Live2PlayNetwork’s “Guitar Guy” Tim Hemingway sat down with Sam Stewart, guitarist/vocalist for Nightmare and the Cat to discuss their new EP Simple, their upcoming LP in early 2014, working with family, and excessive blood on stage…
Live2Play – Hey Sam, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Just to get started, can you tell me a little bit about the band and how you got started?
Sam – Sure, about three and a half years ago I was living in LA and I was doing kind of an acouticey-folkey project. My brother Django’s previous band had disbanded and he’d been living in London for about 9 months. He was trying to get a band together over there, but was having no such luck. He couldn’t really find anyone else that he was connecting with on a musical level.
I was just thinking it would be awesome for the two of us to get together and try writing some stuff to see what happened. I called him to see what he’d think about coming to LA for a few days and writing together. He was totally up for it so he came out. We wrote and recorded demos for like 5 songs and it turned out so good that he just never… well he stayed in LA. We came up with a name and decided to create a real band. We called some friends, got to playing some shows, and that was kind of it.
Live2Play– Very cool. Nightmare and the Cat is a unique name, how did you come up with it?
Sam – Well, it’s actually the name of a song that Django and I really love by this obscure artist called Anthony Harwood. He made this amazing album; it’s kind of a concept album in the early 90’s. It’s this mad like Sgt. Pepper’s meets this scary old nursery rhyme on bad acid (laughs). It’s really good though. “Nightmare and the Cat” was our favorite song from that album.
Live2Play– I’m totally going to look up that album after this interview.
Sam – I doubt you’ll find anything because he’s that obscure. Like the only reason we heard of him is because Django stumbled across a CD in our Dad’s storage compartment. See he (Anthony Harwood) recorded the album at a studio our Dad owned back in the 90’s in London, and I don’t think it ever came out or anything. It’s extremely obscure, no one even knows what happened to Anthony.
(Author’s note. I’m really good at finding things on the internet, but Sam’s right, I can’t seem to track down Anthony Harwood’s album. If you find it, let me know.)
Live2Play – That is a fantastic story for a band name. So the primary songwriters are you and your brother, what is it like working with family?
Sam – You know, I’d say it has a lot of pros and a few cons. The best thing about it is there’s really no holding back when it comes to critiquing each other’s stuff because we’re brothers and we’re used to being brash and honest with each other. It’s good because you’re not like tiptoeing around someone’s ideas or their ego and going, “Ummm, yeah you know it’s cool… but maybe just change this.” It’s more like, “No, we’re not doing that, it doesn’t sound good. It’s a piece of crap, come on!” (laughs) It’s really good, I think we can cut to the chase a lot quicker.
Another thing that’s good about it is since we are brothers and we’re close, we know everything about each other pretty much. We’re very aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives, so if one of us is writing about something deeply personal, it’s pretty easy for the other to understand and collaborate in their own way.
I think if you can see past the initial irritations of working with family, it’s really worthwhile.
Live2Play – I’ve been listening to the EP and have been really enjoying it.
Sam – Thank you.
Live2Play – One of the things I like is that there seems to be a lot of qualities about it that seem familiar yet the sound is totally unique. What has been interesting for me is that it has been kind of hard to pinpoint who your influences are. I’ll hear something familiar and I’ll kind of recognize the idea or sound but I don’t know quite where you came up with it at. So I guess that’s a really roundabout way of asking, who are your influences, or what drove you to become a musician?
Sam – We have so many influences. I’d say that I guess our sound is kind of unique because Django and I share a lot of the same influences, but I think that we really approach songwriting very differently and we filter what we take in in a very different way.
Say we’re listening to some T-rex and we’re like “We really love the strings or the chorus, we want to make something like that.” I’ll sit down and approach it in a very methodical way, where Django will approach it in a more feel and emotional based way. And the result will be pretty different from what we were trying to do, but it will be something all in its own.
People we both really admire are like David Bowie, umm Neil Young and Radiohead. I don’t know, there are so many it’s kind of hard to list them off. Our music is kind of a unique blend of all our influences, but like I said, filtered through each of us in a different way.
Vocally Django has been very influenced by Jeff Buckley. But you know when he was a kid he would just walk around the house singing Marvin Gaye songs and Al Green, you know Aretha Franklin, like old motown stuff. I think that’s just innately in him so he just kind of has that emotion when he sings. I think that’s one of the things that brings a unique flavour to our sound.
Live2Play– I really enjoyed the lead single off your EP, “Simple”. Is there a story behind the song or how you wrote it?
Sam – It was one of those things where the opening lyrics, or the opening melody I should say and the whole riff part were something that I had started before Nightmare and the Cat even existed. It was like a demo that had been hanging out on my computer and when we were starting to write stuff for the album I played it for Django and was like, “What do you think of this? I’ve had it for a while.” He really liked it so we started figuring out how to take it to Nightmare and the Cat land. It wasn’t until Django went through a tough time for a little bit, I don’t want to go into too much detail.
