In your own words; write a brief description of your band
My main project, This Way North is a two-piece band with drums and guitar. We cover a fair bit of ground genre wise but I guess we fit into the indie pop, alt-rock realm.
Name : Cat Leahy
Hometown :Melbourne, Australia
Nickname(s): Kitty, Kitty Cat, KitKat (anything to do with Cats)
Current band ( s) :This Way North /Sal Kimber and the Rollin Wheel
Favourite place for takeout :Umbertos, Thornbury: It’s this sweet little Italian jive in a really cool suburb of Melbourne. I always have the same thing (Casarecce Con Broccoli) every time I go. And when I’m away from Melbourne I crave it! Dammit….now I want it.
Tom Tom: When/ how did your interest in drumming begin?
Cat : When I was 14 my sister’s boyfriend at the time played drums. I remember going to see a few bands and just being fixated on the drummers. It was around that time we had a music class where there were different instruments scattered around the room and we were given 5 minutes to try out each one. When I sat down at the kit I could just do it. The teacher at the time said “You know you’re the only one in the class that can do that? I guess it was just one of those light bulb moments that I’ll forever be grateful for. To be honest, before then I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Have you ever taken lessons?
Yes, however in my early years my first drum teacher was also a pig farmer and spent a lot of each lesson talking about tractors and not really getting to the point of drumming. My first ‘real’ teacher was basically the headphones I was putting on and playing along to some of the greats like John Bonham. After I finished high school, I went and studied contemporary jazz at a music institute in Melbourne. That’s where I really started to hone in on stick technique and improvisation.
What was the first song you learned to play on drums?
Phew…… errrrrmmmm it was probably ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple.
Describe your gear
AHHHHHHHHH. I do love my gear! I play a Custom Maple DW Collectors. I’ve put Yamaha maple wood hoops on the whole kit. Oh, and the finish is gold sparkles… of course!
My cymbals are pretty eclectic, hi-hats are 13” Sabian HHX Manhattans, 16 Sabian HHX Studio crash 18” Zildjin K Dry Crash, I don’t use a ride much these days unless it’s a session.
Can you write music/ lyrics ?
To be honest it’s something that is very new to me. When I was a teenager I used to dabble in writing but since then I’ve been very focused on being a session drummer. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some incredible songwriters and have really just forgotten that writing was something I could do. When I first started playing with Leisha and we formed This Way North, it was a very open forum for us to be creative. In that I rediscovered my love for writing. Our first single ‘Pretty Much’ was the first song that I really wrote since I was about 16. Now we do a lot of co-writing together. It’s really re-inspired that whole creative aspect for me.
Do you play other instruments or sing ?
Ukulele is about all I’ve got space for in my brain and in the van! I do sing. Usually back up vocals but in my duo This Way North, I sing lead on a few tunes.
What is in your own musical collection?
It’s pretty eclectic: Bahamas, Led Zepplin, Meshell Ndegeocello
What’s on the walls in your room?
Ha! Well I don’t actually have a room at the moment. I’ve been on tour all year so I guess you could say my van is my room. I have a big collection of feathers from lots of cool Australian birds such as Yellow Tailed Cockatoos. I also have an Adventure Time postcard (my favorite TV show) and a magnet from ‘Hobbiton’ in New Zealand that I picked up on a recent tour. I think I need to work on decorating.
What are your interests away from drumming?
I’ve been trying to find a hobby for the last 21 years. I like bird watching in the places I get to tour I guess.
Do you have musical idols?
Meshell Ndegeocello has probably been my most constant musical idol. Her bass playing is like no other and her ability to stay true to what ever inspires her musically has always spoken to me.
Who are the bands that inspire your band’s sound?
We never really sit down and try to follow suit but when we’re on tour some of the music we listen to is sure to sponge into our creative pores like Bahamas, Blake Mills, Ngaiire, Fleetwood Mac
What have you taken away from playing live?
Oh only that it’s my favorite thing to do EVER! Playing live is a constant teacher and I feel like some of its biggest lessons are in letting go, being present and in finding the beauty in the moment. To connect with whom you’re playing with and entertain an audience takes focus too. Live music is a wonderful discipline. Every situation is going to be unique, keep me on my toes and I feel like I will forever learn from its experiences.
