I’ve fallen into a black hole
looked like your heart
felt like my soul
Now I got nowhere to go
from this side out looks like the end of the world
How do you take the image of a black hole and make it positive? According to Elizabeth McCullough, aka Alpha Cat, “When I wrote that song I’d just read how astronomers had determined that you could actually escape a black hole, but only by going all the way through and out the other side. And that leads to all this worm hole and time travel theory, where not only do you avoid annihilation, but you arrive at a place you might never have reached otherwise. It’s an amazing metaphor for transformation, and ultimately hopeful. That’s why the end of the song is: you gotta go deeper it’s the only way out.
A friendship with Television bassist Fred Smith, who agreed to produce a demo, became 1999s EP Real Boy. With only 150 copies sent to college radio stations, Real Boy ended up in the CMJ National Add Charts not once, but twice, receiving more airplay adds than such formidable and widely distributed offerings as Beck’s Midnight Vultures, and Metallica’s S&M. It went on to spend six weeks in the national airplay charts, unusual for an EP.
The follow up to Real Boy, October 2001s Pearl Harbor, was, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, unfortunately timed. With an image of a bomb and the sound effects of a glass building falling down, the CD was eerily prescient. It was not well received initially, for obvious reasons. Upon rerelease in February 2002, it did much better, receiving significant airplay on college radio, and winning a couple best of awards that year.
With the Alpha Cat song Pearl Harbor, it’ becomes apparent how longtime photographer McCullough’s previous passion has informed her current love. Without an understanding of how equally light and its absence form the world we see before us, it’s difficult to imagine McCullough having had the vocabulary to describe that world musically. “It occurred to me that this place was called Pearl Harbor before it was bombed, and that it must be because literally, there were pearls in the harbor. I tried to imagine what it might take to get back to where that place was about treasure, rather than destruction.
In 2005, following the ending of an unfortunate romantic entanglement, McCullough decided to move to L.A. to work with drummer Jason Smith, who had gigged with Alpha Cat several times in Los Angeles over the previous years. Recording began on the album Venus Smile in April of 2006, and 15 instrumental tracks were completed with the help of engineer Jon Mattox, guitarist Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams, John Mayer), bassist Reggie McBride, (Elton John), and Jason Smith on drums.
Seven vocal tracks were completed as well, but by July, McCullough fell into a real life black hole, losing her voice and experiencing a profound emotional and psychological breakdown. She was unable to complete the record.
Years of depression, hospitalizations and treatment, including a round of ECT followed with no result. But in 2013 an experimental treatment yielded some relief from the devastating suicidality that had plagued her, and she attempted a return to music. She booked the first of two gigs in London at the legendary 12 Bar Club. However, her perceived betrayal by both her heart and her music, rehearsals and the prospect of returning to the stage brought extreme anxiety and fear. She began to drink to cope. The 12 Bar gigs were virtually unattended, a sense of hopelessness set in again, and the drinking continued.
Fortunately, McCullough decided to revisit the Venus Smile recordings that actually had been completed. She enlisted engineer Brett (Cosmo) Thorngren to do mixes of the songs, with encouraging results. And as it turned out, she had found a new champion in Thorngren. But it wasnt until early 2019, with newfound sobriety and the retreat of long held fears, that she began to listen to those mixes anew, and began to appreciate them and realize that maybe there was something in this music after all. And then, in early June, McCullough experienced an epiphany, and decided to put out those songs as an LP. The result is the new record Thatched Roof Glass House. At long last, her journey through the worm hole seems to be complete.