Singer/songwriter Sarah Donner made her way into our cat-crazed consciousness last year via a viral music video for her single, “Treeline,” which featured one very sleepy (and undeniably adorable) kitten. We loved her spunk and style so much that we invited her to be Catster’s personal songstress, and our very first video columnist. Every Friday in her “Ask a Cat Lady” segment, Sarah answers a question from readers in (what else?) song. Describing the offbeat magic Sarah’s humor brings to these videos is difficult, so we invite you to have a small taste.
We recently sat down with Sarah (virtually) to quiz her on her column, her cute cat-lovin’ husband and all things kitty:
When did you first realize you were a Cat Lady? And how did you come to OWN it instead of running from it? I did run from it at first, kind of how I still run from the term “Jersey Girl.” I am from Massachusetts! I just happen to have resided in NJ for the last 10 years. Anyhow, my first album is titled Reluctant Cat Lady, which tells you how I was still scared of being judged by others. I actually used to make fun of my sister-in-law who had five cats. Now I have anywhere between four and nine cats in my house, and she only has one! I didn't jump wholeheartedly into the cat lady scene until my Sleepy Kitten video went viral. Suddenly I had loads of fans who were cat lovers too, and I realized I didn't need to live in fear. I harnessed the marketing power of cats on the Internet and began steering my music towards animal lovers.
How many cats do you have to have before becoming an official Cat Lady? It depends on if you want to be a “cat lady” or a “Cat Lady.” I know some very enthusiastic cat ladies with only one or two cats. Those are lower case cat ladies. Cat Ladies need to have three or more cats. Crazy Cat Ladies end up on episodes of Hoarders.
Your husband is a bigger cat person than you are. Tell us about that, we love cat guys! This whole cat operation wouldn't be possible without my husband Michael. Last month he stayed up until 2 a.m. to catch Oatmeal. He took apart my car to fish Crumpet out from my engine compartment. He gets under wheel wells, in bushes, and behind sheds to rescue kitties. Michael even digs the holes to bury kitties when they have passed. Last year we had a litter that needed to be bottle fed every 4-5 hours, and he would take the early shift at 5 a.m. His parents raised him with a compassion for all living things that I rarely see in other men. I'm pretty sure it's because he had a pony growing up. We make a great team, and I couldn't do it alone. Clipping claws, taking temperatures, administering antibiotics, and wiping poop wouldn't be nearly as much fun without Michael.
How do you come up with your songs and videos for Catster? I have a file of questions from Catster readers, and I choose the ones that to lend themselves to a fun song. I try to choose quirky and universal issues that cat lovers face. Once I have a topic, I do research and take notes that inspire lyrics. With a guitar or piano handy, I start noodling around with chords and rhythms while humming melodies on top. Usually if I can compose a verse and chorus, the rest is cake. Writing one song every week takes great discipline, and it forces me to write without pretense. You can't take yourself too seriously when singing about wet meat and hairballs. After I write the song I set up my studio or kitchen with many clip lights, put the video camera on a tripod, and hope that some cat will cooperate and perform with me. It usually takes an hour to film one song. I also try to get footage that pertains to the subject. It's hard though because cats often stop 'performing' once I grab the camera. In the end I sit at my computer and edit all the clips into a three-minute spectacle, complete with outtakes and cat shenanigans.
So, tell us about your day job... As an artist, I have a number of jobs that keep the kittens well fed. During the school year, I am a charge scenic artist for various theatres in the area. I paint the set, the stage, props, and muslin drops. It's my job to take a designer's set model and realize it on a full scale. I also teach guitar and voice lessons in my studio. In the summer time I tour the country and try to spread my music as much as possible.
Do any of your cats travel with you when you're on the road touring? Heavens no. I don't even want to travel with me when I'm touring. I get squirrely after a few hours in the car. We have a wonderful friend who spends the summer in our apartment taking care of the kitties. And we take foster kittens on road trips from NJ to MA when we need to. Kittens in the van on I-95 for five hours is a team effort.
What is the most head-against-wall thing about cats? Puking. I swear they do it just to piss me off.
What's the absolute best thing about cats? Why should everybody have one? I love how cats are constantly present. They naturally live in the moment without worry or complaint. They can relate to us without words, which I find comforting. My Puma Bean will sit on my lap, curl against my torso, and just purr. It's an understanding we have at the end of the day, good or bad. In jest I do anthropromorphize my animals, but there is a relationship there that's worth all the money and time I give to cats. Whether you have one cat or a feral population, it's a routine of caring, simple and direct, that we all benefit from. I don't know that everybody should have one, though if they did we'd have a lot less homeless animals! I think everyone who has one should consider getting two. Cats are very social and usually enjoy the company of another animal, especially kittens. Two is also the gateway to Cat Lady status, and we should always strive to fulfill our potential.
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahdonner