Ainhoa talks community, grief, and pandemics with the queer art collective of her dreams
all cats are beautiful is a wonderful rarity within the UK music scene. A collective made up exclusively of female and non-binary artists, they work together to produce some of the best "experimental queer pop" you have ever heard. We at Slow Motion Panic Masters have had the chance to speak to Kyle and Elena - the vocal and lyrical talent behind all cats are beautiful - about their song-making process, queer community, and the expression of grief in musical forms.
On your Spotify, you describe all cats are beautiful as “an all female/non binary queer music collective.” Can you tell us a bit about how this collective came to be, and what impact you think it will have/is having in the (East) London music scene?
K: all cats are beautiful is quite a nebulous outfit in a way, with each member kinda choosing how involved they are at any given time. Outside of the core of us two we have a lovely network of musicians and artists – some of whom only collaborate on recorded output, and some who form the main performing/recording group.
A few years back I had a gig booked with another project and the drummer couldn't make the show – so I asked Maria if she'd play on some new songs I’d been working on and told the promoter to bill us as all cats are beautiful. Me and Elena had met not long before and were becoming BFFs already and she was in the crowd that night - so I'd say that was the beginning of a/c/a/b proper, without us really knowing!
E: Yeah, Kyle and I met working at a cinema and after our shifts we’d sit on the fire escape for hours talking, listening to music and writing a comic book. We started hanging out outside of work - and soon after that gig we began making our own music together which became the 2nd and 3rd a/c/a/b EPs.
Kyle had collaborated with Natalie, Rey, Kelechi and Maria on a project called ‘Inchoate With The Light Go I’, and so while we were up in the countryside mixing that record together we started talking about the idea of making a collective where we felt safe expressing ourselves as gender non conforming, queer people while making our art. After that the ways in which people joined the collective were very organic. I met Kaitlene at a skate meetup and discovered she’s an amazing poet, we found Regi and Stevie on Bandcamp and fell in love with the music each of them make. Kyle used to play in another band with Cass and we're both like the biggest fans of her solo project. Monica is the most recent member but it feels like she’s been there from the beginning!
I guess the final goal and the impact we would like this collective to have is existing as a safe space for womxn, queer and gnc artists, where people can create together and collaborate. We're aiming to eventually expand out a little from just making records and have people become involved in whatever way they want with the chance to showcase more of what they do - whether that's spoken word, visual art, photography, live projections, design, events… whatever they wanna bring to the table really. We just wanna be here for each other and have fun doing what we do!
On a similar creative note, how do you all go about getting a song made? Can you take us through the process?
We both feel like we have a really clear and specific idea about how we want our music to sound in regards to the colour and quality of the chords and melodies, the sonic palette and the general aesthetic. So we use a lot of maj7 and add9 chords for example, and build our songs around home recorded samples, self programmed synths (often made from sounds/voices recorded from around us) and many layers of guitars, percussion and voices.
We both write lyrics in quite different ways – Elena has a notebook full of words, poetry and general thoughts/observations that she’s always adding to, so when we have the musical foundation formed we discuss what we feel the song is going to convey and she delves in to find appropriate phrases and feelings. Kyle finds they can only really write words over a melodic idea these days, so will tend to work on finding a set of hooks that we can then flesh out with our combined lyrical ideas. We bounce back and forth a lot with lyrics and production ideas until we find what we consider to be the most emotive and expressive way of conveying whatever feeling we’re trying to get across.
After we’ve gotten the general core of the song down we start to bring in the other members of the collective to flesh out the piece – whether it's with exciting new harmony ideas, beautiful string lines or potential new ways for the song to develop.
You describe your music as “experimental queer pop.” What makes it queer? Is it just the people making it, or is there something else?
That's a good question! We feel like just the lived experience of being queer is enough to make what you write and compose about then naturally filtered through that lens. So while we don’t tend to write songs explicitly dealing with our sexuality or gender expression, they do deal with our lived and felt experience, which is inseparable from our queerness.
We’re so proud of being who we are and of how incredibly supportive the queer community is and how many friends that we consider family we’ve made along the way. We wanna show off that family and community and welcome other queer artists to it. We don’t exist without our 'otherness' and our music doesn’t either.
