Interview: Carrie and Cat Biell of Moon Palace chat with NWMS

PHOTO BY JO COSME

Seattle’s own Moon Palace, lead by twins Cat (guitar) and Carrie (bass) Biell, and rounded out by Jude Miqueli (drums) and Darcey Zoller (cello plus synth), celebrate their new album, Shadowcast, with a record-release party Friday night, September 20, at the Clockout Lounge.  They’ll also be playing at The Shakedown in Bellingham on September 28. The twins were kind enough to take a few questions.


NWMS:  What are the best, worst, and oddest things about going through life with a twin?  What are the aspects that most people don’t think about?

Carrie Biell:  The best thing about being a twin is that there is always a built in partner in crime/ best friend even when we drive each other crazy. Since we are the same age we’ve always had each other through all the phases of life. With other siblings there may be a difference in age so you aren’t always navigating the same moments in life together. We were always together in everything we did growing up so I never felt alone. 

With that said, it can also be hard to develop your own identity when there is somebody constantly with you who also looks like you. We were always lumped together throughout our lives, and once high school and then adulthood hit, we both needed to separate from each other a little bit to build our own individual selves. For a long time our parents and grandparents dressed us alike so there was no sense of individualism. On holidays we got double everything and sometimes that could get old. 

Now Cat and I look less alike mostly because of our individual styles, but it is still the case that people come up to me and start talking to me as if they know me to soon find out they are talking to the wrong twin. Sometimes I just play along because I’m not always in the mood to correct them. That can be entertaining.

Cat Biell:  Similar to what Carrie said.  Always having a built in partner in crime/best friend is an amazing way to grow up. We did struggle a bit trying to find our own individual identities growing up, especially because somehow we are always interested in the same things. It used to be a huge source of contention. 

We were pretty competitive as kids. Now as adults, we can just laugh about it when we show up wearing the same outfit. We are always twinning despite our best efforts to not.

NWMS: You grew up with Deaf parents.  Did you sign before you spoke?  Did you find yourself acting as interpreters for your parents?

Carrie & Cat Biell:  Yes and Yes. The first few years of our childhood were in a mostly Deaf household before our parent’s divorce. In those early developmental years we did start signing before speaking, but after their divorce our mother moved in with her hearing parents (our grandparents) and took the two of us and our older sister with her to live for several years. In that house we were exposed to a lot more talking so we went back and forth between signing and talking. 

Much of our family didn’t sign because back when they were growing their families, like many families with Deaf kids, pushed for them to speak and read lips. Our mother didn’t learn ASL until she was in high school so her parents and siblings didn’t sign with her. It is a blessing that our mother learned ASL because she eventually lost all of her vision. It’s hard to imagine how she would communicate with others now if she couldn’t use tactile sign, which is how we communicate with her now.

Like a lot of other bilingual children, we did have to start interpreting for our parents at a young age.  At family functions we were often their interpreters. We interpreted doctor’s appointments, interactions with bank tellers, teachers, lawyers, maintenance workers, etc. In retrospect there were definitely things that we shouldn’t have been interpreting, but the reality is that interpreters were and still aren’t always provided, so our parents will still turn us to assist with their communication needs. 

As adults we’ve learned to advocate for myself and my parents to make sure [professional] interpreters are provided because it’s really a disservice to all parties involved to have us interpreting.  Imagine having your annoyed and awkward teenage daughter interpreting your gynecology appointment. Who would want that?

NWMS:  Was it odd growing to love music in a house with deaf parents?  What were your earliest musical obsessions, and why?

Carrie Biell:  I often mention our Deaf parents because it is a part of my identity and cultural upbringing, but at the same time it was all completely normal to me growing up. Normal is all relative to whatever your own lived experience is. Of course people always thought it was an interesting juxtaposition that we were interested in playing music when we had Deaf parents. 

Most of our earliest music exposure was through our grandparents. They loved musicals and classical music so my earlier music obsessions were things like the soundtrack to Cats, or the Sound of Music. Our grandparents were strict and didn’t allow us to listen to the radio, but our older sister Molly would sometimes sneak and listen in the middle of the night. I have a clear memory of us all sneaking into her room at night and listening to the radio. I remember the song “Cars That Go Boom” by L’Trimm, coming on and loving it.

Molly became obsessed with Whitney Houston, and she was the only pop artist at the time that our grandparents allowed us to listen to in the house.  We all really latched onto her music, and still to this day if I hear Whitney Houston I will have to stop what I’m doing to sing along. It will take me directly back to my childhood.

