Interview by Ed MacLaren
Since blasting out of the Great White North in 1999, Canada’s Kittie has pushed and evolved from its nu-metal roots into a tight thrash-oriented unit of massive metal mayhem. With the twin guitar attack of vocalist Morgan Lander and Tara McLeod backed by the bludgeoning rhythm section of bassist Ivy Vujic and drummer Mercedes Lander, Kittie‘s new album, “I’ve Failed You”, is anything but one, reaching new levels in the band’s songwriting and sound. Femme Metal got a chance to talk with Morgan about the new album, the changes in her writing, and her dedication to Canada’s national beverage.“I’ve Failed You” is a failure in title only. Massive riffs, great vocals. Straight to the point, no filler. A pretty successful combination. Do you agree? I do, of course! I think this album came out much better than we ever could imagined and as it started to take shape, we knew that it was going to be a monster! The album features some heavy thrash guitar. It must have been a blast for you and Tara McLeod to throw down on this album.
Tara and I always have a blast when we are writing and playing together. We still have wildly different styles but I think that’s what makes this band so interesting and allows for us to continue to evolve. We’re always pushing ourselves to be better, play faster and challenge the expected for us. “I’ve Failed You” is a testament to the turbulence in your own life for the last few years. Did writing the album work as a type of catharsis for you?
I certainly didn’t set out for it to be like that but going into it I knew that it was going to be tough. I had no idea where to begin. As it turns out, this really was the most difficult and cathartic experience I’ve been involved in. I promised myself that I would be honest and real with the things I wanted to express, and it certainly helped me to see the situation for what it was and allowed me to grow from it and move on. Did opening up through music let you push your songwriting to another level? I think so. We certainly wanted to out do ourselves. At the same time, I think a lot of the songs have a downtrodden, slow feel to them because of the emotions involved. The defeat, the guilt, the sadness. I was physically affected by it and it contributed to the end product.
You, your sister Mercedes and Tara all write for the band – it seems like a very integrated creative core. Has the writing process gotten easier for you or are there challenges with every album? It wouldn’t be a band if there weren’t challenges. If things came easy, there would really be no reward. The writing process between the three of us has become easier in that we all know how each other writes and works, so we know the others next move and usually we can anticipate where the song will go. There are always challenges in writing though, whether it be getting stuck on a part or finding the right riff, or scrapping a song all together. You slow it down to an effectively sludgy pace on tracks like “What Have I Done” and “Time Never Heals”. What’s the key to a good metal “ballad”? I think for us, its all about the emotion. It’s important to connect with the feeling of the song and the reason behind it, and really bring that forward. Ballads can be huge and heavy too. Your screams and your clean vocals have never sounded better. On “I’ve Failed You” it feels like they’ve each become a distinct personality. How do you know which voice is going to show up on a given track?
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to have a voice for every emotion on a song, if needed, and have worked hard over the years to make that distinction glaringly apparent. Usually when a song is in its beginning stages, is when I start the process of figuring out what will go where. Some songs are written with the specific intent of becoming a “singing only” song but for the most part, it’s not until the song fully takes shape do I have a set idea of the patterns and vocal styles. It takes time and practice and hearing the song over and over again, as well as channeling the emotion I feel that is put into the riffs of the song. It looks like Kittie has finally hit upon a stable lineup and it shows in the ease and confidence of the album’s performances. Is there some kind of relief now that you’ve nailed down a solid lineup and you can get on with the business at hand?
It’s a relief, yes but I feel that everything happens for a reason and that we would not have been able to appreciate the stability we have now if it weren’t for the instability of the past. I feel like each line-up change was a learning experience for us and shaped Mercedes and I into easy-going chameleons.
How important was it to have Siggy Meier return to the helm on this album? He was a big part of helping you level up your sound on “In the Black”.
