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January 11, 1995

Interview with Kathy McCarty, Part 1

Dead Dog's EyeballKathy McCarty, Dead Dog's Eyeball (Bar None 1994) -- Kathy McCarty, a 33-year-old songwriter and singer from Austin, Texas, scores big on her first solo release, Dead Dog's Eyeball. Consisting entirely of songs written by Daniel Johnson, a gifted Texan with a history of mental problems, Kathy's production is both spirited and delicate, and shows a broad range of musical influences, from the Beatles to Patsy Cline to Texas honkytonk. In this two-part interview, I spoke with Kathy about her old band (Glass Eye, who played at the old Wild Blue), the new album, and the music business.

Metronews -- Let's start with the easy one. What do you think about all this attention you've been getting?

Kathy -- It's long overdue. One of the things people have been saying about this record is "God, your vocals are so wonderful on this record."

Metronews -- They are perfect.

Glass EyeKathy -- I haven't suddenly improved as a singer, it's just that, when I was making Glass Eye records, I had to do all my vocals in one day. If my voice wasn't good or if I had a cold, it didn't matter, I had to do them anyway. And if I thought of a better interpretation later, it was too late.

With this record, if a vocal wasn't quite there, I could just do it again until I felt I had really gotten it. For instance, I probably did the vocal on "If I Had a Dream" 400 times. One of the reasons I had to do it so many times is that it's in free rhythm. I had to completely memorize every single nuance of the instrumental track because it's not in rhythm, it's in pre-rhythm -- the piano player changes to the next chord whenever he feels like it, and there's no set tempo. So I had to really work on getting all my entrances and exits vocally perfect and then to do that, I had to memorize it. That was one reason it took so many takes.

Metronews -- How long have you been in the music business?

Kathy -- Almost 15 years.

Metronews -- How do you describe Glass Eye?

Kathy -- We were like an incredibly great rock band, really original, and we were real press darlings but we never really made it. We were together for ten years. Our records are still available [on Bar-None Records. Randy]. They are really good.

Metronews -- Do you have a favorite Glass Eye album?

Kathy -- Not really, I love them all. I think they're all great.

Metronews -- What can you tell me about the band you work with on Dead Dog's Eyeball?

Dead Dog's EyeballKathy -- I used Brian Beattie (from Glass Eye), who produced the record and played bass, and Scott Marcus, the drummer, was the Glass Eye drummer...Everyone was very into helping me. I got John Hagan from the Lyle Lovett band, and Mark Rubin from the Bad Livers and Max Crawford from Poi Dog Pondering...Making the whole record was just very, very fun. Daniel has about 200 great songs, and so I had a wealth of material to pick from. Really, if I was to describe what the experience of making the record was like, it was just a blast.

Metronews -- Why did you decide to do a cover album of Daniel's songs?

Kathy -- I felt that Daniel's material needed to be heard by a wider audience, because he is just a world class songwriter...Daniel essentially recorded all of his recordings, except for the very last few, on a cassette machine in his room. And his masters were cassettes, and he just sang and played his guitar and his chord organ, which is like a child's organ, and sometimes a piano if he could...His stuff is very, very low fidelity, and also to make things even more interesting, the cassette machine he recorded most of it on was broken. So there are a lot of "thump, thump, thump" sounds on it. Obviously, for a lot of people, it's very alienating.

Metronews -- What kind of feel were you trying to get on Dead Dog's Eyeball?

Kathy -- A lot of people have covered Daniel's songs, like fireHose and Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers, and most of the time I felt frustrated with the covers that other people did because they would change the songs to reflect how the band sounded. I tried to stay away from doing the songs in that way. I really tried to just take what was on the tape that Daniel had made and broaden it in terms of the sound spectrum.

Sorry EntertainerFor instance, on the first song on the record, "Walking the Cow," the string break that is in the middle is a transcribed chord organ solo that Daniel played on his version of the song. I had it transposed so that it was on strings but it's note-for-note exactly what he played. That's the kind of stuff I did -- I just took what was already there and made it fuller.

Metronews -- Who's the ELO fan on "Walkin' the Cow?"

Kathy -- I think it's more of a Beatles thing. I asked John Hagan to play cello on the song, and he wrote some stuff and I loved it, so he actually came up with that particular flavor for that song.

Daniel originally recorded "Rocket Ship" with just a chord organ. And I thought, track upon track of soaring feedback guitars would be just beautiful and kind of Bowiesque. One reason the styles vary so much is that I was just trying to do what I thought was most appropriate to bring out the flavor and the feeling of each individual song.

-- Randy Krbechek

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