Interview:Back on the Prowl
Kittie began innocently enough in 1997, when four high school girls decided to pick up instruments and form a heavy metal band. Sisters Mercedes and Morgan Lander formed the backbone, with Mercedes on drums and Morgan handling lead vocals and guitar duties. With lots of hard work and practice, and the good fortune of having their demo land in the right hands, Kittie's rock and roll dreams would soon become reality. The band scored a record deal and hooked up with noted producer Garth Richardson to record their debut disc, Spit, which was released in 1999. The group immediately gained attention with the hit single, "Brackish," then things just took off from there. Securing a spot on the 2000 Ozzfest tour greatly helped to increase the group's exposure, then further relentless touring enabled Kittie to build up its following worldwide.
The group teamed up with Richardson once again in 2001 for its second full-length disc, Oracle, returning with an even heavier sound and a more furious attitude. With a huge buzz brewing and fans craving more music, the group released Safe the following year, an EP featuring several live tracks and enhanced videos, as well as remixed versions of the title track by KMFDM's Sascha.
Kittie has since gone through several lineup changes, with the Lander sisters remaining as the core members and filling out the band with bassist Jennifer Arroyo, and its newest member, guitarist Lisa Marx, who was recently enlisted just following the recording of the group's latest disc, Until The End.
Guitar.com caught up with guitarist/vocalist Morgan Lander while the group was preparing for its current tour. Lander took a break from one of Kittie's rehearsals to talk with us about her own musical influences and look back at the group's evolution. Both excited and extremely grateful for all that's happened to Kittie in such a short time, Lander tells us how it all started.
Guitar.com: What initially inspired you to play guitar?
Morgan Lander: Growing up, I'd always been around guitar-driven music, although no one in my family is musically inclined. But for some reason, Mercedes and I are really into music. When we were kids, our parents were sort of metalheads in their day, and they were listening to things like Ted Nugent, which was the first concert I went to. He's an amazing guitar player and the experience scarred me for life! From that day forward, I wanted to be a rocker. Mercedes and I both started out with piano lessons because our parents just wanted us to do some sort of extracurricular thing. I took lessons for years, but I never really got past book two! After that, I decided that I wanted to do something different and when I was about eight or nine years old, I decided to switch to guitar. I just seemed like the right thing for me to do. I started taking classical guitar lessons at the music shop in Ontario, where I grew up. Then I stopped the lessons after a while and stopped playing. Then when I was 12 or 13 and started to develop my own personal musical tastes, I decided I wanted to play guitar again. That was around the time that we started jamming and putting together this band. So is my first band, and we've come a long way.
Guitar.com: What was your first electric guitar?
Lander: I had bought an El Degas guitar from a classified ad in the Pennysaver for $90, and my first amp rig was a karaoke machine that my mom had bought for us when we were little kids. It did the trick for about a year, and then I moved up to a little Peavey amp. After that, I traded the guitar in for a real guitar, which was a Yamaha that I bought in 1996. I think it was one of the Strat-style Pacifica models. I bought it because it had a wood finish and it looked cool.
Guitar.com: Aside from Ted Nugent, which other players were you listening to at the time?
Lander: I was personally affected more by emotion and the feeling that comes out of the song, rather than the amazing guitar playing. I'm not the greatest guitar player in the world and I don't pride myself in being this amazing shredder. When I'm writing, I think of the song, rather than what amazing stuff I' m going to put in it. I'm thinking more about the melody and the vocal parts. But tone wise, I've always wanted it so that even if I was going to be singing the most melodic beautiful song, we still sounded like a metal band. At the time, I was using a Fender Roc Pro amp and it wasn't really getting the job done. I wanted to find something that had balls to it and would make us sound devastatingly huge. I looked around and I found Mesa Boogie. I had tried a Dual Rectifier and I thought it was absolutely amazing. It sounded completely huge and really tough. I really enjoy the tones that bands like Pantera had on their first couple of albums - stuff that's devastatingly huge, but clean and not muddy or gross and garbled sounding, not too compressed and really bright. Actually, I do think that the early Pantera sound did make me want to get a certain tone like that.
Guitar.com: In what ways has your approach to playing evolved over the years?
