Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan met whilst neighbours in 2009 – a classically trained Canadian soprano and multi-instrumentalist, and the frontman of The Horrors, from the outskirts of London. Their early dates were spent in a supermarket in Camden, and in 2011 they released their first album together as Cat’s Eyes.
Today they live on one of the most chocolate-box streets that Primrose Hill has to offer, where the focus of the front room is not a TV but Rachel’s electronic piano. They tell me it’s where they sit and play together of an evening. Upstairs is a small studio. Other instruments litter the floor, too – a violin, a Theremin, Faris’ ’67 Telecaster, and more alien, traditional woodwind instruments from Turkey, like the ney and the zurna. Rachel has needed to go further back in time to find more musical instruments to learn and master; her latest is the curtal, a medieval bassoon, which she smuggled into Buckingham Palace earlier this year for a Cat’s Eyes stunt that made world news and called for the Palace to reassess their security measures. Rachel found herself on Canadian morning TV being asked to defend hers and Faris’ actions after they gatecrashed a private function and successfully performed a rendition of new song ‘We’ll Be Waiting’ to attending (and appreciative) guests.
“It’s definitely the funniest thing we’ve done,” says Faris. And so when you hear ‘Treasure House’ this month – the duo’s third album, released June 3 via Faris’ own RAF Records – be assured that the floating orchestrations that bring to mind ‘Paris 1919’-era John Cale have all been composed by the two of them, not bought in to make them appear more accomplished than they actually are.
It’s the sentimental tokens and knick-knacks that most characterise Cat’s Eyes’ house, though. There are many items that Faris has lovingly made for his partner by hand, like a stuffed cat fashioned from bundled-up old socks, with Rachel’s name stitched in red across its chest, and a miniature tour diary he wrote for her whilst The Horrors promoted ‘Primary Colours’ shortly after they met. Other curiosities have been collected on the road; more still hold deeply personal memories and have simply gone past the point where throwing them out is even an option. They shared a few with us, although I got the sense that we hardly scratched the surface.
01. Moog Theremin
Rachel: “I ended up going to this Theremin convention at Brian Eno’s house, which was something else. I wanted to learn how to play it properly. People are always getting Theremins and just fucking around with them, but it’s actually very beautiful. It was watching Clara Rockmore play it so beautifully… I didn’t want to just make weird space noises on it. No one plays the Theremin better than Clara Rockmore.”
Faris: “What was it you said about the guy at the convention who’d spent 12 years making his own Theremin?
Rachel: Yeah, there was this guy there who was so proud – he’d made this Theremin that had been 12 years in the making and he put it on the table and played a little bit of it and the Russian teacher said, “you have put it together upside down, it is all wrong.” It was just dismissed in one sentence. And this guy just sat on the bench with his head in his hands. “I have to start again.” But yeah, on the new record this is on ‘Girl In The Room’ and ‘We’ll Be Waiting’.”
Faris: “I don’t really play anything – I mess around. But Rachel is at the point where she can pick up any instrument and learn it.”
02. 1967 Fender Telecaster
Faris: “My guitar, I’m really attached to. I found this guy online who was 75 and selling his guitar, and I went up to Huddersfield to pick it up. He’d had it since he was, like, 20, and he was just a really great guy. I went to his house and talked for a bit and played together, and I like the idea of it having been loved for so long. It’s in such great condition. I think he liked the idea of it going off to be played in another band. But there’s something really sad about people selling their guitars, and it was really brutal. I kept in touch with him, so he knew that it went to a good home. I don’t think that I could ever sell it.”
03. Illustration of Rachel
Faris: “This is a picture that my little brother drew of Rachel, which I guess he did the first time Rachel was over for Christmas. I really like the way kids’ drawings are. For every Christmas and birthday present I get him to draw me a picture and put it in a frame and then one year I got him to do a portrait of Rachel, which she liked because she’s always saying she had olive skin, which is rubbish – she’s the palest person I know. But here Harry has given her olive skin.”
Faris: “I got this in San Francisco. We live in what was [German philosopher and pioneering Marxist] Friedrich Engels’ house, and every week a tour guide comes past and they stand outside the blue plaque. If I hear them coming I poke the puppet above the shutters, which are always closed, so he’s looking out of the window in the gap at the top. And every week the tour guide is getting more and more annoyed, because the group see the puppet and start laughing, but it’s behind his back, and I put it up and down, or make the puppet go off and get a plastic pineapple. Everyone laughs, but every week he’s getting more and more passive aggressive. So now I hear him saying, ‘…and as you can see, some of the people in this house like to play games.’ Some of these tour guides can get a bit of an ego, y’know?”
05. Signed photo of Nick Mason
Rachel: “My first piano lesson student was Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, but I didn’t know he was in Pink Floyd at the time. I was just a teenager and I just got this phone call from a guy called Nick, and he and his wife and kids all wanted piano lessons. So I went to their house in Hampstead and basically for a year I taught them piano without knowing who he was. I mean, I knew who Pink Floyd were, but I thought he was into cars because there was a hedge in the shape of a Ferrari. When he came in I thought he was the gardener. So I was teaching the whole family in this recording studio in the basement, and one day I was teaching in the basement and finally noticed this Pink Floyd poster or disc or whatever, and I turned to him and was like, ‘oh, are you a fan of Pink Floyd?’ and he was like, ‘no, not really.’ He thought I was taking the piss. Finally, I was like, ‘oh my god, I didn’t know,’ and he said, ‘well, it’s not like I walk down the street and people know who I am.’ But he kept in touch and when I moved to Italy he would write letters and stuff. When I was teaching him he’d take the piss out of himself and keep saying, ‘I have a really bad sense of rhythm,’ and I didn’t get the joke at the time at all. It was an ongoing joke of his and a year later it finally made sense to me. But I don’t recognise people at all. I passed Jimmy Page in the street with a friend, and he smiled at us, and my friend was like, ‘do you know who that was?’ And I was like, ‘the guy from The Monkees.’”
06. Lock picking set
Rachel: “This isn’t sentimental, but this is my lock-picking set. It helps you get into other people’s houses. I’ve always been into lock-picking, ever since I was a kid. I’m good at computer hacking too. Emails and doors – I can get into any of them.”
07. Knitted dolls of Faris of and Rachel
Faris: “A fan who lives on the west coast of America made this doll of me a few years ago when The Horrors were in Paloma. We get given some weird stuff, but this it quite cool. And then for Rachel’s birthday this year I sent out an appeal to see if someone could find the person who made this doll, and I found her and she sent us this a month ago.”
Rachel: “Because I get jealous – like, ‘I want a doll!’ It’s pretty amazing. There’s a little notebook with Faris’, which is just like the one he has, and then she’s made me a little oboe. Faris gets all the good fans – I get people like white supremacist leaders. Seriously. A guy who is really high up in all that sent me a message about how much he loved my music. I thought it was my friends joking around but it wasn’t.”
08. Miniature tour diary
Rachel: “Faris made this tiny tour diary for me in 2010. There’s an entry from every day on the tour. I’ve made it this little display case and cushion.”
Faris: “We’d only just met, and I was going away on tour for quite a while, and Rachel always feels left out, so I put an entry in each day. I’ve kept sketchbooks since I was a kid. I’ve probably got 100 now.”
“We met when we both lived on the same street. We first started hanging out in the supermarket. We’d go to the big Sainsbury’s in Camden in the middle of the night and play this supermarket game – misplaced items. Y’know when people decide that they don’t want something but they don’t put it back where it should go; they hide a whole chicken behind the kitchen roll… We had a game with points. It’s something that we’d both noticed, so we made it into a game.”
Rachel: “I’ve got a picture on my phone, look – bladder infection medicine with Digestive biscuits!”
09. Collectable spoon of Victoria Falls
Rachel: “When I was little I used to collect spoons, and at the age of 10 I met this little girl in Africa and we just became friends instantly. We were just playing in a hotel, or whatever. We kept in touch as pen friends for years, until we were 16/17, and then when I moved to London we managed to track each other down and she gave me this spoon. We were both around 23 by then, but she’d actually bought this spoon for me when she was 11, and everywhere she’d moved around the world (her dad was an ambassador that kept getting posted in different places) she’d taken this spoon with her because she was determined to give it to me one day. She was almost sad to give it up, because she’d been carrying me around forever, in a way, so now I take it with me wherever I move.”