To hear Catherine Burnside talk about her ambitions, her dreams of stomping with the big dawgs, as they used to say on Martin, is almost spine-tingling. At only 23 years old, the native Houstonian talks about becoming the coolest, sexiest violinist alive. It sounds like she's a character in a Danielle Steel TV miniseries, a beautiful yet single-minded hellion who will do anything to grab the big, brass ring -- up to and including destroying anybody who crosses her path. She's determined, decadent and even dangerous! "I think you're reading too much into this," Burnside says after hearing the Nightfly's take.
Maybe she's right, but she's definitely more interesting than most any other musicians with stringed instruments. A violinist since age four, Burnside can play classical, jazz and blues. (She says she's not good at country, so don't request any hoedown shit.) Since she has an aversion to playing in a stodgy orchestra, and much prefers playing either solo or in bands like Moodafaruka, people call Burnside a maverick, a badass who plays by her own rules, a rebel who rides from town-to-town on a motorcycle wielding her own brand of justice, corrupting young boys and scouting impressionable women to join her cause. Okay, maybe that last part was laying it on a little thick, but the maverick thing is something she has to agree with.
"Definitely, you got that right," she confirms. "I wanna make violin hip and fun and cool. I feel that the violin could be just as strong as a voice as a singer. People really enjoy it. I mean, that's what I produced with this small, little compilation CD that I put together, because I wanna make violin hip. Make it different. Make it fun."
But you're probably wondering by now what the hell a violinist has to do with the local nightlife scene. Well, it's a scene she has taken it upon herself to be a part of. She's rosined up her bow at such downtown spots at Boaka Bar (1010 Prairie) and Spill (308 Main), and at clubs in Dallas and Austin. Next month, she'll have gigs at The Gatsby (2540 University), Rich's (2401 San Jacinto) and Spy (112 Travis). She realizes that just showing up and sawing away ain't gonna cut it in those places. "When I play the clubs, I have to keep everyone enthralled," she says. "I'll play the violin and do a dance routine."
It doesn't hurt that the doe-eyed brunette resembles American Pie hottie (and fellow Houstonian) Shannon Elizabeth and wears clothes you definitely wouldn't see on Yitzhak Perlman. Take a recent gig at Boaka Bar, for example. "For that," she remembers, "I had a silver top and black pants, and then, I came down the stairs, I ripped the pants off and I had lace stockings on. It's really sexy."
Burnside says that even though her wardrobe can be on the salacious side, it's still restrained by Houston nightlife standards. And if others want to get caught up in what she's wearing, that's their problem, not hers. "I had to make it okay with me that I'm a performer and this is a performance that I'm putting on," she says. "I'm a damn good violinist-singer, and I'm just putting on a show."
The self-titled compilation CD, for which there will be a CD release party October 17 at Seven (1006 Bagby), finds Burnside's violin alongside house dance mixes, with a lineup of DJs -- including local boys DJ Sun, Mike Snow and Sean Carnahan -- offering their consulting or collaborating services. The boys behind the decks are already admiring her moxie. Sun commends her for bringing a different perspective to local dance floors. "It may broaden the appeal of dance music, to bring a classical appeal to it," says Sun. Referring to her flash-filled act, Snow says she's giving club audiences just what they need right now. "I think the crowd wants more visual stuff. People are over just walking into a nightclub, buying a drink and listening to music."
But while the club shows and DJ collabos may give her a nice following, she still wants the grand prize: a major-label recording contract. To that end, she's planned a six-city tour that includes New York and L.A. "I'm gonna do little CD release parties and performances in every city, and try to get a buzz going about me more so people know who I am and buy more CDs, which will eventually lead me to landing the record deal that I want."
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And if you're worried how she'll survive in an industry already flooded with classically trained cutie pies like Linda Brava (who posed butt-bald-nekkid in Playboy), Vanessa May and the scantily-clad string quartet Bond, Burnside already has that covered. "The difference between all of those girls and me is that all of them just do classical music and they put it on club beats," she says. "Not one of them writes their own music, and that's where I differ. I listen to every single violin track on club music -- anything I can get my hands on. I've looked at every single violinist's Web page, and not one of them is doing what I'm doing. I wanna be up there, like Bond and Vanessa May, except I wanna be known as an artist."
Ouch! See what we mean? Don't mess with her, or she'll poke you in the eye with her bow.
The Nightfly humbly apologizes for failing to mention three important people in last week's column. DJ Lushus Brown is not the sole spinner for the Tuesday acid jazz night at The Social Lounge and Patio Bar (3730 Washington). She shares those duties with Sean Carnahan, Jeffery Mac and the night's musical coordinator, Champa Moore. Neglecting those names was unintentional. No one was trying to disrespect anyone, so all the talk of "vendettas" should cease right now. Besides, this is the Houston club scene, not a Mario Puzo novel.