Prairie Cat: Definitely Not the Disco

PrairieCatSippingVancouver pop maestro Prairie Cat is an essentialist: minimal but not for the sake of being minimal. Like his Got Nothin’ 7″ from last year, his new album, Who Knows Where To Begin? (released last August) contains songs that are bare but not sketches; the amount of craft he puts into them can be quite deceiving, even upon the first several listens.

It’s no wonder Prairie Cat has developed such efficiency as a songwriter: under his real name, Cary Pratt, he has collaborated with or at least played alongside members of notable groups including Destroyer, the Zolas, Said the Whale, Hot Hot Heat, and the Bicycles.

Perhaps one of Pratt’s most significant working relationships is with Limblifter/Age of Electric’s Ryan Dahle, who produced WKWTB?. In an interview with Vancouver Weekly, Pratt described working with Dahle, as well as observation-based lyric-writing, preconceived notions about how certain emotions sound, and the “upright beasts” that walk among us in society. He also reveals why we’ll never see him at the disco.

Vancouver Weekly: Who Knows Where To Begin? was produced by Ryan Dahle of Limblifter and Mounties. This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with him. What is it about Ryan that you click with so well? What have you learned from him?

Cary Pratt: Ryan has such a selfless and humble air for a guy with such an impressive résumé. His bedside manner is a musical catheter in the studio, and the work flows in a smooth, steady stream with his support and gentle coaxing. Often, his approach is a counter to the way I make records. If I had another producer there that wanted to make records the exact way I do, and mix songs the way I hear them, and be another me, I don’t think it would harbour growth and evolution for this project. He serves the song, and that’s why we click. Learning while in the studio is inevitable with a pro like Ryan; however, it’s a lot like asking the guy who tiled the Sistine Chapel floor if he can paint a portrait after working under a master for months. There’s a lot going on there, but I’ve managed to pick up a few strokes here and there. Comparatively, I’m still drawing dicks on bathroom walls.

VW: It’s been five years since your previous solo album, It Began/Ended with Sparks. What projects kept you busy between then and now? How do you feel you’ve developed as a songwriter since Sparks?

CP: When Sparks was being launched, I was scurrying back to Vancouver (with my tail between my legs) after an apartment fire and failed romance in Montreal. It took a lot to get back on my feet after that. Five years was not an intended gap between records, but I was really just enjoying the process of making music. I have been quietly whittling away at these tracks for a while. Sparks bridged my previous work with the new, clean, sonically accurate Prairie Cat production. I would say my song-writing is more deliberate and a lot more confident. I think the biggest difference in the modern Prairie Cat is the vocals sit more upfront, as I am happy in my choices as a singer now. The sonic clarity and stripped down instrumentation are geared towards quality and not the kitchen sink production that many producers use to cover up thin beds or uninteresting hooks.

VW: A press release for WKWTB? said the album was compiled from sessions at both recRoom Studios and the Vogue Theatre here in Vancouver. And the album includes all three songs from last year’s Got Nothin’ 7″ (“Got Nothin'”, “Some Friends May Go”, and “Beautiful Baby”), plus the 2011 one-off single, “Bad Storm”. Did you intend to write an album, or were you just working on miscellaneous pieces of music and then realized you “had somethin'”?

CP: I always hit the studio with a collection of songs that I feel is a “record.” Being a jack of all trades though, I get sidetracked with wanting to be a video director, engineer, screen printer, etc. Prairie Cat enables me to explore all of these facets of making records as art. The “Bad Storm” video came out when I had the record almost done (the first time) and was supposed to be a teaser for the release. I started working [on] new material, and a year turned into a whole other collection of songs. The only song that was an “add-on” would be the bonus track, “On a Lamb”. Steve Bays [of Hot Hot Heat and Mounties] and I had discussed working on a track together, and when I heard the result of the mix, it had to make it on the album.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu