PUSS N BOOTS: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CONNECTION

Puss n Boots Photo_credit_Richard_Ballard 2

Puss N Boots is (L-R): Catherine Popper, Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson (Photo Courtesy Richard Ballard)

Three talented musicians, including one superstar, find a common bond and yeah, a great band.

By Steve Houk

It’s tough to know what to do next after you’ve sold more than 60 million records, won multiple Grammys, acted in movies, and basically conquered the world.

Norah Jones did all that darn fast, and amongst a slew of other projects after her incredible run over the last decade or so, she decided to back off, blend in and get comfortable with two stellar fellow musicians on an ever-evolving side project called Puss N Boots, a country-tinged, Americana-feelin’ cool-as-all-get-out trio featuring Jones, Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson.

And by all accounts, including the band’s, it’s working out just fine. The group has a new record and a current tour underway including high profile gigs at the Newport Folk Festival and Neil Young’s annual Bridge Benefit, and lucky for DC area folks, they play the Birchmere in Alexandria on Wed Oct 1st.

Most people know about Jones, but let’s not skirt past Popper and Dobson, who are truly accomplished musicians in their own right. Popper toured as bassist/background vocalist with Ryan Adams and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and Dobson has hit the road as a sidewoman for, who else, Norah Jones, as well as having her own budding career as a jazz singer/songwriter. No surprise there, everyone in her family is a musician, including her father, well-known jazz pianist Smith Dobson, and the whole family played the Monterey Jazz Festival when she was 12.

But it’s the root connection and band vibe that really brought the three ladies of Puss N Boots together, as well as the attraction of everyone playing equal roles.

“It is so much about that, as far as none of us having to be alone in it,” Dobson told me while walking her dog on a late summer day in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “I mean, neither Cat or I have had to deal with the level of responsibility that comes along with being as widely known as Norah. It sounds like a dream come true, but it’s also probably one of the scariest, heaviest experiences ever, I can’t even imagine the pressure. So this band, even with higher pressure gigs, it works because we’re together in it, and we really are together in it. From what I know from Norah and Catherine, it’s just been really super fun and low pressure.”

Dobson and Jones hooked up in 2008 after Jones returned from her second huge world tour, all amidst her stratospheric rise to superstardom, when both were laying low hanging around legendary NYC club The Living Room, and a bond was created that has only strengthened with time.

“When Norah got back from her second record tour,” Dobson said, “I was just starting to dabble in hanging out at The Living Room with singer/songwriters, and she was well into that scene. I had stayed on the jazz path and she was dabbling in different worlds, and we lost touch. And when she got back, I was just starting to pick up the guitar and so was she, coincidentally. So I got us a gig at a pool hall, and we kind of learned how to play guitar at a pool hall for about a year or two. Our friendship has always included music, or been based around music.”

After honing their new guitar chops together in the stimulating NYC environment, the two decided to start something more tangible and added the respected Popper to the mix, and lo, Puss n Boots was born. Jones asked Dobson to tour with her in 2010 as both opening act and backup musician on her tour to support her album The Fall — Dobson admits that “I didn’t even believe that I could do the job, but it worked out” — and after the tour ended, the trio got serious and made Puss n Boots a real commitment, writing songs, nailing killer covers (check out their stunning version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” with Jones on lead guitar, below), and playing more shows, and after a few years at it, eventually releasing an album, No Fools, No Fun this past July.  A truly unique element of the project is that the three often play different instruments than they’re normally used to, making it just another way the ladies of Puss N Boots have found a common bond.

puss alb

“Catherine has a couple songs where she plays guitar, and I play drums on a buncha stuff, and Norah plays guitar on pretty much everything,” Dobson added. “Puss N Boots has been kinda been about like us all coming back together, and it’s been really fun to actually have a record out, because we can hone in on our thing a little bit more. We’ve never really had the opportunity to put so much time into it. It’s so fun.”

And for all three, it keeps coming back to the relaxed and comfortable connection they have on stage, that’s what makes Puss N Boots what it is. Chill.

“If I don’t know what’s happening I just look over at Norah and she smiles and I’m good, ” Dobson said. “Stay connected on stage and you’re golden. And it’s really nice that people enjoy that, it seems to be kind of what we’re riding on as far as it all working out, and it not being like, a joke. It’s about having fun and sharing music and connecting, both with each other, and the audience.”

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