Songwriter Interviews

Morgan Lander of Kittie

by Greg Prato

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Kittie were still teenagers when they got a record deal and released their debut album, Spit, in 1999 (they recorded it during after-school sessions). This wouldn't be all that unusual, except they played metal, and they played it with a fervor that earned them a slot on Ozzfest and a gig touring with Slipknot. There was nothing like it, and there hasn't been since.

Kittie was never molded to fit a certain image or framed by social media. They had their own voice and it was spoken (or more often, shouted) through their songs, which they wrote themselves.

Formed in Ontario in 1996, the band has had several member changes over their tumultuous career, with the sister act of singer/guitarist Morgan Lander and drummer Mercedes Lander being the constants. Their twisted tale is the subject of an upcoming documentary, which as we went to press had a working title of Kittie.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): How did the idea come up to do a documentary at this point?

Morgan Lander: The idea for the documentary has been in the works for the last couple of years. I believe we started to discuss it towards the end of 2013 and going into the beginning of 2014. Mercedes was really the one who pushed the idea and thought it was a really great way to celebrate our upcoming 20th anniversary, so we decided to plan and get everything together for that.

Initially, we had reached out to a number of different people to try to have them direct. The documentary has actually changed hands over the last little while, but I'm really quite happy with the direction that Rob McCallum has brought it. We're really excited about everything. It's been in the works for a number of years, and only now starting to come to fruition. It's taken a long time, having to reach out to past members and get them on board to discuss things and negotiate and describe what the idea is. But it's all for a good cause - 20 years is a long time to say that you have done something that you love.

Songfacts: Has seeing some of the old footage inspired the band to work on new material?

Morgan: It certainly has rekindled the love that we have had for the band, and reminded us how exciting of a time being in the band was - and still is. It's been a really interesting experience, looking back, and seeing all that footage, and being like, "Wow! Did we really do all that? Did we really say that? Did we really go all these places?"

Memory can only be stretched so far, and it just so happens that it's quite convenient that we did record a lot of stuff, too. So we're certainly jumping back into the Kittie pool - I know that sounds ridiculous. [Laughs] And sort of getting our toes wet with toying with the idea of doing new music and perhaps a new album.

Songfacts: How does the songwriting work primarily in Kittie?

Morgan: Typically, it starts with riffs or ideas. Tara [McLeod, guitar], myself, and Mercedes, usually we get together and we have songs or ideas, and we play off of each other. We've been doing this for a long time, and we know how each other works. Usually we just fall right into the groove of things. Usually it's pieces here or there - I'll have a riff and then Tara will say, "Oh, I have something that will actually go with that," and we'll see how they go together structurally.

It's really about the feeling and suggesting things. Very rarely do we come to practice with a complete full song and say, "This is exactly the way that I want it to be played." There's always room for edits, improvements and changes just based on how everybody feels about things. It's sort of a slow process, but once we jump in, we usually get pretty excited right away, and a song comes together rather quickly.

Songfacts: What do you recall about the lyrical inspiration behind the song "We Are the Lamb"?

Morgan: The majority of the lyrics for that song actually were written by Mercedes. She had given me a sheet of paper that was more of a poem. She said, "Do what you would like with it - extrapolate."

I believe the idea behind the song is very much being sacrificed for something that you love, or someone that you know that made that sacrifice in order to allow you to carry on. So, becoming the sacrificial lamb.

Songfacts: "Brackish"?

Morgan: It actually is a commentary on a friend of the band's, and the relationship that she was in at the time. We didn't necessarily think it was a good one, and a lot of those lyrics were representative of our feelings towards that situation.

Songfacts: "What I Always Wanted"?

Morgan: It was written in a strange time period for the band. It was our sophomore album, and there's a lot of pressure there. "What I Always Wanted," to me, was the story of "be careful what you wish for." I think it was representative of how I was feeling at the time, having been in the band, and all of a sudden, things have exploded and blown up, and now, you're expected to create something that is just as good as all the songs that you wrote for the entirety of your band's career beforehand.

You know, you have your entire band's career to write your first album, and then the second album, you're expected to do it a lot quicker. Feeling those pressures of "be careful what you wish for" is the idea behind "What I Always Wanted."

As Morgan explains below, she wrote a song about a serial killer - Bob Berdella, who did his dirty work in Missouri in the mid-'80s. This puts her in the company of many other rockers who have written songs about serial killers. Some of the most famous songs on the subject are:

Slayer - "Dead Skin Mask" (Ed Gein)
Blind Melon - "Skinned" (Ed Gein)
Jane's Addiction - "Ted, Just Admit It..." (Ted Bundy)
Judas Priest - "The Ripper" (Jack the Ripper)
Thin Lizzy - "Killer on the Loose" (Jack the Ripper)
Ozzy Osbourne - "Bloodbath in Paradise" (the Manson Family)
Songfacts: "Charlotte"?

Morgan: "Charlotte" was inspired by a book that I had read many, many years ago, about a serial killer [Rites of Burial by Tom Jackman and Troy Cole]. He did a lot of really, really messed up things, and the story really stuck with me. I thought it was really quite sad and disturbing. So, it draws lyrical inspiration from that.

Songfacts: "Into the Darkness"?

Morgan: The idea of not knowing. It was written during an interesting and dark period of the band. At that time, there was a lot of uncertainty about the band internally, and with our future with our label at the time. It was not knowing what was to come, and just being afraid of the unknown.

Songfacts: I was watching the preview of the documentary, and there was a quote you said that I found interesting: "Was this the end of the band? All the time."

Morgan: We're releasing this documentary to tell our story, but I don't think it's been a secret that there's been a lot of upheaval over our professional career - whether it be changing labels, or having members of the band leave, and that sort of thing. We've always been in flux, and every time there's something that happens like that, you always question, "Well, is this the thing that is going to be that final nail in the coffin, that means we have to pack it in?"

A lot of that has happened in our 20-year career, and it's been a crazy, wild ride. So quite often, there's something that happens that you go, "Wow. Is this going to be it?" Nothing is ever certain, and nothing - as I believe Mercedes says in the trailer - has ever been a fairytale with this band.

October 14, 2015.
For more, visit the Kittie Facebook page.

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