Like most of Cat Leavy's fans, I became acquainted with her through New Shack—her collaboration with Eric Robertson. Not too long ago, I was jamming to the duo's 2016 self-released Eingang EP while extolling its virtues for City Weekly's local music issue. Now, in what can only be explained as music-geek serendipity, I've stumbled upon yet another reason to admire Leavy. Back in mid-March, she released the song "Red James" via Bandcamp. It's an explosive introduction to Madge, Leavy's upcoming solo project.
"Red James" is one of those debuts that demands your immediate attention—a pure jolt of effervescent electropop that draws wattage from the work of Matt & Kim and Broken Social Scene. Not only is it one of the most impressive musical debuts to come out of Provo, but the fact that Leavy wrote, recorded, produced and mixed the song herself is enough to turn it into an anthemic herald of a new, female-driven era of local music production.
"I was raised doing competitive piano, but it was pretty intense," Leavy says in a telephone interview. "I actually burned out on that as a teenager and swore off music entirely." She rediscovered her musical side while pursuing a master's degree in art theory. Initially exploring music as a hobby, she connected with Robertson. "When I met Eric, I was writing a lot of songs but never planned on singing them," she says. "He really encouraged me to sing more."
Since meeting, New Shack has recorded two well-received albums and built a strong following. This led to an invitation from the Ogden Twilight Concert Series to open for Miike Snow's upcoming performance on June 29. Now Leavy is becoming a bit of a musical powerhouse: In addition to working on New Shack and Madge, she also co-owns and operates Bone Shack Studios with her partner, Chris Bennion of synthpop duo Coral Bones. Currently, they split their time between recording other artists and doing licensing work for TV and commercials.
Opening a music studio has also given Leavy the opportunity to position Bone Shack as a safe haven for the more ostracized communities in the music industry. "I really enjoy working with female and non-binary artists and I think the LGBTQ, female and non-binary scene in Utah needs support and a safe space," she says. Like Stephen Cope of Studio Dada, she says her goal is to work with more underrepresented local artists. With this foothold in the local music community, Leavy helped activist and musician Dylan Lewman (aka DeelanZ) organize the upcoming Divinity Concert on April 14, which will raise money for Planned Parenthood—though New Shack had to cancel their appearance for personal reasons.
Leavy's solo work with Madge emphasizes being an independent female artist and producer. "The most recent statistic I read said that the number of successful female producers in the U.S. right now is so low that it's statistically immeasurable," she says. "As a woman working in the music industry, it was important to do something on the production, audio engineering and mixing side." She is quick to share the credit with artists like Salt Lake's Bobo, aka Kari Jørgensen, who came to Salt Lake's Hel Audio to master her album Smoke in the Elevator, which she recorded and mixed herself. "Her music is fantastic," Leavy says.
Thus far, Leavy's work as a musician is a positive and empowering example of how the marginalized communities within the recording industry can step up to write, perform, record and produce their own music—and so far, it sounds great. "I'm excited to be in that club," she says. "As women, we're socialized to be submissive. I hope I can help other female and non-binary artists to do this. There's a lot against you, but there's nothing stopping you."