Four of a kind: Singer-songwriters form new band, Fantastic Cat

fantastic cat interview

Fantastic Cat (clockwise from top left): Anthony D’Amato (photo: Vivian Wang); Brian Dunne (photo: Rick Farrell); Mike Montali (photo: Alan Rand); Don DiLego (photo: Clutterhead).

Singer-songwriter Anthony D’Amato says he sees his participation in the new band Fantastic Cat “as a release valve, almost, from doing your own solo thing where you have everything on your shoulders. Then you go to this band setting where it’s like, ‘Oh, you mean I just have to show up at this gig?’ ‘I get to just play bass on this song?’ ‘I don’t have to be running everything?’ It’s kind of like reconnecting with the fun part of things.”

The quartet, also featuring Mike Montali of the band Hollis Brown and singer-songwriters Brian Dunne and Don DiLego, will release its debut single, “Fiona,” July 23, and has shows coming up in Sparta, Basking Ridge, Freehold and New York (see details below). D’Amato says the release of a full-length album and more shows are planned for the fall.

D’Amato, who grew up in Blairstown, says he and his Fantastic Cat bandmates “had always kind of talked about, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to team up and do something like this?’ And finally, I guess, before the pandemic — it must have been 2019 — Don reached out and invited us to come out to his studio. He’s got a place in the Poconos called Velvet Elk. We went out there and did about a week where we all lived out there, and brought some songs to it, and also wrote some stuff together. And it was just so much fun that we said, ‘Okay, this can’t be the last time that we do this.’ ”

Some shorter sessions, in New York, followed. “We’re all so busy with our own things, but when the schedules lined up, we got together and added some more songs to the pile,” D’Amato said. “Then at a certain point, we realized we had a record on our hands, and why not share it with the world and start playing some shows.”

ANTHONY D’AMATO

Their first show was online, because of the pandemic, but they have now played in-person concerts, too.

To be clear, they perform as a band, not as four singer-songwriters sharing a bill in “song swap” or “writers in the round” style.

“There’s a point during the show where we kind of sit down and take turns playing a song from each of our solo catalogs,” said D’Amato. “The original vision of that was, ‘Okay, this will be a minute for it to not be such a band thing and everybody does their singer-songwriter thing,’ and it just naturally evolved into, ‘Well, why don’t I play bass on that?’ and ‘I’ll play a 12-string on that’ and ‘Okay, we’ll get some percussion on that.’ And they became band (songs). We have too much fun playing together that even when we dip into the solo catalog, it’s still all of us playing.

“Coming from the solo world … it’s so much fun to be onstage with the other people, swapping instruments and trading off vocals, singing harmonies. It’s just been a blast so far.”

No one is turning his back on his previous career. The four bandmates see Fantastic Cat as a project that can happen occasionally, when everyone is free to do some recording or touring.

Beyond art and fun, there are some practical reasons why an endeavor like this makes sense.

“We each bring our own respective audiences to the table,” D’Amato said. “I think a lot of people who like my music would love Brian Dunne’s music, but maybe they haven’t seen Brian Dunne before. So here’s a chance for them to fall in love with a new songwriter, and here’s a chance for Hollis Brown fans to get introduced to three other singer-songwriters they might not have seen before. I think for bookers, too, it’s a chance of, ‘Okay, here’s four bands for the price of one’: four different audiences to invite into their venue to check out the show.”

Mike Montali (front center) with Hollis Brown.

There is no great meaning or inside joke to the band name.

“That came from the first night that we got together,” D’Amato said. “We were at a bar in New York and we decided we were going to talk through our game plan for how we were going to approach the recording sessions before we went into the studio. We were kicking around different ideas for a name. I think we recognized the fact that whatever you decide on is going to sound weird to you, until it’s actually the name. So we just needed to decide on something and commit to it.

“And as the waitress came over with our drinks, Don or Mike or — I don’t remember who — said to her, ‘Quick, look at the four of us. If we were in a band, what would that band be called?’ And she just blurted out Fantastic Cat, and that was that.”

Fantastic Cat performs at Dykstra Park in Sparta, July 16 at 7 p.m.; at Ross Farm in Basking Ridge, July 18 at 4:30 p.m.; at The Bowery Electric in New York, July 24 at 7 p.m.; and at Concerts in the Studio in Freehold, Aug. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

For information on the band, visit fantasticcatband.com.

Here is a video for the band’s song, “Fiona” (though a different, official video will be released in conjunction with the single, July 23):

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