Earlier this year, Minneapolis-based feminist-punk group, Kitten Forever, dropped their latest album, “7 Hearts,” highlighting their musical force through friendship and feminism. Full of raw power and dirty guitars, the release captures the band’s infectious live sound throughout 15 ferocious tracks.
Chicago fans are in luck this month as Kitten Forever will be tearing up the Empty Bottle on June 13. Prior to the show, Rebellious got a chance to talk with the trio – comprised of Liz Elton, Corrie Harrigan, and Laura Larson – about the modern music scene, what it means to be a feminist and how playing Beyonce covers is the most Rebellious thing they’ve ever done.
Laurie Fanelli: I want to start by asking you about your latest album “7 Hearts,” which has been out for a couple of months now. My favorite thing about the record, besides the great-songwriting, is the way you embrace fuzz, distortion and the under-used art of feedback. How do you create your sound?
Laura: We’ve been tweaking the tones that we’ve been trying to get at for a few years. We’ve always been focused on guitar peddles and recently we got a new bass and a new amp and we’ve been slowly, and intentionally, shaping the way we want our sound to come across. Most notably, one of the things we use is a telephone microphone when we play, so that brings a raw, blown-out sound to the vocals, as well. The way the songs come across as being really gritty and grungy is intentional and has been a long process of trial and error to find what we want the album to sound like and what we want to sound like live.
Corrie: I think we struggled for a long time with trying to find a way to make our recordings be indicative of the way our live performance sounds and we all really feel like this record is the first time that we’ve captured the way we feel about our live performance on record, and we’re super happy and super proud of that.
LF: Can you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process? Does it start with a message, a melody, lyrics? What’s the seed for a song?
Liz: We do things in our own way. Usually, we start in the basement where we practice with someone playing drums, someone playing bass and we, for lack of a better term, jam, in the most rigid sense of the word. Whoever is going to be singing on the track, takes that music and either writes lyrics to it or has lyrics that are already written that fit into it. We do intentionally pick who’s going to do what ahead of time, everything is on purpose.
Corrie: I think it’s safe to say that we fly by the seat of our pants when we’re writing and we always joke about how we don’t have to communicate when we’re writing songs. We joke that we have psychic songwriting because we don’t have to talk a lot, we just look at each other and all of a sudden we’ve wrote a song.
LF: There’s been a lot of talk lately about rock being dead and punk being dead. What are your thoughts on the current rock scene?
Corrie: The consumption of music, in general, has changed so much over the years and it’s weird to be in a band and creating in a time when music is more accessible than it’s ever been, which can lead to people feeling like, “punk is dead and rock is dead.” So many key times in rock ‘n’ roll history are centered around a key place, a specific time and a specific handful of bands, so it creates a nostalgic time period. Because of the internet and the mass accessibility of bands, it can be hard for people to feel that there is a focused, intentional movement happening, but I don’t particularly find that to be true. I think that as a band that’s part of a DIY scene and a DIY touring circuit for 10 years, I feel pretty confident in knowing that there’s amazing scenes and amazing bands doing really great work in their communities all over the country. And we feel a part of that, here, in Minneapolis and we feel a part of that when we go other places too.
LF: You are often described as a feminist punk group. What does feminism mean to you as a band?
Laura: I feel like we can define feminism in the really broad strokes of equality amongst the sexes but I feel like the way that feminism has prompted us to be in a band in the way that we’ve been able to participate in a band for so long and be able to participate with bands across the country where there are other people identifying as being feminist and we all have an unspoken thing about what that means to us. It also gives us a platform to open it up for discussion about issues that affect the punk community – about who’s being included in conversations and stuff like that – the permission to have more freedom in what we’re doing and what we’re saying.
Corrie: I think that we would definitely define ourselves as a feminist band, but I don’t think that necessarily means that we are defining everything we do through an explicitly political lens. At the end of the day, it’s important to us that we’re in an all-women identified band and that’s something that is, unfortunately, still seen as being a political statement.
LF: You are playing the Empty Bottle here in Chicago on June 13, what can fans expect from your live show?
Laura: Our live show is maybe even more engaging – our songs stand on their own, but we write our songs based off of performing them live. We’re a live band. We all switch instruments when we play and we have really high energy. And we’re having fun, so we hope that the people watching us have fun too.
Corrie: If you like the record at all, then come to our show. If you like the record even a little bit – you’ll have fun at our live show.
LF: What makes Kitten Forever Rebellious?
Corrie: We are still operating in a time when just being a woman performer and standing up on a stage, unapologetically, is sometimes seen as a political and/or Rebellious act. I think that we are operating within a knowledge of our own history – and the timeline that we’re a part of – all these women who’ve come before us and pushed the boundaries of what that means or how acceptable that is. By no means, do I think that we are particularly, ourselves, breaking down any barriers that anyone before us hasn’t already opened the door for us to do. But, we’re three women who call ourselves feminists and that’s still seen as Rebellious by a lot of people – and that’s really important to us.
LF: What is the most Rebellious thing you’ve ever done?
Laura: We got asked to play this women-musician-centered cover show here in Minneapolis, and it’s a really big deal that sells out every time. It’s based on the premise that all these bands play and they cover an influential female artist. We got asked to play in December of 2014, and they gave us three weeks to get a set list together, because someone else dropped out. They were like, “Don’t worry about it. You can cover Bratmobile or Babes in Toyland.” And those are bands that really align with the kind of music we play, and we decided to go with Beyonce, so we spent those three weeks painstakingly rewriting Beyonce songs. At the show, we performed an entire Beyonce set where we all switch instruments and do everything the way we usually do in Kitten Forever fashion, but with pop songs.
Corrie: I think that one of the most interesting things about it is, that it’s weird to listen to a Beyonce song and think about covering it because the majority of those songs, interestingly, don’t have a guitar-part, or a bass-part, or even a musical rhythm part. A lot of them are weird electronic sounds and drum beats and they’re so intensely carried by Beyonce’s amazing voice and none of us can sing even remotely close to what Beyonce can. Speaking for myself, I can barely even sing – most of my songs are shouting. So, it was really interesting to take something that the weight of it is carried by this one person’s very unique talents and try to transform those songs into something that is fun to listen to without that.
Liz: The songs we were doing were mostly bangers. There’s newer,
“Lemonade”-era, Beyonce songs that are more guitar-driven and made with more instruments. But, we didn’t even think about that with the ones that we were covering. You don’t think like, “This song doesn’t have music in it.” (Laughs)
Check out video-evidence of Kitten Forever’s Beyonce cover set on YouTube and click here to pick up tickets to see them perform live at the Empty Bottle on June 13. More information about the band can be found at KittenForeverForever.com.