And then there were two.
And maybe that’s the way it was always meant to be for Jamie Fleming and Sarah Kirkpatrick, the real-life couple who now make up both parts of the band catl (spelled lowercase).
Following the departure of their most recent drummer, the Toronto-based Delta blues outfit took a short hiatus to find themselves, and in doing so found what they’d always known:
“Because we live together and it’s just the two of us, it’s easy,” Fleming said in their west-end Toronto living room that is, in contrast to their down-and-dirty blues style, neatly decorated with mementos related to the band. Posters from memorable shows, an extensive record collection, and a giant painted wooden version of their album Soon This Will All Be Gone that used to hang in the storefront of Sonic Boom records in downtown Toronto.
That album represents a bittersweet time for the couple. It’s the first album Sarah appeared on as a member of catl. It’s also the last album that one of the band’s founding members, its first drummer, played on before abruptly quitting the band during the recording.
“Him dealing with us when we became a couple within the band … maybe he didn’t like that, I guess,” Fleming said, in what is clearly a touchy subject.
Fleming and the drummer had started catl as a duo.
During the recording of their first record, they even borrowed Kirkpatrick’s organ, so you can hear her organ on the first record, played by someone else.
The group finished the album Soon This Will All Be Gone with Sarah taking over on drums for just one song, but decided to add another drummer to carry on as a trio.
“We really felt like we’d built up some kind of momentum. We were getting decent shows booked,” Sarah said.
But then the second drummer’s leaving stopped them dead in their tracks.
“The hiatus was also time for me to learn how to play the drums,” Sarah said with a laugh. “And to learn how to play those songs and rework old ones and write new ones. That was when we really started working on this new record too.”
So off catl went, a duo again, down to Memphis, Tenn., to Ardent Studios. Ardent is an old studio that shared an affiliation with Stax Records and has recorded many influential artists.
“Bob Dylan recorded in the room we were in. It’s pretty awesome,” Sarah said.
Fitting too that they recorded in the Southern United States. Despite being a Toronto-based band, catl have a heavy Delta blues influence.
“I collected a lot of pre-war records, and I wanted to learn how to play that style of guitar,” Fleming said, as he unsheathes an old Mississippi Fred McDowell record and places it atop his turntable, powered by a custom tube pre-amp.
“This is the first blues guy I ever heard. This kind of informed the style that I want to play.”
Odd though, that a Toronto band could pull off this, by their own admission, niche style of music and garner attention from prominent people, like the people at Ardent Studios or Jim Diamond, who famously recorded the White Stripes’ first album.
“It’s an interesting business strategy to always play a sort of music that very few people like,” Jamie said with a laugh.
The transition from a trio to a duo was, in a way, a welcome change. No longer bound to anyone but each other, they are relishing the new setup.
“I hate the word organic, but it’s organic and it’s easy,” Kirkpatrick said with a longing sigh, looking across to Fleming for him to build upon the answer.
“It’s good. That’s what we spend time our doing, so we get to spend our time together doing that (the band). It’s what we like to do.”
With a band rooted in emotive, passionate music, the dynamic of being a real life couple helps to shape their sound.
“It informs the music, for sure,” Jamie said, looking across the room to Sarah to elaborate on the topic.
“There’s an openness and a dynamic on stage or even in the studio. We understand each other pretty well,” Sarah said.
But is the fighting that afflicts bands in general worse because of their personal relationship?
“Yeah sure, sometimes you get under each others skin, but I don’t think that’s any more than any other relationship,” Sarah said, once again looking to Jamie for elaboration.
He doesn’t, this time.
“Being able to play with each other, being able to share this thing together is awesome,” she continued, looking to Jamie for elaboration again.
Jamie smiled, nodded and obliged, albeit in fewer words.
“I like to put out good records,” he said with a laugh.
And that’s what they intend to do, together from here on forward.
Maybe that’s the way it was always meant to be.
The duo catl will have their LP release party for their latest album, This Shakin’ House!, at the Horseshoe Tavern on April 24.