The London-based, South Wales native, Caitlin Lavagna, who’s best known for her stage work and playing drums (and singing) in the band Big Wednesday, recently ventured out on her own releasing her debut single How Not To Start A Fight. The track alone refutes assumptions that break-ups have to be inherently messy. It’s a clever way of looking at things under the guise of a catchy, upbeat pop anthem. This is I guess the strength of Lavagna and her exceedingly good humour and cheerful friendliness behind the scenes.
When I recently reached out to Caitlin Lavagna, there was no way knowing that I had stumbled across a more beautiful individual who exudes such outward confidence. The more layers I uncovered it was clear that Lavagna love of performance and music was ingrained in her DNA. What Lavagna proves on her debut single, How Not To Start A Fight is that no matter what headspace she’s in, her music — whether drawn from inspirations of the theatre— has a fresh uniqueness and individuality to it.
That said, in my endeavour to get to know Caitlin and the story behind her solo debut, her love for performing, and what’s coming up next on her musical journey, I threw her a barrage of questions. Here is some of what we talked about.
Caitlin, I was hoping you might tell us something surprising about yourself?
Gosh, what a brilliant question to begin!! People are always surprised when I tell them I play the drum-kit but you already know that so, it would have to be that I hate my height. I am 5:10 but because I love funky shoes and big boots I am usually closer to 6ft when I go out. I get really annoyed at that and I can’t tell you why. MOST of my friends love my height and tell me to embrace it! (It is useful for festivals and shows though haha).
I understand you’re an actor musician. Growing up, how important were these mediums in your life? What drove you to make this something you would like to pursue?
The honest answer to this is that I have never wanted to do anything else. I could have done other things all the way through school, college, university and beyond but at every point, there was always a music class that took priority over revision or a drum lesson conveniently at the same time as my P.E Class a band jam at break time, gig I had been waiting to see for weeks, performance I had created, dance class I had to be at, competition i had entered, art exhibition I needed to see that seemed more important than anything else I should or could have been doing in my spare time. I always wanted to be busy in different groups i.e., Orchestra, Samba Band, Brass Band, Folk Group, Contemporary Dance, Stagecoach, Acting Classes, Drama Classes, Band Call, Concerts, Gigs, Musical Theatre Performances… the list is endless. I just (as cheesy as it sounds) couldn’t live without it all. So, I didn’t. In later life ie. in my 20’s, the thought of going to a normal university, completing a normal degree and getting a 9-5 office job makes me sad. I massively respect people who are very happy in their jobs but I just had to be creating and writing and organising gigs, shows and jam sessions and didn’t want all that to stop. It is tough and I am sure it always will be with the uncertainty or the industry I thrive off and love so much but I just can’t help myself. I am in love with every part of it.
That said, was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician or even an actor today, what else could you see yourself doing?
I have always loved interior design and decor. I think moving around so much as an Actor/Musician from training in Drama School to finding cheap digs in London as a new graduate, I naturally enjoy decorating new spaces. It’s also a challenge for me to make London feel more like home. I am not embarrassed to admit I am obsessed with house programmes like Home or Away, Love it or List It and things like Grand Designs. I would probably have done something along those lines. Also, I have always been fascinated with flying. Maybe I would have tried my hand at being a Pilot? Or even an air Hostess. But ultimately, I cannot live without music and drama, so here I am!
There’s a level of excitement and pride that comes with releasing any record, especially a debut single. Tell me about the journey from Big Wednesday to releasing your first solo release- How Not To Start A Fight?
Since I can remember I have played in bands, folk groups, orchestras, brass bands, duos, even a samba band! As you can imagine, releasing my solo debut single ‘How Not To Start A Fight’ has been a long time coming. In many ways it has been so much harder on my own. But because of that, I have learnt so much about myself not only as an artist but as a person. Releasing music as part of a group ie. Only The Reign or more recently Big Wednesday is very much a group effort. You have more time, money, support and influence which I think makes for a more enjoyable experience all in all. There is a level of comfort and backup from your band mates when things don’t go to plan or something is delayed etc.
