“A lot of the things we were doing 25 years ago seemed so new." Kittie broke the mould in the male-dominated world of nu metal. Now they're back for an almighty victory lap

A portrait of Kittie in 2024
(Image credit: Press)

On a blisteringly hot day at 2023’s Sick New World festival in Las Vegas, a huge crowd await Kittie’s arrival. In the throng, rabid Gen Z-ers, ready to witness the reunited Canadian band for the first time, jostle for position amid 30- and 40-somethings who were on the nu metal front lines the first time around. Moments later, Kittie appear. A squall of feedback and slashed guitar chords announce set opener I’ve Failed You, and vocalist and guitarist Morgan Lander lets out a shriek that could strip varnish from wood. “And then,” says Mercedes Lander, Kittie’s drummer and Morgan’s sister, “people lost their fucking minds.”

Almost a year on, there’s a sense that Morgan and Mercedes have been caught off guard by the fervour surrounding their reunion. Brutal new single Eyes Wide Open prompted a burst of excitement when it was released in February, while Fire, their first album in 13 years, will land later this year.

“We’re just sort of along for the ride,” admits Morgan with a smile. She and her sister are speaking via Zoom from their respective houses in their hometown of London, Ontario. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive. That’s just something I really didn’t think was going to happen. I’m shocked at how amazing and welcoming everybody is again.”

The surprise is somewhat understandable. When Kittie released their 1999 debut, Spit, they were four teenage girls at the height of nu metal’s dick-swinging reign; they broke the mould. They were heavier and went harder than most of their peers, incorporating thrash and death metal into their thick, chunky sound. Their debut single, Brackish, became an instant nu metal classic, a feminist anthem in a sea of male bravado. The song propelled them to MTV, Ozzfest and a support slot on Slipknot’s first US headline tour. “A lot of the shows that we did with them were completely out of control,” says Morgan. “The crowds were just seething, the fire alarms were getting pulled, and there was sweat dripping from the ceilings.”

Yet it was a momentum they would struggle to maintain. The band were savvy enough not to anchor themselves to nu metal, incorporating even more extreme influences on subsequent albums, but after the scene keeled over around 2003, Kittie found themselves struggling with diminishing returns and changing line-ups. The Lander sisters eventually put the band on ice in 2011, embarking on their own individual careers inside and outside of music. Aside from a single hometown reunion show in 2017, featuring three different sets played by three different line-ups, it seemed like Kittie were history. Until now.

“I just think that the world is ready for us now,” Morgan says. “A lot of the things that we were doing 25 years ago were still... I don’t want to say controversial, but they seemed so new. It definitely has a lot to do with a shift in thinking and acceptance and representation in the years since the very first time that Kittie came out. Sometimes it just takes the world a bit of time to catch up and appreciate those things.

The duo pinpoint Sick New World as the moment Kittie’s revival really kicked into gear, but they were back before that, having played their first gig in five years at Virginia’s Blue Ridge Rock Festival in September 2022, and Las Vegas emo extravaganza When We Young a month later. But Sick New World, they say, was their crowd: an audience there to bask in the glow of nu metal’s recent rebirth.

It’s a sharp contrast with their memories of the end of the band’s original run. There was no acrimonious implosion or bitter fistfights. Instead, the final days of the band were quiet, sad, inevitable. Following the release of their 2011 album, I’ve Failed You, they hit the road armed with what they believed was their most accomplished work, only for it to be greeted by apathy. “I think the best way to describe it is we just sort of overstayed our welcome,” says Morgan. “We were doing a lot of headlining shows, constantly touring, and never really seemed to gain much footing or interest.”

The reality that the band was coming to an end took a while to accept. They continued to sweat it out on the road, criss-crossing the USA in a small van, but they were becoming more and more demoralised show by show. “There were some nights on some of those tours in the very last few years where 50 people would show up to a show,” says Morgan. “That’s a hard thing as an artist to grapple with. I do remember having conversations where it was like, ‘I don’t feel like I can do this anymore. I need to try new things.’”

The low points, they insist, brought them closer together. Rather than arguing or infighting, they came together to make the best of the situation. And then...

“We just kind of backed up into the shadows,” shrugs Morgan. “There was never a grand announcement that we’d decided to go on a hiatus. We just stopped doing stuff. And I think that in doing that, it didn’t put a finality on everything, but at the same time, it was almost like nobody really noticed for a little while.”

In the intervening years, the band retreated to what Morgan describes as “common and mundane, normal lives”. She and Mercedes remained close, living nearby and seeing each other on a regular basis, even working together at the same software company. “It ends up that one of us starts working somewhere and then we somehow get the other hired,” says Morgan with a laugh. Both sisters dipped their toes in and out of music over the 2010s. Mercedes formed post-vmetal band White Swan, while Morgan joined melodic death metal outfit Karkaos as singer in 2019, but they never quite shut the book on Kittie. In 2017, they released the crowdfunded documentary, Kittie: Origins/Evolutions, which included interviews with previous bandmembers, looking back over their career. 

“I feel like the door has always been left ajar,” says Mercedes. “We all kind of knew that if this was something that was ever going to be a thing again, that we could always hop back in and I’m sure it would be like we never stopped.” Morgan continues: “For Mercedes and I especially, this band is so acutely tied to our identity and who we are. Kittie could never do anything again, and we would still be Kittie. Kittie would still run in our blood.”

Do they wish they hadn’t left it so long to return? “No. Sometimes you just really need to step away from a situation in order to be able to appreciate it,” replies Mercedes. “I feel like if we had just kept grinding away, that would not have been good for us. For my mental health, our morale as a band. Stepping away and then coming back when the time was clearly right, I feel like it made us appreciate everything so much more, and it makes things that much more special.”

It was the nu metal resurgence that breathed life back into Kittie. In 2021, Morgan and Mercedes began receiving offers from promoters for live shows. They got back in the practice room, together at first, before meeting up with the rest of the band, longtime guitarist Tara McLeod and bassist Ivy Jenkins. “We spent eight months making sure we were getting our chops back up in order to get in front of an audience again,” says Morgan. “It had really been so long since we’d played Kittie songs together.”

Initially, they say, new music wasn’t part of the plan. “When we first started playing shows back in 2022, we were like, ‘I’m sure people will stop caring eventually, and then we can go on our merry way’,” says Mercedes. The universe had different plans. Ash Avildsen, owner of powerhouse US label Sumerian, saw them play and offered them a deal.

“He said to us, ‘I want to put out a record with you guys’,” recalls Mercedes. “And we were like, ‘We haven’t written anything!’” Of course, there is a huge emotional, mental and financial gulf between just playing a few shows and writing a new album. And the chasm between releasing an album and taking it out on tour is even wider.

“We all had to talk about how much we’re willing to do,” says Mercedes. During discussions, a common ground was reached - the stability and normality of their lives was something to be valued and protected. “I don’t think it’s ever been a secret that Kittie will never be a full-time thing for us ever again,” Mercedes says. “We are not in a place where we want to tour for nine months out of the year. Our main focus is not to go back out and slug it out on the road and leave our jobs, but I think we’re able to find a good balance.”

“We are all on the same page, of course,” Morgan continues. “And we know, unless some Metallica-sized thing happens, it’s just not something that’d be feasible for us because... life, man. But at the end of the day, we want to make sure that the shows that we do play are really special, and the music that we release is very special as well.”

That said, there’s no doubt the sisters are fiercely proud of Fire, and excited about the new chapter it’s about to open for the band. Written remotely over an eight-month period, with the band passing ideas back and forth via email, the record was recorded in Nashville with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, Stone Sour and countless others). The first single, Eyes Wide Open, is a thrilling jolt of adrenaline, slamming together death metal, filthy grooves and blackened, classic metal influences. It is, say the sisters, a taste of what’s to come.

“There’s a lot of variety,” says Morgan. “I think the kind of variety that you will expect from Kittie. If you listen to the production of Eyes Wide Open, that kind of visceral, raw, but very modern sound is prevalent throughout all of the songs. The songwriting is definitely next level.” While the current enthusiasm for nu metal might have provided the perfect conditions for the band to return, the pair insist Fire is emphatically not a nu metal album. Any suggestion that their comeback has been timed to chime with renewed interest in the genre is shut us down immediately.

“We’re not a nu metal band, and we never will be again,” says Morgan. “We’re not trying to recapture something that is long gone for us. There might be a riff or an idea that harkens back to who we were in the past, but that is married with the more modern ideas of Kittie as well. It’s probably the best-sounding album that we’ve ever recorded. It has its foot in many worlds. I feel like when we were writing this album, there didn’t feel like there was anything to prove. So it’s definitely heavy and more mature, and the songwriting is incredible.”

“I feel like we could have phoned it in and done what people expected us to do, but we’ve never been that band,” adds Mercedes. “We’ve always defied everything and done our own thing, and I think we’re going to continue to do that. And that is the beauty of this band.”

Fire is out this summer via Sumerian

Dannii Leivers

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.