High school student by day, rock star by night.
It sounds like the concept for a cheesy teenie bopper t.v. show, but it was real life in the late ‘90s for London’s Morgan Lander and her mates in the metal band Kittie. In fact, singer/guitarist Morgan was the band’s elder statesman at 17 years old when Kittie was signed to NG Records and released their acclaimed first record, Spit, in 1999. Her sister Mercedes (drums) was 15, and the other original members, Fallon Bowman (guitar), and Tanya Candler (bass) were 16.
Members have come and gone since then (see the list here), but Kittie continued to put out CDs and tour extensively all over the world. The band received a lot of attention for its all-female lineup and, in the early days, youth, but neither of those factors trumps the music itself, which is heavy, technical, and brutal in the best possible way. Female or male, young or “mature,” Kittie rocks. Hard. Over the years, they have developed a rabidly loyal fan base, earning slots on tours with bands like Slipknot and playing huge festivals including Ozzfest.
Kittie’s last major tour was in 2012. After that, they made the conscious decision to take a break from the road and work more traditional jobs for a while, but that doesn’t mean Kittie isn’t still around. Morgan and Mercedes are currently hard at work on an ambitious book/DVD project to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary in 2016 – a long and difficult process that will result in the ultimate Kittie retrospective.
The book project has been made possible with incredible support from the band’s fans. Kittie launched an Indiegogo campaign earlier this year, hoping to raise $20,000 for the cause. Their fans delivered that total in just eight hours, and eventually doubled it, providing the resources the band needed to do the project right.
LGM was fortunate enough to chat with Morgan Lander about that project, as well as the band’s history and her hopes for the future.
LGM: What’s the status of Kittie right now?
Morgan: The status of Kittie is kind of complicated. The last full tour that we did was summer of 2012. However, we did do one show last year in Toronto. Right now we’re sort of … I don’t want to say we’re on hiatus, because we technically are still talking about things, working on things, thinking about potential shows, ideas for the future. I guess, to put it plainly, it came to a point where doing the band full-time became too much financially, especially touring in the States. There just isn’t enough demand or money for us to support ourselves fully with the band. We haven’t broken up or anything like that. It’s just we decided that focusing on other career choices were equally as important at this time.
LGM: So where are you working these days?
Morgan: I work at the head office at (a chain of fitness clubs). I’m in marketing, which is cool. (It’s) a place where you can move up in the world, and I certainly have marketing and PR experience, so that’s where I have my eyes focused. I’m not, like, telling people to do push-ups and stuff in the clubs [laughs]. It’s fine by me. I feel like I can apply a lot of the experience that I’ve had in dealing with people and booking shows and doing our own managing for the last few years. We all have jobs or whatever, and to me it’s not that big of a deal. I feel bad for my sister, because she went and got her real estate license and metal websites were like writing articles about her like, ‘Oh, this is so funny.’ It’s not funny. Everyone has a fucking job. Just because you have to go and find other sources (of income), does that make you a failure? Absolutely not.
LGM: I saw a few of those articles. It’s very easy for people to write that stuff without knowing anything about the situation or what they’re talking about.
Morgan: Absolutely. I agree. I just think it’s sad. We made a conscious decision. We understand that nothing is going to last forever, and while we do obviously have a wildly loyal fan base – the Indiegogo campaign is a reflection of that – the way that things are, we’re not making enough money. Even if we toured nine months out of the year, it’s not enough to pay our bills. Even having to do things like pay for accountants and lawyers and that sort of thing. It just started to become overwhelming, and it’s like it’s time to try to make some money other ways, so that maybe we can continue with the band and put that money we’ve made into it.
LGM: Do the people you work with realize who you are?
Morgan: Yeah, they do.
LGM: That’s just cool.
Morgan: Some people don’t really know much about it, but London is kind of a weird place. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. I’m totally cool with it. It’s not a big deal.
LGM: Fair enough. So tell me about getting signed as a teenager. How did that happen?
Morgan: Well, I guess to preface, we formed the band in 1996. It was myself and my sister and Fallon Bowman, who was our former guitar player. Technically the two of them started the band and I sort of meandered down to the basement to join them after a few weeks or months of them just jamming or whatever. We did a couple of demos and we started to play live around 1998, doing like battle of the bands shows initially, and then we played at our high school and we did shows at Call the Office and the Embassy. And then we actually had signed up for Canadian Music Week in 1999. We went down to Toronto, and we were down at the Westin Harbour Castle, which was CMW headquarters, and we had flyers and we had a couple of shows booked, and we just harassed people basically [laughs]. You have to understand that at the time I had just turned 17. My sister had just turned 15. Tanya and Fallon were both 16 at the time.
LGM: That’s amazing.
Morgan: We were just doing our thing. Looking back, we were really outgoing. I don’t want to say bratty, but we didn’t really have a filter, and it helped to turn heads. We had seen a guy down there. His name was Jason Weiner. He was second in command at NG Records, which was a small punk rock label out of New York City. We harassed him enough to where we like, ‘Hey, come see our show.’ He came, and from there the ball started to roll where they thought we would be a good fit for their label, and we got signed to NG Records the summer of 1999. Then we went into the studio to record Spit. We booked a two-week tour on summer holidays with a band called Skinlab, who were a metal band out of California.
Morgan: From there, toward the end of the year, NG Records was bought out by Artemis Records. It was run by a lot of dudes who were prominent in the industry. Danny Goldberg was the head. He managed Nirvana. Daniel Glass as well. A number of names that had worked for large record labels in the ‘80s and ‘90s. So we ended up on Artemis Records, and the rest is history I guess.
LGM: A lot of times when there’s a takeover bands get dropped, but you guys didn’t.
Morgan: To be quite honest with you, there were bands on NG that did get dropped, but I think both Michael Chambers, who owned NG Records, and Jason Weiner, as well as the guys who ran Artemis, saw the potential in us. We were very lucky in that at the time that there was the merge going on, there was already a buzz that had started in New York City among the radio stations, college radio, and in the industry itself. When we were in New York City on our date with Skinlab, which was towards the end of the summer of 1999 – this was before Artemis Records was even in the picture – like two hundred people showed up, and they were all industry people. When our set was done, they all fucking left.
Morgan: We felt horrible. Rolling Stone was fucking there. That night we got our picture taken, and then the next issue of Rolling Stone, we were in the “bands to look out for” kind of section.
LGM: What was going through your head when all of this was happening? You’re 17!
Morgan: I don’t know. To me it was just fun. I don’t want to say we were naïve, but at the time it was like these were all things that we had sort of dreamed about. I guess the way I like to try to put it is (it was) much like a hurricane, you know? When you’re in the eye of the storm, it’s not nearly as chaotic and out of control as what’s actually going on around you. I think we were really humble about a lot of stuff as well. We came from good middle class families, and while we did have a particular attitude, which we were very mindful of, we were still like, ‘Wow, this is kinda neat.’ To me it felt like these were all things we kept to ourselves. Like, ‘While I was away on summer holiday I was in Rolling Stone magazine.’ Teachers at school and that sort of thing didn’t know.
LGM: That’s amazing. Did Artemis pressure you to look a certain way or sound a certain way?
Morgan: No. Absolutely not. When we came to Artemis, that’s exactly how we looked and how we sounded. The album was technically recorded independently. Garth Richardson, who’s done a lot of really great stuff, actually agreed to do the album sort of on points, which is sort of like a percentage. We came as-is. I’m not sure if you’ve had the opportunity to hear some of our demos, but the songs remained pretty much exactly the same, just with Spit the recording was better. It was still done relatively punk rock. We recorded that entire album in nine days, after fucking school.
LGM: I’m still blown away by the whole story, to be honest.
Morgan: Me too [laughs]. It’s crazy. Right now we’re reflecting a lot on the past because we’re doing the book and that sort of thing. There are things that I have done in my life that I can’t even remember exactly what they are, you know what I mean? And having to ask other people, ‘Did this happen?’ I vaguely have a recollection of this. It’s just like 15 years of just absolute chaos.
LGM: What are some of the highlights for you over the past 15 years?
Morgan: Oh boy. Obviously things like our first tour and getting signed were a big deal, but even then we didn’t really think it was gonna go as far as it did. When we originally signed that contract with NG, they pressed 8,000 copies of the CD, and that’s what we were gonna sell. We thought this would be over in a year and it’ll just sorta be a thing that we do after school and that was it. And then those 8,000 copies were gone in like the first fucking week. So it was like, ‘Oh shit. Time to fucking go.’ Obviously getting the tour with Slipknot, that was a big deal, because at the time they were a big buzz band. They weren’t nearly as big as they are now, but it was the beginning of absolute chaos.
LGM: Right. What else?
Morgan: Being personally invited to Ozzfest by Sharon Osbourne herself was pretty fucking cool. Having her call the house, talk to my dad. That was pretty neat. Having the opportunity to travel as much as we have. I’ve been to Russia, Portugal, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Mexico. Having the opportunity to play in front of crowds all across Europe and Scandinavia. Things like that to me are highlights. I think mostly, looking back and reflecting on things, a lot of it has to do with the community that we’ve built.
LGM: Tell me more about that.
Morgan: There are people that live all over the world who to this day are not only fans, but people that we know on a first-name basis, who we would invite into our home. That sort of thing. A lot of these people will say their lives have been changed as they’ve met amazing people through the band. We had a really great community on our message board on the website, which we’ve moved over to Facebook now. To me that’s probably one of the coolest things. These are people that I’ll know and always feel comfortable with and they’ve had really cool experiences because of the band. They’ve met their wives and husbands. They’ve had kids. They’ve traveled blindly across the country to meet people that they only knew as a screen name, and everyone was very welcoming and stuff. Some of them have seen over a hundred shows. To me that’s kinda like the most rewarding and biggest highlight.
LGM: So you guys came along kind of at the tail end of the record label era. Things have changed a lot since then.
Morgan: We certainly did. After that first album the times had already changed, and it was definitely reflected in album sales and label support and that sort of thing. If we had only been a little older and maybe came out five years earlier I’d be fucking ten times richer, but that’s just the way things go. Technology evolved and a lot of people just didn’t evolve.
LGM: If Kittie was starting today, how would you go about it?
Morgan: Oh God. I don’t think it would have even got off the ground. There’s so much going on in terms of competition and that sort of thing. I mean obviously if I was 16 and we were in the band now, we would have SoundCloud and Bandcamp and Facebook and all that stuff, and we would be trying to promote. I don’t know. I think that back then there was something really exciting and beautiful about a street team or about the in-person contact with someone. Now it’s all very impersonal and removed, and I feel like part of the reason why a lot of stuff was a lot more popular was because people, if they had a hunger for music, they had to search it out.
Morgan: There’s something really cool about going to a show and having somebody hand you a tape. ‘What the fuck is this?’ And you go home and you put on and you’re like, ‘Wow!’ And then you have to find out about the album. You have to search for it, and there’s something really rewarding about that and having a tangible copy in your hand. I just don’t think that happens anymore. Street teams are dead now. Back then we had street teams. We had kids from all over the country, all over the world, who agreed to flyer and take demo tapes and do that stuff. To me that was part of building something sustainable and real. And now you’re just bombarded with shit on Facebook and people just scroll by it. It’s a very different feeling. A very different scene.
LGM: Do you think bands need labels anymore?
Morgan: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It certainly helps, but at the same time, with the advent of crowd-sourcing and that sort of thing, (some people) even wanna give you money to tour and do your album, so why not? Now days it’s a little bit more about instant gratification, and really I think they’re only signing bands that already come with a built-in fan base or already come with legwork done. The idea of artist development is pretty much dead, unless you’re being groomed to be a fucking pop star. In that case you’re just following the direction of the label anyway. But the idea of signing a band because they have potential and seeing that through over years and years and years to where they become an amazing band through touring and that sort of thing doesn’t exist anymore.
LGM: That’s a real shame. Let’s talk about the book project.
Morgan: The idea actually sort of started last summer while we were practicing for the show that we did in Toronto in September. It was sort of a thing where we already knew that we weren’t going to be touring as much, but it was like the 20th anniversary of the band is looming in the distance. It’s coming in 2016, so it was like, ‘What kind of cool stuff could we do to commemorate that to get the fans excited and get them engaged?’ We started to talk about a reunion tour or a book or DVD, and the seed was planted at that point. Fast forward to the beginning of 2014 and it was like, ‘Why don’t we go ahead and do it?’ A lot of the groundwork had to be laid before we could announce the project and put together the Indiegogo campaign itself, so we had the task of reaching out to people who used to be in the band to see if they were interested. People like Tanya and Fallon are people that I am still in contact with, so that wasn’t necessarily a difficult thing. With Talena, I had to get Fallon to speak to her because I didn’t really have any way of contacting her. We ended up having a bunch of meetings. It ended up that everyone agreed that it was an intriguing idea, and that they would at least be on-board to launch the project, and from there we would go ahead with the DVD and the book.