When you are the solo artist pushing your solo music, you are on your own when things don’t go to plan. Therefore I think there’s more pressure on your shoulders. I have also found that although I am quite clever with social media and promoting myself, it still comes with a level of embarrassment and self criticism. I am extremely lucky that I have incredible family and talented and supportive friends who share everything I create and release. It should go without saying but EVERY SHARE/LIKE/COMMENT/TAG/FOLLOW means everything. I have loved all my experiences of releasing music from recording my duo’s Self Titled EP ‘Only The Reign’ and ’Tea Tree’ to Big Wednesday’s EP ‘Big Wednesday’ right up to my debut single release, but yes, they have all been very different experiences. As with everything there are pros and cons to it all. I couldn’t choose one, I enjoy them equally. With my debut solo release though, I do genuinely feel very proud of myself and grateful for the people I have around me.
I love your captivating vocals and the song’s arrangement for How Not To Start A Fight. What are some of the musical influences that helped create this catchy pop song?
I’ve always grown up listening to such a huge range of music but with being subjected to live music especially, there are a lot of incredible musicians I love to listen to even now and who definitely have influenced my single. I have a lot of musical influences from both my parents. Bob Marley and The Wailers, Steel Pulse, The Police, Cat Stevens, Albert Hammond, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and the Stereophonics are just some of the amazing artists I would hear being blasted in the car, at home and wherever we could play them. I was lucky enough to see my all time favourite, Carlos Santana, with his band in Birmingham NEC and that really did allow me to witness absolute legendary playing live on stage. I have grown up mostly in the South Wales Valleys therefore Male Voice Choirs, Brass Bands and live Musical Theatre and Rock Gigs have been part of my upbringing as well as the King himself, Sir Tom Jones. I have to mention my love of strong female singers and artists too! Pink, Florence and the Machine, Adele, Haim and Maggie Rogers as well as my love of the extraordinary singer songwriter Dolly Parton have all been huge influences in my solo writing for many different reasons and I believe you can hear their influences in my song.
What excites you about storytelling through song?
The human connection you can create based on a shared feeling, a specific event in your life, a moral dilemma, a celebration, a party, anything! We are all storytellers and we are all capable of learning from other people’s stories or empathising with others’ journeys. The idea that music is a universal language comes to mind here. Yes, lyrically it is important to understand an artist. Yes, the lyrics to any song are the literal story. BUT, if you find yourself listening to a song in a different language (which I would highly recommend), the melody, instrumentation, tempo and groove will still tell you something about the song, artist and more specifically the way you feel listening to their artistic creation. I think using music to tell stories is one of the most beautiful, raw and vulnerable ways you can talk to people without actually having to sit with them and tell them your secrets.
I kind of feel like How Not To Start A Fight could work well as a show musical song. Is the actor in you responsible for its theatrical feel? Especially vocally?
YES! I am such a drama queen I just can’t help using vulnerabilities and vocal techniques to add intensity into my music and all my work for that matter haha! Since I can remember, I have always heightened dramatic stories within songs, whether they be pop, rock, country, classical or indie etc. I think being a percussionist and drummer means that I can create strange sounds, accents, beats and rhythms that represent feelings, story and character. My training at Rose Bruford College intensified those tricks and merged them into my acting training too. Now music, acting and singing are very much one thing in my head and I would struggle not to use them together!!
What do you think makes a good song, both in the writing and performance of the song?
My musical taste has never been defined as one specific genre! For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been encouraged to listen to and sing along to ANY type of music I like the sound of, without there being labels attached to what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. And, I think that’s where the magic of music takes over for me in terms of live performance more so than writing. I believe you can write a “bad song” but if you get the right person to perform it, it could be the best song in the world. I think when the melody and vocals truly connect, you hear someone’s story vocally and musically. When that singer/performer can find that connection they have the power to share their vulnerability with others and that is what sets a good performance apart from an average one. I also think as a singer, striving to make a ‘perfect sound’ iis just not human. I enjoy hearing people’s tone, rasp and almost pain. It’s refreshing and helps me connect with them emotionally.
Your first instrument was behind a drum kit, right? When and where did you start playing?
I remember the time I fell in love with the drums vividly. I was taken to a School Christmas Concert in Aberfan as my mother worked in the music department there at the start of her career as a teacher/headteacher.. That’s where I first saw a female colleague play the drum kit. It was bright red and so loud! I loved it! After the school children had gone home, I was waiting for my mother to leave and she let me climb up onto the stool of the drum kit and bash it for a few minutes. I didn’t know it at the time, but that must’ve been where my interest and need to play the drums came from. Since then, I haven’t been able to ignore the passion I have for making too much noise and discovering so many incredible artists and, of course, forming my own duo, band’s and now going solo too.
