The Cat Is Fat Big
Olathe trio Bigfatcat is one of the metro's most exciting pop groups and just graduated high school
“I like that it starts with that one,” Rachel Cionitti said with a laugh and smile.
She’s referring to “Young Girls,” the minute-long a cappella opening track on “So Long Partner,” the debut EP of her band Bigfatcat, released late last month. The song features Cionitti and her bandmates — Olivia Markey and Courtney Honors — humming swirling, upbeat rounds and singing and harmonizing across its sole line: “Young girl versus boys with guitar fetishes.”
“If you see any industry that we’re a part of, whether it’s film or science or music, it’s all these guys who think they’re the shit, so that song is sort of just us existing,” Honors said. One bandmate lets off a satisfied “yeaaah” at the end of the recording. You can hear in it the same knowing smile the group shares as we chat at Monarch Coffee a day before the EP is released, less than a week away from their first show.
Cionitti, Honors, and Markey — all Class of ‘19 graduates of Olathe Northwest High School — write songs that seem effortless, and equally cutting and fun to listen to, but this six-song release has been a long time coming. All three learned instruments growing up, inspired by a range of different styles and artists — Honors first by the bluegrass festivals her father took her to, Cionitti by Paramore, and Markey by Taylor Swift — and by last year had released various solo material on their SoundCloud profiles.
Honors and Markey met during school through shared friends, mutually giddy to play with each other as “guitar girls.” Markey mentions knowing of Cionitti and her music early in high school, despite never playing together until last year.
“You say Rachel and it’s like, ‘I know her,’” Markey said in reference to Cionitti’s notoriety at Northwest. Honors jumps in: “[It’s] a school of all volleyball players and then there’s one goth girl who plays music. People notice her.”
After joking about starting a “girl group” last summer during a trip to Guitar Center, Markey and Honors figured, “Why not?” They reached out to a down-to-give-it-a-shot Cionitti, and Bigfatcat was born — the name inspired by Markey’s big and fat cat Izzy.
The first of two pre-EP singles came back in March with “Movies,” a bouncy, bedroom-pop breakup song that made clear the group’s melodic instincts and songwriting skills from the get-go. The June release of “Kinetic Energy” showed off a heavier alt-rock sound with a White Stripes-esque simplicity and a lyrical intimacy not unlike that of Courtney Barnett. The key change is euphoric.
Elaborating further on the theme of “Young Girls” and the gendered nature of the group, Cionitti said to her bandmates: “I don’t know about you guys, but I was pretty adamant about it being just us. And especially being just us girls. One of my friends Alex [Manriquez, producer/musician], I could have gone to him constantly, like, ‘Could you help me with this producing thing?’ but I really didn’t want to. Whatever quality that suffered, I don’t really care, because we can say we did this one ourselves.”
The group worked on “So Long Partner” through the spring and early summer, sending clips of new songs back and forth in a Snapchat group message (named The Cat Is Fat Big, of course) while Cionitti furthered her self-education in Ableton recording software. In addition to the group’s learn-as-you-go process with production, no member of the group had any experience playing drums or much experience with bass until recording, either.
“I just view it as really professional,” Honors said of the EP. “We really tweaked it and made it a clean production, so when people listen to it, I want them to be like, ‘Oh, it’s a band, not our friends or someone we know just dropped music.’ I really want legitimacy to it, because it feels legit to all of us.”
While some of its sounds are still relatively rough around the edges, “So Long Partner” is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing local pop releases of the year. This is partially due to Bigfatcat’s post-genre approach, emblematic of the internet-native Gen Z as a whole, pulling ideas from a handful of different musical eras and subgenres over its 15-minute runtime. Perhaps even more fascinating is the inverted nature of the band’s progress on two fronts. It’s most often the case that young musicians first master their instruments before writing any exceptional original material, but the opposite is true on “So Long Partner.” The drumming on “Someone To You” is rudimentary, but I’ll be damned if anyone in Kansas City writes a more effective song about love and heartbreak in the next 12 months.
The band’s live debut at Mills Record Company for Manor Fest seemed to be a success on all fronts, drawing more applause than a majority of acts I’ve seen grace the shop’s humble stage. The set included most of “So Long Partner,” plus “Kinetic Energy” and a cover of Paramore’s “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls,” featuring Honors on viola. The songs were a little sad, everyone involved was having a blast, and it was all highly legitimate.
“So Long Partner” is streaming now on all major platforms.