Morgan: So then we had to put together all the perks for the Indiegogo thing, which was basically us going through our fucking basement and going, ‘What can we fucking find that people would think was cool?’ We’re sitting on hundreds of piles of shit. CDs and demos that never got sold, and old posters and t-shirt designs that are like 12, 13, 14, 15 years out of date. Cool stuff like that. And we’re lucky that, say for instance the one shirt we put out for the campaign, our merch company has always been really awesome to us. They made special exceptions to bust out this really super old design. They fulfilled everything. They sent everything out. It was just really fucking cool. So we had a lot of help along the way. We’re lucky that we know a lot of great people as well. Trish actually put the video together. I sort of gave art direction in terms of how I think it should look, and then Trish went ahead and we just recorded everything. Everybody came to my mom’s house and it was like a big fucking weird reunion.
LGM: Sounds fun.
Morgan: Tanya and Fallon and Talena and Ivy and Trish and Tara and myself and Mercedes all in a room together. So fucking weird. Jenn Arroyo lives in New York, so she was on-board and she had to do her parts closer to home, because coming all the way up to London to do that would be expensive, so that was cool. So everybody was on-board and Trish recorded the video and edited it and took pictures, and it just ended up going off fucking just amazing. We announced it, and within eight hours we’d reached our goal. To be quite honest with you, our goal was $20,000, and I thought, ‘We are gonna need that entire 45 days or whatever to reach that goal.’ And in eight hours we had done it. And then by the time the campaign was over we had more than doubled it, which, as it turns out, was a really good thing, because now we’re gonna be able to do a lot more than we had planned before. Licensing videos and contacting MuchMusic to try to get old footage and things like that that actually do cost a lot of money.
LGM: When’s it actually going to be released?
Morgan: As of right now, we are still in the process of working on the book and the DVD. The book is still in its very infant stages. Mark Eglinton, who wrote Rex Brown from Pantera’s biography, is the author. He’s a really good dude. He’s really excited about the project and really engaged. But as I said, it’s still in the very, very early stages. I think Mercedes and I have only done four, maybe five interviews. Now we’re gonna start to branch off and have everyone do their individual interviews. The reason we started it now was because we wanted it to be out for 2016, so that’s how long these things are gonna take. Writing a book is not an easy task. You want it to tell the story correctly and you want everyone to be involved. It also needs to be kind of a thick book too. You want to include all the details and everything, so that’ll take a while.
Morgan: The DVD portion of things … we’re gonna try to release everything at the same time. Both book and DVD sort of piggyback each other. Pretty much all the footage for the DVD is there, save the interviews that we are hoping to do with everyone individually to sort of intercut with the old footage. Basically the DVD is gonna be all the footage that we recorded ourselves over the years. There were hundreds of tapes. Tupperwares just fucking full of VHS and Hi8s and small little weirdo tapes and shit that we had to go through. My sister painstakingly went through all of those to get everything together, and then we digitized it all. We have Dave Brodsky from New York who will be cutting all that stuff together.
LGM: It must have been fun to look at some of that stuff.
Morgan: Oh God, yeah. Honestly, just to see some of the places we’ve been. The things we’ve seen and done. I’m glad we were so proactive about recording it all. Otherwise none of this shit would even exist. We’re very excited about everything.
LGM: That’s great. Are you still writing these days?
Morgan: I have some ideas. There are some projects that we’re sort of working on that are aside from Kittie, but it’s really nothing that we can talk about because it hasn’t really come to fruition. We have a few demos and stuff.
LGM: Does it sound similar or is it totally divergent?
Morgan: It’s hard to say. I guess in a way it’s different. It’s not necessarily metal.
LGM: So what’s next for Kittie apart from the book?
Morgan: As it stands right now, the main focus is getting all the things together for the book and the DVD. It’s gonna be a long process because there are a lot of people involved. Mark has to go and interview everyone, and that’s like ten people. He has to have enough time with them for them to be able to tell their story as well, so we’ll be focusing on that. With the release of the DVD and the book we’re hoping to do a box set. We’ve talked a little bit with the label about trying to re-release as a box set all of our back catalogue, so that might be in the works. And then to coincide with that release obviously there’s gonna have to be some sort of promotional thing that goes along with it, whether that ends up being a band tour or a book signing tour or that sort of thing. There will be things that come along with that, but it’s too far out to tell right now. We’re gonna keep working on that, and if the right show or festival comes along we may look into that, but as it stands right now we want to focus on trying to get the stuff done and make those the best that they can possibly be.
LGM: What about you? Is there anything left in music that you want to do?
Morgan: Yeah, of course. I think Kittie is just one facet of who I am and my personality. Like I said, there are other ideas in the works, and other things like that. Whether or not they come to fruition right away is left to be seen, but I think people that are creative never stop being creative.
Keep up with Kittie: