's also been difficult, as these years with the presidency, protests, police brutality and pandemic has been for the rest of the world too. A lot went into this one. I feel like it's the whole story. I hope listeners hear that and I hope it can be special to them too.”