Kitty — the stylishly coiffed drummer of twitchy punkers Mindless Self-Indulgence — just got off a whirlwind tour of Europe, Japan, and Australia touring behind the NYC-based band’s new release, If. It is the record MSI’s cultishly devoted fan base has been waiting for with bated breath for more than three years, filled with ’80s synth squiggles, drum ’n’ bass freak-outs, buzz-saw guitar riffs, and singer Jimmy Urine’s insult lyrics.
Having seen the band live, one might ask how this 20-something former art student, looking like a life-size anime character having the time of her life, conjures processed sounds on an acoustic kit with — here’s the kicker — absolutely no triggers on any of the drums. Jetlagged, but with an hour to kill before sound check, Kitty was able to shed light on the enigma. Basically, there is a sampler, a hard drive, and other gadgets stacked behind her spitting out beats while she plays a real kit on top of all the machine-generated stuff.
“It’s like having two drummers in a way,” she says. “There’s the robot drummer and then there’s me. It’s really about me trying to be in with the robot. Think of it like dueling banjos, but the robot always wins.”
The beauty of this arrangement — Deliverance reference aside — is that, should she drop a stick in the middle of a song, the beat will not be lost. “There’s always an electronic something-or-other going on. I mean, there’s definitely parts where I’m doing something different on top because I feel like there is a more simplified beat in there that kind of feels better for someone when they’re listening to it, and also me when I’m playing it.”
Putting together the drum parts is one of her favorite aspects of being in Mindless Self Indulgence. She especially loves what their frontman comes up with when he’s cooking up songs — except when he goes too far. “Like, ’I don’t have ten arms, you got to pull that back a little bit,’” she says of Urine’s high-bpm trigonometry. “So I’ll put my two cents in there: ’I think this should get punkier, so take that part out and leave some space in there so it has time to be syncopated.’”
She thought a metronome might help her to sort out the sampler’s myriad layers, but found it disorienting. “I actually prefer to play with all the tracking in the same way that you would have another musician playing something and you’re kind of playing with that musician instead of just having ’click, click, click.’ I like to hear everything that’s going on in the electronics, so I’m pretty much having to be dead in with everything that’s happening electronically to make that sound happen, which is actually a lot harder than it sounds.”
Kitty’s introduction to the drums is a story straight from an Oxygen network TV movie of the week. It began with her elementary school music appreciation class where all the girls chose flute or viola but this Ohio tomboy got a more gut-level satisfaction from banging on claves, tympani, and marimba. “Also I was kind of a hyperactive child, so it was perfect for me because they would tire me out.”
It’s hard to believe that Kitty, the world’s leading advocate of fusing electronic drums and punk rock, almost never became a drummer thanks to a simple misunderstanding. Back in middle school, she was storing her drums at a friend’s house, but the friend’s mom didn’t like all that equipment in the basement, so she arranged for a mutual friend to hold onto the kit. The third party thought it had been given to him so he ended up pawning the beloved set Kitty had saved up for forever.
“That was the end of my drum career. After that I didn’t really think about it I was so heartbroken about the whole experience. This is obviously a sign from the universe I’m not meant to play drums.”
The way Kitty got the MSI gig is equally random. After fleeing the Midwest, she met Urine kicking around Manhattan while she was attending the School Of Visual Arts and he was putting a band together. He was freaking out because shows were booked, and yet they had no drummer, despite running classified ads for weeks. “I said, ’If you’re really desperate, I haven’t played in like ten years, but maybe if someone will lend us a drum kit I can attempt to play the drums for just these couple shows until you can find someone who is a real drummer.” The gambit paid off. “They jumped me in,” she playfully adds, putting a street-gang spin on it. Trouble was she was still using a borrowed kit. “I was like, ’Oh, we’ll get our own, you can have yours back,’” she recalls telling the owner. “And he’s like, ’Aw, keep it.’ That’s karma for you.”
A boutique drum shop in the city eventually custom built a jazz-sized kit that fit her better, which she used for years until she landed a Pearl sponsorship a few months ago. But sometimes the coolest endorsements in the world are no match for gear that fits like an old baseball glove, such as the original pedal she has used since the very beginning. “The metal parts have been worn away, but hopefully it still works tonight.”
For young musicians eyeing the arts mecca of Manhattan to kick-start their careers, Kitty is dubious. “I think it actually works against you, and that becomes more clear when you see [New York] bands like The Strokes and Interpol go to Europe first and re-export themselves to the U.S.” As to how MSI escaped the quagmire that millions of Big Apple bands fall into, she chalks it up to perseverance. “We just toured and toured and eventually people forgave us for being from New York.”
Band: Mindless Self Indulgence
Birthplace: New York
Influence: Cindy Blackman