Paul Gallant and Wayne Leechford of duo Kattalax have not made a typical electronica debut- but then, they’re not your typical electronica musicians. Leechford is best known for his work as a classical baritone saxophonist in addition to playing in Triangle bands, and Gallant has run the gamut of genres in a wide variety of musical acts that include Battlestar Canada!, My Kat Randi, Scientific Superstar, and many more. Both have witnessed the maturation of the Triangle music scene as active members since the 80s. Their unique perspectives, and unusual method of songwriting- almost entirely remotely via the Cloud- have resulted in Kattalax’s truly individual sound.
Kattalax’s eponymous debut album is composed of eleven songs, defined by the vocorder-heavy conceptual lyrics, unusual instruments (horns and sax, anyone?), and driven by electronic beats. What results is a richly-textured ride, guided by two staples of the Triangle music scene. Gallant and Leechford spoke to The Triangle Guide about the evolution of music in the area, and the genesis of Kattalax’s distinctive sound.
You’ve been musical collaborators since the early 90s. How did you two meet?
WL: It was so long ago I can’t remember! I knew his brother Danny first. I probably met Paul through Danny.
PG: Wayne was a friend that hung out in my brother’s circle. The first song he ever heard of mine was My Kat Randi’s “Funky Puppy.” After he heard it he was always saying, “Play that funky fish song again!”
How would you describe your pre-Kattalax collaborations with one another?
WL: I always had a good time working with Paul in the past. His style is unique. The past projects always had a sense of humor. Kind of in a Zappa-esque kind of way. My role was more limited in those projects. I didn’t have much of a say in the songwriting process. I would just add to what was already there. Like, coming up with horn lines and solos.
PG: Wayne joined My Kat Randi in the second phase of the band where we decided that horns would be a good addition. He played guitar in the local prog band Mind over Matter at the time so I think being able to play sax in a different kind of band seemed appealing to him. He would always be happy to come play sax on songs in my later projects when I asked him.
What inspired you, in 2016, to form Kattalax?
WL: I have been listening to electronic music since the 90s. I’ve always enjoyed it. It was only in the past several years that I started to see “bands” playing electronic music live. I put that in quotes because most of the bands I see performing are one or two people and usually not playing “instruments”. Another quote because most of these bands are just turning knobs to pre-recorded material and not playing traditional instruments. It’s the vibe, energy and presentation of the material that are enjoyable. And, the actual music coming through the speakers, of course. I have been a traditional multi-instrumentalist for most of my life. Earlier in my life I would have shunned these type of performances. I think that is the problem with some people when it comes to this. They don’t see anyone playing and it’s obvious there is canned music. The stereotypical DJ set. A lot of people don’t get it. They don’t see the musicianship. It took me a while. But, after attending Moogfest, Coachella and a bunch of other shows, I was sold on this way of making music. Then, I had to embrace the technology that artists use to create it. A huge learning curve! So, back in 2013 I bought some gear and tried to start making some of my own music. The technology broke me. I gave up quickly. But, in all fairness, I was busy managing a career of traditional performances and teaching music. I knew I would get back around to it sometime. That time happened in the summer of 2016 when I ran into Paul at Duke Hospital. Unfortunately, my wife, Julie, was there as a patient for several days. Paul and his wife Ann were some of the few people that visited us. We got to talking and it turns out we both wanted to start a new project. I was itching to get back to electronic music and write music of my own since most of my work is playing other peoples’ music. Paul was interested. So, we started writing soon after that and the rest is history.
PG: Kattalax was Wayne’s idea. He approached me with the idea a couple of years back. At first I was kind of hesitant because I had it in my mind that I wasn’t interested in being in a “Band” anymore, but I had never tried to write vocals for electronic music before so I decided to give it a shot.
In your time as a musician in the Triangle, how have you seen the music scene evolve?
WL: I hate to say “back in the day”, but I will here. Back in the day (80s/90s), the music scene seemed more vibrant in the Triangle and there was more of a community. There were less clubs and bands, so it was easier to put your finger on what was going on in the scene. There are so many bands and so many clubs now, you really have to do your homework to tell what is going on. Also, there is very limited coverage of the scene by the few major, local print outlets that are still left standing. You gotta get your info on Facebook now and it is disseminated in a way that is hard to navigate. There are so many talented artists in this area and a lucky few have reached stardom. There is no question that there is something in the water here.
