The Cracker Cats
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The Cracker Cats

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"THESE CATS SWING BANJOS, NOT BATS"

DAVID BERRY / david@vueweekly.com

A few winters ago, when it was announced that Edmonton’s new baseball team was going to be called the Cracker Cats and the club’s ridiculous faux-Sylvester logo was unveiled, the team was met with confusion and mild derision—and this from people who have no compunction screaming for the Oilers, a name so nonsensical even Tennesseans rejected it, or the Eskimos, which isn’t that far off from naming a team the Wops.

But if there was anyone who was more confused about the name choice than your average Edmontonian, it was Melissa Nygren, who’s been playing guitar with her roots outfit the Cracker Cats for far longer than Northern League baseball has been in Edmonton.

“I never really thought anyone else would have our name,” admits Nygren, who adds that they always got asked about the name, even before our poor-man’s Trappers came along. For the curious, though, the band’s name has nothing to do with fluid catalytic cracking (I had to look it up)—they’re from Saskatchewan, not Fort McMurray, after all.

“It was just a combination of crackers, like fire crackers—we figured because the music was kind of explosive, or something—and cats, like jazz cats,” she explains. “It’s really weird someone else has the name.”

Of course, Nygren and her bandmates Kamila Lakner-Martel (mandolin) and Eliza Doyle (banjo) have soldiered on, still bringing a fiery pop to their brand of prairie bluegrass and folk. According to Nygren, the band draws most of its inspiration from its home province, where the combined isolation of being on the prairies and being up north give them a unique look at their music.

“Saskatchewan is definitely kind of a mix between the two, and it combines into this feeling that Saskatchewan has that’s just different from anywhere else we’ve been,” she explains, pointing out trips across Western Canada and even northern Europe, where they toured last summer. “I think you can see that in our music.” V

Sat, Jul 1 (8 pm)
The Cracker Cats
With Los Nacos
Sidetrack Café, $5 - Vue Weekly


"Scots embrace Sask. trio"


Tristan Stewart-Robertson, The StarPhoenix
Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2005

GREENOCK, Scotland -- A trio of Saskatchewan women charmed listeners in Scottish pubs and streets on their first European tour.

On cold, cobbled streets ages older than their home province, in pubs still tainted with the smell of smoke before Scotland banned the practice, the Cracker Cats got their first taste of the old world.

The 23-year-olds from Saskatoon took the chance to play their music to new audiences after impressing western Canadian ears since they formed two years ago.

In just a few weeks they made musical waves, from busking in Greenock and Glasgow to playing foot-tapping shows in Norway, Sweden and Holland. They returned to Canada in early December, toured Alberta and B.C., and are now back in Saskatoon.

Kamila Lakner-Martel on mandolin, Melissa Nygren on guitar and Eliza Doyle on banjo have enough musical energy to warm even the rainiest Scottish nights.

Their fast-paced folk music songs have a vocal edge like Stevie Nicks -- a strong, almost raspy darkness across perfect harmonies from the trio. You can hear a distinctly Canadian experience in the lyrics of songs ranging from Darkness, to Middle Of Nowhere, to Tumbleweed, to Whiskey (Is Not Evil). But European audiences have been just as touched by these foreign visions.

The three women have been a popular attraction at the Ness Creek Music Festival but wanted to take the chance to tour Europe. They admit it's cheaper to tour the old world than their own country.

"This trip has really opened my eyes to everything that exists," said Lakner-Martel between sets at a recent Glasgow gig. "It's really profound, more than I could have imagined it could be.

"It's our first time in Europe. We will definitely be back. I will have to learn some more Scottish mandolin tunes for next time.

"What I found more progressive was playing with the locals -- then you're interacting in the community and making music together. That was a really good experience.

"We have been met with tonnes of excitement. Everyone is thrilled. And everyone wants us to come back.

"In Greenock we are tapping into the community. There's a strong appeal for the music."

There's also a strong appeal for Canadians in the port town, down the Clyde River from Glasgow. Greenock is one of those parts of Scotland where any Canadian will get comments of, "Oh I've been to Toronto before," or, "I've got a cousin in Canada."

A group of young volunteers from Greenock travelled to Alberta during the summer and there are Canucks strategically placed in posts ranging from social work to the local newspaper -- so the Cracker Cats found the town more than welcoming. It's one of the reasons promoter and band friend Hugh Gilmour brought the group to Scotland in his latest bid to introduce Canadian music to a world audience.

As the girls crowd around a single mic in a Glasgow pub, the hoots of approval echo out from the small drinking crowd. The musky gold lights around them make this a fairly impromptu stage, but that doesn't deter a few customers from picking up the latest Cracker Cats CD.

Doyle arrived a month before her fellow musicians to do some early scouting. She enjoyed the European tour, but admitted preferring the sunny but cold Saskatchewan climate to the mild constant rain of the west of Scotland.

"In Saskatchewan, we have sunshine all the time, and I would take cold snow for sunshine. I'm about used to the Scottish rain now.

"The trip has been super-inspiring for me. I'm getting kind of a bit homesick now -- I've been on the road for half a year. I'm going to go back to university next year to be an elementary school teacher.

"But we will be back in Scotland. We've made a lot of contacts and want to spend a few months here."

Nygren has been playing with Lakner-Martel for six years and became the Cracker Cats with Doyle almost two years ago.