What does pre show preparation involve?
Depends on the show and who it is I’m playing with but I definitely have a mental checklist. If I have the time I’ll do some stick warm ups and arm stretches. I use to be able to just jump on stage but you know… things are different in your mid-30s. I like to look over the set list and just sort of feel out the elements of each song in my mind. I analyze the room a little just to kind of see how the best way to engage with this crowd might work. I ask myself what I’d like to get out of the show.
If we can do some warmups together, sing a few harmonies to tune up a little, I really like to connect with the band I’m playing with just to check in and see where everyone is at. Playing with other people always creates so many variables. It’s also a very vulnerable thing. Sometimes the people you’re on stage with need a little mental support so it’s nice to kind of feel that out beforehand so you can make the show the best it can be!
Are you exhausted after a show?
It completely depends. Sometimes, yes for sure! But if it’s a big festival show and I’ve given it my all, I’m often filled with energy afterwards. It’s magic but post-show adrenalin can make it hard to wind down sometimes.
What’s the most unusual/funny thing to ever happen to you at a gig?
Years ago now, on my first tour in Canada, some guy just came up on stage… while I was playing, and put $50 on my floor tom. I felt sorry for the rest of the band ( lol )
What are the best/ most practical clothes for drumming?
Definitely not tight skinny jeans and cowboy boots, but they work for me. I’m so used to my cowboys now that I don’t think I can play in anything else. They’re getting on a little but still going strong after 7 years.
Tell us about the first show you played in front of an audience as a drummer
It was probably music class but the first gig would have been not long after I picked up the sticks. There was a group of girls in high school who heard I was starting to play drums and they hijacked me instantly to play in their band. So I was on stage before I could “really” play.
How would you describe the local scene for bands like yours?
The local music scene in Melbourne is great but it’s also really cut throat. There’s a ton of competition. I feel like it’s like that everywhere and the best way to deal with that is to try to create community and get your own thing happening. Just like Tom Tom have done!
Where do you practice / how often ?
My band rehearse wherever we get the chance, often at a rehearsal studio or someone’s house on tour. In terms of drum practice, I don’t get much of a chance for full kit practice these days. The last week I’ve been back practicing on the pad in all kinds of amazing places; National parks, the look out at a beach, the back of my van.
Do you have an aggressive style in your drumming ? (do you hit hard ? )
I think I hit accordingly, especially being a session drummer. I can’t deny though that when I get the chance to unleash, I bloody love to hit hard!
What appeals to you about a magazine like Tom Tom?
When I first found out about Tom Tom I was so excited and also a little disappointed that it wasn’t around when I was younger. There was nothing like it when I was growing up and the female drumming community was highly underrepresented. All the drumming mags were just full of dude bros and for Tom Tom to actually just go start their own mag, and for it to actually kick ass just completely fills my cup.
What are your goals as a musician ?
To never lay down and to never stop learning.
What’s in the future for you musically?
I absolutely love playing in my duo. It’s a project that’s given me a whole new view on music and touring. We have been releasing singles all year and next year have an EP coming out. We’ll be back touring hard again in 2018. I’m sure I’ll be back in the studio again soon with Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel. Probably a little session work here and there. I love recording so when it comes up I always say yes if I can.
What has been the biggest change in your life since lifting up the sticks?
My whole life! It gave me direction and has taken me so many places in the world. The musical community is like a global family once you’re in it.
What should people know about you?
I paint my toenails with gold sparkles to match my drums.
Do you have advice for young women starting out in music?
Sure do! My advice is to go for it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t and don’t let anyone tell you you’re “good for a girl”. I feel like that comment can easily squash you and stop you from reaching your full potential.
At the end of the day; when all is said and done …you play the drums because …..?
It feels so good!
Any last thoughts ?
Oh man, I reckon that just about covers it. Thanks for finding me Tom Tom. I love what you do!
Story / Photography : John Carlow-Finding Charlotte Photography