Dec. 9 2009 12:00 AM

Singer-songwriter taps classic country sincerity in lo-fi sound


The sound of tape hiss is the backdrop of Cathy Illman’s brilliant catalog of lo-fi, homemade recordings. The crackles and pops of the cassettes are merely accents to Illman’s songs, which range from bittersweet and raw to glaringly heartfelt and poppy.

The prolific East Lansing singersongwriter, also known by the stage name Veloura Caywood, started recording songs on a four-track tape recorder as a high schooler in 1997. Since then, her voice has become increasingly powerful, reflecting her classic country idols Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.

Illman’s seamless blend of ‘60s garage rock and girl groups with old country will be showcased live for the first time in more than four years this Thursday at East Lansing’s The Small Planet.

Illman, 30, said her three Veloura Caywood albums are unconventional and primitive.

“I didn’t know how to use the fourtrack that well,” she said. “I didn’t use effects or know how to make it sound professional. I wanted to do the opposite of that. I didn’t want to learn how to use it, I wanted to do it my way.”

Illman always wrote and performed all by her lonesome. Without an actual drummer, she made due with what she had to hold down the rhythm. “I’d take a CD case and I’d hit it with a pencil, I’d hit shoes together, or whatever happened to be around at the moment," she said.

Illman said she is heavily influenced by ‘50s and ‘60s rock and some ‘90s acts. However, it’s her love for Hank Williams and an assortment of other true country singers that helped her become an hon est songwriter. “I like old country music, because it’s sincere,” she said. “Emotions are really important. Everyone can relate to the feelings, even if they can’t relate to the situation. To me country music encompasses that idea. I don’t know how many times I have cried listening to Tammy Wynette. It’s pure, and it’s from the heart. That’s how I write.”

Illman also played in numerous Lansing bands starting around 1996. Stints with Vulture Island, Atlantis and The End Times were her introduction into the local music scene. Another venture was her all girl ‘60s revivalist band The Flamingogos, which played from 2003 to 2004, while she lived in Brantford, Ontario.

“Playing in The Flamingo-gos was fun. We were all into vintage clothes, so on stage we’d wear old go-go dresses or colorful psychedelic vintage clothes and go-go boots,” she said. While Illman admits her time in The Flamingo-gos was the most fun she’s had in a band, she is proudest of her solo, which features her most personal lyrics. “When I first started writing, it was all about boys. It was the only way I could cope,” she said .

Illman expects it to be strange playing her old songs at her upcoming show. “It will be weird, because I don’t feel that way anymore,” she said. “I like the songs, but the feeling, I have to apply it to something new. I have to get my mind to think about it in a different way to be able to play it.”

So why is Illman giving music another go after fours years off?

“My life has taken a good turn. I went through this phase where I was depressed and just wasn’t motivated. All of the sudden all these good things happen. I got a new job, I got engaged, I moved into a house that I love and I met a bunch of new people. Stuff started working out.”

Veloura Caywood

Chazz Brackx and Lord Vapid, Jack Grundle 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17 The
Small Planet, 16800 Chandler Road, East Lansing 18 , $5-$8

Listen to Veloura Caywood online at