“The name ‘Kittie’ conjures up images of a band of teenagers,” says Lander, who formed the group in 1997 with her sister Mercedes on drums. “We were so young when we started, and we were very aware that many people didn’t think we deserved our success, and felt that we weren’t worthy as musicians. I understand the teenage girl-band appeal, but if we solely relied on that as a gimmick, we would have died out long ago. We wouldn’t be here today if there wasn’t any substance to what we do, and we’ve outlived most of our contemporaries from the so-called nu-metal movement. Whatever people’s ideas of the band were—well, that’s history.”
The Canadian band recently added second guitarist Tara McLeod (along with bassist Trish Doan), and released its fourth full-length CD, the metal-core-meets-pop Funeral for Yesterday [X For Infamy Records].
The new record is very riff oriented, as opposed to the droning cacophony of the past.
Lander: The early stuff was a lot more one-dimensional. I was the only guitarist in the band, and I gradually realized I wasn’t diversifying my playing the way I wanted to, because I was too busy trying to keep the rhythm and vocals together. All those things changed when Tara entered our life. She has a different stylistic background—the speed thing was an issue for her at first, for example—but our strengths and weaknesses really complement each other. She’s great with solos, and that’s the area I was looking to expand with another player. Having another creative mind and an outside point of view in the band is key, because Mercedes and I have been in our own little world for years. The collaboration reinforces what was already a pretty stable foundation, and it keeps our music evolving.
McLeod: When I joined, I had to put in a lot of hours of practicing in order to keep up with Morgan’s excellent speed picking. Morgan is the queen of the heavy metal riff. They just seem to fall from her fingers, and off the top of her head, one after the other. I don’t know where they keep coming from! I play more blues-rock riffs—along the lines of Jimmy Page and Stevie Ray Vaughan—and I’m a big fan of the pentatonic scale. But it’s perfect how our styles mesh, because I can layer interesting textures over Morgan’s brutal in-your-face riffs.
How has Tara’s presence affected your songwriting?
Lander: She wasn’t there when we wrote Funeral for Yesterday. It was just Mercedes and me. As a songwriter, I look for something that I feel is challenging. I would never intentionally write a radio hit, or contrive a song that had a pre-conceived plan. I don’t set out to write songs that are heavy—that’s simply the style that makes me happiest and gets me excited. It’s about falling in love with your instrument and your music. I’ll go for months without writing a song, and then one will intervene on its own—usually while I’m trying to sleep. If a song furthers my abilities, that’s even better. Tara had the opportunity to put her stamp on the completed songs during the recording sessions for the album, but the dynamics are definitely going to change from now on. It will be interesting to see what happens with three heads instead of two. I can already tell that she’ll be doing more dual-guitar leads—all the thirds and fifths—which we like to call “guitarmonies.” My role will probably evolve into being more of the foundation—she’ll be the lead.
How did you get such massive guitar tones on Funeral for Yesterday?
McLeod: It’s all about the Angus Young, back-to-basics style.
Lander: I like being able to just plug in and sound great. I’m not big on technology, so we definitely took a less-is-more approach. Also, we’re a raw metal band, and we want our albums and our live shows to represent what we really are. Each song has just two guitar tracks—one for me, and one for Tara. You see, the more guitar tracks you have, the more squashed they sound. I think people get carried away layering one guitar track after another, and it just winds up crowding the sonic space. The result is usually that the guitars sound thinner, not thicker. If you don’t believe me, listen to Van Halen. That album had just one guitar track mixed hard to one side, and it sounds huge. We adopted that style—adding just a little textural pepper here and there to make our album sound well rounded.
Did you record the album on Pro Tools?
Lander: No. We’ve never relied much on Pro Tools. We recorded to 2" analog tape, and just did a little digital clean up. I think that when you record fully digital, it takes away a lot of the warmth, presence, and personality of the performances.
Does your minimalist recording approach extend to your gear?
Lander: I like my guitars to be basic. I’m playing a custom Hamer Victor, but I didn’t want much in the way of modifications. I asked for EMG 81 pickups, because they are good for metal, and I was good to go. We both use the Krank 100-watt Krankenstein Dimebag Darrell Model through Krank 4x12 cabinets. The amp was designed with Dime in mind, so it has the appropriate edge and balls. I’ve always loved straight amp distortion. Simple works best for me.
McLeod: I play a goldtop Gibson Les Paul. It’s the most comfortable neck I’ve ever played. I’ve laid my Explorer to rest because the Les Paul is so beautiful. Onstage, I only use three effects—a Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver for a solo boost, and a Vox wah.
What about strings?
Lander: I use a D’Adarrio custom set, gauged .011-.052, with a wound G string. It’s a good set for low tunings, and it’s light and fast enough for solos. We play in dropped C [C, G, C, F, A, D, low to high], which gives you the heaviness, but also the option of playing clear melodies for a mix of beauty and brutality. Dropped C also works with my voice. My register is very high, and singing in A or B would be a little bit of a struggle.
McLeod: My strings are D’Adarrio, as well, but a little heavier at .011-.056. Also, we use Dunlop nylon picks.
Morgan, are there any drawbacks or advantages to having your own sister in the band?
Lander: With Mercedes and me, it’s more than just two people working together to make music. There’s something about having your sibling in a band with you. There’s a bond that’s beyond business and writing—something unspoken that’s hard to describe. Look at Heart, Van Halen, Pantera, and AC/DC. They all have that indescribable extra ingredient that family adds to the mix. You can never fully explain it, but it’s some kind of magic.