Meet local band Kat and the Hurricane

It's been a long year without live performances, but this trio is finding its way back to the stage.
Three members of the self-described "sad lesbian music" making band Kat & The Hurricane stand against a backdrop.
Courtesy of Kat and the Hurricane.
The local band recently played a livestream show at Bos Meadery, its first public performance since the pandemic.

In tune with every other live music lover in town, I’ve had an insatiable hankering for hyperlocal music during the pandemic. Venues remain largely unopened but, through social distancing and the powers of the internet, artists have found creative ways to perform. As we concertgoers patiently await our vaccination dates after a year of shuttered live shows, local band Kat and the Hurricane was finally able to find its way back to the stage last month for an on-location livestream of Love Fest 2021 at Bos Meadery.

I talked with the trio — Kat Farnsworth, Benjamin Rose and Alex Nelson — on pandemic-era jam sessions, the beginnings of the band and what it means to create their trademark “sad lesbian music.”

First things first: How was it performing for the first time in almost a year?
It’s been too long since we’ve gotten to pack up our gear and take it to an actual venue to play really loudly. Even without a real crowd, we had to bring the energy because we knew our friends and family were watching and supporting! Bos Meadery is one of our very favorite venues to play at, so it really felt like coming home.

Run me through the Kat and the Hurricane origin story. How’d y’all get started and find your sound?
Kat and the Hurricane began as Kat’s solo project back in 2015 after playing in a few other local Wisconsin bands. We didn’t really start gigging regularly in Madison and around the state until a few years later, though. The first Kat and the Hurricane album “Miles Away” was released in December 2017, and Benjamin joined the band in January 2018. As a duo, Kat and Benjamin just started playing every gig they could and honing the band’s sound. The folk influences of “Miles Away” started to evolve into a more atmospheric indie rock sound.

The duo moved to Madison in 2019; it was there that they met Alex, who joined the project shortly after. With Alex on drums, the three of us were able to evolve the sound even further [into] the dancey, pop rock sound of “Sorry That I’m Like This” [which] contains traces of all three members’ musical influences. We use the tagline “every genre, every gender,” because in addition to being queer and varied in our gender expression, we also don’t limit ourselves to one style of music. We are influenced by a lot of different artists and styles, and that definitely comes through in our music.

How does gender identity and expression play into your music?
Gender, including the gender binary — the pervasive but false idea that the only genders are men and women — is such a pervasive and oftentimes limiting construct. In addition, music is so heavily gendered, from the cultural dominance of cis, mostly straight men in local and global music scenes to the ways that music, especially popular music, and the industry itself is so gendered. Like the idea of boy bands or girl bands, [or] expectations for women pop stars versus men. In reality, there are no rules in music, but there are also no rules with gender.

There are just as many genders as there are music genres — infinite and ever-evolving. It’s also such a common experience for a lot of people who are women or trans to not be able to see themselves well-represented in music, which in turn means that many of us don’t think it’s possible or even an option. None of us ever thought that being in an all queer, all nonbinary band would ever be possible for us, but [it] was always a dream. The fact that we found each other and are making music is a gift, but more so [it] is a true miracle due to the culture we live in … one that so often reinforces the idea that queer and trans people shouldn’t even exist.

It seems like many artists and creators have been using quarantine as an opportunity to try new things, refocus their energy and put forward new content — how have y’all been spending the past year as a band?
When everything first shut down last March, we were actually on the road for our first ever out-of-state tour. We only got a couple days into the tour when most of our remaining dates got cancelled and we had to return home. After that, we took a month or two off as we quarantined ourselves.

As we realized that this pandemic was around to stay, we decided to put our energy into releasing some new music! The music we’ve put out since then (our singles “Sorry That I’m Like This” and “Out of My Mind”) are songs that we had been playing live for a year or two, but having all of this free time gave us the chance to finally record and release them! We’ve also been using our time at home to plan for the future of Kat and the Hurricane: writing new songs, creating new merch designs, and finding ways to stay engaged with our friends and fans virtually!

Mental health seems to be an underlying topic in much of your music — if you feel comfortable, can you speak to this a bit? How has mental illness/well-being played into the type of art y’all are creating?
We simply write what we see, what we feel, and how we feel it. It’s storytelling; these are the life and times of our identity and existence in a world that is lacking representation for queer, trans and nonbinary folk.

Some folks may think including the title ‘queer’ when describing your band is unnecessary or irrelevant. Why is this NOT the case?
We are no stranger to questions, criticisms, or suggestions to drop the openly queer aspect of our band — at least as far as our public-facing brand goes. When we say we make “sad lesbian music” or that we play queer music, we’re not only saying that because we’re queer trans people writing music about our experiences as queer trans individuals, but also because we all remember what it was like growing up and not seeing real-life examples of successful or happy queer trans people, much less queer trans musicians — or all-queer, all-trans bands.

Being able to see yourself represented in other successful, happy, accepted, celebrated people, whether [in] the media, your local community, or in the music industry is so, so important. Much like we looked up to queer artists growing up (e.g. Tegan and Sara or Now, Now), we know that other aspiring queer musicians may also be looking to us in the same way.

What are y’all most looking forward to in the hypothetical post-COVID, fully vaccinated future?
Performing live for people, touring, meeting new musicians and fans. We just released two songs (“Sorry That I’m Like This” and “Out of My Mind”) and will be following these up with a brand new EP release sometime later this spring or during summer. We hope to play as many live streams as possible until it’s safe to start gigging out and about again. Once it’s safe, we plan to get back on tour and play as many shows as we can.

COVID actually interrupted our very first 10-day midwest tour, so we’re itching to get back out there. It will be great to be able to travel to other cities and states to play new venues again. Until then, we’re just using this time to write more music, network with other musicians and venues, and stay connected with our friends and fans however we can!

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