Last month we had the pleasure of catching up with Sarah Smith and Zoe Konez from CATBEAR, having just released their single ‘Love and War’ to chat to them about their music, role models and what’s the best advice they have received.
So, tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into music?
Z: I can’t remember ever not having music in my life. I was lucky enough to have a musical family and have the chance to experiment with different instruments growing up. After loving learning to play drums, I settled on guitar as my main instrument and spent most of my teens writing angsty songs in my bedroom. When we first formed Cat Bear Tree it was really punk and riot grrrl sounding but as I got into production and we evolved into CATBEAR the sound has become more poppy and electronic.
S: Both my parents were into music and although they didn’t play instruments, they always had music on in the house and went to live gigs. My mum often recalled stories of the 1970 Isle of Wight Music Festival, seeing acts like Jimi Hendrix. They encouraged my brother and me to learn music and we started playing the piano and brass instruments at school. I later found the drums and spent my teens ‘jamming’ at home with my brother who played the guitar. As soon as I was old enough to get into pubs, I started gigging in bands.
For any of our readers that would like to get into your profession, what advice would you give to them?
Z: Just go for it – get messy. Explore, have fun, be adventurous, collaborate. Learn about what you enjoy and then work out how that can become your day-to-day life.
Did you consider a different career path at any point in your journey so far?
Z: If I were on Linked In (which I’m not!) I would say I have a portfolio career. I do lots of different things but they’re all based around music. It’s really rewarding and keeps my week interesting. I make music as Zoe Konez and CATBEAR (which is pretty full-on as I’m a bit of a control freak doing the writing, recording and production myself), I also teach on a music production degree course and I run a music in mental health programme. So it took me a while to find this perfect mix so, yes, along the way I have had some ‘interesting’ jobs but I’ve never been satisfied doing anything other than music.
S: Unlike for Zoe, music is a hobby for me, I guess I decided at some point to focus on Physiotherapy over music, but I don’t regret this, I think it was the right thing for me. I feel very lucky that I get to enjoy music without the worry of where the next paycheck will come from. Don’t get me wrong though, if CATBEAR hit the ‘big time’ and I had the chance to be a rock star, I’d take it, who wouldn’t?
Where do you find your inspiration for your pieces?
Z: So far the theme of CATBEAR songs seem to centre around unrequited wanting or failed relationships. There’s usually some kind of lustful friction going on so I guess my love life has been the main inspiration. Beast of the Night is about the fatigue of going out on the scene but mostly it’s ‘hi I really fancy you but it’s not as simple as that’ type stuff.
An obvious question from a lesbian magazine, are either of you seeing anyone at the moment?
Z: What a shame to miss out on the opportunity of putting the word out, but unfortunately we are both seeing people.
What are your coming out stories? Sorry, but everyone wants to know.. 🙂
Z: Mine was quite boring really! My friend kissed me, which made me realise I liked girls… and then a while after that I told my mum and she was just OK with it. I think we have to constantly come out throughout our lives in different situations and I generally feel pretty lucky that it’s not something that I’m forced to talk about and I can choose when I want to talk about it.
S: Same really, I have been really lucky. I kissed a girl and I liked it! It took me a while to come out to my family but they have been extremely supportive. I may have told my mum via text too, sorry mum!
Who are your role models and why?
Z: Musically it’s women who fought the patriarchy and been really inspiring and helped me see myself in their position on stage. The usual suspects – PJ Harvey, Shirley from Garbage, Skin from Skunk Anansie, The Donnas, Chrissie Hynde, Imogen Heap, Ani DiFranco.
S: I would certainly echo those musicians but would also add Beyoncé, I mean she headlined Glastonbury when pregnant and literally tore the place down!
East London or West London?
Z: South! We’re South London girls.
Out of all of your pieces of work, which piece did you enjoy the most?
Z: Our latest single, Love and War – we’re really proud of it. Go and listen – let us know what you think!
If you could use a magic telephone to call yourselves at 15 years old what would you say?
Z: The same as my answer to question 2! I’d give myself a shot of confidence to go for what I want without considering what other people think.
S: I would tell me that my mum will be fine with me being gay.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Z: I went on holiday last year with two awesome women – the musician Lanta and producer Rhiannon Mair – and they gave me a great piece of advice to get into Jen Sincero’s How To Be A Badass series of books. I found them really helpful in learning to value myself and my contribution to the world and to other people.
Talk us through your average working day?
Z: Wow.. There is no average working day, especially at the moment! Since lockdown, I’ve been live-streaming every day at 3 pm on my solo Facebook page. I start with a fresh coffee every morning and try and go out for a walk or jog every day whatever the weather, before heading into my studio. My current tasks are working on the next two CATBEAR singles, which has been an interesting task. Sarah popped by to pick up some equipment the other day so she can record vocals at home. She was my first friend visitor and we had a drink in the front garden – socially distanced of course!
S: Well I work for the NHS, so right now it’s a case of ‘just keep swimming’. When I get home though, I love to put on some tunes and dance in my living room. It’s been great having more time to work on CATBEAR music with Zoe too and I’m so excited for the new singles, I think you will love them!
Who’s your favourite musician at the moment and why?
Z: We adore MUNA. Their music is amazing and they’re really cool people.
What do you think of the Lesbian scene in London?
S: I think the lesbian scene is really strong and accepting in London, coming from a small town on the south coast I think Londoners are really lucky. There can always be more though of course : )
Z: I think I could do with some advice on staying in the loop. Either it’s dwindled a bit or I’m not making the effort. We’d love to come to a Nonchalant party – don’t forget about us when you have a post-lockdown gathering!
Who’s your celebrity crush and why?
Z: The celebrity I’m dating 😉
S: Can I say Beyoncé again?
Who’s the most memorable person you’ve worked with and why?
Z: We’ve played a gig with Nova Twins and they’re pretty amazing. Definitely check them out if you haven’t heard of them yet.
Thanks, ladies for chatting to us! Keep up to date with their music by following them on insta @CATBEAR or find them on Spotify.
If you liked this interview and want to read up on more inspiring Queer women head over to all our live interviews page.
Love Team Nonchalant xx