Saturday 14 December 2013

Interview with Cat Jones - (Writer, PR Guru and Doom Metal Historian)

My next guest on Sludgelord is not a musician or part of band. But still has a very important part to play in the realm of Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal.
Cat Jones aka Head Honcho at Southern Cross PR, Respected Music Journalist for Fuzz + Hellfire, MetalSucks, Willamette Week, The Portland Passive Aggressive, Oregon Music News, Desertfest London and others.
Yeah Cat knows her stuff. She is a self proclaimed Part-time doom-metal historian. With that much talent and credibility behind her I just had to interview Cat. As she has made quite a name for herself with her superb PR work for such great bands as Sons Of Huns, Groan, Blackwitch Pudding and Chron Goblin to name but a few.
So I thought it would be cool to throw the spotlight on this fine young talented lady. And Cat has kindly agreed to talk to us at Sludgelord. So lets get started.

 Hi Cat. Thanks for doing this. How are things with you today?
Hello! And thank YOU! I'm honored that you guys would think of me. Surely you must have meant a different Cat Jones.

Can you please give our readers of how you became involved with the Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal scene, as you have had quite a varied and eventful career so far?
Well, it's my parents' faults, really. When I was about six years old, they let me borrow their copy of Abbey Road by The Beatles and I played that thing exclusively for weeks. I played it so much that even my mom said, "ENOUGH ALREADY!" Say what you want, but as far as I'm concerned, "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" was the first stoner/doom song ever written. It's so slow, hypnotic, sexy and, well, heavy--everything a good stoner metal song should be. As a kid I was also constantly surrounded by bands like Cream, Deep Purple, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and all other foundations of heavy classic rock, and it always seemed like that kind of music was designed to make you feel good. I've never had any patience for music that makes you mope.
Fast forward to me as a teenager: Purchasing Songs For The Deaf by Queens Of The Stone Age changed my entire life. In a time when, for whatever god-awful reason, the whole world was obsessed with emo, slit-your-wrists music, Queens Of The Stone Age sort of blasted into the mainstream spotlight and said, "What's up, dickheads? We're real men and shit's about to get heavy." I remember buying that record the day it came out--I was 14--and taking it home and listening to it again and again, obsessed with how completely perfect it was from start to finish. It became a launch pad for me to go back and figure out where all of their influences were. From there I learned about Sleep, Man's Ruin Records, and the Palm Desert bands like Kyuss, Unida, Hermano, Fu Manchu, etc. When I started yearning for more gnarly, doomy stuff, I turned to bands like Electric Wizard, Candlemass, Pentagram, and all of that.
So anyway, now I'm 25, and after going dabbling in school for journalism, philosophy and music it just made sense to start writing about what I know. I've traveled to Palm Desert three times, I've read every book on the subject I can get my hands on, I've visited the roots of Black Sabbath in Birmingham, England where Tony Iommi had his accident and they started it all, and when I moved to Portland, where the scene is huge right now, it was easy to start writing pretty much exclusively about music that derives from the stoner/doom/sludge stuff because that's what I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by.
I know your work through various magazines and publications but recently through your awesome Southern Cross PR Agency. What made you decide to go into PR Relations work? In addition, was that an easy decision to make?
Ultimately, all I ever want to do in life is shout from the rooftops about music I love. So after about five years of doing that through writing, it sort of dawned on me that there are other ways of making that into a career. After working directly with publicists on the journalist end of things, and hearing feedback from bands about their various PR reps, it became pretty clear what works and what doesn't. I also volunteered as the media and promotions manager for the Davis Music Fest in my hometown of Davis, California for three years, so I had a general idea of how that side of the business works. It was always sort of in the back of my mind, and I was doing all kinds of freelance band-bio writing, taking press photos and sending off the occasional press release, but it was really hard to get the word out that I do that sort of thing without having a business name behind it.
Finally, in August of this year, it was Ryan Northrop, the drummer of Sons Of Huns, who gave me the kick in the ass I needed. He posted on Facebook, "How much do music publicists cost, anyway?" I messaged him immediately and said, "You know what? Give me a day to build a website. I'll be your publicist."
Why the name Southern Cross? Any specific meaning behind it?
Oh man, I'm so excited that you asked. It's my parents' faults again--They are high school teachers and I'm an only child, so when I was a kid, they'd take me on all kinds of trips. We went to Europe, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska and all over the US and Canada to National Parks and whatnot. It's not like we had overflowing amounts of money or something, it's just that they worked hard and chose to spend their money on travel instead of material things. I'm so glad they did.
Anyway, I've always been a really extroverted person, so it was tough for me to be alone in the back of a car or whatever for that long--sometimes up to six weeks at a time with no other kids around. So to occupy my mind, I'd obsess over whatever music my parents were playing. Sometimes they'd tell me about it and sometimes I'd figure it out myself, but I always wanted to get to the bottom of what every song was about. One song in particular always struck a chord with me, and that was "Southern Cross" by Crosby, Stills & Nash. It's about a guy who sails around the world trying to forget about a woman who broke his heart, and the only things he has left to remind himself of her are the songs he sings about her. There's a line that says, "I have my ship and all her flags are a-flyin' / She is all that I have left and music is her name." And the constellation called the southern cross, which is only visible from the southern hemisphere, has always provided a lot of comfort for sailors who have been gone from their families for months on end. I guess I've always loved how that song is rich with metaphors of music being a source of comfort and a reason for carrying on.
I actually got that particular line in the song tattooed on my arm a few years ago--half because it's so beautiful and half because it's an homage to my parents (even though they'd really rather I didn't have tattoos) because if it weren't for them, I never would have fallen in love with music as I have. So when I decided to start a PR firm, I thought for a second about a name, looked down at my arm and went, "Ah! Southern Cross PR. Perfect."
You recently told me you have only been going for 6 months or so. WOW. Great work. Was it hard going starting up your own PR Company? What hurdles or challenges did you have when creating Southern Cross PR?
Thank you! I'm just so grateful for the bands who have worked with me. It's all been quite a learning experience, as all of life tends to be, and they've helped me as much as I've helped them. For the most part it was pretty easy having a general plan of what to do because I've been in the business long enough to observe how other publicists do it, but I'd say the biggest hurdle is learning how to manage the business side of things: Contracts, money, how much to charge, etc.