Lander: When this band first started out and we recorded our first album, we were still very young and novices at our instruments. We got into this band to learn together and it so happened that we ended up getting lucky, and all this crazy stuff happened. I think that I've definitely evolved into a more solid player. I do have my own style when it comes to writing songs and playing with certain riffs and certain things that usually come out. I think I'm still learning and becoming a better player, and coming into my own. But I've definitely become more technical with writing and the way I think things out. I'm still growing as a writer, too. When Spit came out, I didn't know what I was doing. I was not a great guitar player. Because we've toured so much with this band, I've become more solid and I'm able to do a lot more things. I can play faster now, and it's awesome. I can remember a point where I came home after the first Ozzfest that we did - Ozzfest 2000 - and I thought I was actually good. When I started writing the first two songs that were to appear on Oracle, I noticed that things had really changed. It wasn't a conscious effort, but it was like all in one day, it just happened.
I don't practice as much as I probably should, which is a bad thing. However, the one time I really sat down and worked on something all day, it was when I was trying to learn how to do pinch harmonics. But other than that, things have just naturally progressed from touring. And I think the new lineup helps, too. Everyone is just so much more cohesive and we're all just becoming better players. Mercedes is an amazing drummer now and it's an inspiration for me to get better, and to write songs that are more complex.
Guitar.com: How do you and Lisa Marx differ as players?
Lander: Lisa is a really great player. Personality-wise, she's a laid back kind of girl. Her playing definitely aids in creating a solid wall of sound. She' s playing a standard SG and her sound definitely differs from mine, although we're both using Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifiers. But I'm using a Hamer V which is really cool and they are going to be building me some more guitars. I love the way the Gibsons sound, but they're just too big for me. The Hamer is a really crunchy-sounding guitar and the EMG-81s that I'm using help to make it sound absolutely amazing. But the bodies of the Gibsons are just so big, and especially with the '99 Gothic Series V that I was using. It's just too big and too heavy, and the Explorers are even bigger. But Hamer is treating me really well and I'm just very happy with the guitars. We're also sponsored by Ovation, which is part of the same company. They've been really good to us also. We use the Ovations when we do acoustic radio shows.
Guitar.com: Tell us about your experience while making the new record.
Lander: We had such a great time! It was kind of like a new beginning for us all across the board. Writing the album was a really fun, easy and laid back experience because we had all the time in the world. We had no deadlines and we really had no idea where this was going to take us, especially because we didn 't even know if we would be able to continue on as a band, based on all the legal stuff that was going on. We actually had three years to write this album, so it kind of felt like our debut album all over again. We really just wanted to write songs that we thought were beautiful, and we had no rush and no deadlines. It was the first time we had not recorded in London, Ontario. This time, we recorded in North Brookfield, Massachusetts at Longview Farm Studios, which is actually a pretty famous place. Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, and tons and tons of bands have recorded there. It's completely isolated from pretty much everything and the local bar is a trailer with lights in it. So for the most part, we just kept each other company. Aside from recording, eating was our only other source of entertainment. This was also the first time that we didn' t use Garth Richardson as our producer. Steve Thompson came on board for this record. He's a really cool guy and he has a different way of approaching things. It's nice to have a learning experience and try new things. His style of experimenting is that if it doesn't work, we can always go back to the way we had it before. His approach to recording was more to focus on the song itself, rather than to do all the drum tracks and bass tracks all across, then do all the guitar tracks all across. He wanted to focus on each song individually and get it right before we move onto the next one. So each song kind of has its own sound and its own personality.
The actual recording process was very basic. I used my live rig, which is the Triple Rectifier, and I also used a couple of really cool pedals that Steve had brought. There was one fuzz pedal by Colorsound that was a 1960s pedal and it had all these psychedelic colors on it. It just added an extra boost. Other than that, I used the Hamer V as my main guitar, and my Les Paul goldtop for added chunk. That was really it.
Guitar.com: Did you track all the guitar parts on this album?
Guitar.com: Did you feel any added pressure as the only guitarist?
Lander: I had also done all the guitars on our last album, Oracle. So over the past few years I've kind of become accustomed to being the only guitar player, and now there's some weight off my shoulders because Lisa is in the band, but she joined the band after we finished recording the album. She was trying out for us at Longview while we were tracking. But as far as the recording, it was really easy since to double my own parts.
Guitar.com: Do you prefer to do your tracking in the control room or while standing next to your amp?
