Cattleya Vanessa Espina, dubbed as plain Cattski by many, who gained prominence for her contribution in Cebu’s music scene since the 90s, does not gossip about her bygone years. The latter is an allegory stressed from a recent event that happened two days after her album launch. She narrates, “I no longer have a gall bladder, good riddance. I’m hustling!” Apparently, people can live throughout their lives without storing bile in them.
But I desire something more than the obvious character. During the virtual interview, I dug up pieces of her memories. There is something about a person’s past that keep her feet firm on the ground. So here’s to spontaneity and honest questions. I begin.
How did “Cattski” all start? Tell me about high school. Was it co-ed? (Laughs) Let’s not talk about the past!
Not about the past, actually. But did it start as a childhood dream? Music is in the family. My uncle earned a doctorate degree in Music and Arts in NYC. Two aunts are pianists: one in Chicago and the other in San Diego. My dad was a trained tenor in Manila under a maestro from the Repertory. Songwriting I got from my uncle as he wrote the first cantata in the Philippines.
Evidently, Cattski has intimidating roots. She played the piano most of her childhood as a prerequisite but did not pursue piano playing since it felt like an intense job. Having done the whole deal (e.g. recitals and school plays), she decided to forget about it after learning the guitar.
Who introduced you the guitar? No one. I remember sneaking in my dad’s den to learn the chords. During my teens, the great switch was because of The Cranberries. Easy chords! Easy chord books!
Did you see yourself as a solo artist then? Or, were you more comfortable with the idea of having people around to share music with? Oh, I wanted to be in a band. That was how it all started, I believe. I loved Nirvana, Foo Fighters, No Doubt, Fleetwood Mac—
Ah, yes: the 90’s music virus. Uhuh! You got it right!
The 90s were once dominated by girl angst. Alanis Morissette, Garbage, Fiona Apple, and 4 Non Blondes were present in every teenager’s Walkman. And still more of it continued to influence Cattski’s psyche, which made me wonder exactly when it flourished. After all, only a few become more than one hit wonders.
Lisora nimo interview-hon, Cattski oi. Ha-ha! I’ll make it simple…
Most artists I’ve come across within the past years see Cattski as a woman who knows and gets what she wants, what few Cebuanos mistake for intimidating and bitchy. Jad Bantug, who co-produced Cattski’s 0:00:00 album, stressed that it is both her gift and curse. Johanna Michelle Lim, a freelance graphic artist whom Cattski also collaborated with, weighs in, “From her work ethic to her ability to put talent to good use, Cattski is one of those clients with high oral and visual sensibility. People like her do not spoon-feed. At the risk of being kitschy, I think she just has tremendous faith in people and in the creative spirit in general. She gives so much leeway. And when she sees something that she wants, she picks it up directly and follows through. That’s where her assertiveness, not bitchiness, sets in.”
On the other hand, Cattski appears to have more surprises.
I have a career in Advertising, which I’m trying to hone, improve, and build; but with music? Nah, it is who I am. There is no sense in making a career out of it. If it was a career, then I would love to go to Manila and do covers in my album, and then have my face changed somewhat closer to Angelina Jolie’s! Hahaha!
So that is your definition of a career. I was actually referring to a lifetime progress of work. =)
She celebrated 10 years’ worth of contribution to Cebu’s music at The Outpost in 2010. Friends of Cattski call her pursuits a body of work: how music is also a vocation or a body of effort, rather than from passion alone. She is also, after all, a businesswoman. Her background in advertising helps sell her music, precisely why she’s so successful at it. Even before launching her album, she produced two singles with Jude Gitamandoc, multi-awarded songwriter, two with Lorenzo “Insoy” Ninal of Missing Filemon, one with Ian Zafra, Music Sector Chair of Creative Cebu, and The Wonggoy’s whom she manages.
At that time, was 0:00:00 already in your system: its schemes, climaxes, and conclusion? Nope. The project wasn’t in my head yet. But the songs started to form already. And I did feel like I was starting again, because I knew after the tenth year, I’d be doing things differently. So I did.
Sounds like a personal album. Was it a portfolio of sorts or a gentle narrative through the years? All of my works are personal. I can’t write fiction to save my life for shit. I faced fears with this album. I took myself out of the box. Then, I realized there is no box. There shouldn’t be any.
What is this box you are talking about? They are old habits, old ways, and old approaches in my creative processes.
Though my mind wanders: what is this metaphorical box? I have seen artists, musicians, and the literati all go through this series of setbacks in all of their works all through their lives. But I see this box as the training ground. It is this worldly sense of struggling that keeps everything real. Maybe it is this mastering the right amount of microbes that keeps every person in a third-world country fitter than he believes. Maybe, this very idea of keeping the shabbiness in, let’s say, street food that keeps a street vendor’s business stronger. It is which what makes pungko-pungko and tuslob-buwa tremendously delicious. However, Cattski believes that things should be let go in order to move on. It is the collaborating with people that fed her creative processes. Is there more to ginabot and puso? Apparently, there is.