You have a stunning collection of clients already. Sons Of Huns, Groan, Blackwitch Pudding and possibly a few others I don’t know about. How did you hook up with them? Did you use past contacts or did they contact you?
Well, I'm lucky enough to always be surrounded by musicians in my life, so the word gets out pretty easily that I do PR work, especially with bands who know me well enough to hopefully see that I know what I’m doing.
I had been a big fan of Sons Of Huns for years, ever since I came to Portland for vacation before I moved here and saw them play a show with Witch Mountain. When I moved to Portland, I got to know them a bit better and, like I said, Ryan was the one who really inspired me to do PR in the first place. Groan have been dear, dear friends of mine for awhile, and we had quite a few adventures together when I visited England last spring. I was really excited when they wanted me to work with them on their new EP because, seriously, how can anyone say no to Groan? I also met Chron Goblin in England when they played Desertfest, though they're from Canada, and we actually camped in Washington to see Black Sabbath together earlier this year, too. I met Blackwitch Pudding through our mutual Portland friends in the band Black Pussy. 
Do you have a set batch of rules and ideals when selecting your PR Clients? Or do you listen to the music and if you dig it you agree to represent them?
Yes. I have three rules. 1) I have to absolutely love the band. There's no way I'm going to accept money to promote a band I don't actually believe in. 2) I have to personally be able to attest to the good-hearted personalities and work ethic of the band members themselves. If they're jerks or they don't work hard, there is no sense in me trying to get people to like them. 3) This might be my favorite and most important rule: I have to be able to throw out the professional talk occasionally and bro down with a band. In this scene, we all go to the same shows and know the same people, so it would be ridiculous for me to have certain people who can't talk to me as a friend when the time is right.
So ultimately, if you're a really talented band full of wonderful, hard-working people and we can occasionally drink beer, cuss and talk about life, then you're golden.
We all have a musical journey of some sort. I started being a Dance/Rave Fan in my younger years before moving onto Grunge, Hard Rock and then Sludge/Stoner/Doom. What were your musical tastes when you were growing up?
Ultimately, heavy classic rock has been an overarching favorite my whole life and always will be, but I also still go through phases of underground hip hop, new wave/goth, post-punk--the list goes on forever. And, oh my god, GRUNGE. I used to want to marry Chris Cornell so bad. Still would. And any Fiona Apple record any time will make me happy. And anyone who knows me well knows that I have a completely non-secret love for Kanye West. I think it's really stupid that it appears to be hip to hate him right now. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was one of the greatest albums ever made and no amount of him being an egotistical asshole will ever change that.