Lander: I've done it both ways, but it was different at Longview just because of the setup. We were using a lot of room spaces and different setups to try to get different sounds, which is something that we never really had the luxury of doing in the past. We had been working in a small cramped studio on the last two albums. At Longview, there are two floors where the control room is. There's the control room and then there's the area where they set up the bass and the drums, and Mercedes and Jen played together in there. But then there's a second floor with a glass window where I was and I could look down and see them. So I had this funny little isolated room up top. I actually liked it a lot. I've tracked in the control room as well, but I think the pressure was definitely off when I could just sit up there with my amp and focus. It was nice just wearing the headphones. It wasn't like being in the control room with everyone staring at you with the pressure on. So that room made things really nice and comfortable. I was up there by myself, and it was nice and quiet - well, when I wasn't playing!
Guitar.com: What have you learned from your experiences in the studio and from working with each of the producers?
Lander: It was definitely different working with Steve. I think we really learned to focus more and really to pay attention to things, and to experiment. He 's all about trying out new things and we had more time to do that on this record. We had the luxury of being able to take a week to just try new things. With the other two albums, the first one was done in nine days, and the second one was done in two weeks. We just had to get our asses in gear, find a sound and go. For this one, we were there for a month. Steve brought in some of his things and we brought all of our live rigs up, and we just kind of tried out new things and got some new sounds. We found some really cool pedals, and just kind of tried everything available with everything else to see how it worked. I think this record really just captured the vibe of the band. We mainly did use our live rigs, which was cool, so it captured more of the raw human element within the band, as opposed to putting everything on Pro Tools and completely making it into a machine. There was very little digital editing done on this record so that we would be able to capture more of the band's live sound.
Guitar.com: Other than the Colorsound pedal, what were some of the other effects you tried out and used on the tracks?
Lander: They were mainly old pedals, like a lot of different phasers and that kind of stuff, but we didn't end up using most of them. I'm not really an effects-type of person. I like to just plug it into the amp and turn it up - turn the gain up all the way, and let her rip. There was a lot of fun stuff that we tried, but it just wasn't the right sound for us and it wasn't going to work. But the Colorsound pedal was definitely very cool. I wasn't into it at first because it was a huge overdrive sound. When you turned it on, it was like " gaaaaaaaaaa." It made so much noise they had to cut out all of these static between every pause or mute. But the effect was really huge. On a lot of the songs, you can actually hear when it gets bigger. We mainly put it in on the choruses. It's on "Looks So Pretty," on the stoner rock intro. You can hear it just kicking it up a little more. It's also on the chorus of "In Dreams," and you can definitely hear it kicking in there. I think we used it for just about every chorus or anywhere that we needed a boost, like toward the end of " Loveless." It was just really useful and it made everything sound huge.
Guitar.com: Do you use any effects in your live rig?
Lander: I don't have anything other than a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor Pedal. I used that and then I go right into the Triple Rectifier. I have the gain up all the way, and I just use the clean and dirty channels. That's it. I only switch during one song, "Charlotte." For the most part, it's just full-on metal the whole time.
Guitar.com: What are your typical amp settings?
Lander: My gain is on 10. I don't usually like a lot of bass because the Mesa Boogie has a chunky and bassy kind of tone as it is. I really just like a clean kind of sound. I have middle and treble set about halfway, and I don't use a lot of bass. But the settings usually fluctuate, too, depending on the sound of the venue.
Guitar.com: How are your guitars set up?
Lander: I use D'Addario .012-.054 strings and I have the action set pretty low. I have little fingers, so I don't like high action. We tune down to dropped-C, so the guitar is tuned (low to high) C, D, C F, A, D. That tuning allows us to still stick some melody in there and keeping things sounding heavy as ****. It's kind of a nice balance. If you tune too low, like down to A, there's really not much room for melody. When we first started, we were in dropped-D, but we wanted to be heavier, so we dropped it down to C.
Guitar.com: How is it for you to sing over the lower tuning?
Lander: For me, screaming is really easy and singing is more of a challenge, especially with the vocal arrangements I made on this album. I thought up all the stuff, then when it came time to sing it, it was like, "Wow! This is actually really challenging!" But half the fun is pushing your limits. But for me, singing is something that I have to think about and screaming just comes naturally!
When we started the band, it was sort of an electoral thing when we asked who wanted to sing. Everyone else said, "Not me!" But I thought I could do it, and from there, I've just worked on it. Your voice is an instrument, just like guitar or drums, and you just have to work on it and find out what's right for you.
Guitar.com: Do you run through any warmup routines before your stage or studio performances?
