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Cats on Trees, a pop-rock duo – RFI Musique

French duo Cats on Trees.

© Catherine Louis

The Toulousains of Cats on Trees publish Aliy, a 3rd album that looks like a blockbuster. Singer/pianist Nina Goern and drummer Yohan Hennequin cultivate a certain craftsmanship while their very melodic music is clearly intended for the general public. Focus on a duo with a rare complementarity, starting from independence to flourish under a pop-rock sky.

The Cats on Trees are a beautiful fabric of paradoxes and a strange alliance of opposites. Cut for the general public, they started from the independent scene of Toulouse. Very produced, they keep an artisanal operation. Sounding like Anglo-Saxons, they have been among the proteges of the Tôt au tard label for ten years, known for its in-depth work on… French songs. Displaying an unfailing complicity, this duo is actually based on two opposing personalities, “a yin and a yang” as accomplices in their friendship as they are on stage.

On the one hand, there is Nina Goern, pianist and singer with a mysterious presence. On the other, Yohan Hennequin, drummer with a solid and versatile hit. These two met within Aeria Microscosme, the group in which they evolved then. They live a real musical thunderbolt. “I remember the first time we saw each other. There was a flash of lightning. It’s as if we recognized each other. We were rehearsing in a very small room. She was in front of me. She was playing sitting on the floor. When she left, I didn’t want her to leave. It was weird!”, rewinds Yohan.

love songs

This is followed by a roommate and the formation of their group. It was the discoveries of the Printemps de Bourges that revealed them in 2010. Catchy melodies, easy-to-remember choruses, and hit-and-miss motifs… At the time of releasing his third album, Aliy, our cats are an experienced group. The ex-jurors of the tele-hook The Voice, in Belgium, are digging into a pop-rock vein in English and – increasingly – in French. Their single Please Please Please displays a bright and playful chorus that contrasts with a darker verse; something obvious comes out of it. “We like to create, we like to play with music, spend a lot of time there. We are not able to write songs and stop at the end of the day. We need to grind them”explains Nina.

Each title corresponds to a particular atmosphere, from the playful wake-up to the heady took-took tooke. If they sing love songs, the duo sometimes ventures on less obvious themes. She Was a Girlevokes transsexuality, directly inspired by the documentary Little girlby Sébastien Lifshitz, which tells the story of a little boy who feels like a girl.

Dad On The Moon relates to the early loss of a father. Likewise, with Tendernesswhich is about the love between two parents…”I was lucky to have parents who loved each other very much. I saw it with my own eyes. I experienced it as a gift. Thanks to that, I may be a very naive person, but I tell them ‘Thank you !’. If I had an awareness of reality, I might be very unhappy”notes Nina.

This “naivety” and this wobbly side are very touching. We often regret that these asperities are not more highlighted in a very large production. Worked by English producer Liam Howe (FKA Twigs, Lana Del Rey, Adele…), with whom the Cats on Trees spoke remotely, the disc was mixed by Mark “Spike” Stent (Madonna, No Doubt, U2.. .), another goldsmith of English sound.

It was however imagined at home, from songs taken out of their drawers in full confinement. “We compose at home. For recording, we like not to break with this composition process. I built acoustic panels with wood and fabric, bought microphones to record the piano in the living room a little like the Beatles. We made a kind of recording booth with carpets and curtains for voice recordings at Nina’s. We did it very gently. We did little dishes between the songs”explains Yohan.

Composition and recording at home

The drummer assures him, this third album is “the best they have done in their entire lives”. But how did the group that grew within the independent scene turn into a “pop-rock” formation? And how do our cats find their young? “When I was a kid, I started with pop. It’s just that in the 1990s, the main genre that pushed us to make music was grunge and metal. We were listening to a band who was called Silverchair, who was an avatar of Nirvana and who had great melodies. Even when I rocked, I was always a lover of melody”, explains Yohan. Yohan Hennequin cut his teeth on the hardcore scene with local band My Own Private Alaska, where he toured internationally and learned to do it all on his own.

But one of the main assets of Cats on Trees is the voice of Nina Goern. A warm and almost adolescent voice, on edge. This voice took a very long time to come out for a singer who was very shy for a very long time. “I absolutely did not sing and it was inconceivable to do so, she explains. It was Yohan who listened to me sing, and who encouraged me. It took me about eighteen years to accept this idea. There was precisely a click on this album… When you record outside the house, you lose all your bearings. Until then, I couldn’t make sense of the song. Being at home, recording in your room, taking the time, it’s like a rite of passage. I’m not the same person today.”

The two musicians “simple life” have not cut ties with Toulouse, despite two well-received albums. They are currently preparing a show which must “plunge the viewer into their dreams”, with a decor calling on the special effects of Georges Méliès and the drawings they animated. A claw “fairy” which finally goes well with cats for the less tightrope walkers.

Cats on Trees Aliy (Sooner or later) 2022

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