Kittie's Morgan Lander
Published Aug 25, 2011Since forming in 1996, Canadian women of metal Kittie have been on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. They released their first album, Spit, while still in their teens and went on to tour with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, Slipknot and more. However, their career has been plagued by line-up changes and label troubles, plus being young ladies in a manly metal world couldn't have been easy. But core members and sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander have been able to overcome these struggles with grace and determination. Not to mention the fact that they survived the entire nu-metal sub-genre that they were grouped into early on, a feat not many bands from that era can lay claim to. Now featuring their most solid line-up to date, including guitarist Tara McLeod and bassist Ivy Vujic, Kittie are able to move forward with their sixth album, I've Failed You, which further expands on the ideas and musical direction that they set in motion with the record that redefined their sound, 2009's In The Black. So why name the release I've Failed You? It might not seem like the most appropriate title, taking into consideration how far they've come and all of the obstacles they've defiantly ploughed through. But as front-woman Morgan Lander explains, the album marks the first time that she was able to fully let her guard down lyrically and open up about the extremely hard time that was the last few years of her life, making I've Failed You not only Kittie's darkest, most personal and emotional release thus far, but also their most accomplished.
What was the writing and recording process like for the new album I've Failed You?
Well, after we got off the road in October of last year we were pretty burnt out and so we really just wanted to take a few months to recuperate and regroup; we had basically been on the road from September 2009 until October 2010. We all had quite a few ideas that we were working on and we decided that once the new year hit we wanted to start the writing process. So some of the riffs, like for instance, the main riff for "We Are the Lamb," I've had probably since 2008, maybe 2009. We all had a little store of things that we wanted to bring together, but we really didn't get serious about the writing until the beginning of the new year and so we got together when we could. Unfortunately it was just Tara, Mercedes and I. Ivy actually ended up getting married. She now lives in Indianapolis with her husband and at the time she was still dealing with immigration issues in terms of getting her residency, so she actually wasn't allowed to come back to Canada, which kind of made things a little difficult. You know, it's always nice to be able to write as a group, but Tara, Mercedes and I did it and we did a pretty decent job, I think. We wrote for three or four months and then we went to the studio mid-April and recorded with Siegfried Meier who did In The Black as well, and he also worked on Oracle with us. We went to Goderich [ON] to Beach Road Studios and recorded for three weeks and it was a really good time.
How does I've Failed You compare to the previous album, In The Black?
I think we made a point with In The Black and we sort of made a foundation, which we could lay the metaphorical house down for this particular album. We're just building on what we set in motion with In The Black because, in a way, I feel like it was a turning point in things. Funeral For Yesterday was kind of confused. I feel like the songs were there for sure and the writing and everything, I'm very proud of that, but I just found that the production wasn't really what we had anticipated and what we'd hoped for. In a way, In The Black was sort of undoing all of that. After that it left us able to be free to do a few more challenging and different things with the new album, which I feel like we did with I've Failed You.
I've Failed You and In The Black definitely sound much more polished than previous releases.
Yeah definitely. That's sort of Siggy's [Meier's] thing. He's a really talented guy and he built this million dollar studio from the ground up himself and has slowly been working on it for the past two years or whatever. We're great friends with him and, like I said, he's really talented. I mean, the sound is still very heavy and it's still very raw and not too embellished, but it is a lot cleaner than a lot of the previous releases, I think.
Did you have a preconceived musical direction that you knew where you wanted to go with the album?
Not really, but I think that's kind of the beauty of what we do. You know, when you get together to start an album cycle and start writing, you really don't know what's going to come out of it. I mean, obviously we have some rules and some boundaries that we adhere to, being a metal band and writing in the certain way that we do. But I don't know, for some reason the feeling of the pressure to produce something that sounds good wasn't there. We didn't feel any time constraints and we didn't really feel anything that was like, "Oh, you have to do this" or "You have to write this a certain way." It was a really calm feeling. I mean, sometimes it's like "Well, I have to produce something that people are going to like." You take into consideration all of these other people and for some reason it was just like "Let's just go and write an album and see what comes out of it." I think Tara, Mercedes and I have been working together for as long as we have, we sort of know what to expect musically out of each other. The three of us have been playing together for the last six years and we really complement each other. We each have our own styles and we know how to work that into making a Kittie song now, which I think is really cool.
What is the meaning behind the title I've Failed You?
