The new album, Kickstart The Sun, is nearly upon us, and I was thinking that when the first rumblings about the album first surfaced on the internet thinking it was only five minutes ago we’d been chatting about your last album Atlantis. In reality it’s around eighteen months between the two, but given the sheer size of this new offering, how much work did you have to put in to turn this album out in such quick time? “The timeline as it goes was that we started Atlantis probably about a month before COVID. Damien (Edwards, vocals) joined the band, and we got the album out in December 2020. We thought lockdown would be over by Spring 2021 and we’d be able to tour the album. But all we did was the livestream. We had a chat as a band and didn’t really have a plan to start anything, but out of interest I asked the agent who places our vinyl orders at the pressing plant to see what the lead time was for vinyl pressings at that point. He came back and said that, whatever our ETA was for a new album with regard to release dates that we should add an extra eight months before that to get in our orders for vinyl records, because COVID had wrecked the schedules of the pressing plants. So as we couldn’t tour, and if we wanted the new album to come out in the Summer of 2022, I had about ten months from then to start putting it together. So I started writing KTS in February last year. At this point nobody knew when touring might start, so if we didn’t, we might have been faced with a two year gap with no touring and nothing released. And, as Atlantis was already going down very well, we couldn’t afford to lose that momentum. So the long-winded answer to your question is: I started writing it in February 2021, we started demoing it in March, we started recording it in the summer when we got interrupted because we could finally do some gigs; we went to (famed seventies studio) RAK Studios to record in July and back to our studio to finish up some last bits in September. We had until Christmas to mix it as the vinyl masters had to be at the pressing plant in the first week in January. We literally scraped in by the skin of our teeth! If we hadn’t, the album would not have come out until October or November this year. It was pretty non-stop, because there were only a few ideas left over from Atlantis, maybe three, and everything else had to be written from scratch”.

What did you have left kicking about? “Kickstart The Sun itself, the front end of that  – the verses and the choruses – was on my phone as a piano idea during the writing of Atlantis, but I never got around to looking at it so it didn’t get finished. I gave it to Damien because I didn’t know what to do with it. And he came back with an incredible vocal, just him and my piano. I realised there was a massive song to be had there! So that was really good. Goodbye to the American Dream has been around since (first album) Too Many Gods“.

Really? That does surprise me. “Yes, I had the hookline and the chorus written, but it was too AOR at that point for what I was trying to establish as Cats In Space. It has a sort of Babys feel to it”.

You know it! I was going to say it reminded me of The Babys! (laughing) “It just didn’t sit right on Too Many Gods. But I went back to it and thought ‘bloody hell, that’s a good song’. Damien added some melodies and words to it. As soon as he adds a melody there’s a song. The songs actually started coming together pretty quickly – Steevi (Bacon, drums) had some lyrics; I actually wrote Bootleg Bandeleros in tandem with King of Stars! I was writing them both at the same time. The original lyrics for King of Stars were meant for Bootleg Bandoleros, I wrote them round the other way, but suddenly they fell into the right place! Funnily enough, for the length of song that it is (eight minutes and fifteen seconds – fact-loving Ed), it fell into place in the end pretty quickly. I had a lucky few hours! I think it might be the best Cats In Space song ever. That one and Kickstart The Sun are definitely my two favourites that we’ve done”.
There seems to be a bigger buzz outside the band about this album than there has been in the past. Do you feel that the wider world of rock fans and what’s left of the rock media are starting to ‘get’ Cats In Space now? “That’s good to hear from someone like you, because I don’t really notice a lot of what’s going on ! I think, and it’s a bit difficult to explain, that… ever since the band began,  from talking to friends in the business, friends outside the business, wherever… that there was a place in the marketplace for a band like Cats In Space. As daft as the name was, and as crazy as the idea was, people love this kind of music. They might like bands like Rammstein, all the new stuff, but in their hearts they love that classic, seventies rock type of music. Music that takes us back to our early teenaged years. No modern music can ever find it’s way into a place like that. Nothing is going to come along now and make me think ‘wow, that’s as good as Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy‘ – because that album is etched into my DNA. As are many other seventies albums! So I thought if I could put together a band based in that I could tap into those feelings. People weren’t too sure about it at first, but when they realised how serious we were, and saw how good we were live, how consistent we were… they realised we hadn’t recorded some sort of spoof one-off album like Spinal Tap. It’s now turned into an eight album, ‘proper’ business. There’s a lot of respect for us now. Not from everybody, but from ninety per cent of the business. People root for us now. We’re the outsiders – the underdogs in a football match. People want to see us win! Even the press in the UK love us! I think that’s because they see how brave we were at the start to try this – you can’t help but respect it. We did a press day over here a few months ago, which we’ve always been advised against because journalists hate being herded into a room and told to listen to something.  They can’t say ‘this is shit I’m walking out’ in those circumstances, so it can be very uncomfortable. But I knew this album was so good that they wouldn’t do that, even the people who I didn’t know personally. We explained that it’s a long album – sixty three minutes – and that we’d have a break at half time for oranges like a football match, let them get another drink and then get back into the back end of the album… they were cheering by the end! The reviews for this album have been outrageous”.

