Brent Katz has been performing in New York bands since Giuliani was in power. His first successful outfit the Harlem Shakes, in which Brent played drums, gained a sizable following and by the end of their run were able to fill large New York venues like the Bowery Ballroom. The Shakes broke up in 2009 after some 'in-fighting' and Katz set off to form his very own band, Thunder And Lightning.
T&L has echoes of the Shakes, but their songs are more tableaus, almost scenic. Katz's voice is a mashup of Destroyer and Sondre Lerche, but the songs are totally original, the arrangements lush and playful (or, as the blog Wild Honey Pie put it, their sound's infused with 'adorable goodness'). And like many great bands, the music often veers in unpredictable directions, keeps you on your feet, so that after each movement you find yourself in a totally new world (musically, of course).
You can listen and download their debut album, Kangaroo Court, here.
HP: Describe your sound.
Brent Katz: Piano-y? The idea for my album Kangaroo Court was to make sort of an existential soul album, with some narrative songs, but with full arrangements, not just that acoustic guitar, "I'm in a coffee shop" sound, (though there's some of that too.) Sound-wise, I just do what's intuitive and try to compliment the song's conceptual aspect in an interesting way. I'd say it draws from pop from all different decades, but the project isn't about the band's sound or texture so much as how that sound works with the lyrical concept of each song/album.
How'd you get your band name?
I made it up. It reminded me of that "Knock on Wood" song ("thunder, lightning, the way you love me is frightening,") and it also had in it that epic, pre-civilization feel that I love. Unfortunately it's impossible to Google and most venues misspell it as "lightening."
I remember seeing you perform in 2002, I think, which means you've been in a band for about 50 years.
True! The earliest incarnation of my old band, Harlem Shakes, started when I was 15, and before that there was Funktion, my middle school funk band.
You WERE a drummer, now you are a...guitarist. Why switch? Didn't want to sing from behind the drumset like that guy from 'What I Like About You'?
I loved songs and moments in songs more than any one instrument, and so I just wanted to be a part of some music-related project. Drums was the first way I got involved, and then writing songs on piano and guitar came after. Drumming while singing is cool for some people, but when I see a drummer singing lead vocals I start to feel a little suspicious.
Harlem Shakes had gathered some good attention over the years. Why did you guys disband?
Ok! Who are some of your influences?
My biggest influence for Kangaroo Court was Jacques Brel. Not so much in terms of sound, but in terms of telling stories in the first person, having every lyric contribute directly to the story or idea, so that there's as little flab as possible...He has these dramatic arcs in his songs, so that what happens over the course of each verse and chorus has a real weight to it. I'd always been afraid of story-songs because, as much as I love Paul McCartney and Belle and Sebastian, something rubbed me the wrong way about using the third person voice in my own stuff. I do it sometimes, but I still feel like it puts a sheet of glass up between the singer and the listener. Once I started turning the "I" in my songs into an obviously fictional character, something was unlocked, and I was able to explore my interests with more candor/freedom.
Who are your favorite nyc bands?
ARMS, Glass Ghost, Hospitality, Aislyn, El Topo, Translations, Caveman, North Highlands, Brahms, Grey Gersten, 5 Day 4 Cast.
Describe a routine Thunder and Lightning show
We carry the equipment in, and the sound guy kinda looks us up and down with a little scowl on his face. Then somebody else gives us the drink tickets and asks us about list spots. Before you know it it's over.
Were you 'emo' when you were a teenager?
I was a very teenage teenager, so maybe. I never got into that sort of music.
What is the most 'emo' thing you've done?
I'm not sure! Can you give me an example from when you were Emo?
Watching The Crow over and over again is a good example. Or listening to Smashing Pumpkins' 'By Starlight' by candlelight. Do you ever do that?
What's your favorite restaurant?
I love those panic-attack Indian restaurants on 6th Street with the lights. Going to Naoe in Miami was probably the most meaningful experience I've had involving food. Nancy Lee's "Pig Heaven" is where Kangaroo Court was conceived. They have a band there, and I was originally writing the album for the singer, CJ, to perform.
Who would you like to tour with?
Bands that are nice people to be around, and whose music, when you hear it over and over, doesn't make you turn into Charlie Manson.
What would you like to see happen with T&L?
I'm going to into the studio to record some new songs in early March, going to film a few songs with a string quartet in late March, going to film a narrative music video in April, and the band is going to play more shows. I'd just like for it all to continue and to maybe get some t-shirts printed up.