Gain is fun in all its forms, from overdrive to fuzz, but let’s talk about a great clean tone.

We’re all here for one thing. It’s the singular sound and magic of the stringed instrument called the guitar—and its various offshoots, including the bass. Okay, so maybe it’s more than one thing, but the sentiment remains. Even as I write this, my thoughts fan out and recognize how many incarnations of “guitar” there must be. It’s almost incomprehensible. Gut-string, nylon-string, steel-string, 12-string, 8-string, 10-string, flatwound, brown sound, fuzztone…. It’s almost impossible to catalog completely, so I’ll stop here and let you add your favorites. Still, there’s one thing that I keep coming back to: clean tone.

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Left to right: Up until last year, Kittie’s active roster included founding sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander, bassist Trish Doan, and guitarist Tara McLeod. Doan passed away suddenly in February 2017.
Photo by Trish Doan

Morgan Lander and Tara McLeod discuss the all-female metal band’s explosive early success and the journey leading up to their 20th anniversary.

For some bands, timing is everything. The recording industry snatches up some artists in the prime of youth, and the chaotic emotions and stresses that go with it end up being shaped into some of pop culture’s most influential and vibrant music. And, almost as a byproduct, their traditional paths into adulthood (as well as their comfort zones) are completely hijacked—with high school substituted by rock-stardom.

That was the case for Kittie, the Canadian all-girl metal band founded in 1996 by sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander (lead vocals/guitar and drums, respectively) and Fallon Bowman (vocals/guitar), joined shortly after by Tanya Candler (bass). They were 14, 13, 12, and 13 years old. In 2000, they received an RIAA gold certification for their debut album Spit—which shipped almost two million copies worldwide—before any of them had received their high school diploma.

“We were just playing in the basement, having fun. We always joked, ‘Oh, when we go on tour…’ but everybody does that, everybody has their dreams, right?” says Morgan Lander, now 36. “Now I can look back and say I understand the gravity of what was going on, but then, we really didn’t have the emotional ability to truly grasp what was happening.”

That matured perspective, as well as the pure survivalist victory of running a band that’s lasted 20 years, led them to create Origins/Evolutions, a three-disc set containing a documentary and a live album that was released in March 2018.

The documentary tells the Kittie story from the perspective of the band members, boasting never-before-seen archival footage that lets viewers watch the band go from rowdy, incorrigible teenagers to seasoned yet metal-loving adults. They also celebrated with a 20th anniversary concert in their hometown of London, Ontario, in October 2017, which reunited fans from all over the globe as well as past and present band members onstage.

Throughout their career, Kittie has played with five bassists (Candler, Talena Atfield, Jennifer Arroyo, Trish Doan, and Ivy Vujic) and four guitarists (Bowman, Jeff Phillips, Lisa Marx, and current guitarist Tara McLeod), and worked with four producers (Garth Richardson, Steve Thompson, Jack Ponti, and Siegfried Meier) to make six full-length albums. That Kittie “family” is very much celebrated by the band’s remaining members, the Lander sisters and McLeod, and the memory of their late bassist Doan, who died suddenly last year, lives on through the music they made with her for more than a decade. In an interview with Morgan Lander and McLeod, they spoke frequently about the value of their lasting relationships in music, and the pains and joys that went into two decades of Kittie.

How does it feel to be releasing a documentary about your career?
Morgan Lander:
As a band, I like to say we made it. We’re celebrating the 20-year anniversary and we made a documentary about it, and people actually care. As a band that’s the ultimate.

How was the 20th anniversary show?
The show felt like a culmination of all the work that I’ve done and that we’ve done. I had approached everyone with the idea, and everybody gave a resounding “yes.” Tanya [Candler], our original bass player, had to get an okay by her doctor because she was six months pregnant at the time. So, she was rocking out playing with her bass—it was awesome. We were like, “Don’t jump too high!” [Laughs.] After all these years having not stood on the stage with some of these girls, the chemistry is still there and it reminds you why you started. Everybody was on a high that night.

“I long for the day when maybe it doesn’t have to be an issue—when a woman in a band isn’t like a token woman in a band.”
—Morgan Lander

Tara McLeod: It was so magical. Everyone just knew how important this was. There were people flying in from all over the world—these fans that we’ve been friends with for years. The support and the love was amazing. I remember standing out in the crowd when they were doing [material from] Oracle, so it was Jennifer [Arroyo] and Jeff [Phillips] jamming with them. And I remember just being blown away by how good they sounded!

Did you gain any unexpected insights from watching the documentary about the band’s history?
For me, realizing just how young we were. Now, being 36 years old and looking back, it’s beneficial to have all that time pass to see how I might’ve acted differently. There’s a lot of redemption and forgiveness that’s involved in this as well, because there were a lot of girls in the band that left and not always on great terms. It’s all about healing and celebration as much as it is about the fans and the music. I’m glad it opened a dialogue and there was a lot of peace involved in all of that.

Other than the significance of the date, what was the motivation behind making the documentary?
In a way, it sums everything up; it puts a nice cap on things. If there was never going to be another Kittie album, I think that this would be a great way to say, “Well, it’s been a great ride, we may not do this professionally 24/7 anymore, but we can look back and say it was all worth it.” I don’t think that when we set out to do it, that the healing aspect and catharsis was something I was expecting—but I’m certainly glad it happened.

TIDBIT: To mark two decades as a band, Kittie released Origins/Evolutions, a three-disc live album and documentary. In celebration of this mile marker, Kittie reunited former members to play material from the band’s six studio albums in a special concert in hometown London, Ontario.

How did you first get into playing guitar?
Originally, I took piano lessons. It wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 years old that I started to get into guitar. My musical tastes changed to more guitar-driven rock ’n’ roll. I took classical lessons for a little while when I was younger, but mostly when I got back into it from the age of 12, I went to a guy who just taught me basic theory. He was a big metal guy. He liked Anthrax and GWAR, so I was like, “This guy likes cool music.” It seemed like it was fun for him, too.

McLeod: I started pretty much in the traditional way: 12 years old, I got my first guitar and went to guitar lessons. I was really lucky. I had a guy who was still in high school and he basically changed the direction of my life by giving me the album Jar of Flies [by Alice in Chains] and I would’ve never ever listened to that. He just made me fall in love with the instrument because he taught me things that I really wanted to play. I felt lucky because he was pretty strict on me practicing, but he also went about it in a way that I would continue playing guitar, whereas a lot of my friends started out the same time as me and ended up quitting.

Morgan, you were just 14 when the band took off. Everything exploded so quickly—it was like you guys grew up in studios and on stages. What was that like?
It’s been a really interesting life, let me tell you. Honestly, it was a strange time. The album got released and it was really big, and it was like suddenly everything we knew was gone—our lives were forever changed. We were on tour with people twice our age. We were super naïve, enthusiastic, and probably very annoying as well, because we were kids who were genuinely living our dream. You’re trying to figure out who you are as well as navigate the teenage emotions that come with that, but you’re also doing it while you have an audience and critics. It can be very hurtful—a lot of people had a lot of nasty things to say and it was hard on us.

How important do you think your youth was to your success?
Lander: It certainly added an aspect of energy and attitude that I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with now or even 10 years ago. Especially with the first album, that whole attitude we had going on was 100 percent youth. It would be different if we had started later in our lives. It was the perfect storm.

In the film, you mention a lot of the criticism you faced for being an all-girl metal band. What was it like dealing with that?
Especially then, during the early 2000s, it all felt very anti-female … “bro” culture. The first few tours we did, we felt like we were having to prove ourselves. We’d be setting up and there would be a crowd full of people with their arms folded, like, “What are we about to witness?” Luckily as a band, even back then, we understood our power. We knew that when we started playing that people’s minds were going to be changed—it’s just that we had to go out and do that.

McLeod: I’ve been very lucky. When I joined Kittie at 21, it was already established, and those girls had already been through so much of that stuff. I’ve played gigs where I showed up at the venue and the security tried to kick me out. I get that sort of thing often, or like walking onto a stage and someone goes, “What are you doing?” That sort of thing happens all the time. It’s annoying, but if that’s the worst thing I have to deal with, I’m alright with it. I usually end up becoming kind of one of the boys, I guess. But I think that speaks highly of the musicians that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

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