PG: The Triangle has always been an interesting music scene over the years because we are smaller than the big metro areas but we always seemed to have people around here making it big in one genre or another. I remember in the 90’s when Chapel Hill was going to be the “Next Seattle.”
In your view, what distinguishes music from the Triangle from music coming from elsewhere in the country?
WL: It seems the music that is most celebrated and applauded in the Triangle is Americana and garage rock. In reality, it’s a big mix and anything goes. You just have to find your place.
PG: The one thing the Triangle has always has been good at is making bands that have their own sound. Folks around here tend to pull from all kinds of influences to make their music. We are happy to continue that trend.
You wrote Kattalax’s self-titled debut album in an interesting way. You collaborated separately, working through the Cloud, and only came together in person for the most essential production processes. What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating this way?
WL: Working this way is fantastic. One of the things I loathe about bands is rehearsal. Usually, someone doesn’t show up (at the last minute) and it is hard to come up with something collectively by “jamming”. Paul and I have found a way to collaborate that is more efficient and that we both enjoy. I do not see a downside to this method. We are saving so much on gas, time and polluting the environment less by doing it this way, so it’s all good. We do get together to rehearse our live show.
PG: There really isn’t much “jamming” in electronic music so it really was a good way to write stuff. It was common that we would toss a song back and forth dozens of times before it really took shape. We are adding elements to the live show that gives us the freedom to jam some and go off the path of the written track. It’s always been a goal to play real instruments on stage. We never wanted to be a group that hit play on a laptop and let the laser go.
Will you continue to collaborate this way going forward?
WL: Most definitely.
PG: It’s working great now so I’m sure we will. We keep adding new instruments all the time as technology continues to evolve.
Wayne, you’re a woodwind performer, instructor, and music coordinator- and are probably best known as a classical baritone saxophonist. What skills have you brought from the classical world into electronica writing and performance?
WL: I feel that everything I have done in my life has led me to this point in time. I am able to integrate my classical training in woodwinds, my love of electronic music and my creative muse all into one package. My classical side demands that things be precise, clean and in tune. Paul is a self-taught musician and sometimes we butt heads about my perfectionism. We have managed to overcome this because of our friendship. We understand each other. And, collaboration is compromise. You have to know when you can push something and when you can’t. Also, I hear things orchestrally. I have played in so many orchestras and pit bands in my career. I love integrating different instrumental textures like harp, vibraphone, strings, etc. It is so easy now with sampled instruments. The orchestra at your fingertips. I feel it has let me tap into the music I am hearing in my head without limitations. Also, there has been a boom in alternate ways to create music via MIDI controllers. And, recently MPE MIDI – ways to use a MIDI controller with 5D touch like the Artiphon and Roli. It has opened up my creativity in ways I did not expect and could not do with traditional instruments. Sometimes, my writing starts with the technology and I go wherever it leads.
Paul, Kattalax and your previous musical projects pull from many genres, moods, and “vibes,” but all of them sound cinematic.
In My Kat Randi, you were inspired by 60s spy music and 70s cop show soundtracks. Your body of work under Battlestar Canada! sounds very scifi. And the Scientific Superstar albums were intended as an extension of the storytelling of an accompanying comic magazine and its universe- they were, in essence, soundtracks.
How have film scores and television show soundtracks inspired you as a musician? Which were most influential?
PG: When I was a teenager I learned how to play guitar by playing along with “spi” type music like Henry Mancini/Peter Gunn, The Ventures and the B-52’s. It always kind of stuck with me over the years. Before Wayne approached me with this project I was thinking of getting into soundtrack work as full time hobby. I wrote all the music for a local film titled “Basilisk” a few years ago. It was a lot of fun.
Besides yourself, who are your favorite musical artists working in the Triangle right now? Who do we need to be listening to?
WL: Unfortunately, with everything else going on in my life, I do not get out to clubs very often. And, if I do, it is usually to see a touring artist. Maybe I am out of touch, but it seems like it is harder than ever to get people out to see local bands. People seem so content just sitting around looking at their phones. I think to get people out you really need to make it an event. Book several bands together and hope a collective fan base will make it a success.
PG: I listen to a lot of local music but the one artist who has always stood out to me is Wendy Spitzer/Felix Obelix. Her music is always genuinely different and her own thing outside of what may be going on musically at the time. She really goes out of her way to add visuals as well.
All images courtesy of Kattalax.