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The Near-Death Experiences That Shaped Chalcedony’s Resilient EP 

This Duran Duran-approved alt rock band is well versed in overcoming obstacles.

by Johnny Papan

The recording of Chalcedony’s new EP, kal-ˈse-də-nē, began in 2019 but was set back several times under catastrophic circumstances. Singer-songwriter and band leader Cate Horsley was involved in two car accidents, which resulted in a concussion that made her “feel like a stranger” in her own head, forcing her to relearn how to play instruments and write music. To add to the trauma, precancerous cells were found on her tongue, requiring surgery and a significant recovery period. 

However, none of these obstacles could get in the way of the emboldened frontwoman. Instead, she used these experiences as creative fuel to export an album that is valiantly vulnerable and gritty. It’s a diary into her psyche, giving listeners insight into what’s been going on inside her head.

The Vancouver-based quartet play a darkened mix of 90s grunge and poppy garage rock full of moody instrumentation and bleak lyricism complemented by catchy choruses and melodies. We caught up with Horsley to talk about the accidents, her surgery, and finding her way back on her feet to release an album that’s been four years in the making.

When you say you “felt like a stranger” inside your own head after the accidents, what felt different about you and what did you do to re-find yourself?

I felt like I lost myself completely. I used to go by Katy ever since I was five years old and I felt so disconnected from the person I was before that I changed my name to Cate. It was something I could control and I needed to somehow accept this new version of myself who I didn’t know yet. My personality was gone. I was cognitively impaired. I felt flatlined inside. I used to be witty and silly and was doing all of these creative things that were just not possible anymore. I had to quit everything; stand-up comedy, acting, and music, just so I could focus on healing and being a mom.

My physio and vestibular rehab practitioners said to keep challenging myself and to slow down and stop when symptoms arose. I had to pick one thing to focus on instead of 10. So I picked music and just kept pushing. As far as finding myself again, I didn’t really put pressure on that. I figured over time parts of me would return and new things would develop. I was really depressed about it for a long time, but I decided to embrace it like a new chapter in my life and try to see the positives. 

It took you over a year to relearn how to play and write music. Can you talk about that experience? What was it like when you first picked up a guitar again for the first time? 

Before the accidents I had been writing a bunch of songs on a Gaia synth. I was teaching myself to play piano and wrote around 17 songs that I had planned to record with Felix [Fung of Little Red Sounds]. But after the accident, even pressing a key would send shivers down my spine and like knife pains into my head. The sound would irritate me so much that I would burst into tears. I tried to play the songs I had written on synth for months and it just wasn’t happening. So I thought about the music I had done before. I had been in bands in my 20s, playing guitar and baritone guitar more recently in Junior Major. I figured the neural pathways in my brain would have been much deeper on an instrument I had spent way more time on. So I decided to give up trying to play synth and went back to baritone. At first I was going to rework the songs on baritone but I just couldn’t do it. I also felt so angry at the circumstance of having to relearn everything. So I decided to go back to my punk roots of writing simple punk/pop songs. 

It was hard. It took months and months of trying over and over again, just little riffs and melodic ideas. I looked back at my voice memos and I guess it actually took over 18 months to finally write a fully fledged song. The first accident was in April 2019 and I finally wrote a song that ended up on the EP late November 2020. That song is “Under Cover.”  What would normally have taken a few hours at best, I recall took like three to four days of trying to piece something together. But I finally did it and felt so ecstatic. I battled my injured brain and I won.

Your lyricism is often influenced by darker experiences. This was even recognized by Duran’s Duran’s Simon Le Bon. How did he come across your track “Shark Eyes”?

I submitted it to the WHOOOSH podcast. They are very cool and any band can submit a song, whether you’re famous or have like 20 Spotify listeners. I knew it was a long shot, as this was our first single and nobody knew who we were, but I said out loud, as if to manifest it, ‘Simon Le Bon, you will play our song.’ Then like a day later I got an email saying he was going to put it in the Hot Spot. I always aim high though. When I wrote poetry I would only send it to the New York Times. I’m crazy like that.

What attracts or inspires you to write about the darker parts of your life-experiences?

I think it just comes out that way. I’m actually an eternal optimist. But I felt kind of haunted my whole life. I have diagnosed anxiety, OCD, and depression. I’m also a Venus in Pisces. If you follow that stuff, then you know why I write so many sad girl songs. I have this deep empathy for humans and, well, that doesn’t always make for healthy situations. 

If you had to narrow down the overall theme or message behind your new EP, what would it be?

I think the theme is trying to find a voice again after feeling knocked down. Exorcizing ghosts and shadows that have lingered inside for too long. Processing pain that you don’t want to eat you alive anymore. Standing up for oneself amid fuckery. All humans are on a different part of their path as far as healing and growing goes, so some things are better left as poetic metaphors up for interpretation. 

Now that you’ve overcome so much throughout this experience will your next album still follow a darker path?

As far as our next batch of songs go, so far there are still dark themes because life is littered with dark and light on the daily, but I feel like they are already more empowered.

Any final thoughts? 

One thing I do want to get across is: fuck ageism once and for all. I quit music originally when I turned 28 because I felt pressured by society. And now to me that is so fucking young, it’s crazy. As women, we are no longer considered viable or desirable over 30 in the entertainment industry. Well, I will be 44 in April. My bandmates are all in their 40s too and we do what we want. Gillian and I run our own indie label, Aura Aurora Records, so we don’t have to answer to anyone and we are going to keep chasing our dreams because we are so grateful to be alive and still have the chance to do so. 

What is the point of life if you don’t have the will to live it to the fullest? No matter what tries to knock you down, you get up and you try again. Even over 40. Especially over 40.