The songs of a wandering minstrel
Sawyer Gebauer, the man who records as Catch Prichard, packed up his guitar and left his Wisconsin home when he turned 18. “I always knew I wanted to be an entertainer,” Gebauer said. “I liked to act and be the class clown, even before high school. Music resonated with me most, since the creative process is more of a solitary act.
“After high school, I happened to be listening to a lot of music coming out of Sweden,” Gebauer said. “I liked bands like The Knife, Jose Gonzales and Tallest Man on Earth. I knew nothing of the country, but I figured, if I like all this music coming from Sweden, why don’t I go there?
“I saved up enough money from my job to buy a roundtrip ticket to the EU,” Gebauer said. “I found out WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) was an economically friendly way to travel without going broke. The plan was to be in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands for a month each. The day I landed in Sweden, I fell in love with a farmer’s daughter, Evelin, a fiddle player. We started a relationship and a band called Brittsommar, with Evelin, Johan Björk Dahl on electric guitar and me on acoustic.
“We did a few gigs in Stockholm, then moved to Berlin and found a new group of people to play with,” Gebauer said. “We played art galleries, bars, cafes and obscure places, like abandoned bathrooms or warehouses. I was traveling a lot, so the musicians and instrumentation constantly changed, depending on where I was. We released two Brittsommar albums, before the value system of companies like Spotify and Instagram took over. This was when independent music was heard through Soundcloud, Last FM and music blogs.
“The albums got a ton of play and countless reviews,” Gebauer said. “As the transition went toward editorial playlists, music blogs and magazines became more or less irrelevant, so the impact of the Brittsommar albums was not archived. We didn’t have much of an impact in the States, because I was living in the EU and touring there. Between tours, I made my living working in kitchens and writing for magazines in Berlin and Zurich.”
After five years, Gebauer returned to the States, but kept wandering, finally landing in Oakland. He changed the name of his musical project to Catch Prichard and made three EPs, Marry Me, Esoka and Utter Disbelief and his debut album as Catch Pritchard, I Still Miss Theresa Benoit.
“Catch Prichard came to me like mana from the sky,” Gebauer said. “I liked how it sounded and knew that would be my new name. We recorded Theresa Benoit at Decibelle Studios in Noe Valley, finishing the album just before the lockdown started.
The band—Travis Snyder on pedal steel, Chris Clayman on bass and drummer Tim DeCellis—had played the songs live and at rehearsals, so the recording process was smooth. I Still Miss Theresa Benoit was released on Bandcamp and the usual digital outlets in April of 2021, but touring and promotional plans were canceled due to the pandemic.
The music on the album highlights Gebauer’s evolving artistic outlook, moving away from the folk, rock and Americana influences of his past albums, to a more open, ambient approach. “Cherry Bomb” opens with sustained synthesizer chords, sighing pedal steel and a sharp, three note synth hook. Gebauer’s rich baritone describes the joys and pleasures of love. Guest artist Andy Wilke adds Latin influenced trumpet asides to “Commander,” a ballad marked by Gebauer’s subtle piano and DeCellis’ syncopated drumming.
“I was listening to a lot of Afro-Cuban and Latin music while I was writing these songs,” Gebauer said. “It took the combined effort of the band to get the desired effect.”
The first single from the still unnamed album is “Taiko.” Released in February, it shows Gebauer moving further away from traditional structures, exploring the frontiers of sound made possible by technology.
“During the time I recorded ‘Taiko,’ I was listening to the work of the experimental musician Tim Hecker,” Gebauer said. “On his album Anoyo, recorded at the Jiunzan Mandala-Temple Kanzouin in Tokyo, he sampled traditional Japanese instruments used in Gagaku music, such as the hichiriki [flute], shō [mouth organ] and various percussion instruments. They fall into the category of taiko drums.
“I loved the sonic imagery he created, by manipulating these ancient sounds through modern technology. Interested in trying this out, I sampled some of these Japanese instruments and sculpted them, using a similar recording process,” he continued. “The title ‘Taiko’ relates to the process of creation, rather than what the lyrics portray—the uncertainty of life and the acceptance of impermanence. The music is contemplative and requires patience. New sonic layers can be found with each listen.”
‘Taiko’ is available on Catch Prichard’s Bandcamp page: catchprichard.bandcamp.com/track/taiko.