September 3, 2019
Tune-In Tuesdays #34 Kittenhead is “Not Your Bitch”
Kittenhead on stageSource: Kittenhead LA
Kittenhead is the powerful rock group based out of Calif that is renowned for their energetic roller derby performances and progressive, politically charged lyrics.
On Saturday, we reached out and spoke to the lead singer, Kivi Kittenhead, via telephone to learn more about their discography, experience, and the explosive synergy between the group.
Could you tell us a little about Kittenhead’s music and your role as the lead singer?
Kivi Kittenhead performing liveSource: Kittenhead LA
Kittenhead is what I would classify as a rock band, but we don’t stay in one genre. It makes it a challenge for people to put us into a box, so most refer to us as punk.
We have a rule in Kittenhead that you can bring anything into rehearsals – any sort of music or riff – the only thing is, you can’t be butthurt if anything gets changed ’cause that’s part of being in a band. When you bring in an idea, it’s most likely going to morph in the course of four other people getting ahold of it.
I see my role as the facilitator and interpreter because people speak different languages; the bass player speaks a different language from the drummer, who speaks a different language from the guitar player.
I also see that when people play different instruments, their communication style changes. When DD’s on bass, her communication style’s a little different from when she’s on guitar.
We all make suggestions about where we want to go with things when we’re arranging music, but I’m also the collector of everything. [The bandmates] send me ideas they’ve recorded, so I’m the receptacle of all riffs, as it were.
What’s the origin story behind the band’s name and the respective member’s stage names, such as, “Daddy Kittenhead” and “O-Face Kittenhead?”
O-Face KittenheadSource: Kittenhead LA
When we formed Kittenhead, we had all been in different bands and had different reputations.
We had gotten the offer to play five shows in the Pacific Northwest before we actually had a name [laughs]. They called me a bit before the show and said, “Hey, we need a name [for the band] by the end of the week, since we’re printing up posters to show at The Comet,” – which is a fairly well known venue in Seattle.
I told them I’d get back to them because I didn’t want to say we didn’t have a name, but we didn’t.
Being a pretty organized person, I told everyone [in the band] to give me at least five names and I Googled them to make sure they weren’t in use. I spent a good two hours Googling things, then we had a Zoom meeting.
I was sitting in my house, playing with my cat Roary Boary Kittenhead. I didn’t really have a dog in the fight; I didn’t care about any of the names, I wasn’t really attached to them.
I wasn’t really paying attention to what they were talking about. I was playing with the cat, because I wasn’t feeling attached to the names. I threw the ball down the hall, the cat ran down, retrieved it, and I said, “Roary Boary Kittenhead, you’re such a good girl!”
[On Zoom], they were like, “Kittenhead? Kittenhead, that’s a great name! Let’s name the band Kittenhead.”
I was like, “No, no, no, no, no. Do not name the band after my cat.” I was outvoted, I was the one “no” vote for the name ‘Kittenhead,’ but I like the name now. I find it amusing.
The origin for people’s nicknames in the band is, as women, and with our horrible sense of humor, we started putting nicknames out there. DD and I are probably the only who don’t have nicknames.
DD KittenheadSource: Kittenhead LA
Victoria’s nickname are her initials: VJJ. At one of our first shows with Victoria playing, we were doing our intros, and I said, “This is VJJ at stage left.”
Daddy and VJJ Kittenhead playing side by sideSource: Kittenhead LA
Everyone snickered, then DD told [the audience] those were actually her initials. [Victoria’s] mom was in the crowd there, and in the pause of laughter she said, “I’m sorry baby!”
It was hysterical. One of those things you just can’t plan.
As for Danni was wearing a shirt that said, “Daddy” at one of the first rehearsals, so we just started calling her that.
O-Face, Owen, will frequently rehearse with his eyes closed – and his first initial is ‘O’ – so we tease him and say that’s his “Orgasm Face.”
A lot of it has also been to make it harder for people to find us as individuals.
We’ve all had our share of attention that we don’t necessarily want, which partially comes from being a performer, but there are also people that don’t know where boundaries are.