"I will probably call sweaters 'jumpers' now," said Nygren. "I even liked vegetarian haggis. I've never seen cobblestone streets. Saskatchewan just celebrated its 100th birthday and most of the buildings here are older. It's beautiful in Scotland, but I can't adjust to rain -- I miss the sun.

"We are really promoting Canadian music and have brought CDs by our friends as well."

The Cracker Cats play The Brass Monkey in Saskatoon Wednesday with guest Shuyler Jansen.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson, originally from New Brunswick, is news editor of the Greenock Telegraph in Scotland.
- The Star Phoenix


"PURR-FECT HARMONIES YES, BUT THE CRACKER CATS ALSO HAVE CLAWS"

In the words of Jimmy Walker, The Cracker Cats are dy-no-mite!
Taking their onomatopoeic name from the word ‘firecracker’, The Cracker Cats feature three dynamic and talented young women who say they use their gypsy souls to create something new from something old. Comprised of Kamila Lakner on vocals and mandolin, Melissa Nygren on vocals and guitar, and Eliza Doyle on vocals and banjo, this all-estrogen ensemble weaves a sonic tapestry with a unique roots sound. Combining elements of country, bluegrass, blues, and folk, their songs range from fast-paced beer hall punch-ups to ballads that wind like gentle rivers, but which always contain the beautiful harmonies that have become their calling card. Appealing to traditionalists and modern music fans alike, The Cracker Cats could definitely be called the sirens of the south Saskatchewan.
“I think it’s very apparent that our music tends to stretch the barriers of all the genres we seem to be associated with,” says Melissa Nygren. “It’s modern, but old at the same time. We find ways to blend traditional roots sounds with some heavier modern stuff, like punk and rock elements. There are no limits, and we are never trying to fit into a specific category.”
The Cracker Cats have recorded two full-length independent albums, 2004’s Empty Bottles n’ Broken Hearts, and 2005’s Livin’ on the Run. Since the latter, they’ve been livin’ on the run themselves, recently returning home from a successful European tour.
“There were times [on the European tour] when we just kind of shook our heads in disbelief at what we were doing,” says Nygren. “We never imagined ourselves traveling from Norway to Sweden by train, sipping Grolsch Beer in Holland, or seeing the majestic castles and countrysides of Scotland. Music has allowed us to travel the world, and we’re just getting started.”
In addition to the time the Cat-Women spent in Europe, they’ve also toured the Canadian Music Festival circuit, connecting and interacting with a lot of other Canadian artists. The constant road work has honed their musicianship and stage show to a razor-sharp edge. As a result, they’ve become known for performances full of rowdy energy and passion.
“when we’re on stage,” Nygren says, “we have a lot of fun. The audience is an imperative part of the performance, and when they’re having fun, enjoying themselves and dancing, it really elevates our whole performance. Folks who come to our shows should come to party and dance their shoes off.”
You’ll get your chance to see the pyrokinetic Cracker Cats showcase their trademark snap, crackle and pop on April 28th, with Deep Dark Woods, and members of Crooked Creek.
“We’re really excited to play here in Saskatoon again,” says Nygren. “We try not to play here too often to keep from over saturating the music scene, so this is a good chance for anyone who hasn’t seen us lately.”
- Craig Silliphant, Planet S Magazine


Discography

2004-Empty Bottles n. Broken Hearts (LP)
2005-Livin' on the Run (LP)

Photos

Bio

The Cracker Cats are three dynamic and entertaining young women from Saskatoon,
whose musical talent, physical glow, and infectious energy will surely capture your hearts. Described as gypsy roots revolutionists, their high-energy, rowdy and passionate performances are full of fire. With fingers flying and tight interwoven harmonies, their music drives and affects listeners.

They have released two Albums;
Empty Bottles N' Broken Hearts (2004) and Livin' on the Run (2005)
These albums successfully charted at #28 on national campus and community radio, have received CBC features and support, are featured on three Saskatchewan compilations and one national, while selling nearly 10,000 copies to fans from Spain, the UK, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Canada and the US.

"Taking darkgrass to a surprisingly new level with jaw-dropping hints of everything from R&B soul and the slightest hint of urban/hip hop zing to standard rock'n'roll to sprinkles of country gospel and hefty helpings of gypsy-grass, the Cracker Cats embody everything that associates itself with sly, mischievous, naughty, dark and creeped out jangle string bandy joy." - CD Baby, August 8, 2006 reviewing “Livin’ on the Run”.

The Cracker Cats have toured extensively throughout Canada and Europe, playing key festivals such as the Regina Folk Festival, the South and North Country Fair, Edge of the World, Trout Forest Music Festival, Fred’s Eaglesmiths Picnic, Folk on the Rocks, the Smithers Midsummer, the Atlin Art’s, the Gateway and Eaglewood Folk Music Festivals.

They have shared the stages with the likes of The Good Brothers, The Sadies, Fred Eaglesmith, Willie P. Bennet, Sarah Harmer, T.O.F.U., C.R. Avery, Kent Mcallister, Nathan Rodgers, The D. Rangers, Romi Mayes, Eileen Laverty and Joel Fafard, Crooked Creek, Little Miss Higgins and the Deep Dark Woods.

This past year has seen them showcasing at Canadian Music Week, The Juno’s, The Saskatchewan Country Music Awards, Western Canadian Music Awards, and the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals.

With a new album on the way and an endless quest for adventure, these modern day gypsies are sure to be seen entertaining on many more stages as they wander the world.