cat and the queen "my keys the queen have saved my ass"
ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO, I WAS NEW TO TORONTO AND A RESTAURANT JOB IN KING ST W. MY NEW FRIEND AND COWORKER, A RAD MUSICIAN NAMED CAT, ASKED IF I’D BE INTERESTED IN AN EXPERIMENTAL COLLABORATION. WITHOUT HESITATION, I SAID YES.
HER SONGS WERE COMEDIC, THEATRICAL, CABARET-STYLE POEMS PUT TO THE SWEET MELODIES OF HER NORD. SO, IN A LITTLE BAR IN PARKDALE, CAT WORE A PURPLE JUMPSUIT WITH A PINK BOA, AND I FELT ALIVE TO BE SHARING THE STAGE WITH A THE EMERGING POWERHOUSE THAT WAS CAT AND THE QUEEN.
CAT HAS RETURNED TO THE PIANO FOR HEALING TIME AND TIME AGAIN. SHE IS, IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD, A TRUE ARTIST.
IT IS WITH GREAT HONOUR AND DEEP GRATITUDE THAT WE SHARE THIS PROFILE ON CATHERINE MONTGOMERY, AKA. CAT AND THE QUEEN.
WHY DID YOU LEAVE YOUR FORMER LIFE AS A STANDUP COMEDIAN AND HOW DID THAT LEAD YOU TO YOUR PIANO?
On July 14th, 2011 I hit a bottom. Spiritual. Emotional. Physical.
I was thirty years old. And a creative partnership I had invested my heart and soul into, crumbled. We had spent already a year on one screenplay, which fortified our bond, enthusiasm and faith in our collaborative future. Thus, we headed to spend a summer at her west coast family cabin in a small town off the coast of Vancouver. A ‘writing retreat’ was the mission. Screenplay two. The second of many, I thought! Like, see ya Wes Anderson/Owen Wilson! We got this! And, well… We didn’t.
Our retreat didn’t make it past the first day. Why? I for a long time blamed a dude who got in between us. Yoko Ono, I called him. Howeverrrrr, with Space and Time (the formula which to cure most things), I see the collapse was a necessary rite of passage.
Divine providence for bigger shiz at hand.
Whatever and Whyever, aside. It ended.
And I hit a Bottom.
Sidenote: I get that movement and change is inevitable when collaborating with other humans, but daaaaamn, you know? Sometimes you get suckerpunched by one or two of ‘em and it leaves you knocked off your socks. Collaboration is co-parenting and that summer I got ordered divorce papers. I did not have the tools to deal with my grief. So I didn’t.
To quiet. To numb. To gratify the instant. To forget. To be fun. To be okay with everything. To go with the goddamn flow. To be nice to the guy. To be nice to her. To pretend. To avoid confrontation. To swallow.
Alcohol had always been a crutch for me. It was like a loyal captain; navigating my underdeveloped emotional intelligencia tin boat through foggy personal dynamic waters. Basically, a nautical shit storm.
And this partnership collapse was my Iceberg of Leonardo proportions.
It was ugly. I mean, it was all the things. Black out. Messy. Embarassing. Volatile. Event after event after event after event. My saying sorry. I won’t again. Sorry. I won’t. Again. Sorry. Again.
But the ‘Berg had got me and the waves took me under.
I’d really like to say I was evolved enough to channel my pain into Art immediately. But I wasn’t. Denial was in the way of all that. I was shattered.
Drank it away.
Drank it asleep.
Drank it different.
And then, you know,
After some time…
A shit load of shame…
…And maybe a bit of prayer (‘cause that happens on bathroom floors, behind closed doors)…
A woman in the community of this west coast town, a woman in the recovery program of AA, reached out to me.
And that was it.
A Bottom. Spiritual. Emotional. Physical.
There, in those recovery rooms,I was surrounded by fellow broken babies holding Hope torches.
And with a little sobriety, I moved back to Toronto. To do what now?
And with what now?
STAND UP, OF COURSE!!!!
The fall was cold and I spent my time looking for waitress work, going to AA meetings, doing open-mics and racking up debt.
I used all my ‘getting sober’ as material. Yes, a bit strange as those environments aren’t exactly filled with tea drinkers, but I had a fresh sober resolve and I was airing all my dirty shiz into punch lines.
