Sunday Sessions 4 - Catriona Lamb
By: Emma Corcoran
Recently, we had the pleasure of chatting with Catriona Lamb, a fourth year English student and Edinburgh resident. An active member of Music is Love, Cat works behind the scenes coordinating music gigs and organising student involvement - but that doesn't stop the singer-songwriter from playing and performing herself. Embracing her Scottish roots, Cat's music fuses traditional folk with sweet melodies and remarkably honest lyrics, creating a uniquely personal sound. With a few music videos already released and plenty of ideas in her head, we're excited to see where Cat's future will take her.
An Interview with Catriona Lamb:
ST.ART: Could you start by telling me a little bit about yourself, maybe when you began singing and performing?
CL: I think I was fourteen. I had a friend, Georgia, who played guitar and sang, and she was singing at the school talent show and she wanted someone to accompany her as well. She was doing a lead guitar part and she needed someone to do rhythm guitar. At the time, I didn’t play guitar at all. I played the violin and was musical; I played the piano, sang, but I didn’t play the guitar, and she was really asking me to try and get this rhythm guitar part together. Luckily, I managed to learn the particular piece. I remember it was that song from Shrek, 'Accidentally in Love.' I learned it quite quickly, luckily, and got quite into it from there. Then that summer, I just kind of locked myself in my room and just really practiced and practiced, just watched loads of tutorials on YouTube and eventually picked it up.
Later that year, I did my first gig. That was a really big first gig, actually, because it was at a talent show, but it was in front of an audience of 600. I remember being absolutely petrified, but I went up there and I realised that I have this ability to stop. It’s almost like when I’m onstage, I’m not my own conscious self. I’m quite a self-conscious person, but when I go on stage, I suddenly feel comfortable within that perimeter. I discovered that with that gig, and ended up winning that, which was really cool.
I entered a competition when I was about fifteen called 'Live and Unsigned', which is the biggest thing I have ever done with my singing and the guitar. That was a kind of ‘X-Factor’ type competition, but it’s less televised and it’s more about singer-songwriters and bands that enter. I got through the first rounds, and then the second rounds were televised in Edinburgh, so that was a really big audience again. And then I realised that I enjoyed it, and I didn’t get through the next round, but I was really happy and felt quite relieved. I realised that maybe that kind of high-pressure environment wasn’t really what I wanted from this hobby that I’d started.
The rest of my High School was just playing every so often at little things, like assemblies in school, things like that. When I came to University, I stopped my first year, but then Amy Hill encouraged me to come along and start playing things for Music is Love, and I got really into it again. I had always written my own stuff, but hadn’t really performed it. This year, particularly, I’ve been focusing a lot of writing my own things. I recorded a session video with 'Saint Andrews Sessions' I have about five songs that I want to get recorded and up on my SoundCloud because I don’t really post to it at the moment. I want to do that over Christmastime, when I’ve got the time at home and I don’t have to focus on academic work. I think it was Music is Love that really brought out my writing side and actually forming my originals.
ST.ART: So what is your involvement with Music is Love now?
CL: I’m on the committee as Student Music Officer. Amy [Hill] is the head of our section. We’re responsible for running music gigs, specifically student music. The most recent thing we did was a lovely little collaboration with Topping & Company, which was last week. I played a little set at the start, and another one of the committee members, Sam Burbank, also played for a bit. We had an alumna committee member come up and perform as well. So yeah, we’re responsible for reaching out to people who aren’t necessarily so confident to put themselves out there like that and encouraging them to come along and realise that they needn’t be at all afraid of performing, that it can be a really gratifying experience.
ST.ART: Where would you say you draw inspiration for your lyrics?
CL: All sorts of places, really. I’ve always wondered why songs in general centre on love and relationships, and I’ve started to realise that you can write songs about any relationship, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic one. I’ve got songs that I’ve written about my mom. She was really worried about me my first year because she thought that I wasn’t settling in at University, so the song was all about trying to make her happy and make it worthwhile to see her smiling.
My cat died over the summer. He was my best friend. I was really heartbroken over that, and I write quite a few songs about it. One in particular that I perform quite a lot sounds as if it’s about a harrowing breakup that’s really affected me, and then people always say to me, ‘What went on there?’ and I’m like, ‘My cat died.’ Amy said I’m not allowed to tell people that anymore, but I still do [laughs].
ST.ART: I guess you can take any sort of experience and turn it into something positive through music, which is really cool.
CL: I mean, that’s definitely what I try to do. If anything upsets me, even if it’s like a fall-out with a friend or maybe my boyfriend doesn’t message me that day, anything absolutely tiny, I’ll write a wee song about it, and I’ll always feel better afterwards. The songs don’t necessarily always make it to being performed, but just even the process of writing out the lyrics and finding a chord progression or an accompaniment that really suits the mood is quite a cathartic experience. I think it’s definitely kind of like a form of therapy, a stress reliever as well.
ST.ART: Which artists are you listening to at this time?
CL: I’m absolutely in love with an artist called Blake Mills at the moment. I’ve been a massive fan of his for not very long in fact, maybe about seven months or so, but he is really great. He’s a singer-songwriter, and he’s quite eccentric. He covers some of Dylan’s stuff. I like Bob Dylan, but I like Blake’s covers in particular because he brings his own element to it. His lyrics are also just really amazing. A lot of his songs are very political, so it feels really worthwhile to listen to.
