In 2019, Hollis Brown frontman Mike Montali and Don DiLego, who befriended each other on the road years earlier, found themselves backstage at a New York City club, talking, drinking, and trying to conjure up some kind of project to work on together. DiLego had been tossing around the idea of forming a band with four singer-songwriters, themselves included, who could each bring their own element—and songs—to the table. This ensemble could work, but it needed a name.
“The waitress came by and somebody asked her, ‘if you wanted to name a band, what would you name the band,’ and she goes ‘Fantastic Cat,’” says Montali. “We said, ‘that’s it.’ We made a pledge. We’re gonna ask this waitress, and whatever she says we’re gonna do no matter what, and she said Fantastic Cat.”
Made up of DiLego and Montali, along with Anthony D’Amato and Brian Dunne, Fantastic Cat played their debut show together during a livestream on March 28. Reconvened at DiLegos’ Velvet Elk Studios in Pocono Lake, New York—D’Amato joining remotely from Colorado, where he’s been quarantined since 2020—the band premiered five tracks from their debut, out later this year.
Each taking a turn at the mic, their respective song in tow, Dunne’s harmony swapping heartbreaker, “Fiona,” was the exception. Written at least five years earlier by New York-born folk artist, who released his third album Selling Things in 2020, “Fiona” went through several iterations, always around the refrain of I’m gonna miss you until I’m with you again, but could never come together for Dunne. “I was resisting it being a love song, but that’s what it wanted to be,” shares Dunne. “Once I embraced it, it just sort of flowed perfectly, with the verses sort of waxing philosophical on existential struggle, and the refrain sort of anchoring it down in a pretty simple way.”
Laying down a rough demo of the track a week later, Dunne brought it to the studio during and earlier Fantastic Cat session NYC, and made it whole. “I played it for the guys, thinking four verses, four people,” says Dunne, “maybe it would work.”
Initially recorded during an earlier Fantastic Cat session at Atomic Sound in New York City, “Fiona” was one of two tracks the band recorded—the other being DiLego’s next solo single.
“Brian really nailed the band feeling that we all wanted for this group, and egolessly suggested we all take a verse of the song,’” says DiLego. “Those sort of things are not easy to pull off and can derail pretty easily, but everyone managed to find their moment within the song, and it really speaks to the strengths of this group.”