But totally justified. “The album deserves it. There’ll never be another album like it – I’ll never do another Kickstart The Sun. It’s the most ridiculously massive thing we’ve ever attempted; Bigger than …Narnia, bigger than Scarecrow, bigger than all the other albums. We hoped if we went all out on this that everyone would appreciate it, and they do. But before we started the playback I’d never been so nervous!”

I mentioned in our review of the album that Damien sounds like he’s been behind the mic in the band forever, although this is only his second album. Did his skill – knowing that he genuinely seems to be able to sing anything you throw at him – spur you on to write even more extravagant material for this album? “Absolutely. Damien’s a freak of nature – ask anybody that’s worked with him. He’s got a chameleon-styled approach to what he does, but it always sounds like him. So he can do a Freddie Mercury-style thing, or Roger Daltrey, even (Styx vocalist) Dennis DeYoung… he can do all of that. But he is believable whatever he does, and his range is astonishing as well! I can write anything now and it never occurs to me that it might be tricky or not right. Whereas in the old days – don’t get me wrong, Paul Manzi is a fucking amazing singer – but he was more of a gravelly-voiced ‘rock’ chap. Damien’s approach… I can genuinely say he’s my favourite singer. Yes I love Steve Perry, Freddie… of all the ‘proper’ singers out there Damien is my favourite. He’s a joy to work with. Also, I didn’t know how good a writer he was, which again makes my job easier. As you rightly said, he’s slotted right in!”

I’m looking at the lavish press pack I received from you as we speak, specifically the tour dates – there are a lot of gaps in the itinerary at the moment- will they be filled with European shows, or is that something for later? “Something for later. We’ve got a guy that’s just come on board who is trying to get us over to Europe in 2023. We always knew this year would be too tight. By the way things were mapped out with the album release date there was no way we could have got someone over there to take us on for this year. Remember a lot of these dates were sorted a year ago; we took whatever dates we could get during COVID, and some of these dates you’re looking back have been rolled over twice already. Next year things will get back on an even keel with booking, and hopefully this German agent will be getting us over there. But we’ll be touring Kickstart The Sun throughout the UK most of next year around writing the next album. Once this tour finishes at Christmas, we’ll start writing the album, then in the Summer we’ll be back on the road. We’re taking a bit of a risk and moving the show into theatres in the UK, which will be brilliant because of course that means we can bring a bigger production. If that works then that’s where we’ll stay. I’ve said from the start that we’re not really a rock club sort of band, because of the number of us onstage and the racket we make. Playing small stages doesn’t really do us any favours. We need to be on decent stages and the theatrical bent of the music deserves a big production. Going back to this year, you are right – there’s a gap in that itinerary for a reason, but I don’t want to say too much yet”…

Of course by this time next year, unless the WEF shut us all down, there’ll be a direct flight from London to Sydney… that’ll make a few Aussie dates for the Cats a bit easier! Twenty three hours door to door! “Oh my word… I did a twelve hour flight once. After about nine hours I’d had enough…. jeez!”
Now, to the most important question – just who are the Jack Wild boys? “(laughing) that’s a good question! Obviously it’s initially about the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist; although Dodger and his mates were basically thieves, they were lovable rogues. They wouldn’t stab you or anything like that, they’d just have your watch away! But it’s mixed up in the second part of the song (we’re talking about Teenage Millionaire, released as a single and which you’ll doubtless already have heard via the good offices of YouTube) with these modern kids, Tik Tok millionaires, who get money for making videos and product placement. A sixteen year old driving a Bugatti! Other kids see this and think they should get the same treatment. They give up on normal life and just try to become famous on the internet. When they fail, they’re just wandering around carrying loads of grief, getting into trouble. So the Jack Wilde boys are just a bunch of loveable rogues. but the song is a sort of ying and yang between the old school – knocking a copper’s hat off, sticking your fingers up at him and running away, and the way kids act today. But there’s another angle-”