Lander: Yes. I try to be as good as possible about taking my vitamins and having a humidifier in the room at all times. But by no means am I like Aretha Franklin, where you're not allowed to have the air conditioning on or anything like that. I'm not professionally trained, although I did take some lessons for form so that I'm not hurting my throat as much. To warm up before a show, I' ll put on a CD that I enjoy and I'll sing a few songs to that and drink a lot of water. That's really it. I don't have any professional tapes with vocal warmup exercises or scales on them.
I don't warm up on guitar, although I know I probably should. I do have to do exercises for my hands and my arms because I have had problems in the past with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendentious. I actually ended up having to get some cortisone shots and wearing a cast for three weeks. I couldn't play guitar at all. I couldn't even pick up a mug. So I've learned to appreciate my hands a little more, and I take care of them. I'll use little dumb bell weights and do wrist exercises, and certain thumb and hand stretching exercises. So I'm not necessarily warming up on the guitar, but I do warm up my hands and exercise them to keep them strong because I wouldn't want what happened to me a few years ago to happen again. It was completely unbearable!
Guitar.com: Is there a particular show or city that stands out as a more memorable gig for any reason - good or bad?
Lander: We've had so many unusual things happen. I'm trying to think of something that was crazy gear-wise, because we have crazy fans that jump up onstage and try to kiss us and do nutty things like that. There are quite a few cities that we have a really great time in and kids really love us. During a show in Texas a few tours back, part of the PA caught on fire. Our soundguy had pushed it so far that it exploded and caught on fire! The people at the venue were actually pretty excited about it and they gave him a piece of the burnt PA. It was pretty cool! We were burning the town down! There have been a lot of crazy things that have happened like a lot of stuff getting stolen, and shoddy promoters that are doing cocaine in the bathroom. A lot of bands go through that kind of stuff, but it sometimes seems that we have sort of a gray cloud following us.
Guitar.com: Didn't you recently have a dangerous mishap during a video shoot?
Lander: Yes! We just shove it off to the fact that all this stuff happens to us and we're going to have great stories to tell the grandchildren one day. But yes, during our video shoot, a 600-gallon water tank exploded on the set while we were finishing some closeup guitar scenes. At the time, I believe Jennifer was in makeup and Mercedes was across the room, but Lisa and I had just finished doing some closeup guitar shots. They had filled up this tank previously to let the water warm up. The tank had never been tested before, but it was acquired from a reportedly reliable source who sells this kind of aquatic stuff. All of a sudden, I heard this sound like the ripping of cardboard and a cracking noise, then it just exploded. It wasn't like the seam had come undone - the whole side of it exploded out! Two inches of water now covered this cinema soundstage and it soaked the drums and all of the gear. The funny thing is that my first instinct wasn't to save anyone's life or anything of that nature. I grabbed my guitar and ****ing ran! I'm serious! I didn't think of anything else but my guitar! I just grabbed it and ran! With all of the water, lights and cameras, people could have possibly cooked!
Guitar.com: What do you listen to for enjoyment these days?
Lander: I've haven't really bought anything super new lately. I don't know if it's because I don't have television and I can't watch videos. But the last CD I bought was Onelinedrawing Visitor, which is the singer from the band Far - Jonah Sonz Matranga. It's just him with an acoustic guitar. I really dig his voice and I think he's a great songwriter. He's definitely been influential on me. Then I bought Acid Bath's second album, Paegan Terrorism Tactics. It was a CD that I had stolen a few years ago and I was craving listening to it again. Sammy Duet, the singer/guitarist, is in Goatwhore now. I really dig the CD. They're from Louisiana and it's kind of sludgy, but it has some melody to it, and it's really cool. So that's what I've been listening to lately.
Guitar.com: What advice would you give to other guitarists on developing their own sound and style?
Lander: Draw from as many influences as possible and just be really open-minded when it comes to listening to different kinds of music. Some of the best players that I know listen to jazz, metal, and all kinds of different things. Of course, you have to really practice and work hard, and I know I don't practice as much as I should. Also, don't set any limitations on yourself. If you want to be good, just keep at it and good things will come to you.
Guitar.com: What advice can you offer to other female musicians who are trying to succeed in this male-dominated industry?
Lander: Be yourself and be strong. Don't take any **** from anyone, no matter what people say. You need to be strong and confident in what you believe in and know that you are good, you are talented, and no one can tell you otherwise. People are intimidated by strong females and I guess you can use that to your advantage. So keep practicing and stay strong, and don't take any bull****!