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Morgan Lander, lead singer/ shrieker for the metal act dubbed Kittie, calls it "Feline Association Disease" -- the inability of journalists to write about her band without making endless, and endlessly banal, references to its name, thereby relegating Lander and her fellow daughters of destruction (guitarist/vocalist Fallon Bowman, bassist Talena Atfield and drummer Mercedes Lander, Morgan's younger sister) to curio status.
"They definitely don't use their imaginations," Morgan says. "I know our situation -- four young girls playing metal music -- definitely isn't normal. But I think it's not very original what some people are doing. They're treating us like we'll never be seen again and we're just a novelty -- like, 'How cute. Look at all the little Kitties.'"
In other words, these Canadian pubescents -- each is reportedly 18 or less -- find themselves in a classic pop-music conundrum: The attributes that initially helped them stand out from the pack and boosted their debut album, 1999's Spit, past the 500,000-disc sales mark have become straitjackets. And no wonder, since their story overflows with irony richer than the next man Anna Nicole Smith will marry. Case in point: The group is managed by Morgan and Mercedes's parents, Dave and Dee Landers, who also serve as tour chaperones, watching proudly at shows as Morgan repeatedly refers to fans as "motherfuckers" and belts out tender ditties such as "Get Off (You Can Eat a Dick)." That's enough to shake a me-owww! or two out of even the most sympathetic scribe. Morgan's accent is pretty adorable, too. Love the way she pronounces "out" as "oat."
But while these characteristics threaten to turn Kittie into a cartoon (say, Josie and the Pussycats in Hell), a conversation with Morgan tends to undermine such an impression. In discussing her music, she comes across as uncommonly intelligent not just for someone her age, but for anyone in her chosen field. And if that sounds like a backhanded compliment -- after all, metal isn't renowned for spawning lotsa budding Jean-Paul Sartres -- it's not intended that way. For example, she notes that "Do You Think I'm a Whore," among Kittie's most notorious offerings, is actually about "perspective, and the way people perceive others by exterior factors only. It's about drawing conclusions before actually digging into the meat of the matter. It's for the kind of people who think, 'This song is about sex' just because it's got the word 'whore' in it."
Such thoughtfulness and seriousness of purpose would likely cheer even the most conservative commentator if Morgan weren't so fond of profanities, nihilism and guitar squawk amped up to the pain threshold. But that's part of the package, ladies and gents, and she views any guardian of morality who can't understand such contradictions with suspicion.
"I think those kind of people are looking at it from the wrong view," she says. "They're not out in the mosh pits actually seeing the people and their faces -- and I cannot believe how many happy faces I've seen in mosh pits. People really enjoy themselves."
As for which blue-nosed official she'd most like to introduce to moshing during Kittie's next concert, she's not certain: "I'm not too big on American politics. But I'd like to take them all on. Take them to see Slayer. Oh, that would be interesting."
So, too, was Morgan's rapid transition from chipper tot to fire-breathing she-dragon. She and Mercedes grew up in Toronto, and Morgan began writing poetry and lyrics when she was ten. But her work was relatively angst-free until two years later, when the family suddenly relocated to London, Ontario. "I think for any child who's grown up in one spot, you're so used to routines and having all these people around that you know and love, your family close to you and all," she says. "And then being uprooted...Well, it was something that was just like, 'Aaaaargh!' It was totally eye-opening for me.
"That's not necessarily the very bottom pit of my rage," she concedes. "But I think that's what started the reflection -- to actually look at the world and see it the way it really is, you know? I think when you're very young, like eight years old, you go to school, you have friends, you play in the backyard, that kind of thing, and everything seems so perfect. And when you get older, something changes."
Mating these emotions with metal came naturally to Morgan, whose parents' music collection included recordings by the likes of Deep Purple, Cream, Led Zeppelin and Rush. (When she's asked if her folks ever spun the likes of Joni Mitchell, she answers with a disgusted "Ugh.") At first, the band, which germinated after Mercedes met fellow rebel Bowman in, of all places, a gymnastics class, stuck to covers by combos such as Nirvana and Silverchair. But before long, Morgan, Mercedes, Bowman and original bassist Tanya Candler were penning irate screeds and sharpening a stage act initially highlighted by Candler's proclivity for biting the member off inflatable male love dolls. Mmm-mmm good.
In early 1999, little more than a year after the combo became a regular in hometown clubs, Kittie came to the attention of producer GGGarth Richardson, whose credits include CDs made with Rage Against the Machine and L7, and Ng Records, which is presently a subsidiary of the Artemis imprint. Spit was completed in short order, but just before its September release, Candler dropped out, having apparently grown tired of the taste of vinyl penises. Fortunately, Atfield was available; she came aboard in time to appear in the first video off the album, for the assaultive tune "Brackish." This song, like the best tracks on Spit, is primitive but effective, and more than heavy enough to satisfy the bleeding-eardrums crowd. Before long, the young women of Kittie were being called the anti-Britneys, an allusion to fellow teen Britney Spears that quickly ossified into a cliche nearly as annoying to Morgan as all those gags about fur flying and cat-scratch fever. Not that she's complaining too much. "To me, no press is bad press," she says. "I just wish they'd pay attention for the right reasons."