Which bands and musicians do you currently listen to now? Any particular faves.
I've been spinning Ancient Warlocks' self-titled debut nonstop since I got it a couple of months ago. God, that record is perfect. And Windhand's first record, which I just picked up the other night when I saw them with High On Fire. I'm also digging pretty much everything on Portland's Eolian Empire label, especially Drunk Dad's Morbid Reality. That label is a huge force to be reckoned with in the Pacific Northwest and everywhere right now and I suspect it will just continue to get better. 

I also did a big interview with Aaron Edge of Lumbar recently, so I've grown very attached to The First And Last Days Of Unwelcome. And I know these guys are a Sludgelord favorite as well--War Wolf! Those guys RULE. Also, anything on Good To Die Records—Monogamy Party, Sandrider, Gaytheist—they’re all amazing. Oh man, and the new Whores record, Clean. Can’t get enough of that. I’m sure there are many more that I’m forgetting right now.
And as I said earlier, I don't do PR for bands I don't absolutely love, so Groan's Ride The Snake EP, Blackwitch Pudding's Taste The Pudding, Sons Of Huns' Banishment Ritual, and Chron Goblin's Life For The Living are all ones consistently blasting out of my speakers, too.
You’re visiting the UK in 2014 for Desertfest. Have you been to Desertfest before or any other foreign festivals? If so which ones have been your favourite?
Well a 2014 UK visit is actually up in the air. I suppose I won't know for sure until a couple of months beforehand. I sure hope to make it, though! It's looking like Stumpfest, another KILLER festival I work closely with in Portland, is going to be that same weekend. Really tough decision--and staying here is also much cheaper. So we'll see.
As for last year, yeah, I went to Desertfest 2013 and I have never been more happy in my entire life. That was heaven on Earth. There are no words. Someday, when I eventually pull my head out of the clouds, I'll likely write a short story about it.
The Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal scene is more popular than ever. I have noticed bands getting more recognition from the wider Rock/Metal Scene. Have you noticed anything different since the last 12 months or so?
Yes! In fact, that's one of the reasons I started the online magazine Fuzz + Hellfire. I am so intrigued and inspired by the fact that the music I've always loved is finally getting recognition that I want to interview everyone and write down the history as it's happening. Who would have thought this kind of music would be popular? It makes me so excited for what the future holds for rock and roll.

What things do you love most from the Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal scene?
I love the fact that almost every single person I meet, from all over the entire world, seems to be really down to earth. It's funny that the outside world seems to have this perception of metal heads as being these hyper-aggressive, angry people. Maybe there have been some trends in metal in the past that have lent themselves more to that type, but I can definitely say that our peers in the doom scene listen to music and go to shows to feel GOOD. 

It's the heaviest music can possibly be without being negative or sad. These are generous, kind, huggable human beings who just want to get rowdy and rock out. And most of these people are doing it in addition to their taxing jobs and paying for all of their own equipment, recording time, and transportation 100% by themselves. The kind of motivation to make things happen is astounding. I'm not sure we could possibly ask for a better group of people.
What things frustrate you most from the Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal scene?
I'm actually really glad you asked me that. There is one thing that has really been frustrating me lately. While I can't express how glad I am that vinyl is popular again (and I love to buy vinyl myself), this "limited-edition, collector's-item, comes-in-five-different-colors-and-a-crazy-case" thing in getting out of hand. Make a run of an album, as many as your operation can afford, and when you sell out, make a second run. Maybe sell a few test pressings. But if you’re going out of your way to create a shortage of something so people feel like one is more coveted or valuable than another, then you are the Beanie Babies of metal. This phenomenon is detracting from the main point of everything this scene stands for, which is minimalistic, no-fucks-given rock and roll. Especially when the band might not even be that good AND the record just came out this year.
The bottom line is that if you somehow feel smug that you own something someone else doesn't, then you're a snob. End of story. Rock and roll has no place for snobs. Give me two sides of a simple black record I paid $20 or less for and a few friends in my living room to blast the hell out of it with me and that's all I really need.
I should add that it doesn't mean I'm not pleasantly surprised when I open a record and it's a crazy color, but packaging shouldn't ever be the main motivator when purchasing music.

As you know, we are massive Vinyl Heads here at Sludgelord. Do you have any cool records in your collection?
Well, it's sort of along the same lines as what I was saying a minute ago, but I think the only thing that should make a record "valuable" is how much you love it. Or if it happens to be particularly old and rare and in good condition. Or if you happen to have a really great memory of playing it that you relive every time you open it up. So yeah, I have a few cool ones but I guess my definition for what that means might be different than someone else.
A few years ago I went to Third Man Records in Nashville and picked up Jeff The Brotherhood Live at Third Man. I especially love it because it has their song called "I'm A Freak" which is one of my favorite songs of all time and it's not on any of their full-lengths. Kill Em All by Metallica and Cowboys From Hell by Pantera always make me happy when I play them because they were given to me by my best friend Kate, and they remind me of thrashing around and singing in my living room with her in my hometown. 