And as I was spending my time in meetings and open mics and meetings and open mics, there was 52 old charismatic, boomingly extroverted man who was also doing the same thing.
Let’s call him… Dick.
Dick was a seasoned Yuk Yuks comedian, so he was really a man in the know. (I truly thought this. I did. He had a way with words and rhetoric and I well, bought the vacuumn.)
Dick had two years of sobriety at the time, which was like goddamn infathomable at my nascent sobriety stage of 4 months.
Anyways, we got talking, he got talking. He was big. He took up space. All the space. And yeah, he seemed to be, you know, someone who knew things. Like a mentor. A lighthouse. A friend. A sober comedian ally. A guide.
And then, one night, he made the moves on me on a street corner. And it was out of left field. When I told him that, he said, “But you’re wearing makeup.” And, the truth is, not until later days did I even clock how fucked up that response was.
Side note: even now it takes a bit for me to wear red lipstick. Just a bit.
This act was a surpise and I was confused annnnd …also… flattered and intrigued.
An older man? Maybe? Besides, I hadn’t kissed a guy sober since like 1996 so essentially I was 15 years old. And, I don’t know. It’s nice to be liked, right?
Let’s keep this bitch moving…
We go to his place. It’s late. I sleep over. Nothing happens. Next morning. I wake up. He makes moves. I say no. He moves on me. I say no. He continues. I say nothing. Dick sticks his shitty dick in my vagina. I say nothing. He thrusts a few times and finishes on my tits. Silence. He gets up to shower. I go to serve a few tables in a dead restaurant.
And what I hate is how I feel right now. Typing all of this.
And that is:
Cat. You didn’t say no loud enough.
And in then end, Cat. You went with it…so… really? Who are you to say.
And Cat! For Christ’s sake, you slept at his house, man?! I mean, what do you expect?
Now. Typing all this. I feel that.
Back to the dead restaurant…
I finished my shift and I went home.
I didn’t drink, but my Bulimia came out guns-a-blazing.
I bought all the food from all the stores. And I ate. And I puked. And I ate.
I was supposed to do a set at Comedy Bar that night and I cancelled.
And in fact, I never did a gig again after that.
I closed the fuck down.
No face book. No gigs. Barely worked. More debt. Some meetings. All the food. All the Bulimia. All the isolation.
Space and time.
Space and Time and…
My mom in momma bear retaliation to sooth her cub, had our childhood piano delivered from Barrie to my Toronto home. The Baldwin. It arrived. And gently, I played. I worked. I went to meetings. I played. Time went by. And my friends, my beautiful friends…they showed the fuck up for me. And I began to see a therapist at the Parkdale Women’s Centre who focuses on trauma and she will always have angel status in my books.
Healing continues its slow burn.
And I play.
And a couple of seasons swim by and I begin to take my songs into the world.
Then I bought a keyboard (thank you Mastercard).
And that keyboard, to this day, is who I call, “the Queen”.
And here I am. Cat and the Queen.
Cat and My Healer.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR MUSICAL PRACTICE AND WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED PERFORMING IN FRONT OF PEOPLE?
I’ve played the piano since I was kid. I’m the youngest of four and we all did. Funny though, being the youngest it was all very laissez-faire in the discipline world from my parents side of things however, I distinctly remember making a New Year’s resolution list when I was 10 and on the top of the list, in ALL CAPS was: PRACTICE MORE, CATHERINE!!!!
I always failed myself there. ‘Cause this is the thing. I still have to negotiate a voice in my head that says I should know everything already.
I should know everything, yesterday.
And how do you keep sincere and humble and open to growing when that’s the voice feeding the engine.
Like, I wanted to take a dance class when I was 9 and no joke I remember thinking, “But Catherine, they’ve all been dancing since they were 6. It’s too late!”
Funny and Sad. That’s what happens with time.
I’m a late bloomer. That’s a big reason why I’m not having kids…also, because the world is on fire and I like being an Aunt and I’m more of a dog person.
Emotional intelligence and how I speak to myself is a life-long practice. I’ve signed up. And I’m happy to say I have clocked a few wins! For instance, I take piano lessons now in the name of respecting my instrument; getting to know her boooooody and her miiiiind (kick up the Sade please!). This is very different from the old noise in my head that took lessons as an opportunity to beat myself up for not being a better musician, which then of course led to creative paralysis.
