Laminated Cat
by Kevin J. Elliott

Don’t be alarmed. Austin by way of Boston by way of Maine neo-psych revivalists Laminated Cat couldn’t be further from the standard model of bands featured on Primitive Futures. They reference Wilco and the Paul Simon, frequent coffee houses and find refuge on craggy coastlines, perhaps the antithesis to the dive-bar, collector-scum contingent documented in these pages. Take a moment, though, to listen to Umbrella Weather. Actually take in the whole beast, and you’d swear it was a long lost jam session of Elephant Six luminaries buzzing under an Athens’ summer thunderstorm. At its peak, the record is flooded with all of the acid-fried dayglo idiosyncrasies that made Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel dense collages of psychedelic madness cut with syrupy Beatles pop.

But Umbrella Weather also appears to be crafted with a classicist mindset, giving just as much credence to traditional singer-songwriter tropes and acoustic troubadour numbers as they do to abject weirdness. With the presence of the internet these days, isolation couldn’t possibly be the cause of this approach, but when imagining Maine as some final American frontier, this kind of wildly divergent, yet comfortably ragged, music seems appropriate for the band’s environment. It’s a lesson that proves no matter where you are in the world, if your music is true enough, it will escape, as a chance encounter with Apples in Stereo conspirator Robert Schneider made Laminated Cat practically instant members of a defunct collective a thousand miles away. The Elephant Six comparison is not so far-fetched considering Schneider recorded Umbrella Weather at his Lexington, Kentucky studio. Now all that’s left is spreading the word, letting the record’s heavy smoke and mellow vibes drift over the uninitiated, then sitting back to soak it all in. Normal as the band may appear, their music is anything but.

Being from Maine, did you find that you had to jump through a lot more hurdles to get your music recorded and then heard?

Cooper Smith: At first glance, Maine might not seem like it has much to offer in the music realm. But there is a fantastic underground web of musicians who are incredibly talented and more than willing to help other musicians. Our first record was recorded at a studio in the basement of two guys who heard some of our home recordings on the internet when we were playing a local battle of the bands.

Of course with the music scene being more word-of-mouth and not very well networked, a lot of bands would become completely way over competitive to gain recognition in the area, which to me isn’t what making music is designed for. With some of the other folks being competitive, it gave us the extra drive to make the most of what we as a band could produce and try our best to stay true to how we thought music should be all about: love.

Is there isolation in that state that you feel you couldn’t find anywhere else?

CS: There is a good bit of isolation in Maine. We come from the central part of middle coastal Maine, some towns over from the state capital, Augusta. It’s a normal, daily routine to drive 30 minutes to get a cup of coffee. I could say that for my own songwriting, the isolation that came with the smaller towns in central Maine allowed me to step back from a current project and breathe. We all have our special places we go to think things out: a favorite chair in the corner of the kitchen, the park across town, driving down the highway for a few exits and turning around. My escape was the coast, the hill in my mother’s backyard, and the lakes that are all within a five-minute drive from my door.

If we were to travel there today, what would the bulk of bands at the Rock-Off be stylistically? Is there any kind of a musical community where you’re from?

CS: Screamo, emo, blues, and good old fashioned rock & roll. The music community here is cut-throat and deadly. A lot of the community is very, very cut-throat. But once enough of the bands that meet and have the same problem as you do, a new community is born.

Tanner Smith: Crappy metal bands, mostly. We used to play a lot at this place called the Johnson Hall in Gardiner, Maine with some of our close friends who were also in bands. We always felt like we were changing the world, or just telling people to go fuck off. Honestly, I’ve always felt that I was blessed to have lived there. I’ve met so many very, very talented angelic people. It gets really cold there. They don’t really have any illusions about what the world is or what beauty is.

Can you think of Maine’s most famous musician? Or celebrity for that matter?

CS: Well, the guy who plays Monk went to USM (University of Southern Maine). At least I think it was USM. I also think that Judas Priest was from Maine. I know one of the members of Guster is from Maine, and a hot new character Ray Lamontagne.

What made you guys relocate to Massachusetts?

TS: AJ and I moved there because we are very romantic people and liked the idea of moving to Boston, seeing the world, walking down leafy autumn Cambridge streets, making art, meeting artists. We met so many wonderful and talented kids our age. We lived in Allston/Brighton and used to spend all day and night in this little barb, Herrel’s, on Harvard Avenue because half our friends worked there and the internet was free! Plus, have you ever been that bored? Like I’m 19 and live in Maine bored? I was so bored!

AJ Griffin: After 15 years of rural Maine, we wanted to hit the big city life. Boston was pretty much the closest and only realistic destination, so we went.

When I first heard Umbrella Weather, I thought for sure that you were from Athens, Georgia, but you’re not. It’s safe to say, though, that you were heavily influenced by the Elephant Six.

CS: Very safe—almost too safe. We all grew up listing to them. I remember when my parents bought a new computer and the Windows media player came with “Strawberry Fire” by the Apples in Stereo.

AG: Most of these songs were written before we had really dug into the E6 treasure chest, beyond maybe Neutral Milk Hotel. Of course, that had changed by the time we recorded it, and so the production shows a bit more of a nod to the rest of the groups we love.

This is a question I ask all new bands. Fill in the blanks:
In 10th grade I was listening to ____ in the ____ with ____ doing ____, dreaming one day I would be ____.

CS: In 10th grade I was listening to Wilco everywhere with anyone and everyone at the Barnes and Nobles Cafe in Augusta, dreaming one day I would be Wilco.

TS: In 10th grade I was listening to the Beatles in the twins’ (younger brothers and bandmates, Camden and Cooper) bedroom with Zeus doing homework, dreaming that one day I would be Paul Simon or maybe Neil Young. Or in the Beatles. Or a professor. Or maybe invent some new instrument. Or dance with this girl I had a crush on. Laminated Cat is really just sleazy high school dance music. We loved and dream of union-mixers.

AG: In 10th grade, I was listening to OK Computer in my parents’ house before anyone else was home from work, playing the songs to myself and pretending there were 10,000 people listening with adoration.

Are there other bands that you’re heavily influenced by? I even think I hear some Allman Brothers in the mix somewhere.

CS: I little bit of the Allman Brothers, but for me it was mostly the Beatles, Wilco, Paul Simon, Buddy Holly, and the Beach Boys. These are the bands I can remember being put in the tape player when I was knee-high to a bean stock.

How did you get the attention of Robert Schneider? What was his role in re-recording and releasing Umbrella Weather to a wider audience?

CS: Tanner and AJ went to an Apples show in Boston and passed him a CD and said, “Please listen.” His wife Marci ended up being the one who listened to it first and reminded Robert that he said he’d listen to it. They both loved it and passed it onto Craig (Morris, who runs the Garden Gate label with Marci), and he ended up asking us to record with them. Robert was there from the beginning to the end. He gave us room when we needed it, advice when we needed it or asked. And my god, he and Craig helped me find the perfect bass tone one afternoon. It took about two and a half hours of plucking and twisting knobs, trying different condenser combinations and other fun homemade patches. Wow. They both were friggin troopers to deal with my ass.

What’s next for Laminated Cat? I know Umbrella Weather was recorded some time ago, so is there another album recorded? Do you have an even grander idea for the next album?

CS: America, at least that’s what I think the next record will sound like. We all have a good number of songs in prospect for the next record, and damn, it’ll be good. And next for Laminated Cat? A good tour, a few beers and plenty of rest.

AG: Our next album is going to be a smooth-jazz concept record about highway tolls and the lifecycle of queen ants. It’s called “It Ain’t Gonna Kiss Itself!”