|Origin||Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.|
Cats Laughing was a folk rock band, active in the late 1980s and early 1990s, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Several of its members, including Emma Bull and best-selling author Steven Brust, are better known as writers of fantasy and science fiction.
The group consisted of Steven Brust on drums, Emma Bull on lead vocals, Bill Colsher on guitar and synthesizer, Lojo Russo on bass and vocals, and Adam Stemple on guitar and vocals. Both Brust and Bull are best known as professional authors of fantasy and science fiction novels. Stemple has also written a fantasy novel, and co-authored the Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale series with his mother, the fantasy writer and editor Jane Yolen.
Bootleg Issue (1988)
|Studio album by Cats Laughing|
In 1988, Cats Laughing released their first album, generally known as Bootleg Issue, initially on cassette and CD. The album has also been distributed under the titles The Basement Tape and Reissue, and was re-released digitally in 2013 under the title The First Album.
Bootleg Issue was recorded on a four-track recorder, with effects created using guitar stomp boxes and a home stereo equalizer. The track "Signal to Noise" was initially listed as three tracks, with its introductory section broken out under the title "FMera", and the ending section broken out under the title "FMera (reprise)." The noise that starts "FMera" (or "Signal to Noise") was Adam Stemple striking a match close to the microphone.
The concluding songs of the album were further described by Emma Bull:
Since the first CD was made from the original cassette, where there were no electronic markers for the beginnings and ends of songs, things can get kinda hairy. But here’s the Official Conception: "Back Door" ends. Then the strange ambient noise-jam starts up that we developed, when playing live, to suggest a radio being tuned across a series of frequencies that weren’t coming in well enough to identify—sort of a "driving across the middle of nowhere late at night and getting things on your radio that might be signals from outer space" feel. That’s "FMera" (which we didn’t name until we recorded it), which is really just the intro to "Signal to Noise." Since we were way into structure, we had to go out as we came in, so "Signal to Noise" ends with more space-jam noise, which is "FMera (reprise)". The album ends in a mighty doom-and-gloom crash with "More Thumbscrews," the song that starts with the lyrics, "The trees bowed to greet me as I passed by."
|1.||"The Enchantment"||E. Bull||Bull||4:34|
|2.||"Gloomy Sunday"||trad. Hungarian||Russo||5:34|
|3.||"Half-Dollar Blues"||S. Brust & A. Stemple||Stemple||2:39|
|5.||"Tellers of Tales"||S. Brust & A. Stemple||Stemple, Russo, Bull||5:54|
|6.||"The Good Stuff"||Lojo Russo||Russo||4:50|
|7.||"Back Door"||A. Stemple||Stemple||4:49|
|8.||"Signal to Noise"||E. Bull||Bull||6:52|
|9.||"More Thumbscrews"||S. Brust||Bull||6:08|
Another Way to Travel (1990)
|Another Way to Travel|
|Studio album by Cats Laughing|
|Cats Laughing: Another Way to Travel|
The group's second album, Another Way to Travel, was released in 1990 with ten original songs, and an arrangement of the traditional song "Nottamun Town."
The song "Black Knight's Work" was co-written by Emma Bull and another science fiction and fantasy writer, John M. Ford. Dave Stenshoel (fiddle) and Robin Anders (additional percussion), both members of the band Boiled in Lead, appeared on Another Way to Travel as guest musicians.
The album featured cover art by editor and author Terri Windling, depicting the band members and a vehicle known as the Catmobile that was used to transport the band. The vehicle, owned by Brust, was a Cadillac ambulance that had been painted yellow, light blue, and dark blue, with murals.
According to AllMusic reviewer Richard Foss, "The original tunes on Another Way to Travel are as inventive as might be expected of a band with two highly original poets and novelists aboard... it's hard to listen to this disc without a pang of regret that Cats Laughing didn't stay together a while longer and record a few more albums." Foss pointed to the album's "sophisticated, complex arrangements of all sorts of music", bringing "a sense of character and purpose" that spanned multiple genres.
|1.||"Bright Street Beachhouse Back in Business Blues"||S. Brust & E. Bull||5:52|
|2.||"The Undertoad"||Lojo Russo||3:49|
|3.||"Sing Out"||A. Stemple||5:51|
|5.||"See How the Sparrow Flies"||S. Brust||3:06|
|6.||"For It All"||Emma Bull||4:12|
|7.||"Elijah"||S. Brust & A. Stemple||6:28|
|8.||"Wear My Face"||E. Bull & A. Stemple||6:59|
|9.||"Stars Overhead"||A. Stemple & S. Brust||4:26|
|10.||"Black Knight’s Work"||John M. Ford & E. Bull||3:57|
|11.||"Draw the Curtain"||S. Brust, A. Stemple, & E. Bull||5:52|
Decline in the mid-1990s
As Cats Laughing became increasingly less active in the 1990s, Emma Bull also played in folk duo The Flash Girls, while Stemple was one of the lead singers and a guitarist for the folk celtic punk band Boiled in Lead. Russo switched from bass to mandolin to play in the Irish band Gallowglass, then began a solo career in 1993. The group occasionally reunited as late as the mid-1990s.
