Kittie on Decades of Dealing With Sexism and Mansplaining
By Katherine Turman
Kittie were a bit ahead of their time. In 2018, "representation matters" is an often-heard phrase in popular culture. That wasn't the case in the early 2000s, when the band were one of metal's hottest newest bands, thanks to their debut album, Spit. They made an impact on fans because of their brutal sound and catchy songs. But it's also true that they made a particular impact on female metal fans, because of the fact that the band happened to be made up of four young women. They never wanted that to be a selling point for the band or a central topic for discussion in interviews. But that wasn't common at that time, and, as it turns out, it wasn't easy. The band is telling their story in the upcoming documentary Kittie: Origins/Evolutions.
Morgan (vocals, guitar) and Mercedes (drums, backing vocals) Lander, along with bassist Jennifer Arroyo, spoke with Loudwire about their experiences navigating the world of extreme metal in the '00s. When they played the Ozzfest in 2000 (during the peak of its relevance) they were the first female band booked in the tour's history; they also toured with Slipknot. And young women took note. "I can't believe the impact that we had," Mercedes says.
Morgan agrees, "It's really difficult to admit to myself that yes, what we did really mattered. But people are now coming out and saying, 'When I was in high school, you changed my life.' 'You influenced me as an artist.' And a lot of them are women."
In the documentary, they discuss navigating the murky waters of the music industry: "Meeting with certain industry players, and them telling us things like, 'We'll get you an image consultant and a songwriter,'" she recalls. "Like, they could see that we were young women, and maybe malleable, and they wanted to sort of capitalize on that. We've always been very focused on making sure that the music is what comes first. To a point where we consciously went with a more extreme sound on our second album, because we were sick and tired of the 'What's it like to be in a female band?' question."
"To ask that question, it makes you the 'other.' And what is the 'other'? Normalcy is men, and the 'other' is women. Right?"
Morgan notes that often had to deal with some rather annoying and persistent questions. "There was all this talk about, 'They don't deserve what they earned.' Or, 'Do they really play their instruments?' We've been faced with that for the entirety of our career. And I just think it's really sad that a lot of people think that behind every successful and artistic woman is a man and not just her own talents. That's something we've been up against this entire time. Like, 'There's no way that they were that young and able to write those songs. There's no way that they were able to perform like that, it must have been the producer, or they paid for it, or it was their dad, or whatever.' Those are things that people have said."
Mercedes adds, "I can remember our old guitar tech Bungee, somebody coming up to him and asking him, 'So it's you who is playing all that guitar, right?'"
Arroyo, still amazed by the experience, says, "People would want to see us from the side of the stage to see if we had someone behind our amps. This is not a joke! Some people would be like, 'I didn't realize you played your instruments.' What?"
Mercedes recalls, "I could remember that band the Warriors, they were like, 'Are you actually singing those backup vocals or are they on tape?' And I'm like, 'I'm singing along with Morgan, yes.' Like, oh my god!"
"This is the reality," Morgan says. "Especially in extreme music, there are a lot of people who can't believe it. Once one little rumor starts, it continues to follow you. At that point, we were in our late 20s and early 30s, and they still think that we're sixteen years old and somebody is playing guitar for us. It's ridiculous, it's absurd. And no one would ever accuse men of doing that."
"And there are a lot of male bands that actually do that," Mercedes says, grinning.
"I've seen some fake cabinets on stage," Morgan laughs. "Just sayin'!"
Meanwhile, some male tourmates have condescendingly tried to "mansplain" obvious stuff to them: Morgan recalls: "We were touring with the Agonist and Blackguard, it was a Kittie headlining tour. And the Agonist had Alissa White-Gluz, who now is in Arch Enemy, and Justine [Ethier] was the drummer of Blackguard. They were really stoked about having more women on tour than they'd ever had before. But there was one instance where there was a tech, who came up to both Mercedes and Justine, and the guy was watching them take their drums out of their cases and he says, 'You know these cases [fit] inside each other, right? So you can pack them away nicely.' And they're both like [sarcastically], 'Oh, wow, thank you so much! This is amazing! I can't believe this! You just saved my life!'"
Mercedes laughs, "To this day, sometimes Justine texts me and says, 'Did you know the cases go into each other?'"
In an era where sexual inequality is finally being dragged into a very public spotlight, both Kittie and the Origins/Evolutions doc are more timely than ever. And it will hopefully end some tropes that female bands experience, including the question of whether or not they actually play their instruments. "We have to have the dialogue now so one day it is not a question that is ever asked," Morgan says. "And you can write an article about a band with a woman singing or playing guitar, and not say 'female-fronted.'"
"Or 'sexy,'" Mercedes adds.
"You stop [that type of sexism] by telling Kittie's story," Arroyo says. "And talk about females in other bands. It's called awareness. Awareness is education. If they're not aware, they're not going to know, and how can they think differently?"
Morgan says that she feels the #MeToo movement will help with the way women are treated behind the scenes, but she's not sure it will change the way female artists are portrayed: "I feel like there's two different things that we're talking about here. There's #MeToo: to me, that involves inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment and equality. But on the other hand, when we're talking about the music industry in general, the idea that 'female-fronted band' [is an ok way to describe a band], you've got to dress sexy and if you don't it's not going to sell as much, and that being a woman is still a commodity. I think with #MeToo, it will change things. A lot of people are talking about it, and sharing their experiences, and it's making sure that other women feel comfortable sharing their experiences. When this dialogue happens, it's education and we'll be able to move on from that. On the other side, women as a commodity, women as 'the other,' I feel that that's something that has not changed. It still feels like there's pressure in the industry there's pressure to look a certain way for women that's non-existent with men. You can be gross and fat and ugly and be in a metal band and it doesn't matter [for men]. But it's an issue if you're a woman and you're not wearing makeup or lipstick or you're not dressing a certain way, so I think there's still a divide, we still need to cross that chasm."
Origins/Evolutions is, of course, about the past. But is there a future for the band?
Morgan states that they've been mostly focused on the production and promotion of the doc. "But I will say that when we did the premiere, we played a really awesome show in London [Ontario]. We did a bunch of different lineups, Jen was there, we rocked it out, it was so awesome. We had the original lineup, we had some of the later lineups, it was a really really cool experience, I feel like it certainly opened up the doors for something like that again. I don't think that the way all of our lives have gone, that it would lend for a tour, but I think that we could possibly do a show like that somewhere else."
"As far as new music, Mercedes and I have written some stuff, [guitarist] Tara [McLeod] has some ideas too, it all depends on where this documentary takes us."
Listen to Katherine Turman's entire interview with Kittie here.
You can pre-order Origins/Evolutions - which will be available next Friday, March 30 -- here.