The Debutante

By Art Martori, April 2016 Issue.

As far as debutantes go, Cait Brennan is a ways off from the Daisy Buchanan type – one of the last people you’d expect to see fanning herself by the punch bowl or fainting before a handful of admirers.

But then, that’s the point.

Brennan explains how she chose the title of her first album – Debutante, a 13-song pop homage – as she sips an iced tea on the patio of the The Main Ingredient Ale House & Cafe in midtown Phoenix. She wears a purple shirt emblazoned with (a Morrissey spoof of) the Incredible Hulk, and the quintessential rocker’s banded leather bracelet. No beer today. She’s been a little worn out lately, dealing with symptoms of her Parkinson’s disease and long, often 22-hour days of composing and recording music.

Still, there’s her trademark dark humor.

“It was intended to be a little tongue in cheek and maybe just the slightest bit sarcastic,” she says. “You think of ‘debutante’ as young, attractive, well to do, just making their coming of age. And here I am, 47, and not from a fancy background. Not young. Not particularly gorgeous. But none the less, still putting myself out there for the first time.”

A musician most her life, it wasn’t until January this year that Brennan, a transwoman, finally recorded a handful of the myriad songs collecting in her head for more than four decades. The flawlessly produced Debutante is a result of unleashing Brennan’s long-suppressed ambition, and a wellspring of financial and professional support.

Recording the album in Reseda, Calif., took only five days in the studio, guided by the experienced producer and multi-instrumentalist Fernando Perdomo. To cover production and distribution, Brennan raised about $7,500 in just a couple months via the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter. Another $800 in seed money came from cashing in loose change Brennan’s grandmother had socked away over 40 years.

Before, Brennan played music mostly for herself. But now, suddenly, there’s a newfound accountability to the people who’ve supported her and to the growing number enjoying her songs.

“If you have ever lived in a space where you’re a little cynical about the world and the people in it, you can’t really do it anymore when people invest in your dream like that,” she explains.  “All of the sudden, if you felt unloved, you don’t feel unloved anymore. You feel a responsibility to all those people.”

Making It Happen

Making it happen, Brennan says, is in large part due to her producer. She met Perdomo at the first show she played in Los Angeles, where she was slated to take the stage after him. Brennan remembers his large black bowler hat, matching black suit and the little toy piano he played. Introduced by David Bash, founder and CEO of the festival International Pop Overthrow, the pair quickly hit it off, and plans to record an album soon followed.

Speaking to Echo from Los Angeles, Perdomo praises Brennan for her musical ability and commitment in the studio, as vocals alone on some songs layer multiple tracks. Brennan has the unique ability to sing in all five octaves of the vocal range, and on many songs handles both lead and accompanying vocals. While her voice carries a Bowie-esque androgyny, her range is typical only of divas like Mariah Carey or Celine Dion.

“She’s a great singer. A great musician. I consider her an ace. She’s a wonderful lab partner,” Perdomo explains. “When we were creating, there was the right amount of seriousness and humor. We’re both very similar people. We have a similar sense of humor. Working with her was a complete joy.”

Brennan gives much credit to Perdomo, who she says not only engineered her supremely listenable sound, but with his superior musical ability also replaced some instrumental tracks she composed and recorded as placeholders.

“If you hear something very spectacular, musician-wise, that was him,” Brennan laughs. “If you hear something basic, that was me.”

Photo courtesy of Michael Ging/Michael Ging Photography.

She’s already teamed up with Perdomo to complete a second album slated for release later this year. Its title, Jinx, is another tongue-in-cheek reference, this time to the sophomore slump musicians often face trying to follow up on initial successes.

Like A Hurricane

Perhaps Brennan’s music remain locked in her head for so long because of the experiences she had growing up as a young person in Phoenix. She remembers starting her transition as a teenager, around the same time she began performing her music live. She says some people were accepting of her gender identity, but others responded with outright hostility.

“I didn’t do as well as I could’ve with the hostility,” Brennan says. “So I withdrew a little bit and focused on the writing and creating the songs, but I didn’t play them out much. I kind of became more of an artist who writes and keeps it to themselves for a long time.”

One of Brennan’s classmates at Deer Valley High School was Tom Reardon. Today, he writes music reviews for Phoenix New Times, and is the bassist and lead vocalist for the Phoenix-based band The Father Figures. Reardon remembers having a friendly rivalry with Brennan in high school, a time when he first discovered shopping at thrift stores. When Brennan signed his sophomore yearbook, she described his style as “a hurricane hitting a dress shop.”

“That was a perfect example of her looking at life in a way not a lot of people had,” Reardon remembers.

He recently penned a story about Brennan in Phoenix New Times, which looks back at his friend’s journey to the studio and also reviews her latest work. He recently told Echo that his opinion of her music was influenced not by friendship, but by his experience as a professional writer and musician.

“I was just blown away. It was one of those moments,” he says of the first time he listened to Debutante. “With music made by friends, you’re always inclined to listen with a kinder ear. But I was so impressed. I can genuinely say that if I didn’t know Cait, I would love the record.”

So what’s next for Cait Brennan? She acknowledges her late start, paired with managing her Parkinson’s disease, means it’s unlikely she’ll be able to maintain much of a touring schedule. But instead of dwelling on the what-ifs, it seems she’s fixed very much in the present, and through sharing her music is finally enjoying the connections with people which eluded her for so long.

“For me, it was the beginning of something that has not stopped, at all, from the minute we started recording,” Brennan says. “I’ve been renewed. I don’t think there’s a day that’s gone by where I haven’t written a new song since then.

To stay up to date with Brennan’s music and local shows, find her on Facebook at facebook.com/planetcait or on Twitter at twitter.com/planetcait.

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