Eventually when our mom married our stepfather, who was also Deaf, with three hearing kids of his own, we were exposed to MTV and more pop culture through them. They always had MTV and the radio on, and that’s when we started being exposed to artists like Madonna, The Cure, Talking Heads, Duran Duran, and then Nirvana and Hole, etc. Cat and I became obsessed with Nirvana, Hole, L7, Tori Amos, and Ani DiFranco as teenagers, and those were the artists who made us interested in playing music.

I often think we clung onto music because we had a bit of a delayed exposure to the modern music of our time. It felt like this forbidden thing that we had to hide from our grandparents, so time listening to the radio or watching MTV felt like a precious gift. 

We eventually became drawn to Seattle and Olympia riot grrrl bands, and some of the countercultural aspects of those music scenes. It felt like we were rebelling against some of our strict upbringing as well as the homogeneous suburban environment we grew up in. We were also out queer teenagers who didn’t identify with much of our peers in school, and music was a comfort to us.

I will say that even though our parents didn’t listen to much music at all there was a period of time when our biological dad listened to some ‘80s hair bands, and bought an electric guitar. This phase didn’t last for very long, but I remember a summer where he was into listening to rock music and picking the strings on the electric guitar. I think he was drawn to the vibrations of the bass and the drums, but he also thought those ‘80s hair bands looked cool with their style and instruments. Our mother also sometimes enjoyed it when we played our music loud because she can feel the rhythms and beats in the music. 

Some Deaf people really love listening to music and playing instruments. I’ve heard of all Deaf bands before so music can still play a role in Deaf people’s lives. There’s a lot of beauty in learning the lyrics to a song. When you see interpreters at concerts it’s because Deaf audiences also get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing live music.



NWMS:  What are your best, worst, and oddest stories of playing Seattle?

Carrie Biell:  I’ve been playing music around Seattle since I was 18, and there have been some real highs and lows for sure. For a long time I released music under my name as a solo artist, and I think some of the worst moments were during those singer-songwriter days. Sometimes I would follow a loud jammy band who played over their allotted time, and then it would be me and my guitar trying to follow them in front of a dwindled crowd late in the night.

I played solo shows before I was 21 and many of the clubs would make me wait outside until 15 minutes before I went on. Then I would have to leave almost immediately after my set.  I opened for Kristin Hersh at the Crocodile when I was still underage, and I was so excited to meet her, but I had to do my normal in and out set, so I didn’t have any time to meet her, which was a huge bummer. At the same time that show was a major highlight in my musical career because it was packed, and I got to open for one of my musical heroes. 

Now being in Moon Palace I’m having the best time playing music in this city. We’ve had the privilege of playing incredible shows with some amazing bands. It feels like we have only had one bad show since we started playing live, and that was just because it was poorly organized and promoted incorrectly, but we still played with great bands on that bill.

Cat Biell:  I started playing around Seattle when I was 17 years old, I used to busk on Broadway and sing my angsty sad folk songs at coffee houses that are no longer around:  Still Life Cafe, Globe Cafe, The Habitat. 

In 2004 I placed an ad in the Stranger in hopes of forming an indie, electronic band. Guitarist and Programmer Todd Waller answered the ad, and together we formed a band called Lucy Bland. From 2005-2013 we put out four records, played an In-Studio on KEXP and toured the West Coast. 

For our debut show we wanted to play in an intimate setting for friends and family. At the time our cellist Anil Seth worked at the UW Planetarium, so he was able to arrange a private viewing. In mostly darkness, we set up faint red lights around the band and played underneath the stars and planets. It was by far the trippiest show I have ever played. 

There is only one moment that was one of the worst stage experiences I have had. While playing a packed house at The Tractor Tavern opening for the band Hyways, my guitar suddenly fell dramatically out of tune, I was unable to tune it. I completely froze on stage, panic stricken, our bandmate at the time Alina Santillan handed me their guitar and completely saved me in that moment. 

After the show I was incredibly upset. I sat backstage crying feeling like I blew it. All the sudden twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth (who play with Brandi Carlile) walked in. They came in to tell us how much they loved our set, they saw me crying and they couldn’t have been sweeter. They apparently didn’t notice the long awkward pause in our set and they reassured me that most likely the crowd didn’t either.

NWMS:  What are your best, worst, and oddest stories of playing the world over?

