Seattle-based instrumental collaboration mega cat, featuring Aaron Benson, Kim West, and Ryan Devlin, is set to release their self-titled debut album on February 16, 2024, via Share It Music. The band, also joined by Dave Dederer for live performances, introduces their punk-infused musical style with the lead single "Rat Fight." Inspired by a real-life encounter with battling rats, the track blends punk, hip-hop instrumentals, 70’s Afro Beat, and avant jazz, capturing the wild energy of a ferocious clash in a ritualistic dance set to a five/four time signature. Described as a disembodied multidimensional being experienced through sound waves, mega cat defies traditional communication but enchants listeners with instrumental narratives reminiscent of 20th-century science fiction, afro-beat, hip hop, and psychedelic music. Reports of altered perception and euphoria accompany encounters with mega cat, turning the album into a mesmerizing journey for fans of experimental sounds.
This band formed out of a weekly bonfire hang during the summer of 2020 at Aaron’s (drums/ percussion/guitar) house in the central district of Seattle. It was the first moment of lockdown and we were fighting to still have a social life. Aaron and his wife, Emily, would have these socially distanced bonfires with a handful of friends every Sunday in their beautiful backyard garden. We’d each bring a little cooler, sit six feet apart, and hang until the sun went down. It was the thing that really helped us hold on and still feel like we had a community. This is gloomy ass Seattle though, and once fall arrived it was just too wet and cold to carry on.
That fall, the Sunday social hour turned from a bonfire to an indoor hang in Aaron’s home studio, Mad Val Studios. Kim (keys), Ryan (bass/guitar), and Aaron would get together in the afternoon and jam while Emily would study upstairs. There was zero intention of forming a band, or even making a record. We would simply listen to records, talk, laugh, and jam. We were just recording, running little sound experiments, and having fun. By dinner time, we’d often have a pretty cool sounding song.
The pandemic stretched on much longer than anyone expected, so we kept meeting every Sunday. After a while, we had more than an album’s worth of material that we were pretty excited about.
Initially, the sessions were labeled “KRA” (Kim, Ryan, Aaron). We were considering putting the music out under that moniker, but it honestly wasn’t that exciting of a name to anyone. We’re all cat owning, cat obsessed people. The music also felt like something bigger than the three of us. The name mega cat was suggested by one of us and it felt absolutely perfect.
Previous musical projects? How'd you first get into music?
Kim and Ryan have fronted a rock and roll, singer-songwriter band called Smokey Brights for the last decade. Since 2019, Aaron has been the “fifth Smokey,” playing percussion and guitar both at live shows and on recordings. Smokeys are still going strong, and put out two records last year, Levitator and Broken Too, which both wound up on KEXP’s Top Albums of 2023. So, the three of us were already playing lots of music together before we started jamming on what would become mega cat.
Aaron has played in a bazillion bands in the Northwest, most recently Cataldo, Ruler, Pickwick, Shelby Earl, and Tilson XOXO. He got into music by going with his dad to gigs when he was little. The drummer in his dad’s band would let him sit behind the kit and make noise in between sets. Aaron was in jazz band in high school, and, by the end of high school, he was already touring with his punk band, Virus Nine. He has been a working musician ever since.
Kim got into music through classical piano and voice lessons starting at an early age. She was in Northwest Girls Choir as a kid and by highschool was in the vocal jazz ensemble. Smokey Brights has been her main vehicle for her songwriting, singing, and playing for ten plus years now.
Ryan got into music by picking up the trombone in elementary school. He was in weekly private lessons for the instrument from age 13 through undergrad, where he received a scholarship from the University of Washington Jazz dept. Around 13 he started his first punk band playing bass and guitar as well, and by the end of undergrad was touring nationally on bass with punk bands.
First concert that you ever went to?
Aaron: In high school Aaron drove up from Southern Oregon with friends to The Gorge for Lollapalooza 1997 where he saw Tool, Snoop Dog, and Beck. Locally his first concerts were seeing friends punk bands at Hillah Temple in Ashland.
