Actress, writer, and singer M.C. Cait Brennan has been around the block. She’s had small parts in films like 1985’s gender-bending teen cult classic Just One of the Guys, PowerUp’s indie lesbian flick Itty Bitty Titty Committee, and Emmy-winning TV shows including Northern Exposure. Her own screenplays have been award-winners, including Dramatis Personae (which she described to Curve magazine as “Pretty in Pink meets Hedwig and the Angry Inch, or The Way We Were with cock jokes.”)
Last year, Brennan released her first album, Debutante, to critical acclaim. Although she jokingly dismissed herself at the time as a “47-year-old trans gal with Parkinson’s who makes basically thinly veiled glam-punk Taylor Swift songs,” the album made numerous best of the year lists, snagged Brennan a recording deal with Warner Bros’ Omnivore label, and led the Los Angeles Times to call her “pop rock’s next big thing.” The singer boasts a rare four-plus octave range (on par with Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera), and she’s gaining new fans with her latest album, Third, which is peppered with pop culture references.
You’re a Comic-Con fixture. At Omaha Comic-Con you hosted a Q&A with Alison Arngrim (who played Nellie Oleson, the mean girl from Little House on the Prairie).
When Comic-Con first asked me, I had a moment of terror from my childhood self watching her on television and going, “That’s the meanest girl in the world!” In real life, she’s very sweet … [but] got a reputation from the show for being a terror and still gets to lord that over people. We had a great time. It was at a huge sports arena in Omaha and we got lost in the tunnels. We looked at each other and we both just said, “Spinal Tap!” as we ran around and around the arena [like the band did in the movie Spinal Tap].
One of my favorite songs on Third is “Benedict Cumberbatch.” Are you a Sherlock, Dr. Strange, or Khan fan?
It’s hard to not say Sherlock. ... We keep kind of waiting for [Cumberbatch] to hear it and be vaguely appalled and amused. That’s sort of how I ended up doing Comic-Con — a lot of my songs reference pop culture. I’m a nerdy, science fiction kind of person. “Catiebots Don’t Cry” references Small Wonder from the ’80s. It’s always been a part of my music.
You’ve gone from actress to filmmaker to critically acclaimed rock goddess. How do you marry those lives?
I have many lives and they all kind of compete for time on my calendar. The sum total of all of them is where I am.
Debutante was called “the kind of record that artists dream of recording.” Did that put a lot of pressure on you to get the follow-up right?
It did and it didn’t. We [Brennan and her producer, Fernando Perdomo] made a second record, which we love and is very good, but through circumstances that were very strange, we ended up making a third one before the second one even came out. So that’s the one where we were thinking, OK, how do we top this? Whereas this one, we were just having fun. We got invited to come to Memphis and work at Ardent [Studios] and it was sort of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we had to do it. Everybody loved the results, so we were like, “Let’s just put this out right now and keep working on the other.”
The next album includes recordings from musician Emitt Rhodes’s studio — which you actually tried to find when you were young, right?
That is true. I was dating someone who lived in Hawthorne [Calif.], which is where Emitt lives, and where the Beach Boys were from. And half the time... I was actually just roaming around, sort of looking for Emitt’s place. [Recording there] was a long time coming.
How do you identify these days?
Bi would be the best descriptor for that, but I do have a female partner I’ve been with for 10 years now.