Ah yes, I've had a few people ask me this [laughs]. It's also the title track and the first song on the album. I think in a way it sort of sets the mood of the content. Lyrically everything on the album is basically about the same thing. It represents the feeling of letting someone down. It's really hard to explain, but the last year and a half of my life has been really crazy; my personal life has been completely turned upside down and I really could only focus lyrically on writing about one thing. It's just where I was at in my life, feeling like you've tried, you've done all you can and there's no helping it, there's no saving the relationship and feeling like you've let yourself down and you've let everyone else down that cared about you. It is highly personal, I had a tough time even getting started with lyrics. It was sort of like "Where do I begin? How do I tell this story? How do I purge all of these feelings that have been bottled up for the past year and a half?" And I kind of just resolved to not really hold back. I think a lot of times lyrically and on past albums I tend to keep things really vague, for my own personal safety I guess and not revealing too much about myself. But for this album, I feel like I just let that guard down and I just wrote about stuff that just felt right to me and purging all of those feelings. So it is a little bit hard for me to talk about just because it's like, how do you sum up a really fucked up year in a few sentences, you know?
The overall mood does sound particularly dark and very sad. That all came from your personal experiences?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Especially melody-wise and lyrically, and also musically. We're all sort of in the same place in our lives and we definitely all vibe off each other when it comes to writing. But definitely lyrically and melodically it all stems from a very dark, very personal place. It's the only album that I could write.
The album's lead single "We Are the Lamb" was written by Mercedes.
Yeah, Mercedes wrote all of the lyrics for that song, in its entirety. But because we are sisters we're very much a part of each other's lives and we're both sort of on the same page when it comes to a lot of things. So I don't know if it's easy to tell that she wrote it or hard to tell. Everybody has their own style of writing, but I think it's seamless, honestly. Most people wouldn't know, but I think that's the beauty of it. She does contribute a lot and mostly it's like "Here's some things I've written down, use what you can." And sometimes I'll stick ideas of hers with my stuff. So that helps with more of a group perspective I guess, which is nice.
How do you feel the songs Mercedes writes differ from yours?
That's a good question. Riff-wise Mercedes tends to write the more doomy, stoner rock kind of riffs, like for instance the riff for "What Have I Done" is a Mercedes riff for sure. But it's really not all that different and same for Tara. I mean, my stuff is more on the riffy side and Tara's stuff is a little bit more progressive, but if you're well-versed with the band you can kind of tell who writes what. But at the same time for Tara and I, we both know how to write in each others' styles as well, so there's some riffs on the album where she was like "I kind of thought that this would be something that you would write so let's use it," and vice versa. We're all sort of in each other's heads and that kind of makes for a seamless sound. It all mixes together rather well and makes for a well-rounded album with a lot of good dynamics going on, especially on this album.
Tara has added a lot to the band in terms of guitar work with her solos and leads.
Yeah, oh man it's amazing. The depth and the dimension that she gives, that's an important part of who we've become now, especially for the last two albums. And she only continues to get better, which is amazing.
Musically, I've Failed You is extremely strong. How do you feel about the current line-up?
It's amazing, it couldn't be better. We've had the same line-up for the last two albums and Tara's been with us since 2005 so we now have a really strong base and a really strong foundation. Everybody is doing it for the right reasons and everybody wants the same thing, which is for the group as a whole to succeed and do whatever it takes to make it work. And the bottom line is we have good chemistry and we're good friends and I think also our maturity level helps as well. I mean, I know one of the things we're known for is line-up changes for every album or whatever. But a lot of people don't actually take into consideration that we were children when we first started and a lot of times when you're young maturity levels and everything comes into play and people change, their life goals change. I think now that we're all a little older and more well-balanced people, it definitely helps to keep things strong and keep things together. But the bottom line is we have great chemistry and we all work well together, we all genuinely like each other, we're friends and it's like magic when we get into a room together. For instance when we went down to New York to do our photo shoot and the video stuff for the album, we actually hadn't seen Ivy since we got off tour last October and we saw her and it was like we just saw each other yesterday. We all fall into our roles in the band and we're all joking around and it's always a good time when we get together. So I think that makes for a good experience and a strong foundation.
Have all of the line-up changes over the years had an impact on Kittie's overall sound?
Yes and no. I think, obviously the base is there with Mercedes and I, but with Tara in the band, it changed a lot of things dynamically and musically just because she's a great player and she adds a lot of depth to the music. I think in a way it sort of shook our confidence in past incarnations, when you lose a member, especially the first time it was like "Wow, what do we do now?" But overall I think, for Mercedes and I, it's helped us learn how to adapt to different playing styles and you always learn from your experiences. If anything, it's only made us more hungry and maybe even easier to get along with. We just let things roll the way they have. But I don't necessarily think it's really changed much of the sound, with the exception of Tara, and that's just been an improvement. And Ivy is an amazing bass player as well, she's definitely a metal bass player so it's helped improve things as well. But I don't think it's been that difficult. On some of the albums, like when I listen back to Until The End, you can tell it's a band that don't have full confidence just because of all the things that were going on in our lives at that particular time. We've jumped those hurdles rather gracefully I think and come to a place now where we can finally be comfortable with who we are and have managed to redefine ourselves with the last two albums.