There’s always another angle with Cats In Space! “Yes! Jack Wild was in (psychedelic TV show) HR Pufnstuf, which I always loved. And I’ve often said Cats are a bit like HR Pufnstuf-  very technicolor, crazy… songs like Mad Hatters Tea Party, Day Trip To Narnia – they come from that sort of influence. Nods to Jack Wild. I think it’s really cool to keep having these little themes that come in and out of the albums. Even Poke The Witch – that witch might be our version of Witchy Poo! It’s all in the subconscious Scott!”
This is all tying in very nicely with something else I wanted to talk about, specifically the scope and variety of the writing on the album. Clearly, if you’re going to write a fifteen track album you do need a fair bit of scope and variety – people won’t be able to stick with it otherwise – but there’s still that demonstrable Cats in Space feel that runs through the core of it all. Notwithstanding what you’ve already said about your own favourite tracks on the record, for someone coming to Cats in Space for the first time – what track would you identify as perhaps being the most ‘quintessential’ Cats in Space track on the record? “That’s a really tough one. And if I was going to be really truthful, I’d say none of ’em! Because if you’re saying ‘What do Cats In Space sound like?’, nine out of ten times the answer will be a jaunty piano thing, so Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for me would be ‘quintessential’ more so than Mr. Heartache, or Hologram Man; they are all sound bites within our framework, but for me it’s always been Mad Hatter… with the guitar and the keyboards – a Cats in Space trademark. And there is plenty of that on the new album, but we’ve shifted it quite a bit. So if we’re going to do a song like Fifty One Pillow Bed, it’s like Del Amitri, The Darkness, The Byrds… but it’s also very powerful. So put that together and you think ‘is that a bit like Cheap Trick‘? . But I think we sound more like Queen than we do Cheap Trick; To answer the question, Maybe Smoke And Mirrors. That’s very Cats In Space”.

I’m glad you said that because that’s the track I would have selected! “It’s got the guitars, the Wurlitzer, the massive harmonies. But also Kickstart The Sun itself, because it’s majestic. So where the band has moved from the first album to now is that we’ve become more cinematic. More grand. On the first album we had The Greatest Story Never Told, a John Miles sort of song; but we’ve moved on and it’s even more cinematic now. Kickstart The Sun has everything you’d expect expect from Cats In Space; the piano, the harmonies, the incredible lead vocal, brilliant guitar solos and a fuck off mental ending! Listen to that and tell me it’s not a great song. And then listen to Bootleg Bandoleros as well! (laughs). But Smoke and Mirrors  as a quick song, years”.

Obviously fans will all have their own take on this and I ask you for the definitive answer because you are Cats In Space; for instance, on Day Trip To Narnia, my favourite track is still She Talks Too Much, which wouldn’t, I’d guess, be that popular a choice across the board. It reminds me of The Motors. And it surprised me so much when I heard it the first time because nobody writes songs like the Motors anymore. “Wow! no, exactly. And Sparks. It’s more of a Sparks thing really”.

Yes, the lyric is very Sparks. “To be honest with you it’s my favourite track too. Listen to it now, and the production smashes your face in. I always approach my songs looking back from a songwriting angle, and that song that I wrote with (writing partner, 10CC vocalist) Mick Wilson says so much and gets a lot across in under two minutes. That ending could have gone round and round, but that abrupt stop really smashes the song home. That’s why it’ s my favourite. The fact that we achieved what we set out to with that song. It works on many levels. But pound for pound Yesterdays News is the best song on that album. It has such an emotional attachment to it. on that record. We’ll be doing that live actually. Damien has done a version of it. But I agree with you, She Talks Too Much is a very underplayed song”.
I’m interested in your use of the word ‘cinematic’ to describe the album. Because to me it is the most cinematic album you’ve done. But – and please feel free to shoot me down here if I’m barking up the wrong tree – it’s also the most overtly American sounding record that I think you’ve done. Are those two things connected? I accept that when you think Cats you think Chirpy Chappies, you think The Sweet, Slade and Queen, but when I hear the start of Fifty One Pillow Bed I hear Jackie DeShannon – that Searchers-style twelve string guitar particularly – the title track screams Jimmy Webb, and the little elements like the Sleigh Bells in Last Chance Saloon recall the Beach Boys. Are these observations right or just me making things up? “It’s how you respond it it. The Beach Boys will always there because we use those big swinging harmonies; The intro to the album, although it sounds like Uriah Heep and Queen still has elements that are totally Beach Boys in it by the default of the chord structure.  It’s Beach Boys and 10CC. We call it ’10 cc chords’ because they were suckers for using that chord structure. I’m Not In Love – I love it! I’ve always been drawn to them from day one because rock bands don’t use those chords. So we thought ‘well we will!’. It’s what we’re there for! I guess Goodbye To The American Dream is pretty American sounding-”

