Kate Moths Embrace the Strange on 'Reverse Earth After Birth'
Familiarity is a fertile soil from which many bands grow. Kate Moths’ singer-guitarist Charlie Hoehnen and drummer Scott Emmerich know this well. “[Scott and I] have been playing together since Partisan,” Hoehnen said. “None of these songs are anything but ancient.” From the slow core of Partisan to the angular rock of The Spur and now Kate Moths, the duo has spent over a decade playing music together.
In three-and-a-half years together as Kate Moths, the duo has expanded from guitar and drums to include cellist Crystal Rausch and guitarist Kevin DeMars. “Charlie wanted it to be a punk band,” Emmerich said. “It doesn’t really sound like a punk band, but it’s what our collective result would be.” Their collective sound has sonic similarities to the emo-tinged pop of Milwaukee greats The Promise Ring. Hoehnen’s lyrical acumen and distinct vocals combined with Rausch’s cello playing keep the band from sounding like another nostalgia act.
Lyrically, the songs have a real literary sense, like they were written by a writer. “I guess I’m pretty oblique, but I also think that I’m trying to describe things that aren’t easily described,” Hoehnen said. With this broader approach, it allows the songs room to breathe. “It has more of an effect if the lyrical content is approaching that wider spectrum,” said Emmerich. “Then you compress it down into a nice, tight, short song.” Though the lyrics stand as a unique focal point, band members feel that no individual piece is more important than the others. “It is always a shared band; all these songs are Kate Moths songs,” said Hoehnen.
The band recently formed a partnership with local label Triple Eye Industries to release their debut cassette, Reverse Earth After Birth. “Kevin’s in Volunteer, and they run [the label], so that helped,” said Hoehnen. Band member overlaps aside, Kate Moths don’t see the pairing as nepotism. “They wanted to branch out a little bit, because they have been doing a lot of Noise Rock stuff,” Emmerich said. “They’re just really open and want to put stuff out.”
While the label tends to lean toward vinyl releases, the band’s choice of the cassette format was a no-brainer. “A lot of local bands just want to do 7-inches, and that’s expensive,” said DeMars. “And a lot of bands don’t tour enough to sell them.” The fact that the cassette format is a “cheap and fun way to own something” was not the sole deciding factor. “It’s like a secret tome, like you’re opening up a story waiting to be told,” said Hoehnen “[It’s] like opening up a magic spell.”
When asked which Kate Moths song is his favorite, Hoehnen replied, “My favorite is always the next one.” Emmerich quickly said, “That’s a cop out.” He added that his favorite is “Read the Death Sentences” because of its anthemic qualities. “It’s like George Gershwin or something,” said DeMars.
Be it through decades-old songwriting partnerships or through abstracted strains of indie rock’s past, Kate Moths are a band built on familiarity; even so, they have no problem turning familiarity on its ear. “I’d rather have it be strange than overly sentimental or overly familiar,” said Hoehnen. “Just a whiff of familiarity; that shadow of nostalgia.”
Kate Moths will play a release show for Reverse Earth After Birth on Saturday, July 22 at the Riverwest Public House Cooperative, 815 E. Locust St., with Blue Unit, Snag and Taiwan Housing Project.