FEATURE Sam Stewart (23) and Django Stewart (20), Nightmare & The Cat
Image Credit: Sterling Taylor

Nightmare & the Cat: Brothers Band Together To Fulfill Their Dream

by Kathryn Sesser
At first glance, they couldn’t be any more different.

Django Stewart, 20, is as flamboyant as they come. Tight clothing, jewelry, the “just-rolled-out-of-bed hair,” he is the visual definition of an androgynous L.A. frontman. Standing in front of a transitioning crowd during soundcheck for a recent show at House of Blues, the patrons are starting to look annoyed as his band, Nightmare & the Cat run through the checks.

His brother, Sam Stewart, 23, dressed down in nondescript hipster attire, is serious about everything that is coming through the monitors, loud as it may be for the others. He listens to each musician with intent, the elder sibling obviously seeking a level of his defined perfection.

But as the tedious tasks come to a close and their band launches into the song “Blackbird Smile,” the mood in the room swiftly changes, and you can see these boys mean business. The crowd, mesmerized by the sound and Django’s flowing movement on stage, immediately wants more.

They are here to play their first show in Chicago, opening for Lissie at the House of Blues during a Lollapalooza after-party. But they are not new to the stage, by any means. Both brothers have seen some success with earlier bands and solo projects, most-notably the younger Stewart brother, who was known as Django James when he was the frontman of the group, Midnight Squires.

The comparisons run all across the board for Nightmare & the Cat, with ties to Jeff Buckley for Django’s lyrics, voice and even stage presence standing out; whereas the immediate thought of Radiohead comes when you hear the music and instrumentation of their track, “Girl In a Glass Dress.”

Sam’s love clearly lies with Thom Yorke, “I was listening to OK Computer today while I was ironing,” Sam says. “I could listen to that album on repeat forever.”  Radiohead is not Django’s “cup of tea, as he is a melody person,” he says. The younger brother’s allegiances lie more with Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix and, as witnessed in his sound, Jeff Buckley.

“When Django and I decided to write songs together, our original idea is that we wanted Jeff Buckley meets the Pixies,” Sam says. “It was our concept, or whatever. But obviously it’s gone down a few different routes. I think if we were so strictly adhering to that idea, it would get monotonous after a while.”

’Sarah Beth,’ that was the first song we wrote together,” Django says, “ And it was pretty much based on that idea. We have different influences, and we inspire each other. But also, as we have more and more material, I think our sound inspires us.”

They are traveling with friends from Los Angeles, which include a newly added bass player and drummer. It’s taken their normal three-piece set-up to a rousing rock band in the year that they have been together. Clare Acey, background vocals and various instruments, has been with the band since its earliest incarnation; Brandon "Spike" Phillips, on drums, and Julia Mitchell, on bass, are the newest members of Nightmare & the Cat.

The excitement they feel about their “green room” at the House of Blues in Chicago is refreshing. As children of rock stars, you would expect little impresses them. But it is written all over the face of Django, as he excitedly points out all of the highlights of this tiny holding space, right down to the teas that are waiting for him. (Next to a giant bottle of SYSCO honey.)

photo by Sterling Taylor

But any indication of a “silver spoon” is not immediately apparent from either brother.

Sam, born in Los Angeles, was the first child for Dave Stewart, formerly of the Eurythmics, now with Mick Jagger’s Super Heavy, and Siobhan Fahey, an Irish-born singer who was a founding member of Bananarama and Shakespeares Sister. Django followed a few years later, and since then they have both split their time between the States and the London, calling Los Angeles home at the moment.

“I think it somewhat hurts us, but helps us in other ways,” Django says when the subject of his parents is brought up. “But in a lot of ways it doesn’t matter.”

“In a lot of ways it doesn’t matter,” Sam agrees. “And I wish a lot of people would realize that. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and whine that I have famous parents or anything, because I think people will see that we’ve earned it.”

“I think our parents have nothing to do with our music, so when people give us positive feedback, we’re so excited,” Django says. “If they mention our parents, it’s kind of like … ‘Awwww, this is my thing.’ You just get caught off guard.”

“The funny thing is, Django and I have both been in bands, and doing solo stuff prior to being in a band together,” Sam adds. “And when I was doing my solo thing and when I was in my own band, I never got asked stuff about my parents. Like very rarely, I just don’t think it factored into it.

“And I don’t think you ever got asked much when you were doing Squires,” he says, turning to Django.  “But it’s like now that we’ve come together …”

“I’ll say one thing,” Django interjects. “I totally respect my parents’ taste in music.”

Being exposed to greats like Iggy Pop is what made Django realize he was born to be on stage, and he has spent time around Los Angeles working to make that happen. For the past year, Nightmare & the Cat have played dozens of shows, hoping to make a name for themselves on the scene.

photo by Sterling Taylor

They’ve just gotten an email with an invite to play Crazy Girls, Django says, a strip club where Sam has already graced the stage. It’s a place where a lot of musicians, including a “15-year-old Courtney Love, “ Django is quick to tell us, played in their early days.

“We’ve been playing a lot of the same venues, I mean we’ve played a lot all over but we’ve tried to avoid The Strip, as there’s not much happening there,” Sam says. “In the beginning we were wanting to do sort of sparse gigs in strange places.”

“Yeah, like backs of guitar shops or in someone’s home,” Django interjects.

“But we’re playing more of the cool, club-sized venues now,” Sam says. “The place we have played the most, or played the most early on, is a place called Hotel Café which is famous mostly for singer/songwriters, but the sound is just amazing.”

“It’s kind of where we cut our teeth,” Django adds.

“I think we’re just going to keep touring and releasing things and creating things and spreading our ideas wider,” he says about future plans outside the comforts of home. “We don’t even have management yet, so we’re going to hopefully get management and keep the ball rolling like that. The way Arcade Fire did it was so natural and we respect that.”

“We’d like it to be a very natural growth, not being shoved down people’s throats until they get sick of it,” Sam says.

But while there are dreams of further stardom, both of the brothers have different ideas of where they see themselves in a year.

“Letterman,” Django says. “Or actually playing at Lollapalooza, instead of near it for the weekend … I’d like a nice sunset slot. Not saying the main stage, just one of the stages.”

“I’d like to be big in Japan, maybe,” Sam says.

“Sam’s already been big in Japan!” Django exclaims.

Their brotherhood/bandmate connection may also bring to mind comparisons to those other famed sibling songmakers, Noel and Liam Gallagher. So, of course, the thought of damaging a relationship while in search of fame is there. But, when asked if they ever worry about the Gallaghers, they are quick to quash those fears.

“Yeah, they have been looking for us …” Sam jokingly answers.

“Me and Sam are really, really close,” Django is quick to interject.

“We have each others’ middle names tattooed on our arms,” Sam says. And sure enough, in big letters, down Django’s arm is “HURRICANE,” while on Sam’s, “LAWLESS.” “It’s in case we ever get lost,” he adds.

As they are certainly old enough to find their way home if separated, it is plain to see that these two bothers, although extremely, different, are pleased to have found a common goal in making music together.

And so far, it’s working out just fine.

  • Kathryn Sesser has been a designer with The Times of Northwest Indiana for nearly five years, but a writer all her life. A Mississippi girl, this resident of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is a Southerner through and through: Good food, good conversation and good music drive the soul. When not dreaming of grits, this lyrical junkie can be found wandering the streets of Chicago or searching for gems on vinyl. If the sun is out – and it’s above freezing – find her at Montrose beach with her dog, Huxley.