As a teenager, Cait Brennan spent time searching for fabled singer-songwriter-engineer Emitt Rhodes' Hawthorne residence. Sometime next month, she will actually get to record with him.
“He has a home studio where he recorded all his classic albums, and I'm recording there with him later on this summer,” Brennan says. “So all those days and nights I spent stumbling across Hawthorne looking for the great lost shut-in pop genius … it’s some kind of destiny. All hail the bedroom-pop shut-ins.”
Brennan herself isn't exactly a shut-in — at least not these days — but it's fair to say she's a late bloomer. Earlier this year, the 47-year-old singer-songwriter released Debutante, which is as powerful a debut as any in recent memory. If you combined Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, Rhodes and a touch of Jane Wiedlin into one person, you’d have Brennan, whose sound identifies clearly with the most timeless and idiosyncratic songwriters in rock & roll.
Thanks in part to Debutante — co-produced by her good friend Fernando Perdomo, who also did Linda Perhacs's 2014 comeback album, The Soul of All Natural Things — Brennan now splits her time between L.A. and Phoenix. When Seymour Stein (yes, that Seymour Stein, who signed The Ramones, Talking Heads and Madonna, to name a few) heard the album, he signed Brennan to a demo deal at Sire/Warner Bros. and paired her with veteran producer Andy Paley, whose resume includes such legends as Brian Wilson, Randy Newman and Debbie Harry.
“So now we're holed up in the studio recording demos, hoping and praying that one of the biggest labels on the planet will sign a 47-year-old trans gal with Parkinson's who makes basically thinly veiled glam-punk Taylor Swift songs,” Brennan jokes. (She transitioned from male to female in the late '80s; her website, planetcait.com, sardonically refers to her as “the planet's most reluctant trans rock sensation.”)
The allure of L.A. is something Brennan has known since childhood, ever since some of her relatives moved to the downtown area in the '70s to open a McDonald's. It was during summer and holiday trips to visit that Brennan’s ravenous hunger for all things related to music began to blossom, especially any of the music you couldn’t typically find on radio stations back in Phoenix.
“It was a wonderland,” Brennan remembers. “Every station blasting music I'd never heard, whether it was Rodney [Bingenheimer] and Richard Blade and Jed the Fish on KROQ or even Rick Dees on KIIS-FM. I used to run cassettes and record everything I could. It seemed like you could get records in L.A. you could not find anywhere else. I remember one time at the Montclair Plaza in Pomona, I got a Go-Go's picture disc 45.”
Growing up, days like this were a rarity for Brennan, who spent much of her childhood living with her maternal great-grandmother, Mae Owen, a seamstress who sewed the silk racing outfits for jockeys. The pair frequently lived in trailers near horseracing tracks, and Brennan struggled to find time to play or possess musical instruments.
“I was given a guitar when I was about 8. We had these family friends from Nebraska who owned the trailer park there, and their kids babysat me and knew I was very musical, and they gave me a guitar. I will complete this sentence with the Debbie Downer follow-up that my uncle promptly stole my guitar and moved away with it — but I got it back a few years later and stole one of his as revenge, a goofy-ass Teisco Del Rey tulip model. I still have them both.”
Brennan claims to “kind of hate” the guitar and is more of a keyboard player, but the songwriter inside of her knows no bounds when it comes to laying down the tracks it seems she has waited a lifetime to record. At times, her Parkinson’s disease, which has dogged her for several years now, makes guitar playing difficult, if not impossible, but Brennan is not one to let anything get in her way at this point in her career.
“When I cashed in 40 years of loose change to pay for the initial Debutante sessions, I never had some genius plan that it was going to get me to Seymour Stein or signed with Warner Bros. or recording with Andy Paley. So none of it seems real,” she says. “But I will go wherever it leads.”
Cait Brennan peforms at Molly Malone's as part of the International Pop Overthrow festival on Saturday, July 30.