A Joyful Noise

Originally published by 225 Magazine on June 29, 2012. 

By Amanda Wicks

Just around the corner from Tigerland, in a 20-by-10-foot storage space, sits singer-songwriter Liam Catchings. Surrounded by musical instruments, recording equipment and a hodgepodge of other tools, Catchings has been writing and recording Secular Music, his first project since leaving Barisal Guns nearly two years ago.

The music reflects a ’60s and ’70s pop-rock style with upbeat rhythms and prominent keyboards. It’s sophisticated, shiny pop that’s toe-tapping fun at its best. “I want to rebel against the dark, because happiness is just as valid,” Catchings says. With influences like The Kinks, David Bowie and even Spoon, it’s clear Catchings has fun playing around with music, and wants to move the audience—physically and emotionally—with his music.

Catchings is no stranger to fighting the darkness. He and his Barisal Guns bandmates lost the majority of their instruments when a fire destroyed the landmark Baton Rouge restaurant and bar The Caterie in June 2010. Starting over has been a difficult process, but it is clear from the sheer ingenuity Catchings put into creating his makeshift recording studio that he hasn’t let anything slow him down.

At times, the smaller space hurt the process of making Secular Music, because the acoustics didn’t always deliver a tight sound. Catchings’ older brother Ben, who produced the album, spent a great deal of time researching how to produce in a variety of spaces. “It became about working with what you have,” he explains.

Whereas Barisal Guns had a heavier rock sound, with gritty guitar riffs and head-banging drums, Catchings’ music takes a different turn. He incorporates more piano and a lighter, almost whimsical air, perfect for driving around town with the windows down. “It reminds me of a circus,” Ben says, laughing. “There’s so much going on, but it all works together.”

The brothers’ harmonies open up the music to new heights. Ben’s smoother voice complements Liam’s edgier style, and the outcome emphasizes the bright, up-tempo melodies. Even though the music is often cheerful, the lyrics don’t always reflect that sentiment. Catchings enjoys contrasting what he sings about with the style of music he plays, and the result is complex and mature.

With Secular Music, Catchings has taken on the monumental task of writing an album solo. “I had never relied completely on myself to conceptualize the whole picture. You basically go back to the drawing board. But it pushed me to play better, to be better,” he says.

What’s perhaps more impressive than Catchings’ writing skills is that he played every instrument on the album: guitar, bass, piano and drums. While Ben recorded, Liam would lay down each instrument track by track—a slow process, but one that can be appreciated in the carefully executed sound on the album.

Ben’s role as producer contributed as much to the final product, Liam says. “I trust what [Ben] has to say,” Liam says. “Ben cleans it up, makes it prettier, and acts as the sounding board to what I’ve written.”

While the album neared completion, Catchings formed a band to bring his music to the stage: Liam Catchings and the Jolly Racket. The five-member band consists of Liam on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, Ben on guitar and keyboards, bassist Ryan Blanco, lead guitarist Paul Emden and drummer Michael Cole.

The can’t-sit-still nature of Catchings’ music is best realized at the Jolly Racket’s live shows, where the band’s dynamic talent and energy come together. Catchings credits his mother for his unique stage presence.

“She really loved performing at church to the point where kids in the audience would make fun of her, but she didn’t care. She just wanted to have fun,” he says.

Catchings constantly moves around, but his energy is purposeful. He jumps from guitar to keys and back again, deftly transitioning between instruments without interrupting the action. Even while sitting in front of his keyboard, Catchings bounces to the rhythm to keep energy levels high.

As for the band’s name, it comes from the brothers’ religious past. “Our mom used to play the church organ, and in the Bible it says to ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,’” explains Liam. “We’re having fun with that concept and playing around with what it means to make ‘joyful noise.’”