Elizabeth And The Catapult
Elizabeth's warmly personal songs reflect the diverse influences of her lifelong pursuit of music. She grew up in New York's Greenwich Village, just down the street from the Cafe Wha? and the Fat Black Pussycat, where her future heroes Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell got their start. Despite that, she spent much of her early life as a classical piano prodigy.
"In some ways, I had a very sheltered childhood," she recalls. "I spent a lot of time practicing by myself, working through my favorite composers, Debussy, Chopin and Ravel. I loved that world; I was obsessed with it and it consumed me. I didn't really break out of my shell until I was 15 or 16, when I started using my beloved fake ID. At some point, I realized that I didn't want to spend my life locked away with a piano, I needed to share my process with others."
As a teenager, Elizabeth found her singing voice as a member of the New York City Young People's Chorus, which performed at the White House and participated in competitions overseas. She subsequently won a scholarship to study classical composition at school in Boston. It was while attending that Elizabeth was hired by R&B star Patti Austin to sing backup in Austin's touring band. That experience helped to ignite her passion for performing, and to inspire her to seriously pursue a career singing her own songs.
Elizabeth played some gigs in Boston, where she led a group that included future solo star Esperanza Spalding. But her musical vision truly took shape when she met Pete Lalish and Danny Molad back in New York in 2004. The three struck up a near-immediate musical rapport, and Elizabeth & the Catapult quickly blossomed into a vital creative unit, with a charismatic live show and a large repertoire of Ziman's original compositions.
"The band really came together overnight," Elizabeth recalls. "The three of us had this instant chemistry. And we all added something really different stylistically to the band. By that time I was writing a lot more, and we were performing constantly---it was obvious that this was what we were meant to be doing."
Not long after their formation, the trio recorded a self-financed, self-released six-song EP in Danny's home studio. That disc belied its homespun origins, with ambitious arrangements that drew upon the musicians' diverse backgrounds. With virtually no promotion and little mainstream distribution, the EP became a surprise success. Meanwhile, Elizabeth & the Catapult continued to build a loyal live audience in their hometown, thanks to shows at such downtown venues as Rockwood Music Hall and Joe's Pub, as well as a variety of cafes, theaters and art spaces.
"We were a completely D.I.Y. unit for the first couple of years, and we prided ourselves on that fact," Ziman notes. "There was a really nice community happening in the East Village, with a great extended family of songwriters and bands that fed off each other. We pushed to make our shows different every time, and always got our friends involved."
Elizabeth & the Catapult's local acclaim led to a deal with Verve Forecast and a chance for the group to make its first full-length album. Rather than work on their home turf, they traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to record at Mike Mogis' Presto! Recording Studios (home base of Bright Eyes and Saddle Creek Records), where they were able to realize their songs with a minimum of distractions.
"The whole thing felt very organic and intimate and personal," Ziman reports. "We were in a beautiful studio with beautiful equipment, in the middle of nowhere -- we really felt like a bunch of kids in a candy shop. There were multiple pianos, three Hammond organs, tons of guitars, vintage microphones, and we recorded a great deal of the record to tape. The situation was perfect for capturing those special little moments."
"New York is so much a part of us, and there's such a kinetic energy here," she continues. "But there was a sense of calm recording in Omaha that really added a new dimension to what we were doing. We were so used to existing in our own little bubble and doing things our own way that it was an adjustment to work with someone else. But it turned out to be just what we needed. "
With Taller Children poised to bring Elizabeth & the Catapult from local stardom to the national stage, Ziman nonetheless has no intention of turning her back on her group's D.I.Y. roots. "Making this album was an awesome experience," says Ziman, "but it's also nice to know that, even if we never got the opportunity to go into another studio, we're still capable of doing this on our own if we have to. We have our own little secret weapon- in the form of Danny."
"I do this because I have to," Ziman concludes. "Ever since I was child, music has always been something that resonated deeply in me, like a portal to another realm. It's not a choice at all, it really takes on a life of its own. And I know that Danny and Pete feel the same way. I'll lose my footing if I'm not constantly writing or searching for something that inspires me. It's all about staying honest and inspired. And if we can possibly touch on something universal that other people can relate to, that's the most any of us could hope for."