By Izzy Cihak
“We’ll all be gardening on rooftops and we’ll have to know jujitsu to defend our lives,” she tells me within our first minute of conversation.
This was preceded by the prophetic, “Five years from now the internet as we know it will not exist so all of this will have been in vain.” She is Elizabeth Ziman, one half of Brooklyn indie pop outfit, Elizabeth and the Catapult. She’s spent the past few hours “trying to figure out how to do a Facebook live interview,” which apparently took three tries, “defeating the purpose of it being ‘live’,” – but hey, “I accomplished my goal,” she says with a faux sense of achievement. I congratulate her and tell her that pretty much any comprehension of modern technology is impressive to me, as I don’t even have a Facebook. “I’m so proud of you,” she tells me. So far this feels more like a mumblecore film than “music journalism.”
Whether you’re up on music yourself, have heard me regularly herald the band as the best of the past two years, or have caught a 30-second earful of their “Race You” in a recent Pampers ad, you’ve likely had some exposure to Elizabeth & the Catapult, whether you realize it or not. Last October they released their second LP in two years, The Other Side of Zero. The former trio (now a duo) doesn’t exactly sound like a new band, although they certainly sound quite a bit more melancholy than on 2009’s Taller Children (“Well, I was feeling more melancholy than when I wrote the last record,” Ziman confesses). She has described The Other Side of Zero as being akin to Lynch and Kubrick, while considering Taller Children more Woody Allen.
I’ve always been interested in artists inspired by artists outside of their medium, so I ask her who else she is especially inspired by: “The Coen Brothers!!! I can’t wait to see True Grit!!! What about you!?!?” Her enthusiasm is charming, although I begin to shrink. I’ve become known for claiming that the Coen Brothers serve no purpose other than to make upper middle-class white Democrats feel clever. I’m also still hung up on them robbing Lars von Trier (one of my favorite people) of his second Palme d’Or at Cannes in ’91. I try to explain all of this as quickly and eloquently as is possible when feeling on the spot and desperately trying not to alienate someone I admire. Luckily, she was intrigued by my distaste for her heroes: “I would love to see True Grit with you, as a flat out anti fan!” Whew.
Speaking of bastions of moneyed-Caucasian pseudo liberalism and things I have been known to mock, it turns out that it’s NPR and WXPN that are responsible for The Catapult’s (as she so affectionately refers to her band) six Philly shows in the past two years: “The reason we’ve spent so much time over there is public radio is so supportive,” referring to the coverage from WXPN. “When we play in New York we have a little bit of a younger audience, which may just be due to our friends being there, but [in Philadelphia] we have a little more of an NPR crowd.”
So thank you, NPR.
This NPR demographic, combined with her inclusion in the world of “singer/songwriters,” has the majority of Ziman’s appearances in dinner theater venues, like World Café Live and the Tin Angel, although she does occasionally find herself in a more traditional bar or club. Upon being asked what her preferred performance setting is, she launches into an anecdote of another hero. She tells me that she was recently reading about David Byrne and how he allowed the venues he played in to inspire his actual sound and songwriting process (fast-paced, guitar-heavy shows at CBGB vs. slower songs that take up more space by the time he was playing Carnegie Hall). She tells me that when they play a bar or a fraternity house they play their “short, punchy songs and turn up the guitar,” but her favorite places to play, like art galleries and Joe’s Pub, are the places that allow you to “display your range of sounds, from ballads to rocking out,” or “a show where you can show all the colors of what you do.”