interview: The Reinvention of Kitty

words: Charlotte Murtishaw

Aside from her contributions to the annual Adult Swim Singles series, Kitty has kept pretty quiet working on her first full-length release - until last week. On Friday, Noisey premiered the video for title track “Miami Garden Club,” a humid depression anthem that nevertheless signals good things on the horizon for Kitty.

In stark contrast to previously released singles--the shameless budget-clubbing track “Drink Tickets” and 80s glam videogame ballad “Asari Love Song”--Miami Garden Club” takes a break from the dance floor, lingering instead on the days when getting out of bed is a challenge.

And for all the irrepressible basslines, there have been plenty of those days between personal demons and professional setbacks. Misfire after misfire delayed the album, which was first lost in stolen luggage, then manhandled by an overbearing collaborator, and finally built from the ground up by Kitty herself into her own pop-perfect vision.

“I listen to what I have left of those [first two versions of the album] and I'm like, oh my god, this is a sad person,” she says. “I don't want people to hear that from me. I'm not trying to have a persona like, I got through this. This is about feeling good.”

For the home stretch of the Kickstarter-funded Miami Garden Club, which drops August 25 (preorder available here), she holed up in her mother-in-law’s house in the Baltimore suburbs. She and husband Sam Ray have been speciously weighing a move to Philadelphia for months, but seem content to hunker down in Maryland while finishing their respective albums.

Kitty, now 24, is conscious of the way the music industrial complex seems to want to close the book on her and write her off as a has-been, someone on the internet who once made a video with Riff-Raff. (When Kitty caught the attention of the internet in the 2012, she arrived a little too early to benefit from the dual waves of poptimism and mainstream feminism to come, and her glittery, lo-fi takes on boys, working at Claire’s, and chores were derided as much as they were bumped.)

But the unexpected Internet sensation “Okay Cupid” didn’t go viral because it sucked – it went viral because it didn’t totally suck. Her next releases followed in the same style: rough-hewn, self-deprecating raps often laser-focused on dissing herself before anyone else could. Nonetheless, the cuts showcased a raw talent and clever lyricism, with the rare ability to make the embarrassing trials of extended adolescence as funny and catchy as they were cringeworthy.

Like awkward teen years themselves, it was a phase, and armed with an arsenal of new skills and tricks, Kitty’s eager to bury that chapter of her career. We met up in a coffee shop playing sludgey post-pop-punk in Allston during the Ricky Eat Acid and Kitty tour last year to chat new beginnings, and goals:  “I mostly just want to be a millionaire, have a shitton of animals, take care of them, and not have to do anything else.”

TGE: Where did the name of the album, Miami Garden Club, come from?

Kitty: I don't even really remember. I have this motif of flowers in my album titles and it's all really Florida-sounding. It's all influenced by music I grew up around in Florida.

It sounds either like, very classy or like, a bar.

That’s why I like it. And some people thought it's not even words that go together, it's like Miami. Garden. Club. And that kind of works too, I love all of those things.There's a really shitty bar in Brooklyn that I go to and it was called Bushwick Country Club. Actually it wasn't that shitty, I just consider everything in Brooklyn shitty in my memory because I was sad there, but it reminds me of that in the way that it's like, ‘oh, we're going to the country club,’ and you get there and it's like, oh, this is a bar, and we'll eat cheeseballs and probably throw up later.

Who’s your fanbase? Just internet people?

I haven't played shows in two years, so two years ago I guess people I would see at my shows were my fanbase, but most of it I would gauge by people on the internet. But now I have to stay farther away; I used to be really into being online and answering my messages but I have to step back from it because I realized I'm a lot happier when I don’t give as many people access to my feelings.

Most of the time there's a lot of people, a little younger than me, who are from the same kind of background as me. When I’d go play in like, New York City and LA and stuff, no one knows who I am. I have fans there, but it's more, middle of the country and living in the middle of nowhere and always bored and they feel like, oh my god, nobody in my town understands anything about me. It tends to be that type of fan.

Is that where you're from, a suburban wasteland type?

I'm from Daytona beach. When I was a teenager, I didn't feel like anybody was like me, and I got bullied a lot and had kind of a shitty adolescence. So I think that it's not so much 'people who like this kind of music' as people who feel they have something in common with me.

Does that kind of free you from genre in some ways, where there’s not a horde of people who are like, we want--I don't even know--like, hardcore rap?

Well at this point, yeah, I don't have to feel like I have to do anything particular anymore. For a long time when I was like making rap songs I was just like, ‘holy shit, I'm not good at this, I don't like doing it, and everybody is mad when I do it except for the people who are stoked’. Then I was like, I can either stop and I will feel better and people will stop being so mad at me all of the time, but I'm going to be pissing off all these people. I put out one EP that was still kind of rap and people were like, this is kind of weird and I put out another one afterwards that was trance and they were just like, uhhhh. But I think at this point after all this random stuff that I've done people will like it better.

How would you describe your album? You put out Asari Love Song with Adult Swim Singles, but how consistent is it with the rest of what's on there?

It's corny, but when I'm just sitting here I'm like, oh my god, all these songs are so different. When I was making them it an A-side, B-side type thing so when you think of it that way, it's a lot more coherent. Which will make more sense when people actually get to hear it. That song that came out, Asari Love Song, is kind of the vibe of one half of it, and then there's another half of it that takes from that kind of stuff but with a lot more of electronic, banger-influenced things and cute pop songs. Which is kind of all I ever wanna do, cute things.

Why do you think you wanna do cute stuff?