Kim: Kim’s first national act concert was Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest in the round at Key Arena in 1998. Some of her first local shows were seeing a young rapper she went to Garfield High with who called himself Macklemore.
Ryan: Ryan’s first national and local acts were seen at Seattle’s music festival, Bumbershoot. That festival is and was highly eclectic, so he would have been exposed to rock, jazz, hip hop, and world music all in one day at an early age. Locally his first shows were punk shows at DV8 and Graceland in Seattle.
What's your writing process like?
Our process is highly organic. We typically don’t write something, rehearse it, and then eventually record it; we record it as we write it, collectively. It is “in the moment” music. Through the process of getting sounds and simply being in the same room, a magical synthesis starts to happen. Sometimes someone has a figure, phrase, beat, or set of chords to start with, sometimes not. Kim will play piano, Aaron will play drum kit, and Ryan will play the bass, all live together in a small room. Once something sounds good, we’ll start to add guitar, percussion, and additional keys as overdubs. This process eliminates the burden (and luxury) of overthinking.
On a few of the tracks on the record, we invited this incredible horn section of Jason Cressey (trombone), Bill Jones (trumpet), and Peter Daniel (sax and flute) to play. It was one of the most exciting sessions of our lives, hearing these real jazz musicians interpret our crazy ideas. The process was similarly improvisational. Our dear friend Nick Shadel added Melotron horns to “Celebrate With Port” which added a wild dimension to that song. Other than that, everything is recorded by Kim, Ryan, and Aaron in our home studios, Mad Val and The Tiger Room.
What other artists or songs inspire your music?
When we first started jamming, all three of us were completely obsessed with the four Sault records: 5, 7, Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise.) The bouncy grooves, the sparseness, the experimentation, the hand percussion, and the energy on these recordings was really excited us.
It’s important to note that none of us consider ourselves to be jazz musicians. We’ve all studied a little jazz, but our backgrounds are primarily in punk, songwriter, and indie bands. Kim and Ryan have been hyper focused on writing pop songs for years with Smokey Brights, so mega cat felt like an opportunity to have fun with our instruments as opposed to our voices. We’re really eclectic listeners. We love hip hop, punk, jazz, afrobeat, Ethiopian music, and cinematic music. All of it kind of swirls together in mega cat, but the songs are still three to four minutes, with structures borrowed from pop.
What's the live experience like and your philosophy on playing live? Do you think the music live should be identical to the recorded version or should it be it's own thing?
We only just started playing out, and our live sets have been extremely fun. We have Dave Dederer from the band Presidents of the United States of America on guitar. He’s an absolute hero, and brings the guitar work to a whole new level. Our buddy Jacob Whinnihan from one of our favorite Seattle bands La Fonda plays hand drums, and again brings what we do to a higher plane. We’ll typically have horn players join us as well. The sets are danceable and wild. You’ll see us truly having fun up there.
We try to keep the live show as organic as our recording process. We play through the basic structures and parts we put down on recording, but then we typically open parts up for solos and let the endings morph into free jams. Anyone can start or change the jam, we just listen to each other and respond. It honestly gets pretty psychedelic.
Has the band toured? What has the touring experience been, best shows?
This band is so new that we’ve only played three shows. We’re playing the incredible Treefort Music Fest in Boise in March, however, and have a record release show in Seattle at The Sunset on March 2nd. Our sincere hope is to play this music all over the world!
What's up next for the band?
Our self-titled full length is out on February 16th of this year via Share It Music. We’re shooting a music video this week starring our dear friend and all around creative powerhouse Molly Sides. Molly is known for fronting this great rock band called Thunderpussy, but her background is in modern dance. She’s choreographing and performing a dance video for Rat Fight with director Cheryl Eidiss.
We’re already working on new material, and are hoping to make a live recorded version of the record, simply so we can capture the energy Dave, Jacob, and the horns bring to the sound. We hope lots of folks connect with our music and that we can play it all over the world.