Oh Heka! Is that a cat in your head or are you just happy to see me?
Serena Kefira Leclerc, Sonic High Priestess of the darkly cat-tastic ambient/noise/soundscape/magical wonder-sound project known as Protea, casts a spell over the listener with her otherworldly sounds. Recently, she was kind enough to emerge from her trance temple to answer a few questions about the creepy sounds she makes and what inspires her to make them. Please read on for a glimpse into this sonic sorceress’ mind.
What is Protea and what is the motivation behind it?
It’s my place in space to indulge my idiosyncatic ways, my feline “fetish,” and my odd-assed humor–you know, in case anyone else gets it–and some folks actually do!
What is Black Catwave? What is the essence of Black Catwave?
Well, my mewsic isn’t goth/industrial, purr se, it’s weirder than that, but it is dark and feline, which is why it has appealed to that crowd at times. It’s electronic, sometimes with theremin, which is the first electronic instrument–think Star Trek. Protea features Asian and Albanian string instruments, if I’m lucky. I sing and compose soundscapes. Sometimes I play the gu zheng, which is a Chinese harp, but I’m mostly a singer who seems to have a knack for creepy soundtrack-esque compositions.
Tara Ntula, the bassist from Vague, was one of my electronic composers. He’s a serious cat lover, too. Kat Karsecs played strings, but he moved to Wales. He’s a genius in his own right. Joey D’Kaye from the reunited SF punk band, Crime, plays theremin and does sound, and Baron Rubenbauer from NY punk band, The Nuns, has also done sound. Baron and I formed a band called Ephemeral Orchestra. It was wonderful, (other)worldly and deep, but not cat-obsessed like Protea.
I thought my invented genre name fit the meows, hisses, growls and purrs that come out of my weird head via my mouth (meowth?) quite well.
Your studio recordings have a very free flowing sound and feel. Are the songs planned out and practiced or is it all improved during the recording sessions?
On The Osiris Tree, Black Xmas and Lyttl Drummr Boi were mostly improvised. I did those along with a member of Apocalipstick, which was a performance-art-heavy band with whom I worked for a year or two. Anything featuring screams or Chinese harp on that album was likely improvised.
On the next Protea album, Going Forth By Night, sound engineer and drone artist Matt Azevedo improvised on his Arp, and his friend contributed a touch of improvised guitar. I also improvised some of the vocals on partial as well as full tracks. (This is original music inspired by the ancient Egyptian pantheon, as opposed to cattified Christmas carols.)
Festum Beati Osirim is Protea’s latest holiday album. I worked solo on that one. It’s the lighter counterpart to The Osiris Tree. The ancient Egyptian or solstice songs on Festum are heavily improvised. Anything involving getting the cats to meow is a risk involving improvisation, of course!
On my new cat head-shaped 10” vinyl record with 30 minutes of new music and a couple of remixed tracks, which is aptly named ‘My Love Lies On Cat-Shaped Vinyl,’ the track Pet the Manul, Bitch! was fully improvised, with vocals on my end and Chinese harp played by Kat Karsecs, who was originally my teacher. There are also partially improvised tracks.
What is your recording process like?
I’ll record on anything, anywhere. I’ve recorded on a dinosaurian four-track with an effects pedal, and I’ve recorded at the world-renowned Studios Ferber in Paris, where I used to live. I’ve recorded at home on my laptop and mixed at Philz Coffee. I have recorded in sacred spaces around the world. The track from Going Forth by Night that was done in the Great Pyramid of Khufu in the King’s Chamber was recorded on a phone, and that likely didn’t compromise much in terms of sound and the 16 seconds of profound natural delay. I have made GarageBand my bitch. It doesn’t have to be a fancy feast! That said, I comb everything over like I’m picking nits (or fleas, or ticks…)
Why the use of lyrics from traditional Christmas songs or carols?
Originally, it was intended to spell out the ancient Egyptian origins of Xmas, which is why some of the lyrics are modified in that direction. I was working out my discomfort and conflicts with Catholicism, mostly. Scorsese does the same via his (much larger) platform.
I think Halloween and Christmas mix quite well!
Is Christmas secretly the most horrific holiday of all?
Yes, which is why I have such a push-pull relationship with it. I do Catmas, which is inspired by Christmas, and celebrate the Winter Solstice! Obviously, many of us have a bone to pick with commercialism and obligations around that holiday. For many, family conflicts come to the fore.
What are your personal feelings about Christmas?
Honestly, as long as the ancient origins (Mithras, solstice, Osiris’ day, etc.) are given their due and I can sit home and record, I’m good.
Do you come from a religious background?
I was raised Catholic, practiced Tibetan Buddhism from high school through my mid-twenties, and am now a Bast priestess. I was ordained by Loreon Vigne and Lady Olivia Robertson at Isis Oasis and have my own temple in Oakland, which has been open to the public and is now private, due to my cat’s lymphoma.
Do you practice any particular faith?
I guess you would call it ancient Egyptian-focused neo-Paganism.
In the future, will cats take over the world and make all of humanity their slaves?
They already have, in my book. I used to joke that if cats took over the world, they’d eat us. They are the Illuminati and inteligencia factions of extraterrestrial society, don’t you know?
As a woman making dark noise music, how have you been received in the scene?
The only thing I’ve really noticed is that everyone asks me if I’m the singer. Yes, I am the singer, but I do other things as well. I had a Lyft driver the other day act shocked that I mixed my own music. Like what?! Do you need a penis to mix music now? (Not that men alone have penises.)
How effective do you see dark ambient / noise music when used in the incidental scores for horror films?
It is very effective, and is literally what everyone on ReverbNation tells me my music sounds like.
Have you scored any horror films or, if not, do you have any aspirations to do so?
Terrence McKelsey used Protea in spek.ter, and James Leon utilized it for his film, Dropping Like Flies. Those are a couple examples I can think of offpaw. I also acted in those films.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Nina Hagen, Diamanda Galas, Aghast, This Mortal Coil, Bowie, Coil and many more.
I just finished making a feline-focused Tarot deck called ‘The Incredible Psychic Meow,’ and there are many visual artists I love, as well. One the world knows is H.R. Giger. Have you seen his cat piece? It’s a famous work. I also love Bosch, who featured cats in his triptych, and I appreciate many of the cat artists of all genders, stripes and purrsuasions throughout history.
Hell, there’s a book called Why Cats Paint that was more famous than the Bible in the 90s. I loved that book. The painters were cats, themselves!
What are your plans for the end of the world?
I can’t even think as far ahead as breakfast tomorrow!
Thank you for giving me this spot and this interview! I’m looking forward to our show and the other pawesome episodes, as well.
Please follow the links below, open your heart, mind, and imagination, and experience the dark magic of Protea. We promise, you’ve never heard anything like this before!