I just like cute stuff. It's fun. I don't like dark stuff at all. I don't even like to watch movies that aren't animated. I just like everything to be fun, I don't want to have to go onstage anymore and do a bunch of songs that are about like--they're all about stuff that I am doing, I'm not creative enough to think of anything else to write about--but I don't ever want to go back and pour my heart out on some slowass darkass song and be like, [fake peppy voice] “Ok, but we're having fun guys, right?" I've had to do that so many times and that sucks, this isn't what I'm about at all.

Just thinking about the internet, your music has such a relationship to - I mean, without the internet you’d probably still be playing shows in Florida, right? Is that fair?

Or like, not ever playing shows at all, or ever thinking about any of this. I was going to try to work at Universal Studios, because it was all I wanted to do then. I would not be doing this if it weren't for the internet. So that's cool and that's why I can't renounce the internet. Also, I don't even know what I would do with my time if I did.

So at what point did you decide to really do music, like, that's going to be the thing, and not Universal Studios?

I had got a show in New York City and I was just like [snorts] why? what? My family and I were all like, this is hilarious, let's just see what's going on. That was when I was viral on the internet because everyone saw my one video and my Riff-Raff video, so they were like ooh, making fun of me mostly. They’d pay me mad money just to get me to play shows so they could laugh at em... My mom was like, when are you ever going to get a chance to get a bunch of money for you to make your songs? Just do it. And I was like, alright, whatever, but then I was like, this is fun and I’m not gonna give up.

If my Kickstarter hadn't worked, I wouldn't have been like, I'm gonna die for the rap game or whatever, I wouldn't have done that.  I was just, Well I'll get a job; I'm qualified, I went to college, but I dunno. It just happened gradually and now I have a big point to prove. And I also have fun.

Do you think the rewriting process of redoing your album for the third time - has it added anything at all or has it just made it wearisome?

Oh yeah, the first version of my album was trash. That version sucked. The second version sucked too because it was too much input from other people whose input I shouldn't have been asking for anyway. Now I've squeezed all the good things out of the first version, which was not that much, and made lots more good things.

The most important thing about it to me is that I had a chance to learn all of the production stuff I wanted to learn so I could make my own instrumentals and not have to rely on so many people. Now I finally have gotten good enough at it that I made four instrumentals on that new album and I did all the production for four of the songs, which I've never done before.

Overall, what did did you do on the album and who else were you working with?

One song I worked on with one other guy, Pat Lukens--he produced Asari Love Song and Drink Tickets--and he had a song he wrote a long time ago and recorded with the vocaloid Hatsune Miku. I always loved it so much and he gave me the song, I rewrote all of the lyrics and wrote the chorus part so it's different enough that I feel like I didn't rip him off.

Other than that all the lyrics are mine, I sing everything, and there's another guy singing on my album, Sprightly. The song I did with him is the same idea. I heard one of his songs and was like, I love this song, will you send it to me? Other than that, there's a couple of different people. I love to work with Pat Lukens cuz he makes such jams that all sound like Paula Abdul. And me and Sam worked on most of the rest of the instrumentals.

Do you think in four years you'll look at the stuff you're making now and feel the same way as you do about “Okay Cupid” etc, or is it possible to make stuff you're proud of forever?

I think the reason that stuff makes me so sad to think about now is because I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know how music was made. I would talk into my built-in Macbook speaker, I didn't know what mixing was and I put so much work into learning all of these things. It's the only thing I’ve cared about really, especially in terms of getting better at things, because it's my hobby and something I really love. I think that's the very fundamental reason I get so offended and hurt when people reduce me to this one, shitty-ass Youtube video, because I've been spending five years doing nothing but learn and work so hard. Hopefully when this album comes out it’s like, now I've worked really hard on something, you're gonna like it, I like it, and then maybe when it's out people will call me just Kitty.

Not like, “f.k.a. Kitty Pryde”...

I forget that's what most people know about me. It’s like, so many people watched this video, why didn't they watch the rest of them? When I was in LA I would meet people and musicians I looked up to that were really tight, and someone would introduce us and they’d be like oh yeah, I know who you are, --and I'd be so stoked-- the Okay Cupid song and I'm like oh god... I hate it, I think it's horrible, and so different from everything I do now. I don't think it's horrible, it just reminds me of being a kid and immature and gross.

You mentioned earlier you only really write music about your life, but you wrote a song about Mass Effect - was that a ‘this is a relatable thing in a separate world’ thing, or more escapist?

Well that one is weird because I wrote it really fast - usually I rewrite things over and over again - because I made that cool beat with Pat, a cool guitar solo, and I liked it. I was really, really depressed, that whole year really, but especially then was really bad. I was like, I want to write a song over this, but I can't write a song about myself or it's gonna suck and it's gonna be sad, but this isn't a sad song. I was super ignoring my life and throwing myself into my Mass Effect game and I was really really stoked on my character and this other character being in love.

When you think about people whose music you admire, is there a certain genre grouping or era or type of people, is there any consistency there or do you pull from all sorts of different things?

I’ve been working on this album so long that I haven't even thought about listening to other music. I tried to do that 100 albums thing that everyone's doing on the internet and I couldn't even think of 10. What do I even like? I like trap mixes on Soundcloud, I don't know what I like anymore. I just admire anyone that does weird shit and doesn't stop, doesn't change it.

Half the battle is just like, doing something. Anything.

That's true. Also if you do it for long enough, it works out.

Or you die tragically young and are celebrated as a genius.

Me and Sam are hoping that's what happens to us. Like if we can't do it now...

Put it on my gravestone.

Put my Soundcloud link on my gravestone.