Live2Play – Understood.
Sam – Anyway, he was going through a tough time and that inspired the lyrics. I actually wrote the first verse and sat down and sang it to him, and he really really liked it. That really inspired him and we ended up finishing the song together.
So I guess it’s kind of loosely based on a story, but it shouldn’t be taken super literally.
Live2Play – And it’s a great song. I really think it’s amazing that you and your brother can work together that way. Now with the EP is there touring, or what is the plan over the next several months?
Sam – Things start really winding down in the music industry as far as gigs after Thanksgiving. We’re actually writing more, trying to get a jumpstart on our album.
We do have a few shows coming up. We’re opening for 30 Seconds to Mars and we’ll have another show in LA when we get back, but really we’re just writing and getting ready for when the album comes out next year. We’ll be super busy this next year touring all around.
The EP is more of a sampler of the album; like 5 tracks from the record just to get the word out.
Live2Play – Now I know the band is based in LA, but you and your brother are from London. Have you had a chance to return home to play some shows as Nightmare and the Cat?
Sam – We have a couple times, yeah. When we have done it, we try to make it a trip home for Christmas, or just to see friends or family, and then we happen to do a show as well. It’s a little bit too far to go for just one or two gigs and make it worth it, but if we couple it with a visit to home, then it works.
Live2Play – Just out of curiosity, what is the worst thing that has ever happened at a gig?
Sam – Ummm, apart from all the technical difficulties that can happen, I’m trying to think of something really bad…
Okay, one time we were in New York for a CMJ and we had like 4 or 5 shows booked and we had only played maybe 2 or 3 of them and then this evening we had our quote biggest show. We were headlining this BMI showcase that was totally packed. All our management who we had just signed with were going to be there and they were bringing people. They really wanted to see us and the pressure was kind of on.
Django woke up that morning with kind of like a terrible terrible toothache. He went to see a dentist and he had a wisdom tooth that they said they had to pull out, like immediately. If they wouldn’t have, I can’t remember the details, but it would have been really really risky to not pull it.
(Laughs) And so he had his wisdom tooth pulled out, I want to say like 3 hours before we went on stage. He basically had to take some painkillers and we played the show, but the whole time we were playing, there was just blood gushing out of his mouth, and he didn’t even realize. It was just like coming out. I mean we still played a good show and I think some people just thought it was some kind of effect that we were doing on purpose. So I guess it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty weird anyway.
Live2Play – That’s awesome, people thought you were going for an Ozzy Osbourn type effect.
Sam – Yeah I think so. They were just like, “Wow this is like a really weird indie rock band where the singer’s got blood out the mouth.”
Live2Play – That is great. See now you know why I ask the question, I get the best stories out of these. Moving along with gigs, what is your dream gig? Is there a specific place you want to play?
Sam – There’s a few benchmark places. Being that we all live in LA, we want to play the Bowl at some point. And Django and I being from the UK, one of the biggest aspirations you can have to play live is, if not to headline, at least play the main stage at Glastonbury Festival. I think those are two big dreams for sure.
Live2Play – Glastonbury is one of the festivals that I would love to go to.
Sam – Oh me too, I’d love to go. Django was lucky enough to go a maybe 3 years ago.
Live2Play – I have watched way too many Radiohead performances at Glastonbury on Youtube.
Sam – Oh me too, it must be really good. Like I said, Django went there about 3 or 4 years ago and he still won’t shut up about it. (laughs)
Live2Play – Just in closing, do you have any advice for young aspiring musicians?
Sam – It’s probably just typical what my advice would be, but I would say the main thing is just listen to your gut and just do what you like and what you think sounds good. Do what seems like a good idea to you. You can listen to other people like me, or your dad, or whoever, but ultimately what it comes down to is you have to do what is right for you.
I’ve been trying to make it as a musician for 10 years now. You know, I was in a band in London with a friend from the age 12 onward and only now are things starting to happen. It took a long time. But you know, I’m happy because I’m doing exactly what I want to do and doing it the way that we want to do it. It’s very important to make sure you’re happy in your career I would say.
I remember my mom telling me when I was 14 or 15 and I was basically only caring about my band not really about school. She was being supportive but she was like, “You have to promise me if by the time you are 25, and you haven’t made it, then just give it up.” (laughs) I was like, “Umm yeah okay”, but Nightmare and the Cat got signed when I was 24, so I kind of made it by the skin of my teeth.
We want to thank Nightmare and the Cat and Sam in particular for sitting down and talking with us. The EP Simple is available now on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon, and the full album is due spring 2014. For more on Nightmare and the Cat and for upcoming shows, visit their website or their Facebook page.