by John Paul Keith | photos by Michael Ging of Michael Ging Photography
Cait Brennan’s story is an inspiring one. A musical prodigy from a very young age, she was raised as a boy in rural Arizona, and began rebelling against her assigned gender in her teens. She spent a lot of her youth on the road with her grandmother, a traveling seamstress in the thoroughbred horse racing business. Conservative 1980’s Arizona wasn’t quite ready for a trans artist writing glam and power pop tunes, and Cait kept her music to herself and some close friends for most of her life.
After a career as an actress and screenwriter in Los Angeles, she made the decision to share her music with the world. In 2014 at the age of 45 she released her debut album, Debutante, to universal critical acclaim. She recorded her most recent album, Third, at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The album’s title is a nod to another album recorded at Ardent, of course: Big Star’s Third, and she has since recorded another upcoming album at Ardent.
What brought you to Memphis to make Third? Was there anything besides the obvious Big Star connection?
So many things brought me to Memphis – family history, musical history, a little bit of kismet – but the main thing that sparked it was Jody Stephens. My musical partner Fernando Perdomo and I were in LA recording with Andy Paley for a Sire/Warner Bros demo deal that ultimately didn’t pan out. By a weird coincidence, I won two tickets to a GRAMMY® Museum event honoring the 50th anniversary of Ardent Studios. I ended up talking with Jody, and he suggested that when it was time to make my next album, we should come to Ardent.
What were your impressions of recording here? Did they differ from experiences recording elsewhere? If so, in what ways? From the moment we walked through the door at Ardent, they made us feel like family, and that’s a pretty amazing family to be welcomed into. Adam Hill, Jody, Addison Hare, everyone there was so generous with their time, insight, and that absolutely singular stellar and unique collection of gear that sounds like nothing and nowhere else. The humor and heart of our friends there was a very good match for who Fern and I are as people. We just love what we do and have fun doing it, and that’s how everyone was at Ardent too… that kind of indefinable Memphis feel just lifted everything we did.
Did you get a chance to get out much while you were here, or were you mostly in the studio?
Oh, we definitely got out and experienced Memphis. We saw a bunch of bands, ate at about 300 different “best in town” restaurants, grabbed as many records as we could carry from Goner and Shangri- La, lots of time at the Stax museum, visiting Sam Phillips Recording and Royal Studios, ice cream at La Michoacana, (thrift stores)… Memphis has so much vital history but it’s also the future – that’s where our hearts are at too.
You came back to Ardent last month to record your next album. What brought you back? What kind of record did you make? We had an album release show at Bar DKDC – we wanted to thank our Memphis friends for all the love, and we had so many amazing guests playing in the band that night, from Robert and Candace Mache to Van Duren and Vicki Loveland to Adam Hill and Jody Stephens – it’s crazy, I got to be in a band with Jody Stephens for one night, and we did “I Am The Cosmos”, so my life is pretty much complete. Growing up in a trailer park in the middle of the Arizona desert, you don’t really ever think you’re going to play the greatest song you ever heard with one of your all time heroes. We’re really grateful for the life-changing experience, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the next time I come to Memphis it’ll be to stay. But we’ll see what the future brings.