Your music takes a very raw, deep, and energetic spin on punk-rock. Who are some of your biggest inspirations, instrumentally and lyrically?
VJJ Kittenhead mid-air as O-Face Kittenhead plays the drumsSource: Kittenhead LA
We’re very diverse, so I know that each person in the band has their own source of inspiration.
Victoria has varied interests in music. She was raised on Janet Jackson and TLC, but she loves Paramore, Evanescence, and Hamilton; that sort of operatic-rock.
DD has a much more punk-rock aesthetic, but loves the more pop-punk, Go-Gos, Bangles, sort of surfy-punk-pop style. She also listens to a lot of EDM [electronic dance music] and dubstep.
Danni has really diverse tastes, too. She loves Paramore and I believe she really likes Sierra.
Owen is old school punk-rock, but he mostly listens to local bands. He listens to a lot of the bands in southern Calif. He can tell you who’s popular and who’s playing.
As for myself, I grew up listening to a lot of classical music, big bands, and jazz. My first musical heroes were probably Joan Jett and Annie Lennox, those are two very strong influences for me.
I really appreciate Shirley Manson and Annie Lennox’s lyrics. Annie Lennox has one of the best lines I’ve ever heard in a love song, “Slip me inside of your heart.” I feel like that’s genius.
Both your full-length album “We’re Here” and latest EP “NYB” tackle tough topics about violence and the political rollercoaster we’re all currently riding here in America. What drew Kittenhead towards these subjects?
I don’t think that it’s possible, especially in today’s climate, to separate the personal from the political.
“Tin Man” off of “We’re Here” is all about whether you’re going to stand up or be on the wrong side of history.
The first verse is about Matthew Shepard because he was so badly beaten he looked like a scarecrow when he was found.
The second verse is about Trayvon Martin. He was in his own neighborhood when he stood up for himself, and so he’s the lion who was killed for his courage.
Society is the tin man, and as such, we have to find it in our hearts to stop people who are killing.
There’s tradition, and then there’s living in the past. There are people who want to cite “tradition” to maintain their power, and that’s not tradition.
Tradition is having turkey at Thanksgiving – if you’re not vegetarian. That doesn’t hurt anyone.
Maintaining the electoral college after excessive gerrymandering is not tradition. That’s criminal. That’s not having every vote count.
It may not be an overtly political message, because a lot of our songs talk about being true to yourself, which is a more radical idea in a society that’s trying to move towards homogeneity in everything.
We, as individuals, get to do and be who we are, as long as we’re not injuring another person.
What’s it like to be in the studio with Kittenhead? What is your process, from writing to recording?
VJJ Kittenhead leaning into the crowdSource: Kittenhead LA
It will make your abs hurt because we laugh so much. As I said, we all have a very bad sense of humor. Expect all the bad puns.
We have a great time together, we really do. We have an amazing time together touring and bring a lot of joyful energy.
In the studio, we pretty much bring things that are already fully-formed. We’ll lay the drum/bass track. We might do a little tweaking or rearranging, but normally we have the majority of things laid out. Then we look at ways to expand it.
When we recorded “We’re Here,” we basically narrowed our sonic footprint so that we could reproduce it completely live.
We made a very conscious choice in the recording of “NYB” to approach recording as a completely different canvas from our live show. We used that canvas to really express ourselves sonically, as big as we wanted to be.
You’ll that hear on “NYB” – which stands for “Not Your Bitch.” On “Bloom,” we have a huge, twelve-part harmony in the background. There’s no way we’re traveling around with a choir, but there are these soaring vocals that I decided to put into that song to take it to another level.
Recording is just bigger on all these levels. It’s a different medium than a live show. In a live show, you have the visual aspect of us running around and interacting with people. You don’t need that huge sonic footprint.
Whereas, when someone is listening to music with earbuds these days, they expect that wall of sound to hit them.
What are some of your favorite memories from being in the studio together?
DD Kittenhead on stageSource: Kittenhead LA
We have fun all the time. We’re here, fueled by donuts and Red Bull. Red Bull should be sponsoring us, just putting that out there [laughs].
We record at Kitten Robot Studios with Paul Roessler, who we call ‘The Wizard.’ He produces such a great atmosphere to just be yourself. He really rides that line of allowing you to be and giving suggestions beautifully. It’s such a fine line for an engineer to insert in different places without being overbearing, and he’s genius at that.
We laugh, we have a great time, we riff, we write. In particular, I had food poisoning while we were recording the vocals for the last EP and had to go back in to re-record some of them. Paul was literally like, “Do I need to bring a bucket in there? Please don’t throw up on the microphone, it’s over $10,000.”
I was like, “I’ll aim for something else!”
We’re just goofy, so there’s not one particular moment [that stands out]. Although, there is “Dreamland,” which is a song that’s special to me because it came together in the studio.
I had two riffs that I thought went together, and while they were working on it, I got a sort of download of the lyrics. They’re not simple lyrics, but it was like this download came and they were there. The song was written and put together in about an hour.
As ⅗ of the band is based out of LA and the rest of the members are in Oakland, does it ever become difficult to work on songs and ideas when you’re not all together? Do you ever hold brainstorming sessions online via FaceTime or Zoom?
Kittenhead on stageSource: Kittenhead LA
We do Zoom, we do FaceTime, we use whatever platform works in the moment. We also have a running Facebook thread, too.
We get together as frequently as possible. We do really love and enjoy each other, so we want to get together more.
It is challenging, because I miss my bandmates when we don’t get to see each other for awhile… Then we go on tour for two weeks and we’re like, “Okay, yeah, I’ve had enough. I can have a weekend by myself now” [laughs].
We are definitely not one of those bands who struggle to produce music. We’re at the other end of the spectrum, where we have so much that we consider giving or selling music to others. It’s almost an embarrassment of wealth.
Kittenhead’s also been talking about going back into the studio to record another five song EP, but we haven’t even released videos for all of the songs on “NYB.” We’ve done one official video for the title track, “Not Your Bitch,” and that’s about it.
We’re musicians, not visual artists, so the idea that we should do a video for every song is a tad bit foreign to us – but we’re getting with the program.
Roary Boary Kittenhead: Meow
I don’t know if you can hear that, but that’s my cat in the background. Roary’s like, “I want Greenies now.”
Roary Boary Kittenhead: Meow
That’s her opinion. She’s participating in the interview now.
What color is your cat?
Roary Boary KittenheadSource: Kittenhead LA
She’s a caramel tabby from the SPCA. She was out of a litter of about 14.
Online, it says that Kittenhead has played at several roller derbies, prompting your debut EP “Derby Girl.” How did the group begin playing at roller derbies? What was your first show at one like?
Our first show at one was confusing, but we started playing roller derbies when we were writing our first EP, “Derby Girl.”
I have a very good friend who was into roller derby, so I had been a few times and really liked the ethos of it. The comradery, the energy. It really reminded me of indie music; [roller derby] is something people are doing out of a passion.
I wrote “Derby Girl” out of the experience of being at a derby. I asked DD to write a riff to go with the speediness of derby and we wrote the song together. I sent it to Larie, the derby girl, who started using it as their skateout song in Seattle.
In Seattle, roller derby is very popular, so I put it out to the derby world that they had our permission to use the song if they wanted.
It became people’s skateout song in the UK, Finland, Germany, South America, Australia, Austin, all over the west coast.
Then we were asked to play a derby, and we went. It was confusing, but now it’s all had.
It’s exhausting because you play two or three songs, then there’s a break, then you play two or three songs at the half time. The stop-start can be a little intense because you don’t realize how much energy how much stopping and starting takes, but we love it.
We just played at a championship roller derby last weekend and it was amazing. The women are incredible, the crowds are awesome, the people are just really great, passionate, and driven. We love to contribute to that any way we can.
Have you ever had any particularly crazy experiences with fans during a show?
