The first time Mr.Kitty graced the shores of the United Kingdom was in 2014, where for his first ever international show, he played gothic/industrial holiday camp Infest, where he also became the first, and currently, only non-headlining artist to perform an encore in the festival’s history. If that doesn’t speak volumes for the prowess and rabid fanbase that this project has amassed in nearly a decade, then there’s no swaying you I’m afraid. Five years on, this night is also a first in Forrest’s career, where on the eve I got to sit down with him, it was his first ever London show, and naturally anticipation was huge within the confines of Camden’s Underworld, not to mention performing alongside fellow witch house pioneer Sidewalks and Skeletons. Progressing through many doors and hallways bleached with graffiti and swarms of band stickers, I meet Forrest and husband Isaac deep in the Underworld’s bowels, to talk about the past, the present, and the ephemeral.
I hope my first question is my most important, but generally, how are you?
Mr.Kitty: I’m brain dead right now! We’ve been on tour for almost a week now and it’s just been show after show, and taking flights, and traveling, and meeting people, and playing music, and going blind from strobe lights, but I’m hanging in there!
How has 2019 been for you?
Mr.Kitty: I definitely think it’s an upgrade to my life. There’s a lot of things that happened in prior years, like I lost my friend, and my favourite band stopped existing. It was really kind of depressing, and really upsetting. I feel like the second I took control of everything and just decided that, well, if anything’s going to change, then I’ll have to do it I guess. So definitely for the better, it’s been good.
One of the more important things that happened last year was that you were able to play a show at the San Antonio State Hospital. How was that experience, and what was the general reaction to your music?
Mr.Kitty: It was really different because I’ve never played a state hospital or to anybody with any kind of mental health problems or anything like that. Just to be able to play there, it was special because I don’t think they get entertainment like that a lot, they try to do things that are, I guess, not that much of a hazard, or too crazy, like maybe karaoke or something. Just to have a band or somebody perform, it felt good, it was really nice. I had people come up to talk to me, usually you’re not supposed to interact with the patients, but I got to talk to a couple of them and they were really grateful that I was able to do that. It was really great.
You’ve been making music for around 15 years now; at what point did you decide that you were going to make music your full-time career?
Mr.Kitty: My full-time career? I think it was when I played my first big show with Crystal Castles in 2010. I was supposed to go to art school and all of this other stuff that I was trying to be invested in, but in my last year of high school I was like, ‘I don’t really feel like my heart is really in this art and visual stuff,’ and I was making music whilst I was doing it, and I might as well use this money to go record an album, so I flew out to make what became my first synth-pop record which was DEATH. We recorded a pipe organ and all of these other crazy things whilst we were there. But yeah, I definitely think playing with Crystal Castles at the House of Blues, in fact, the first thing I did when I got out of high school was probably the moment I thought, ‘Yeah, I should probably take this a little more seriously.’
Presumably, you got a great reception for that show?
Mr.Kitty: It was actually kinda weird because it was one of my first big shows that wasn’t some fucking DIY club or all-ages venue. It’s House of Blues, it’s huge. I think it was sold out, I had my desktop on stage and it was just so awkward, but I was just so excited to play with my favourite band. Some people were like, ‘You suck,’ and I would clap back at them, and tell them, ‘If I suck so bad, then why am I up there and you’re down there?’ Then the guys tried to tell me something again, and then I jumped in the crowd and I smashed his face with my microphone, and then he bled everywhere, and then I finished my set. So, it was pretty eventful.
Actually, on the subject of Crystal Castles, there’s something that I wouldn’t mind you debunking. Somewhere on the internet said that you started Mr.Kitty originally as a Crystal Castles tribute act. You’ve done a lot of remixes and covers of them, but is that actually true?
Mr.Kitty: A tribute act!?! [laughs] No no! I mean, a long time ago, Ethan [Kath] from Crystal Castles gave me the sampling CD that he used for the first album, and then I was like, ‘Oh cool, I really like these sounds,’ and he said, ‘Well we’re not using them any more, so you can do whatever you want with them.’ But I don’t think at any point I was a tribute act, because I don’t want to be them, I just want to make music like them and be chaotic like that I guess. I wonder who said that?