The band's sound has changed substantially compared to the first album, Spit. Do you attribute that to the fact that you were so young when you wrote it?
Oh yeah, absolutely. The fact of the matter is that all of the songs on Spit were the first songs that we ever wrote as a band, when we were 12 and 13 years old. We had our whole lives ahead of us and our whole lives to learn, not only about the industry, but about songwriting and our instruments and how to develop as people and as musicians. The change in sound is really just about playing age-appropriate music. I will be 30 in January and the difference between being 13 and writing a song and being 30 and writing a song is totally different. There's a lifetime of experiences and for us a lifetime of touring and learning and all kinds of stuff. So I think it's attributed to us just doing our thing, moving on and being a band.
You and Mercedes have overcome many obstacles since Kittie began (member changes, label troubles, etc). How did you get through it all?
And not end up crazy in an insane asylum, I know right? [laughs] Honestly, I think a lot of that has to do with support. For a really long time my parents were highly involved in what we did and they raised us really, really well with great heads on our shoulders and they really were good, genuine people. They only ever wanted to see their daughters succeed and make it. We definitely learned by example, they raised us the right way and having that family unit around you definitely helps, especially in the earlier days; they were always looking out for our best interests and wanted to make sure that we didn't become victims of the industry and get used or overworked or whatever. I always use Mariah Carey as an example, like somebody obviously wasn't looking out for her best interest because she went totally nuts, you know? Not to say that we're at that particular level, but when you're 16 years old and you're travelling the world, all the new experiences and making a lot of money, it's easy for people to lose touch with reality and not be grounded and the fact of the matter is there are few people that did. It's not for everyone.
Is it easier to stick with it when your sister is also in the band?
Yeah, absolutely. I do actually think that if Mercedes and I were not related, the band probably would have ended a long time ago, for sure. It's good to have a support system, to have moral support, and to know that we're both in it together. We've both invested a lot of time in our lives and money as well. So yeah, it does make it a lot easier to know that someone's there to share the burden with you; it helps to keep us together for sure.
I've Failed You is Kittie's sixth album in 12 years. When you first started out, did you ever think that the band would get to this point?
Hell no [laughs]. It's so funny to think about what we were all about back when we were in a basement writing songs and acting like idiots. When I think about this, what comes to mind is a video that we shot with our video camera and it's just us jamming and rocking out, acting like the 13 and 14 year old kids that we were and having a good time. I remember we would sit around and talk and dream about "Oh, when we're on tour" or "When we get signed" or "When we do our album" and that stuff, and all of these things actually came to fruition. It's really hard to believe that everything happened the way that it did and I really honestly cannot believe that on the eve of my 30th birthday that I am still doing this, I'm still in Kittie, I'm on a bus right now, I'm about to leave for a six-week tour. The fact that it's been a part of my life for this long is mind-boggling.
It's crazy to think that you have survived the entire nu-metal sub-genre of music. There's life after nu-metal, and not many other bands have been able to do that.
Yes, absolutely. It's funny though too, especially with the first album, we did have a lot of those elements, but I think we kind of almost got wrongly grouped into that. We didn't really adhere to a lot of those stereotypical nu-metal things. It's what was going on at the time, but our pants weren't really really big and we didn't have a DJ. I mean, we did do a cover of a rap song a long, long time ago, but we don't speak of that anymore [laughs]. I don't know, we grew up kind of outside of any scene, London, Ontario didn't really have a scene, so we didn't really know where to draw our influences from. We kind of just did our own thing and at the time there were some nu-metal elements, but we were also doing something else that was weird and bizarre.
Each record has marked a new stage of your life and you've grown up into an adult while in Kittie. How do you feel about that?
I have mixed feelings about it [laughs]. It's weird, in a way I haven't really had a conventional life and in a way I feel like maybe I haven't really started my life yet. Like, does life start when you get an office job? There's a lot of questions and a lot of things that I think about often. In a way, starting the band as early as we did allowed me to stay in that mindset, I think probably forever. So in a lot of respects I feel like I've never had to grow up. But at the same time, being that young and having to take on a lot of responsibilities as early as we did made me have to grow up really fast as well. So I think our lives and our personalities and how we grew up, it's kind of a strange dichotomy you know? We're sort of the best of both worlds and it is really weird, I've had a lot of crazy experiences and I've had a really colourful life. I think it'll make a great book someday [laughs].
It's kind of cool that your fans have also grown up with you too.
Yeah, I find that very interesting. We grew up together and at every stage of their lives, we were pretty much at the same stage. So I feel like we are still able to play age-appropriate music for them and I think that's really cool.