In 1994, two Cats Laughing songs were included in the soundtrack of a video, an extended promotional trailer for a potential film production based on Emma Bull's screenplay for her novel War for the Oaks (1987). In addition to the two full-length songs, the trailer also opened with the introduction to "Signal to Noise" (also known as "FMera") from The Bootleg Issue.
The video was shot on location in Minneapolis by Will Shetterly, and included "Nottamun Town" and a new Cats Laughing song, "Here We Go Again," that was based on War for the Oaks. The full eleven-minute trailer was published at Green Man Review. Excerpts from the trailer that included "Here We Go Again" and "Nottamun Town" were later self-released in higher resolution by Shetterly.
References in other media
- Marvel Comics superhero Kitty Pryde described Cats Laughing as her favorite band. The band members themselves appeared in Excalibur No. 5 as Murderworld simulations, in the 1990 one-shot Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem, and in the 1991 magazine Marvel Illustrated: The Swimsuit Issue. The band was also referenced in the DC comic Sovereign Seven.
- The song "Signal to Noise", written by Emma Bull for the first Cats Laughing album, supplied the title for a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman. The song was later recorded by The Flash Girls.
- Cats Laughing appears as a band in the Borderland series, a series of urban fantasy novels and short stories created and edited by Terri Windling.
- Cats Laughing also appear in Spider Robinson's novel The Callahan Touch, and "among other weird and wonderful things [play] Lady Day's classic 'Gloomy Sunday' in Hungarian."
- Born to Run, an urban fantasy novel by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon, makes a passing reference to "a few humans in Cats Laughing... concert-tour sweatshirts."
- Cats Laughing official site
- Another Way to Travel at AllMusic
- Cats Laughing discography at MusicBrainz
- Cats Laughing songs on last.fm
- Lojo Russo official site
- Meyer, Jim (January 5, 1996). "Lojo Russo seeks ethereal accessibility". Star Tribune. pp. 02.E.
- Cats Laughing (2013) . The First Album. ASIN B0019KFEKQ.
- "FAQ #1: “The First Album” or “Bootleg Issue”?". Cats Laughing (blog). February 14, 2008. Archived from the original on 2012-11-03.
- Foss, Richard. Another Way to Travel review at AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- Cats Laughing (1990). Another Way to Travel (Media notes). ASIN B000MBO21K.
- Nutick, Maria (2003). "Cats Laughing". Green Man Review. Kinrowan Limited. Archived from the original on 2010-12-16. Reprinted as "Cats Laughing: Bootleg/Another Way to Travel". Sleeping Hedgehog. 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-03-15.
- Bull, Emma (2004). "Appendix: 'That Would Make a Great Movie!'". War for the Oaks: A Novel. Macmillan. pp. 321–332. ASIN 1466804238. ISBN 9781466804234.
- Eldridge, Cat (2004). "Review: Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, War for the Oaks screenplay". Green Man Review. Archived from the original on 2011-12-02.
- Bull, Emma; Shetterly, Will (1994). War for the Oaks (official film trailer). Archived from the original on 2012-02-04.
- Cats Laughing (November 21, 2007) . "War for the Oaks: "Here We Go Again"". YouTube (official music video) (Will Shetterly).
- Cats Laughing (November 21, 2007) . "War for the Oaks: "Nottamun Town" by Cats Laughing, and more". YouTube (official music video) (Will Shetterly).
- Claremont, Chris (1989). Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem. Marvel. ASIN 0871356252. ISBN 9780871356253.
- DeFalco, Tom, ed. (1991). Marvel Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue No. 1. Marvel Comics. ASIN B004DZE15S.
- McCabe, Joe (2004). Hanging Out With the Dream King: Interviews with Neil Gaiman and His Collaborators. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books. p. 254. ISBN 1-56097-617-9.
- Sherman, Delia (1999). The Essential Bordertown: A Traveller's Guide to the Edge of Faerie. New York: Tor Books. p. 164. ISBN 0-312-86703-4.
- Robinson, Spider (1995). The Callahan Touch. New York: Ace Books. p. 167. ISBN 0-441-00133-5.
- Lackey, Mercedes; Larry Dixon (1999). The Chrome Borne. Riverdale, NY: Baen. p. 166. ISBN 0-671-57834-0.