But it’s America as filtered through English Eyes isn’t it? Just like The Babys… “Exactly! I guess if there’s one American band we do get compared to it’s Styx. For me, Styx were the American version of Queen. So if I’ve got both of those in the sound I’m winning, aren’t I? There’s still a fair bit of Brian May on the new record; Poke The Witch has that Killer Queen sort of feel but the chords take it away from classic Queen chord structures. I think as time moves on, and we establish what we do, the songs tend to follow their own format now. When we start a song like Smoke and Mirrors, we know what road it will go down – Fifty One Pillow Bed, A Big Balloon, Teenage Millionaires… we kind of know how they are going to set themselves up. When we started this up I was writing songs that sounded like Andrew Gold, or ELO, and we were trying to make them sound like those artists as opposed to thinking ‘what would Cats in Space do’, because Cats In Space wasn’t an established thing at that point. Now I’m writing and it is a Cats in Space song, and Dean (Howard, guitars), and Jeff (Brown, bass), and Steevi and Andy (Stewart, keys)and Damien approach the songs as members of Cats In Space. I guess there is a bit more of an Americana sound to this album. And I’m glad you picked up on the Jimmy Webb thing, because there are geniuses and then there are people like Jimmy Webb and John Barry. On the tracksheets Ian (Caple, engineer) and myself put together when we’re looking for sounds, one of the things you’ll see everywhere is ‘R&H’ which stands for Randall and Hopkirk! And the Randall and Hopkirk sound is classic John Barry – dulcimer, with a harpsichord and a piano put through a reverb. We used that sound right the way through, and it’s become a Cats In Space signature. When you do it right – Poke The Witch is an example – it just works a treat”.

I wasn’t using the American thing as a pejorative  – I just sense everything about this album is bigger, more grandiose – it’s a widescreen record if that’s the right word to use. And the most grandiose and widescreen music I know often happens to be American. But Kickstart the Sun is massive. “It is. Bootleg Bandoleros took absolutely ages to do; probably three weeks of recording, between five and seven days of mixing. I was getting very stressed with the song at one point because I could hear in my head how massive the song needed to be, and we had to kick it around a lot to get the balance of the song right. The guitar solo that comes in in the middle of the song – if that isn’t one of the most wonderful, smash you in the face moments on any of our albums then I don’t know what is! It works because not only is it louder than the first part of the track, but it’s also ‘wider’. I remember very heavily questioning Ian as to why we were keeping the bandwidth of the guitars ‘narrow’ at the start of the song. He said it was to get the effect of an orchestra coming in when the solo started – there are seven or eight guitars in the mix at the point. And it does – BANG!! It takes ages to get that right, especially over an eight minute song where you have to keep going back to reference things to make sure the sound is right across the whole track. We would literally have listened to that one track hundreds of times. But funnily enough I didn’t get bored with it”.

One of the other things I thought worthy of note was the prominence in the mix of Space Elevator‘s Duchess on vocals. Is this a harbinger perhaps of a more collaborative attitude for future releases? Is there room in the Cats universe for guest appearances or are you happy to keep things in house? “You’re very wise, Scott (laughs). Very perceptive! Firstly her and Damien go back a very long way, and they have a great understanding. That’s why Damian sings on the last Space Elevator album. They are astonishingly in touch with one another. We also had the two girls from The Australian Pink Floyd show, Lara Smiles and Emily Linn, who are brilliant backing vocalists; I needed to have a feature vocal on one of the songs, one that would ‘pop out’ over and above what Lara and Emily were doing. I asked the Duchess if she was interested in being Charlie’s girlfriend on Charlie’s Ego. She did a fantastic job. I’d been thinking about doing a duet for Damien and a female vocal, not perhaps as a Cats thing. I mentioned it to him and he suggested 1,000,000 Miles. I thought that was a great idea, and after hearing Julie (The Duchess) ad libbing at the end of Kickstart The Sun I got her to sing 1,000,000 Miles as a duet with Damian. We recorded it; Bearing in mind how amazing Damian’s vocal on that track is… the duet was like WOW! Then we had a problem because I couldn’t unhear the song as a duet, but it couldn’t go on KTS because I’d already decided to have a duet on the next album. We thought we might put it out as a bonus track, but that felt like a bit of a disservice to the performances. I asked Julie if she minded, and she didn’t. But we have other plans for that. Watch this space”…


Kickstart The Sun is out today.