I don't know--I've got every Queens Of The Stone age record and all of them have played a different, equally important part in my life. I've also got a few old Dio records that'll never get old. I hope I don't wear them out, but then again I sort of hope I do because that would rule. OH and I also completely, unabashedly love Foreigner. I have all of their records and have been known to blast them and sing at the top of my lungs while cooking.
The Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal Webzine Community is starting to grow. You have worked with both the mainstream and underground press. Which ones do you like working with most? Or is that a hard question to ask?
That's a really good question. I think it depends; the underdogs generally pour a bit more heart and soul into what they do since they're most likely not getting paid and they do it because they love it. Mainstream ones might have some conflict of interest when they have to write about certain bands to promote events they're putting on or favors they're repaying or whatever, but they also tend to be a bit more clean-looking and do actual fact-checking and edit out more typos, which I'm a big stickler about. So there are pros and cons, definitely, but I've worked with wonderful people in both areas.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start his or her own PR company?
Make sure you understand the rules of journalistic integrity. If you're also a writer, NEVER write about a band or company you're also representing. Always be honest, kind and polite. Never expect someone to do something awesome for you, and when/if they do, always go out of your way to say thank you. And if you're in it for the money and not the music, do us all a favor and quit. To be fair, I think those are all things I'd say to anyone in any facet of the music business, not just PR.
How do you relax in your spare time from the pressures of PR Work and music in general? Or is music your way of relaxing from the pressures of life?
Well the funny thing is my entire world revolves around rock and roll. So if I'm stressed out about a long day of answering emails, transcribing interviews, finishing writing assignments and updating various websites, chances are I'm going to relax by heading down the street to see more music. A glass of scotch does wonders for a bad mood, too. I also have two hilarious cats who make me laugh by acting ridiculous all day in my house, and a bunch of kickass friends to act like dickheads with. All in all, though, I love everything I do, so chances are I'm working late at night for fun more often than I'm trying to escape from it.
What is your verdict on the crowd-funding scene? A lot of bands and musicians are using it more and more to fund their next release or project. Would you ever publicise a band’s request in drumming up support from crowd-funding activities?
I think it depends. In general think there's more integrity involved when you work your ass off at your crappy day job until you have enough money to go into the studio and make a record. The record itself might be better, too, since chances are you'll have more inspiration from daily life to make cathartic music. That being said, if it's a band who has proven time and again that they're always going to knock a record out of the park, like Murder By Death, who recently crowd-funded the greatest record they've ever made, then I'd think about it.
Since 2013 is almost over. What have been your favourite and least favourite albums and gigs of 2013?
Oh man, what a hard question! I saw so many jaw-droppingly incredible shows this year. Aside from Desertfest, which was on another level entirely, I'd have to say seeing Om at my favorite venue in Portland, The Doug Fir, was one of the best. And Yob at a little bar owned by Relapse Records in town called White Owl Social Club. I also saw High On Fire four times this year, which is crazy. Stumpfest 2013 was amazing…Floor, Tweak Bird, Norska, Black Pussy, Danava and a whole bunch of others played.
Worst gigs? Jeez. I don't know. I usually try to put them out of my mind right away if they're that bad, but I’ll say that in Portland, every now and then, I’ll end up in a bar with some mopey, out-of-tune folk singer and an acoustic guitar, and that almost always makes me want to stab my eyes out. 

What can we expect from Southern Cross PR in 2014? Any personal highlights we can expect to look forward to. Possibly Black Pussy?
I don't want to say anything yet, but there are some good things in the works. As for Black Pussy, though I've written bios for them and their other band, White Orange, and taken many photos of both, I'll probably never do PR for them because that means I can't write about them. And let's just say I've got a Black Pussy-related piece I'm sitting on right now that people will probably be very excited to read. That'll be out in the next couple of months!
Well Cat, thanks for doing this. Thanks for sending us some great releases over the last 6 months or so. Let’s see what goodies you will send our way in 2014.
Thank YOU! I’m so honored that you wanted to talk to me. You guys are just amazing. Keep doing what you're doing.

Thanks to Cat for this great interview. One of my fave interviews of 2013 right there folks.

You can check out Cat and her awesome work she does from the links below

Fuzz And Hellfire Links

Southern Cross PR Links