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Good Girls Do

Morgan Lander (left) and the girls in Canadian heavy-metal outfit Kittie bring the power, but not the puff.

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."

Many disc buyers did. Spit took off almost immediately, and Kittie soon found itself with a plethora of touring offers. Jaunts opening for Sevendust and Slipknot followed, after which the band signed up to headline the second stage at last summer's Ozzfest, the annual bacchanal starring the godfather of dark metal, Ozzy Osbourne. This opportunity brought with it a risk that Kittie would be hooted off the stage by the mostly male, largely hormone-addled audience, but instead the group was embraced by performers and fans alike for the sort of frenzied yowling that's preserved on Paperdoll, a new EP featuring five Spit songs cut live in June at Sweden's Hultsfred Festival. Even by comparison with previous renditions, the new versions of "Spit," "Brackish," "Suck," "Do You Think I'm a Whore" and "Raven" are brutal and sloppy, with pounding riffs, Mercedes's trashcan drumming and Morgan's vocalizing.

In contrast, the remix of "Paperdoll," another item from Spit, features Morgan singing from start to finish and doing so with confidence and bravado. But even though taking this tack more frequently would likely cause Kittie's material to seem considerably more appealing to those not devoted to death metal and its musical cousins, she can't imagine squelching her most fearsome noisemaking.

"Oh, God, no," she says. I think it's important to express emotions differently, and if certain parts are appropriate for singing, fine. But if other songs are appropriate for screaming, then you've got to go, 'RRRRAAAARRRR!'"

At the same time, Morgan is hardly ignorant of business concerns. "I took entrepreneurial studies when I was in high school" -- she dropped out in December 1999, three months after Spit hit stores -- "and everything I was doing in my career could be put into perspective in the entrepreneurial classes. A lot of the stuff that I did as projects for those classes had to do with my career in music, because that's what it was all about -- blazing new trails and having new ideas.

"I have a lot to do with merchandising," she points out. "We're 100 percent involved. We make the designs of the shirts, we talk to people who are going to sell them, we talk to the stores, ask what sort of things are appropriate to sell in malls and what things we should sell through a catalogue. We have different lines, because you have to cater to everyone. And we also have a marketing plan. You lay out a template of what you would plan to do in the year 2000, for instance -- like 'major tour with Slipknot,' 'Ozzfest,' 'go do signings,' 'go tour on your own.' That kind of thing. And those kinds of decisions are real life, because it's the real world. You don't learn business and strategy and marketing management out of a textbook."

When viewed from this angle, it makes perfect sense that, as Morgan says, "my parents are totally supportive of what we're doing, and my relatives are very cool with it as well. They're just really happy that I've started on a career path." But she acknowledges that "even if they weren't, I'd be doing it anyway."

Gumption alone won't prevent Kittie from climbing aboard the Oblivion Express through the pet door, which is why the four are dedicated to improving themselves. Morgan proudly declares the players have grown so comfortable with their instruments that they can now jam, stretching out songs until they're "four or five minutes long." (No doubt Dave Matthews is worried sick.) And she's also jazzed about the songs being assembled for inclusion on a new album, due before year's end; she says they're deeper and more complex than their predecessors -- a logical progression considering that the previous batch was largely composed back when only Jerry Lee Lewis might have taken her for a tumble.

 

She says no subject is lyrically off limits to her, but she can't imagine herself writing about "girl power and that whole power-to-the-women kind of thing. I just think a lot of people try to peg us as feminists: 'They're female, so automatically they're feminists.' But I like it that both guys and girls tell us, 'We can really relate to what you're saying; it's not biased.' And I want to keep it like that. Our music isn't for one or the other -- it's for human beings."

But not ones suffering from Feline Association Disease.


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