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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

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In Music Commentary

Morgan Lander has fronted the band Kittie for over a decade.

In Music Commentary

The singer/guitarist and the band are currently on tour, coming off a show at The Rave Aug. 13.

In Music Commentary

Kittie's new album, "I've Failed You," is due to be released Aug. 30.

Kittie builds on a career's worth of metal


Kittie has been evolving ever since they first showed up on the international music scene in 1999 with their groundbreaking debut CD "Spit," which boldly defined the band as a force in the music industry.

Their innovative brand of metal has since gained them a multitude of fans all around the world. Much has changed since those early days. Kittie has grown and matured in such an organic way that right now where they are at musically feels like a perfect and natural progression for these talented and seasoned Canadian musicians.

There weren't giant leaps from each release to the next, but measured and calculated steps of growth that occurs when a band pushes themselves to expand their musical abilities and spur new paths of expression that furthers their creative output. While their "Until The End" and "Funeral For Yesterday" discs offered fans raw emotive fury and savage yet beautifully crafted songwriting, the efforts were still stepping stones that led Kittie to the current lineup of Morgan Lander, Mercedes Lander, Ivy Jenkins and Tara McLeod. The last three years found Kittie at the strongest and most artistically inspired stage of their career so far.

The new Kittie CD, entitled "I've Failed You," is due to be released Aug. 30, and having previewed the new album thanks to their record company eOne Metal, I can assure the fans that they are in store for a real sonic treat. From the crushing and brutal opening title track "I've Failed You" to the heavy and soulful "What Have I Done," the album is full of diverse and thoughtfully crafted songs that build upon a career's worth of success. It's the CD that I hope defines Kittie in the long run, because it's that good.

In my two-part interview I first had a conversation with Siegfried Meier of Beach Road Studios, Kittie's producer and recording engineer on "In The Black" and I've Failed You." I next sat down with Morgan Lander before Kittie's Aug. 13 show at The Rave with her sister Mercedes sitting close enough to make a few comments as well. We spent some time catching up about what's been happening the past 11 months since the last tour ended, the new CD and videos, and even learn about Morgan's favorite song from the '80s.

OnMilwaukee.com: Siegfried, this is the second full-length CD that you've produced and recorded for Kittie. What were your initial concerns based on their previous recordings that you wanted to address to improve the overall experience for the average listener and also the audiophiles?

Siegfried Meier: The concern when producing a second record with any band or artist is making it excel from the previous album. You always need to push yourself in directions that you think aren't possible, and perform feats that not only make the artist grow and develop with each record, but that force you to grow as well. All too many producers these days rely on their tried-and-true tricks when making records, especially with using Pro Tools/plug-ins, etc. Lots of guys get into ruts where they try to clone things they've heard on other albums - the artists often get stuck in that as well. I don't have a problem referencing something, but when I feel it's getting to the point where we're trying to copy an exact thing that's already been done, my brain kinda shuts down and I lose interest, and I discuss it with the artist and explain that it's more important for them to be doing something original. You want others to dig your sound, and scratch their heads in disbelief at the tones and textures you've created on your record, and make them want to get that sound on their albums.

OMC: Both Morgan's guitar and Tara's guitar have unique and distinct tones that complement each other exceptionally well. Without giving away any trade secrets, tell me about some of the techniques that were utilized to obtain the guitar tones on "I've Failed You."

SM: Most of the distinct tones from Morgan and Tara come from their hands - the way they articulate their playing, the way the flesh of their fingers attacks the strings, etc. You could have them both play through the same amp and guitar, and it would be immediately obvious who was playing what part. For "I've Failed You," we incorporated a lot of different tones and textures in the guitar parts by using various amplifiers and mic-ing techniques. The goal from the beginning was to make the album much more interesting to listen to by using different tones for every different part that happens. This way, when you listen to the album over and over again, and at various volumes, you hear new things every time. We also added more synth/effects/treats to parts than we've done previously for similar reasons, as well as creating a mood and a vibe that traditional guitar parts don't always create.

OMC: What were some of the challenges you faced in tracking Mercedes' drums? Tell me about the process of placing mics around her kit to obtain the perfect drum track.

SM: This time around we actually went to 2" analog tape with Mercedes. It was something she'd done in many previous albums excluding "In The Black." I had actually purchased a Studer A827 for that record, had it shipped to Beach Road Studios from L.A. and spent several weeks wiring it into the control room and aligning it so that it was ready in time for the album. At some point during the first day of "In The Black" we discussed making the album sound much like another record I had done to Pro Tools only. It felt a little disappointing with the amount of work I'd done getting the machine installed, but it certainly wasn't a waste - the 2" machine has since been used on a number of records, and it's one of my favorite tools for recording.

For "I've Failed You," we decided to finally incorporate the sound of analog on Mercedes drums, and the biggest challenge of course is doing full takes to tape. That's not to say that you can't punch in parts or sections, but it often doesn't work as well as digital and you hear the punch. In my experience, it's most often easier to just do another full take and comp the best of the best together into one fantastic take. We ended up using 23 tracks on tape, saving one for Morgan's guitar guide track. We had a sh*tload of mics all over the Beach Road tracking room capturing some glorious room sounds, as well as plenty of close-up attack mics and even spot mics on all the cymbals. Of course, making sure everything is 100 percent phase coherent is crucial when doing these kinds of mic-ing setups, and with metal it's often necessary to physically go out and make sure the kit isn't moving, mics aren't moving or falling over etc. - the faster and harder the song, the higher the chance that things get shoved around. I'd make sure to go out after every single take to ensure this didn't happen. It's easy to miss, and when you're editing a few takes together you have to make sure every mic is still sounding the same from take to take. Mercedes has one of the best/cleanest setups I've ever seen. It's easy to place mics all around her kit, and she's very aware of where things are sitting, so no accidental stick hits to a mic, etc.

OMC: Ivy wasn't able to come to the studio, so you went to her. Tell me about the process of recording her bass tracks off site.

SM: It became apparent early on in the album that scheduling conflicts were going to put a damper on Ivy getting to Beach Road Studios to cut her bass tracks. Initially we had planned on just sending the sessions to a studio near where she lives and have someone just record a number of takes that I could comp together. I could sense her uneasiness with my suggestion and so I did what felt right to me at the time. Once the main tracking for the album was done, I packed up a small mobile rig and drove seven hours to Ivy's home and we set up a makeshift studio in her upstairs hallway. I made sure that I brought the necessities and that the signal chain was pure and clean, so that I could manipulate things sonically once I got back to Beach Road. Since we only had headphones and a limited number of things that I could take with me, we decided to just record a clean DI signal out of her Tobias 5 string bass.

Ivy had already been rehearsing the album for weeks - I'd sent her rough mixes after every step of the way in the studio, right until the end where we had everything but bass added. These proved to be the best steps we could have taken, for when I arrived I was floored at the level of productivity and precision in her playing. We got a number of takes for each song, I'd make suggestions if I felt parts were odd or we'd just get some alternates that I could play with back at the studio - you have to remember that I'd been hearing these songs without bass for weeks and weeks on end, and hearing any bass parts beyond simple root notes threw me for a loop at first listen. We'd joked that the album had an "...and justice for all" feel because of the lack of bass. Once back at the studio I performed bass comps of her playing, and the DI track was re-amped into my Ampeg SVT Classic bass amp, along with a few other little treats and sonic tools. What seemed like an impossible situation at the start of the album turned out to be smooth and problem-free.

OMC: Talk to me about the process of recording the vocals for "I've Failed You."

SM: For Morgan's vocals, we used a combination of different vocal chains to capture both the heavy, guttural screams and the soaring singing stuff that she does so well. As we had done on "In The Black",, we used her pink Heil PR20 for the screaming vocals - the same mic she uses live. To capture the low end and the weight of the sound, I preferred to keep her in my main tracking room, which is quite large of a space. For the singing vocals we used the small vocal booth, to keep it tight and dry, and my U47. Morgan's got that X factor in her vocal, so the challenges of tracking the various parts isn't as difficult as you might imagine. The magic is all there in her throat and chest cavity, so some basic engineering skills and some direction in certain parts is all that's needed. I prefer to use some of the custom mic preamps and tube compressors that I've hand built, and I find they add some real magic to the sound.

As far as takes and parts go, we decided to go a little more overboard than for "In The Black" regarding harmonies and extras. We also doubled a lot of the lead vocals in choruses, a typical classic trick that I'm not always a fan of but that worked incredibly well for the sound of "I've Failed You." For some of the crazy demonic backup vocals, we had Mercedes go through an SM7B and she just screamed until her voice blew out, and it gave it some real emotion and desperation. In the end, when you've got incredible singers, the job becomes that much easier.

OMC: Was it easier or perhaps more difficult to record "I've Failed You" versus "In The Black"? Looking into the future at a third full-length recording, do you have anything you might do differently as far as techniques or utilizing different gear?

SM: In some sense it was easier. Because "In The Black" was the first record I'd produced with the girls, we'd already gotten to know each other well. We knew our strengths and our weaknesses. I knew when to push them and when to back off. I knew what to say at the right time, and when to keep my mouth shut and just make things work, no matter how difficult the task at hand may have been. "I've Failed You" had its share of issues to work out, as every album does, but in having the close relationship that I have with the girls I knew that keeping the sessions relaxed and flowing with laughs and good times were as important as hammering down and being strict when I knew we had to get sh*t done.

The great thing about the location of Beach Road Studios is that we're in the country, in a relaxing environment overlooking a beautiful great lake and the gorgeous sunsets, away from the pressures of the city and the lure of distractions. We'd have barbecues, night-time campfires and long chats in the kitchen, discussing music and funny tour stories. I've had my share of working with producers and engineers that attempt to make albums difficult, just for the sake of. I don't buy into that, and I think it just makes them look like pretentious assh*les. I keep things fun, and I make sure the work gets done in a timely fashion and on budget. As far as a third full-length record, I think it would be cool to record the next album on a mountain top, with unicorns surrounding us while we make the record using water as the recording medium ... or maybe we'll just record the entire album to a Tascam 4-track like Springsteen's "Nebraska" ... I'm up for anything! Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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