Let me introduce you to Duncan Nielsen. He’s the sweet, affable guy who sings and plays guitar in local indie-folk band City Tribe, while also nurturing his own personal project, DonCat. Especially when live with a backing band, DonCat is emotionally enveloping with a heart-wrenching Western twinge. On bass guitar is Chris Sugiura, who also engineered Doncat’s first album, Don Gato. Shaun Lowecki commands the drums and is also a member of local outfit Painted Palms. Next up is a sophomore album currently being recorded and expectantly entitled Easy Cowboy. You can find them at their last show before the end of the year at Doc’s Lab tomorrow with Foxtails Brigade and Emily Jane White.
The Bay Bridged: I noticed that there isn’t a lot on the Internet yet about DonCat, so I wanted to give you a chance to talk about its beginning and how it all started. :
Duncan Nielsen: Sweet! It mainly came about because I wanted to do something on my own and completely independent of anybody else. Something that could exist in a lot of different forms, like I could just show up and play with just my guitar or have a band or whatever it may be. There’s a lot of freedom in that. I’ve had my own songs for forever, but they needed an outlet. So I came up with a name and decided to start using that moniker as a way to put out all of my independent songs, whether it be by myself or with a band.
TBB: Could you talk a little bit about the other project you’re in, City Tribe?
DN: City Tribe was the first thing that I got involved with when I moved to the city and we’ve been doing that since 2010. It was a great way to meet a lot of people and navigate the scene, play with a bunch of bands, and from there it’s been really beautiful to use the same connections and same people with my independent music. The two are quite different. It’s nice to have a little bit of separation there, to come to the table with City Tribe and do one thing and then do absolutely whatever I want with the other thing.
TBB: Do you feel like you have a style with DonCat that is completely different than City Tribe, other than it being your own expression?
DN: I think City Tribe has a lot of emphasis on the romantic California, and I think DonCat does too but it’s not necessarily so California heavy. It’s not reminiscent of the beach and coastline. I think hopefully what comes across with DonCat is a sort of mysticism. I don’t have a Michael Franti message per se, but I hope people are able to catch on to that mysticism and forget about whatever they’re doing for a little bit. Cruising vibes are part of the DonCat sound.
TBB: Yeah, I can definitely see mysticism in DonCat. Also a darker romanticism. It reminds me of Clint Eastwood and backrooms and whiskey.
DN: That’s fucking sweet. There are definitely moments that get pretty dark, which is nice to do even though that sounds weird to say in the same sentence.
TBB: It can be cathartic.
DN: Yeah, yeah.
TBB: Especially on-stage.
DN: Yeah, it’s a kind of therapy, and it really is dark at points so hopefully people can connect to that kind of thing. I never thought of Clint Eastwood though.
TBB: I don’t know, I feel like your music has these definite country undertones but more Wild West in a way… while not being cheesy. It’s hard to explain.
DN: Yeah, there are a lot of things American about it.
TBB: But it isn’t a parody of itself.
DN: So now I need to hire Clint Eastwood for the next video. Do you have his number?
TBB: Hah. So you’re working on a new album?
DN: Yeah, we’re in the midst of it. We’ve basically just begun. We have two sessions under our belt.
TBB: Where are you recording?
DN: We’re recording at John Colins. It’s a spot you’d go if you worked in the Financial District and want some happy hour drinks with your co-workers, and then if you’re a weekend thug then you go there on weekends. When I moved here I spent a lot of time putting on showcases there. They gave us the freedom on Tuesday nights to put on little showcases with people we knew. That’s how City Tribe got started with debuting our new music in that environment. From doing that, John Colin gave us the keys to the castle, so to speak, and let us use any Sunday we wanted to just rehearse and play. That’s where City Tribe did their first EP, and that’s where DonCat did most of their first record. It’s a big open bar with really high ceilings. It’s long, so it makes for a lot of open space with cool sounds. All of the drums were done there, and some vocals, some guitar. It’s a nice space to work in – you can do some different stuff in there. It’s not a traditional environment to record music, so there are a lot of nuances you have to work through. It’s not so easy…
TBB: It gives you an element of being a live album, without it actually being a live album.
DN: Kind of, yeah. It ends up with this vibe, for better or worse – you decide – it’s not going to be a studio album. There’s also something cool about staring at bottles of booze that you can’t touch. It feels like a second home since we’ve played there so much, and we’re thankful to those guys for letting us use it. We’ve done a couple days there. We have drum tracks for maybe half the songs, which Shaun has been a part of. Probably do more guitars there, maybe some vocals. We’re spontaneous. We end up using a lot of different places.
TBB: Do you have a name for it yet?
DN: Yeah, we do. It’s going to be called Easy Cowboy.
TBB: Do you have a release date?
DN: No release date as of yet. We’re hashing out how we’d like to release it. As you know, last time we released a song per month that led up to a final release. We’re looking for some way to release it that’s a little different. Hopefully springtime.
TBB: How will it be different than Don Gato?
DN: This album was written much more quickly, where as Don Gato used songs from years ago. This one feels a lot more cohesive because it was written in a similar period. We also had an entire record in mind instead of doing a single a month. It’s nice to have a person like Chris, the engineer and bass player, he engineered all of Don Gato. It’s nice to have a person like him, because I can just bounce ideas off of him. He’s not like an official producer, but he’s still an important person in the mix. Even if I’m not asking him directly, “What do you think of this?” he’s still a reflective surface by which to gauge things.
TBB: What can we expect to sound different on the new album as opposed to Don Gato?
DN: That’s a good question. I think there are more cruising vibes about it. I rarely write the same song twice. I try to write each song so it evokes one set of imagery. It’s good for driving to, or to get angry at your next ex-girlfriend…
TBB: It’s good brooding music.
DN: Yeah, or brood. Maybe that won’t make for a very cohesive album. Well I feel this way in one song and then I feel this way in another song, so skip, skip. I’m not really sure, but I have a hard time writing songs that are similar. A lot of bands get popular that way. They have the same feel in the entire record. It’s going to dive into the soul stuff. Hopefully be a little more classic soul. Still have those mellow acoustic nuanced tracks. A lot of emphasis on melody.
TBB: Will the new album be pressed on vinyl again? That was pretty admirable with Don Gato.
DN: Yeah, I feel like it would be a big come-down not to do it on vinyl.
TBB: That’s true! I just know of a lot of first albums that don’t get pressed because it’s expensive.
DN: Well, I’ll say that my first EP with City Tribe was that. It would be so cool if I could make a record a year, and they could all be on vinyl, forever. That’s my dream. It’s lofty. I actually just got a tape machine that I’ve been working on, and that’s been a super cool experience because it’s not like a computer screen where you’re just looking at the sound waves. It’s all tactile. It’s definitely inspired me to do a tape release too, so it will likely be vinyl and tape. Even if people don’t have tape players it’s like a fun little novel thing to have.
I will say this about the title: Chris and I have a goal to replace phrases like “piece of cake” or “it’s a snap” with “easy cowboy”.
TBB: Like no problem?
DN: Yeah, so that’s going to be our collective New Year’s resolution. So when the album drops it will just go global immediately.
Foxtails Brigade, DonCat, Emily Jane White
November 15, 2014