What was the inspiration behind why you wanted to play?
When I sit on my drum kit, there’s just no other feeling like it. It’s very difficult to explain. The musicality and power from all of my limbs moving in sync (or not) with each other whilst my voice belts into the microphone above the booming music is exhilarating. I love the control, concentration and ‘show-woman-ship’ it takes alongside there being challenge and dare in every beat and new tempo and groove. I have been lucky enough to have many incredible drum-kit teachers over the years. Mark-Galozzi-Hibbert was hugely motivational and got me through all my Drum-Kit grades when I was trying to balance GCSE’s. He also encouraged me to join his Samba band, orchestra and create my own grooves and groups etc. Two huge influences later on in my musical education were my drumming teachers and now friends Ceri Sian John and Sarah L Jackson.
I think at the age of around 13 to 17/18 I realised quickly that being a female drummer naturally meant a few things. Ie, dressing for gigs was difficult, especially on my Cajon drum haha! You naturally get talked down to more and people have less trust in your strength and ability on kit. Ceri and Sarah literally gave me a backbone when it came to handling myself at gigs, concerts and recording sessions where this sometimes happened. Above this, they really taught me how to perform on kit and almost act it out as much as be technically accurate. We bonded over singing, drama and drummers and I am so grateful to still be in touch with them as good friends (pretty much aunties at this point). All my drum-kit teachers have remained huge supporters of my later musical developments and are constant sources of assurance and confidence for me however far away I may be. One of my hopes and ambitions is that me playing drums and percussion inspires and encourages female drummers and indeed female musicians in general to be themselves, join bands, make original music and dress how they want to dress whilst doing so.
It’s been quite a challenging couple of years for all musicians. How have you remained connected with audiences and other musicians during the pandemic?
Being in isolation has given me time to really focus on reaching out to radios, journalists, bloggers and other musical professionals like yourself that ordinarily I might not have put as much effort into compared to just creating music! A lot of my time over the last year has been spent making music and recording some of my favorite covers purely to keep myself active, listening, learning and enjoying it. In order to stay connected it really has been as simple as sharing my work with others, supporting my friends’ releases, messaging people to ask how they are doing and organising remote recordings that bring several musicians together to play on. I think one of the greatest things about music in particular when it comes to connecting people is that it’s emotional. It has heart and it tells relatable stories. It’s the most personal and yet alien thing. I could listen to a seemingly “happy song” and cry. I could listen to my mates’ new release and have technical questions about specific sounds they have used. I could listen to a rock song and hear a musical or ballad within it. Music genuinely connects people on so many levels and I have never acknowledged and been more grateful for that than during the pandemic.
Finally Caitlan, what’s next for you?
Now, I am looking at how I can get my music out online. I have also dived into every part of releasing music in 2021. For example, writing, recording and releasing my music is just the bare bones of it all. I have truly realised what a machine the music industry is. From designing my single cover, organising the design editing, photoshoots, promo video editing and social media posting right up to planning a full music video and reaching out to radio stations for live interviews and airplay! I really enjoy the networking side of it and I think that’s down to my actor musician training whereby we had to contact acting agents in our third year seeking representation. It’s all starting to make sense to me now and I know what needs to be done and when a little bit more than when I started out.
I am also so lucky to be actively involved in many different projects coming up. I have been cast in an exciting live show starting in October in Liverpool. I am drumming in the pit for a production of ‘Bugsy Malone’ alongside incredible Royal College of Music graduates at the end of august. A play I was cast in in lockdown one called “Open Return” is being streamed online as part of the prestigious “Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2021” and I am still writing my Verbatim Theatre Actor Musician play about the Welsh Coal Mining Disaster in Aberfan which has been given more support financially for the next stages of research and development.
My band Big Wednesday continues to write and share ideas and plan to release very soon as well as my solo music taking off. I have written many more songs but I am really just enjoying this post release time and gathering feedback and ideas for establishing my sound more as I move forward with hopefully a three song solo EP. A simpler answer to the question of ‘what’s next’ would be, anything that comes my way. I love that the opportunities are endless with the type of degree I studied. It can range from being a pop star, doing a children’s theatre tour, drumming at a festival with my band or doing a commercial voice over for the NHS. I love it all equally but certainly could never choose between it all, that’d be far too boring!!