Who are Elizabeth and the Catapult?
The title of Elizabeth and the Catapult’s Verve Forecast debut album Taller Children reflects the unique blend of pop playfulness and grown-up introspection that defines Ziman’s distinctive songwriting. Taller Children is a vibrant mix of open-hearted wonder, whimsical humor and forthright emotional insight, merging classic pop melodicism with an array of acoustic textures, jazz twists and orchestral flourishes. The quality of the songs are matched by intimate, effortlessly soulful performances by the Brooklyn trio, which also includes guitarist Pete Lalish and drummer Danny Molad.
Although the bulk of Taller Children was recorded with producer Mike Mogis (noted for his work with the likes of Bright Eyes, M. Ward and Rilo Kiley), several of the album’s performances were drawn from the homespun demos that the band recorded in drummer Molad’s home studio. The resulting album strikes a vital balance between lush sophistication (with such elements as Ziman’s elegant string arrangements) and spare, unadorned simplicity.
The qualities that make Taller Children such a refreshing surprise have already made Elizabeth and the Catapult a beloved favorite on New York’s downtown club scene, where the threesome’s winsome tunes and energetic, surprise-filled live shows have won them a large and devoted local fan base.
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 spending a lot of time practicing by myself, working through my favorite composers, Debussy, Chopin and Ravel. Breaking out of her shell at 15 or 16, when she started using her beloved fake ID.
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 and the Catapult quickly blossomed into a vital creative unit, with a charismatic live show and a large repertoire of Ziman’s original compositions.
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 and 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.
Elizabeth and 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.
With Taller Children poised to bring Elizabeth and 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.
Elizabeth and the Catapult "Taller Children" available June 9, 2009.