On top of this, our records are made completely without cis-het men - from composition and performance to engineering and artwork - so we feel like this also adds another dimension of queerness to our work that we consider is worth expressing in how we present it all to the world. If we can encourage one queer person to express themselves in whatever way they feel comfortable then we’ve done our job.
Something I find fascinating about your music is how it manages to take very raw, heavy experiences of pain and loss and transform them into something beautiful. What can you say about music as an outlet for grief?
E: I guess people deal with grief in different ways. In my case I was completely at a loss in how I was supposed to handle those feelings and the thought of having to figure it out while being so upset was too overwhelming. Kyle knew exactly what I was going through so day after day for weeks they made sure I was fed and felt loved and supported while still dealing with their own grief. We started writing more and more about it and for me it became a very therapeutic way of spending the days because trying to push the sadness away wasn’t working out, so working on these songs was a way of coming to terms with the fact that that pain is always going to live within me.
K: I've been putting out records for a really long time, and I've always dealt somewhat with aspects of trauma, grief and loss inside those works - as well as recovery, love and acceptance. I find it really hard to write stories about something I have no experience of, so I tend to look into my past for memories, symbolism, meaning and that kind of stuff, and I guess the most interesting stuff tends to be the most painful. I'd say losing people has been quite a fundamental part of my existence, so it just feels natural and like a form of therapy to address those losses and the effect they've had on my life.
Your last single, 'wishin i cld fit in ur bckpck', is all about missing those you love during the lockdown. Has this pandemic changed anything about how you see the world, your life, or the place of music within either?
Oh for sure. Like we said in 'wishin i cld fit in ur bckpck', we've learned not to take each other (or anyone for that matter) for granted.
It's THE WEIRDEST time right now, and there are definitely days where we struggle to work out how we're going to keep doing what we do in such a strange and fragmented industry.
But also we genuinely believe that it's in times like this - where people are still being stripped of their rights and the systems that uphold cis-het-white-patriarchal ideals are getting stronger and more dangerous all the time - that DIY music/art, community and friendship are some of the most vital and beautiful means of support we can give to each other. So despite little to no support from our government for the arts, we have no intentions of stopping and are just grateful to be able to be together and be doing this right now.
What’s with the “txt speak” song titles lol?
K: Loooool. I have this weird thing about capitalisation and just find it a lot easier to write like that in general? I legitimately find it hard to write professional emails these days, it takes me so much longer than it really should.
E: Ngl, it took me a minute to understand everything Kyle was messaging me when we first met. During the making of the songs, when we messaged each other about them we would refer to them with that style of writing and when we were gonna finally release them it just felt wrong to see them written with all the letters so we decided we’d just leave them like that. They’re quite long titles as well so if we put all the letters in it’d take up a lot of space haha, and now that’s just kinda become our thing.
And finally, what’s to come next from all cats are beautiful?
Our idea is to release a full length album early next year! We’re finalising the recordings of some members, mixing as we go and hopefully by December we’ll send it to master with the awesome Cicely Balston, who recently mastered our Daniel Johnston cover ‘tru luv will find u in the end’. We're hoping to get enough funding together to make some amazing music videos, artwork and photoshoots, and we just really want to make something special and beautiful for people to enjoy.
Oh and there’s another little thing coming! During the first 6 months of the pandemic we were in different places (Elena in Spain and Kyle in London) and so we had to work out whole new ways to write songs despite the distance - recording loops and samples and sharing them back and forth over soundcloud. These songs ended up becoming a whole new EP, which we want to put out maybe six months after the album. We’re really proud of both projects.
When it's safe to meet up with the rest of the all cats are beautiful members we’ll all record a little live session. We’re incredibly excited about this since we haven’t played all together in over seven months! We’re also gonna be posting some video covers from home in the meantime, so keep an eye on our social media for all that!
We would like to thank all cats are beautiful for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find them on Instagram and Facebook, where you can keep an eye out for their albums and EPs to come! In addition, you can check out the work produced by the rest of the collective by following the links provided in the interview.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
Ainhoa Santos Goikoetxea (pronounced "I-know-ah") is a culturally confused Creative Writing postgraduate student from the Basque Country, Spain. She is passionate about film, music and politics, and she should probably know more than she does about all three.
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