But then, I have quite an eclectic music taste. I would say I listen to a lot of rock music. Aerosmith is my favourite band from that kind of spectrum. I’ve also been listening to a lot of The Waterboys, which is a band that was introduced to me by Amy, though I did heard of them before but I never really got into them until Amy said, 'Oh, you’ll really like this song' and she put on 'How Long Will I Love You' by them. Ellie Goulding covered it last year, and that was the first time that I had ever heard that song. I just really like them. They have a fiddle in the background of a lot of their tracks, and I have a background in fiddle, so I identify with that.
ST.ART: Have you had a favourite concert experience?
CL: I don’t go to many gigs of very established artists. I’ve only actually been to one, and that was Bon Jovi when I was fifteen – which was great but, you know [laughs]. Through Music is Love, I see a lot of different acts. We had this great 12-piece jazz band come up last week, and unfortunately I missed that gig, but last year I saw them. One of them is my ex-flatmate’s brother, so I knew them through that. They’re just wonderful. They do a Michael Jackson medley, and they’re really fun. They just get you up and dancing, and that’s really great. There’s an alumna of St Andrews that I love seeing live, Hamish Hawk. He just makes me really happy. A lot of his songs are about Edinburgh, so I can personally identify with him because I grew up in Edinburgh. I like that connection. He’s just a wonderful performer to watch because he moves about the songs and you can tell he’s enjoying the experience. I’ve seen in perform twice in Edinburgh, and once he played with Josh Fuchs at the music café during the On the Rocks Festival, which was great.
ST.ART: If you could perform a duet with anyone or any band, dead or alive, who do you think it would be?
CL: Do you know, it’s really strange, and it’s not a singer-songwriter, it would have to be a completely different persona, but I always imagine myself in a glittery dress performing in New York with Frank Sinatra. That would be cool. I always imagine that. But I suppose from a kind of musical perspective, I would really love the chance to sing with Blake Mills. I just think he’s really great. His best song is called 'Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me'. From reading between the lines, I think it’s about this relationship that’s gone downhill and he’s begging his girlfriend not to tell all of their friends how bad he’s been to her. It’s quite an interesting song.
ST.ART: If you were to release an album, what do you think it would look like and sound like, in terms of the music but also the cover art?
CL: I think with cover art, I would definitely want to have a piece of original art that somebody, not myself, had made for it. What I found a lot of the time since I’ve started performing is that I really don’t like pictures of my face while I’m singing and things like that, so I wouldn’t be able to have a picture of myself on the front of it. I would want something that’s aesthetically nice to look at and would hopefully promote another artist as well, like a collaboration. I think for the album itself, I’m trying to work on keeping the Scottish-sounding tones to my voice while I’m singing, because a lot of the time, that kind of washes out. I want to keep that style. I’d want to be quite simple, not too much backing, maybe just the guitar and the singing, and not loads of any fancy embellishments or anything like that. I think unfortunately nowadays, with the advancement of music recording studios, you can put so many effects on it, and too much can spoil it a little bit. It’s really nice to just hear the voice and enjoy that, which is something I’ve realised. I listen to a lot of the Music is Love members’ SoundClouds during the exam time; it calms me down, and it’s nice to hear your friends’ talent. I really enjoy just the guitar and just their singing, just enjoying that and listening to the lyrics; you’re not blown away with loads of extra stuff that you don’t need there.
ST.ART: Yeah, that’s definitely true. It focuses on the music, as opposed to anything else.
CL: And I like that focus on the music. I think a lot of the time, when you get really big, like Rhianna or something, she’s under so much pressure to have this whole different persona. An artist that I really like that’s always in the top forties is Sia, and she doesn’t this wig thing and has the girl, I think her name’s Maddy, who always goes around with her. I always think that it’s like turning yourself into a piece of modern art, you know? She has a really wonderful voice, and they put an effect on her voice in a lot of her tracks. I just think, just strip it back and do a session. Rita Ora does that sometimes; she’ll release all her albums and music videos, but then she’ll occasionally do like a session where it’s just her and a guitarist, and she’s just singing, and it’s so much more beautiful to listen to, I find.
ST.ART: Do you have any other plans for the future? You said you have a music video that you’re considering releasing, a session video. Do you think you would want to do anything else with music?
CL: I performed at my cousin’s wedding this summer, it was during the ceremony, and that was really beautiful, wonderful, and I really enjoyed that experience. It’s in the wedding video, and one of my mom’s colleagues was asking if I would then perform at her daughter’s wedding. I was ever so slightly reluctant, just because I did it for my cousin, because it’s family. For me, the singing and guitar is very much a hobby, and I’m worried that if it became a job or a way of earning money, I would start to resent it in some way. It wouldn’t be like my escape anymore from what I’m doing in my life in terms of University, getting a job, everything else; it would meld with that. That could be a dangerous path to go down because I have met many wonderful musicians who have begun to resent making music because they get paid for it or because they get part-time jobs, things like that. In terms of singing as a means for an income, I don’t think I’d ever really want to do that. But in the future, I do hope to really start contributing more to my SoundCloud, like getting things up there and writing a lot more of my own stuff, because I’ve found that I really enjoy doing that, actually, in some ways, prefer doing that from covers. I always did covers, but now I’ve started to get confident in my own material that, you know, I just want to focus on that a bit more.
I’ve asked my mom maybe if she’ll consider getting some studio time for my 21st because she wants to do something for my music. She suggested a new guitar, but I really like the guitar I have at the moment, so I said maybe, you know, just getting some studio time to get really good, crisp recordings that I can put up. I don’t hope to capitalise on the singing or the guitar at all, though. I really enjoy just playing for Music is Love and playing for friends and family. I don’t see that changing anytime, hopefully.