I think it helps now that I have more of an awake gratitude to having life pretty good, relatively. I live in Toronto. My rent isn’t a billion dollars. I serve at a nice restaurant to make the moneys, I teach a bit, take naps, practice Sus2 chords, learn how to charter my own emotional waters, and try to be a goddamn kind human, here and there. It’s a decent gig.
As far as when I first started performing to now, well, yeah it’s changed. Evolved. ‘Cause that’s what happens when you water a plant… it grows. My voice has changed. You know, when I first started writing music I never intended on singing the songs ‘cause I was so insecure as a singer. But I did. I took voice lessons. I still take voice lessons. I quit smoking (with and occassional lethal daliance here and there, I won’t lie). And it’s grown. The voice, singing and speaking, is a muscle like any other muscle. It needs practice and nurturing. Like the muscle of being kind to myself. The muscle of acting aligned to my authentic self versus the one that seeks attachment. The muscle that cares enough to show up.
All muscles get stronger with attention, desire, sincerity and committment.
Horseshoe Tavern, from catandthequeen.ca photo @whirlywindz
HOW HAS MUSIC "HEALED YOU" THROUGH HEARTBREAKS AND HARD TIMES?
The piano and my keys the Queen have saved my ass. More appropriately, my heart. Again and again and again…
But there is one particular story that really hits me in the heart crotch.
There was this guy (when isn’t there, am I right ladies?! Barf.)
Ok. But really. There was this guy. And he goes down in the books.
I was inlove with him. And I thought it was the real deal. And, quel surprise, it was not.
At 10 am in the morning I texted him and said, “Hi guy, wanna play tennis today?”
And he said, “Cat. We need to talk.”
And my stomach dropped and my heart dangled out my anus like a pair of saggy man balls.
And I said, “Ok”, and we made a plan to see eachother at 2pm.
I knew what this was going to be.
I had four hours till the heart guillotine dropped.
And between these 4 hours I went from lying in my bed in a fetal position, to the piano, to my bed, to the piano, repeat.
You know that kind of heartbreak? It’s like a rash on the inside and the outside of your skin. And there’s vomit in the middle of your throat. I couldn’t sit or lay still.
And the piano. My childhood piano. My Baldwin. She held me.
She held me.
The song I wrote that afternoon is called, “Major Sea”. And a little known fact, friends, is that this song is one of my very favourite songs I have ever written! How about that! (It’ll be coming out on my soon to be released LP LOBA wink wink, watch out for it.)
Now, I run into this gentleman from time to time. And you know what? The formula works: Time + Space + Art + Friends = Freedom.
Turn it into Art.
Turn that heartbreak into Art.
I saw him a couple weeks a go and I paid a bit of silent reverance for what he gave me. There was pain, yes. And, also, inside of it was some real goddamn beauty.
WHO IS CAT AND THE QUEEN? AS A SUPER-CREATIVE PERSON WHO HAS TRAINING IN SO MANY AREAS OF THE ARTS...WHY DOES MUSIC RESONATE SO MUCH MORE THAN OTHER ART FORMS?
It’s funny. There was quite a bit of time I spent in the earlier days of Cat and the Queen where I was like, What am I? What is this? Where am I going? How do I, cue the puke noises, Brand myself.
I wanted to control and know and not fuck it all up, or something.
And I’m not so operated and dictated by those artifical restrictions anymore. ‘Cause, they’re a fucking waste of time.
These days I think of Cat and the Queen as my…umbrella. Or perhaps, my telescope. I swing between genres and projects that intrigue me. Yes, I like doing cabaret music stuffs and also I like hard rock ‘n’ roll and crooning thangs with haze machines and capes and scores for moving pictures and classical music/pop ballad mash-ups and screenplays and acting and teaching and re-arranging my living room and walking by the water and taking insta-videos of swan families dunking their heads in the water…it’s all Art.
AND! This. Writing this.
This is Cat and the Queen, too.
Thank you Jess and Emily and Bitches be Witches. I’ve really, really enjoyed the process of answering these questions. So who the fuck knows what Cat and the Queen is…Only that, she’s where I go to land. She what I know will hold me. She the one who’s got my back. My balls. My heart. My humour. My spirit which incased in this seeking, slimey, clumsy human skin.
Art. Fuck. Amidst the forever and ever-changing variables and life-lessons and unknowns and impermanence which is life… the Queen is my collaborator, my healer, my dearest friend.