I trusted myself fully in this album, which I can say is truly mine even if I had help. Jad Bantug gets everything right away. He is my musical mirror in this album. We have worked numerous times before, so we had chemistry. 0:00:00 is our “it.”
The tracks are sharp and crisp. Did Jad capture everything that you wanted and needed? The thing was he mixed all of the tracks really well. However, I sent them to L.A. for mastering. My entire album was done by Dave Donnelly, who mastered albums by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink 182, Aerosmith, and more. Jad’s mixes were all enhanced, and we were very happy with it. Mixing and mastering are two different disciplines.
How long did it take to finish the album? Two years for every step, except for marketing. Our process was one song at a time. We finish recording one song, then mix. Mastering was only eight days. There were no revisions. We were just as happy at how things went.
My, oh, my, Dave Donnelly! So you made all the lyrics? You did not collaborate with anyone? Nope. There’s one in production: Small Things with Jay Young. Jad and I needed a break from each other’s creative inputs, so there appeared Jay. I directed everything, and all were pre-planned. I would mouth-trumpet what I heard in my head, and he’d apply it.
You have eleven songs here. Can you name the most personal? “Monsters” and “Rock n’ Roll” came out to be the hardest to produce. I can’t remember exactly why.
It’s the song that made me think of Melanie C’s “Never Be the Same Again”; the crispness of the electronic effects were very meticulous. What I had in mind was specific, but it was very hard to bring to life. We had trouble with the tempo, and the song initially came out as 8 minutes! It took us a month to finish Monsters.
Personally knowing how excruciating it is to go through the whole process of song making, a six-minute single is a lifetime. Not to mention, it can be very expensive for most. If not, then it takes so much time and energy. Composing music has multiple turbines of mastery and money involved.
I made sure I couldn’t be played on the radio, Pika.
But your album is available to everyone, so you just threatened every DJ in the city? Hahaha! No.
Why and what is this making sure that you won’t be played on the radio? What is your connotation about radio, knowing that you have been in the music scene for the longest time? I don’t want to be part of that anymore. Do you hear the music they play on the radio these days? I would rather be in people’s MP3 players, and played whenever they like.
So are you trying to connect with everyone in the contemporary definition of, maybe, this new world radio? My songs are beyond five minutes because I am telling them a story. As I am, I wouldn’t be able to tell a story in three minutes. And on the radio, storytelling barely has room.
Let’s talk about post production. Why Johanna Michelle Lim? I witnessed how she worked prior to my album project. I was producing the music side whereas she did the aesthetic part. She was impressive.
An artist’s cover album does tell a lot. How did you envision your album cover? And of all the colors, why yellow? To imply a happier, digital feel. The album is a complex mix. And the words on the cover imply, as Johanna phrases it, the poet in me –Char.
Did you plan to work with these people; or did everything take place at the right time with the right people at the right place? Everything fell into place. I asked them, and they said yes. So yay!
Was launching the album at 2012 a subtle metaphorical time limit of the controversial “End of Days”? It is how digital counters usually begin. I am always exposed to these zeroes while making music. And yes, I planned it for 2012. And I’m brewing another project in my head, so let’s see.
Last question: why did you agree to do this interview? Aren’t you worried I might write you out of context? I cannot control how people perceive me or my work. And I doubt that you would, although you’re almost always brutal. I agree to all interviews. I like interviews, regardless of who writes it, and where it’s published. You know I know stuff, and I have bodies of work to prove it. I love what I do, and I like telling people about it.
If one pursues a career in music in the Philippines, everyone expects one to eat shit beforehand. Cebuanos are hard to please. A renowned radio jock and mentor once stressed in my face that Cebu can be the New York of all cities. If you can’t make it here, then surely you can’t make it anywhere. But Cattski knows what she wants, a rare quality in most Cebuano artists. Maybe there is no box. And maybe there shouldn’t be any. It is, I must say, all in our heads. And the very thing that makes Cattski successful is not to actually linger in the past, but regard it as crucial guidelines in your permanent Post-it notes. Let go, so to speak. And if not, then compensate harmlessly however one could for the better. Because for Cattski, it is to work with the right people and to always see their abilities as everyone’s upper hand.
Smile, and mean it this time.
- Download Cattski’s newest album 0:00:00 free at here. For more details, email her at email@example.com.
- Jad Bantug is a sound engineer and owner of 1032 Studios. Check out his newly-built website at 1032Studios.com.
- Johanna Michelle Lim is a freelance graphic artist and a prominent creative writer in Cebu. You can find her here. For more details, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Photo Credits to Angel Kangleon, Archie Uy and Clarence Mongado