Carrie Biell:  I think my favorite out-of-town shows were when Moon Palace played Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho. We ended up adding a second surprise set while we were out there, and that ended up being one the most energetic and excited crowds we ever played in front of. 

We loved playing that festival. It was so accessible and easy to walk around and pop into various shows that were happening around the city. The town was so welcoming and it wasn’t overcrowded and chaotic like other festivals can be.

I think one of my worst out-of-town shows ended up being in LA. It was just a strange lineup of bands. One of them was some avant-garde clown act that performed after us. All I remember is them pouring chocolate all over each other in creepy masks and singing “I like chocolate” in robotic voices. It was scary as hell, and I felt a little bad for the folks who came out to see us. I’m not sure how that bill came together, but it was a weird one and we didn’t even make one dollar at that show. That’s hard when you’ve traveled all that way.

Cat Biell:  Agreed, Treefort Music Fest was by far a highlight for our band. We played for packed houses that were so engaged and excited about our music.

Probably the weirdest show I ever played was at a venue in San Francisco, while my band Lucy Bland was on tour. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of that place, but the inside of it looked like an airplane accident. The whole interior was decorated with airplane paneling and rowed seats. It was the most punk rock sound system I’ve ever played through. The venue was in a very industrial part of town on the outskirts of the city. It was a pretty motley crew of folks in there and an overall bizarre experience.

NWMS:  What are your favorite and least-favorite things about Seattle?  How has Seattle changed over the years, for better, worse, and/or odder?

Carrie Biell:  This city has changed immensely since I started living here back in the late ‘90s. I often miss “old Seattle” because it felt like such a fun and affordable place to live for artists, queers, and weirdos. I miss many of the businesses, clubs, and apartment buildings that have since been torn down and developed into giant condo buildings or town houses. With all the development and gentrification that’s happened over the years with Amazon and other large companies dominating this city it’s been hard to see many of those residents who made the city so fun and appealing get pushed out because of the cost of living. 

With that you see a lot of POC-owned businesses closing down and neighborhoods that were more diverse or predominantly lived in by people of color completely shift.  It’s happening in a lot of major cities, but Seattle looks almost unrecognizable to me at times. There are more people living on the streets because of this housing crisis, and it’s difficult to see your city and businesses mishandling the problem.

At the same time we still have the beautiful mountains and lakes, scenic views that will never become old to me. The music scene still manages to keep thriving. Even with all the growth and change, artists, queers, chefs, and creators still find ways to build communities and create events and spaces that keep art and culture alive in Seattle. It feels like the scene always has a way of going through change, and then manages to regenerate into something new and awesome. We are lucky to have such a great local radio station like KEXP and local magazines and blogs who still highlight artists and creators

Cat Biell:  Seattle folks can sometimes be hard to play for because it’s pretty well known that people don’t dance much at shows in this town. Some shows you may get a lot of crossed arms and distant stares or some gentle swaying.



NWMS:  Where did you record the new album, and who worked with you on it?

Carrie & Cat Biell:  We recorded our record with Aaron Schroeder at Pierced Ears Recording Company, which is in a basement of a house in Ballard. We did our last record with Aaron out of various studios while he was moving from his old studio into this new one, and we knew we would absolutely be working with him again. 

Aaron has created a space that is so comfortable and fun to work out of. He’s made it affordable and accessible to bands who want the extra time to create in the studio and we are grateful for that. He’s a genius and we contribute much of the record’s overall ambience and extra layers of trippy ass textures to him. Working with Aaron is incredible. He has always been able to pull the best work out of all of us, and it makes us better musicians in the end. He’s also just a sweet and hilarious dude who puts up with all of our shenanigans.

NWMS: What’s in your future after the album release party?

Cat Biell:  After the release show we will be heading out on tour in support of the record. Playing in Bellingham, Boise, Portland and San Francisco. We also have a full schedule of fall/ winter shows in Seattle. 

We plan to continue playing out nationally, but we would also like to take some time this winter to hunker down and write more music.


Andrew Hamlin

Andrew Hamlin likes to photograph shoes and write about dog shit. He was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, where he resides today. He attended the Evergreen State College, where he wrote and edited arts coverage for the Cooper Point Journal. He is the film critic for the Northwest Asian Weekly, and he’s published arts coverage and criticism in the San Diego Reader, Village Voice, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, Goldmine, and other publications. He misses Helen Wiggin. Hamlin’s website is https://andrewhamlin.org.

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