I think it was of huge importance to have him return to produce “I’ve Failed You”. He is responsible for helping the band to re-define our sound with “In the Black”, so it was a no-brainer to have him return. He really knows what we are looking for, sonically, and really helps to get the best performances out of us possible. On top of all of that, he is a great friend and Beach Road Studios is a really laid back place with a great environment. We feel welcome and comfortable there, which makes for a better output I think.
You’ve dealt with your share of negative press in the past. Do you think that with “I’ve Failed You” you’ve successfully bludgeoned critics long enough with better and better albums that they have to finally give you some props?
This is the music business and if I have learned anything over these past 15 years, it’s that you cannot please everyone. We just continue to do our own thing, improve at our own pace and make the music that we identify with and love. I think with time and effort, that people are beginning to take notice, at the professionalism, the musical improvement and the changes. They’re noticing that we aren’t giving up and are getting better with every album, so that says something to them and they’re giving us props for that. I can’t complain. Kittie has hit the 15 year mark. You’ve essentially been leading this band for half your life. Do you feel any kind of accomplishment having this kind of longevity?
Absolutely. This industry is so fleeting, especially now and it really say something to me, that we’ve been able to do this for as long as we have. I’m still humble, still amazed, however, that on the eve of my 30th birthday, that I am still in this band, touring and making music. If asked 15 years ago, I would have laughed in your face. It’s a good feeling. What’s it been like for you and your sister Mercedes to essentially grow up in a band? Is listening to your early material like looking back at your high school yearbook where you?? Are cringing at a certain chord progression instead the hair style you wore back then?
It can be like that at times. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes that made it unbearable sometimes, but overall it was a good experience. The memories are fond and I would never want to go back and re-live them but I wouldn’t change anything about those days, either. I am the person that I am today because of it. We all grow, evolve and change, as people. We just so happened to do all of our growing pains in public.
When you look at the teenage Morgan do you still recognize her in you? Despite all the struggles and roadblocks in the bands history do you still have any of the wide-eyed amazement and optimism of that kid from London, Ontario? I see some of her in me, now, but for the most part she has turned in to a jaded, angry, cynical beast! (Laughs) I’m still enthusiastic about my music and the band, however and am still amazed at times that this is still my life. I’m sure after all these years you’re sick of the women in metal angle of too many articles and interviews. But with that said there’s no question that there’s been more than a few young woman who’ve looked at Kittie and said, “They’re women and they rock! I want to do that too!” and then they run out and start their own band. A great compliment as a musician and as a woman in metal.
And I applaud them for that! There is nothing wrong with inspiring ANYONE, be them male or female, young or old. I can’t say I see myself as a role model but it is always nice to know that what you do makes people want to better themselves.
When you think of specific countries, certain styles of metal will come to mind. Canada? Not so much. Is that an advantage from a creative standpoint not to have one type of music being constantly funneled around you? Canada, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is quite the melting pot of diversity, and I think that funnels down into other aspects of our society and culture. Food, clothing, art. So in a way, I wouldn’t expect that diversity to leave music untouched, too. We have all kinds of different things going on and it makes for a really wonderful, vibrant scene, and creatively it doesn’t pigeonhole anyone. We just do what feels right and aren’t expected to follow any particular rules.
What’s the most Canadian thing about you and the band?
Our devotion to the glory that is Tim Hortons!
In addition to Kittie, you also run your Poisoned Black clothing line and the X of Infamy management company and all of this before your 30th birthday. Are you intent on becoming the metal equivalent of Jay-Z?
I’m quite certain that I have more than 99 problems! (Laughs) Do you ever see yourself putting down the guitar and focusing more on your other interests?
I think I will always gravitate towards music in some capacity and perhaps one day this band may not exist but that doesn’t mean that I will stop being creative or being an artist.
(Famous) Last words?
“My works cast down and trampled to dust is no defeat. The soul that built them cannot die. My home burned, I dress in ashes and bend my arm to the harp and sing a while. My love is dead, I mourn and live. My revenge is to live.”