I did think that was pretty farfetched, there has been some things I’ve read that said you were a live collaborator of Crystal Castles also…
Mr.Kitty: Oh, collaborator! There were a couple of things I had done for them behind the scenes on their music. They asked me to do remixes a lot, and engineer certain things, and they were pretty cool. I really am grateful for them, for helping me with my career.
Genres are so limiting because once you have genres, it creates a costume… why not just wear whatever you want? – Mr.Kitty
So to talk about Ephemeral, it’s arguably your most mature album to date, but it’s also your most eclectic and experimental album to date too. As well as being a tribute to your best friend, it also sheds away a lot of what could be considered the signature Mr.Kitty sound, is this a conscious move to make more music that you want to make, as opposed to just sticking to one particular sound?
Mr.Kitty: Yeah, exactly! I want to do whatever the hell I want, and I want to make hits, but I want to make all kinds of hits! I wouldn’t want to just be like Depeche Mode and make Violator twenty times. I mean, they could easily cash out on that every time, but it’s like if I have momentum, I can do whatever I want to do, whether people like it or not. I don’t care. I have a platform that I can share my ideas with, and people don’t necessarily have to agree with them. I definitely want to move in the direction of working on whatever interests me, but not taking too much of it to where I lose my touch on my sound. It’s like any day, I could go through and make a classic Mr.Kitty synth-pop sound, with all the 80s sounds and stuff like that, but I want something when these 80’s sounds won’t hit as hard in these songs that are trying convey intense emotions. I don’t think From Liquid would as good if it was 80’s like that, I mean there’s so many technical parts in there with the hi-hats and the glitches. It’s just how my brain works kind of. I wanted to just go with whatever I was doing, and I was like, ‘I’ll cut this here…’ I never really thought about it while I was working on it, I just made it weird and then I was like, ‘OK, cool!’
On the subject of your sound, it’s been described as witch house, synthwave, weirdly, new wave, post-punk, and you’ve labelled it yourself as self-destructive synth-pop. Do you think genres and labels are still relevant in today’s musical climate?
Mr.Kitty: Absolutely not. I hate genres so much. Genres are so limiting because once you have genres, it creates a costume, and then once you’re a part of a costume, everybody wants to wear it. Why not just wear whatever you want? [laughs] I don’t know, it’s just really annoying, once you make something that becomes formulaic, it gets very played out, very easily and there’s no innovation that goes into it. Somebody could say this is a witch house song with choir vocals, or something like that, and there’s gonna be the purist that says, ‘Oh, this isn’t witch house.’ Just make music that’s pretty that can hurt somebody’s feelings! [laughs]
Something else that has cropped up fairly recently in your music is that you haven’t often collaborated with other artists, but you’ve featured Vocaloid artists on both A.I. and Ephemeral. You use a lot of vocal effects on your own voice, but is there something about having an artificial voice that lends itself better to your music than a human one?
Mr.Kitty: More control, and being able to do exactly what I’d like to do to with a voice. I took two years to study the human voice, and to figure out how it all works. It’s really strange, because it’s not that I’m opposed to working with other people, it’s just I don’t have the time. I’d rather just do it on my computer, and make it sound the way I exactly want it to, so I’m not sending emails back and forth, like ‘I don’t like this.’ Singing one note wrong, just drop it down [in pitch], export it, and it’s done. But I also do just love the idea of virtual singers, and how so many exist, and how you can just make your own, and all that, it’s pretty cool. There’s [software] called Utau, where you can record all the phonetic characters of the Japanese language, and basically what it does is time stretch everything and you put in all the certain points for where the lyrics and the phrases are being sung, and it takes all of those and turns it into a singer. It’s really cool, I’ve worked on one for my voice, and I eventually want to release it so people can have my voice in Japanese, and be like ‘Featuring Mr.Kitty.’
Like vocal stems of your work you wouldn’t then mind people getting their hands on?
Mr.Kitty: Yeah, I mean you would have to download the program and then the voice bank for it, but then that’s all you really have to have. Other than that, you can do whatever you want, and it would still be my voice. At the end of the day, if it’s featuring Mr.Kitty, royalties would still go back to me.
That is actually a really smart way to do that. Just to take this conversation on a complete tangent, if After Dark wasn’t your most popular song, which song of yours do you think or feel should be your most popular song instead?
Mr.Kitty: Wow! [laughs] I thought for the longest time Destroy Me was really big, but I don’t necessarily have a favourite song or anything, because all of them sort of represent different feelings, different experiences I’ve gone through. If I had to choose one song that I wanted to be a hit, I have no idea to be honest, that’s a really tough one… I think From Liquid is a really big song, if I could get radio play with that one, I would lose my mind. If I could just have a whole arena of people singing that, because it’s pretty intense… But I feel like a lot of my other stuff isn’t really reflective of who I am now, it was more emulating stuff and finding my sound then, but definitely it would probably be something from Ephemeral just because it’s more… me.
At the beginning of your answer you mentioned Destroy Me, what are your thoughts on the Destroy Me meme?
Mr.Kitty: [laughs] It’s really cool that all of these people are working on animations for a thirty second clip of the song, but it also opens a lot of doors for if I ever wanted to reach out to someone for animation, there’s all these people that have done stuff and I can go, ‘Oh I like this,’ maybe they could do a music video, or something for social media, or something on the lines of that. It’s definitely cool that people are doing something with it, because I don’t know what I’d be doing with my music otherwise. It would just be there for people to listen to, but the fact that people want to make memes, and do animation, that’s being creative and they should keep being creative. That’s what I want.
Lastly, what’s next for Mr.Kitty in 2020?
Mr.Kitty: Oh my goodness. I think I’m touring for the rest of this year, there’s a couple dates still in December in North America. I’d really like to take some off because I need a fucking break! My brain can’t handle so much. I really miss all of my sea lions at home so I might just go hang out with them, or maybe play Dark Souls or something like that. But I’m also working on a thousand other side projects at the moment as well. Me and Pastel Ghost are gonna be starting a band, we’re working on that right now. There’s also other music that I’m working on right now, I’m working on some music for this drag queen in Austin called Louisianna Purchase, so we’re doing like post-punk, theremin-based, electronic music. I’m also working on an arrangement of four harpsichord pieces, so I’m trying to make like a baroque, modern kind of thing. That’s just a pet project for me because I really love the harpsichord. There’s all these pieces that exist that are strictly harpsichord, but I want to do something that’s a little more, not avant-garde, weird and effects-driven… I don’t know.
What do you actually do to relax, because music really does seem like it is your full-time job? Obviously you’re very good at DDR, and there’s been footage that suggests as such…
Mr.Kitty: I love playing DDR, I do that to stay in shape and keep everything cognitive. To relax, I play video games sometimes. I usually just like to stay in my room, or in my studio and just click around on my computer. I try not to get too sucked into looking at my phone, because it’s really overwhelming and you can see so many things of people doing better, and doing things that you’re not, then you’re like, ‘Oh, I wish I could be doing that.’ But then equally, I guess I wrote some hits and I guess I’m doing good for myself. I like touring but I’ve got to have some days off in between. At home, I’m usually asleep, or walking around Austin, or falling off those electric scooters, that’s my biggest pass-time. Or just getting super-high with Pastel Ghost, and just watching Cocteau Twins videos or something! [laughs]
Forrest, it’s been an absolute privilege to talk to you, thank you.
A huge thank you to Christian Bankes of Fade In PR, the Underworld in Camden for hosting the interview, and to Forrest and Isaac for making this all possible.
Mr.Kitty is on tour in North America from December, so check his social media for details on when and where he’s headed to you. All of his albums and merch can be purchased on his Bandcamp, whereas physical copies of some of his albums can be purchased from Negative Gain Productions.
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