Kittenhead rocking the stageSource: Kittenhead LA
We run out into the crowd a lot and so we’ve had so many. We’ve had great experiences all over the place.
When we were on tour this last time, we played in Bisbee, Ariz on a Monday night and people were out cheering – on a Monday night! It’s just great to see a crowd interact with you like that.
We’ve played in Fire Alcove, Nev, we’ve played in Ore. We’ve played in small towns where they don’t get live music that often, and they’re just so appreciative.
As far as crazy, we played at the Knitting Factory in Reno, Nev and we had people who had driven from Denver, Colo to see us. That’s just crazy to me.
I was like, “Here, have some shirts. You drove 10 hours to get here, have a damn shirt [laughs]! I wish I had more to give you.” That really blew me away.
Another really crazy things that’s happened was during the Sugartown Derby, which is in Valencia, Calif. In their four our five years, they had never had a female front in band there for some reason.
We came there to play during the junior derby, which is girls between the ages of eight to 10. We started to play and it was so crazy, it was like being The Beatles. They were going insane, they were crying. They asked if they could touch me and I was like, “Um, sure, I’ll give you a hug.” They wanted us to sign everything.
It really spoke to me that while there are a lot more women in music, the physical scene of women playing instruments inspires young people, specifically girls, which is so important.
It’s so important that they know they can do whatever they want to do because not all of them are Joan Jett. They need those role models on all levels.
What do you find most rewarding about being apart of a band? What have you learned from working together since 2012?
Kivi Kittenhead rocking outSource: Kittenhead LA
Personally, this band has really been about a full self expression. I have been in bands before where people have told me not to talk about subjects, like feminist topics, because I was the only woman in the band.
It’s like the real meaning of family.
How do you hope to impact your listeners through your work?
One of the big messages of Kittenhead is “be true to yourself and don’t feel that you have to follow the crowd.” Take who you see yourself being and fully embrace that. Step outside the box – what’s going to happen?
We’re up on stage, dancing around, being silly, being serious about certain things, but our show is a full expression of the human experience.
Our set always starts with “Derby Girl” because that’s about people being passionate. The first half sounds very poppy, but there are some challenging things in it when you listen to the lyrics; there’s passion, love, pain, politics, anger, joy.
What advice would you give to anyone out there reading who might be interested in starting their own band?
Kittenhead jamming togetherSource: Kittenhead LA
Do it. If you want to start a band, if this is your passion, don’t wait. Figure it out. It doesn’t matter if you ever get on stage.
You just have to get up off the couch, get out there, and see if this is your thing.
[Being in a band] means moving, not being glued to a computer, not being on your phone. It means interacting with an instrument – and it’s really good for your brain, wonderful for your soul. It will make you so happy.
It’s a totally different level of interacting with people. It’s like I’m in a relationship with five people: four of which, are in a band – then there’s me [laughs].
It encourages you to communicate, learn things about yourself that you may or may not want to know, but you will grow as a person.
Do you have any additional comments or final thoughts to share?
Check us out! We have all of the social medias: all of them. They exist for Kittenhead, just look for “kittenheadla.com“
Kittenhead amidst one of their empowering performancesSource: Kittenhead LA
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This entry was posted in Hot Stuff, Blog, Interviews, 2019, Fall 2019, September 2019, Blog, Tune-In Tuesdays and tagged in band, bands, blog, blogging, blogging community, blogs, burgundy zine, burgundyzine, burgundyzine.com, daddy kittenhead, dd kittenhead, feminism, hot stuff, interview, interviews, kittenhead, kittenhead interview, kittenhead not your bitch, kittenhead nyb, kivi kittenhead, kivi kittenhead interview, music, music submissions, musicians, not your bitch, now playing, nyb, o-face kittenhead, progressive music, roary boary kittenhead, rock, rock band, rock music, september 2019, the burgundy zine, tune in tuesdays, tune in tuesdays #34, Tune-In Tuesdays #34 Kittenhead is "Not Your Bitch", vjj kittenhead, zine, zines.
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