This past January, Rock Cellar attended the 2018 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. Also attending this year’s event was Mercedes Lander, co-founder and drummer of the Canadian heavy metal band Kittie.
Having recently celebrated their 20th anniversary as a band, the members of Kittie are finishing up work on a documentary film, Origins/Evolutions, chronicling their band, from its origins in London, Ontario in the late 1990s, through their Ozzfest performances and everything that came next.
We caught up Mercedes at the Show for a fun interview — enjoy it below.
Rock Cellar: Tell me about the new Kittie documentary, chronicling the band’s career. How’d that come about?
Mercedes Lander: In 2013-2014, we decided that we wanted to do something for the 20th anniversary of the band that was coming up. To give the fans something for sticking by us for so long. We were super excited about the prospect of doing this, so we started to put our feelers out and go through — we have a lot of footage — we filmed pretty much everything. We were working with a different director for the first year but it didn’t really work out, so we met up with a London, Ontario native, so he’s from the same town as us. His name is Rob McCallum, and he’s a pretty established documentary filmmaker.
So we set that up and started going to work, doing interviews and stuff like that. We really just wanted to give the fans something and show them our appreciation by making them something that they’ve never seen before. We opened up our archival footage. It just kind of felt that it needed to happen. The 20th anniversary is a special year.
— Rock Cellar Magazine (@RockCellarMag) January 26, 2018
Rock Cellar: Back when you and your sister Morgan Lander formed Kittie, you were children, essentially.
Mercedes Lander: Yeah!
Rock Cellar: Back then, what did you guys do in order to now have hours and hours of video footage to use for this documentary project?
Mercedes Lander: Honestly, back then in the late ’90s early 2000s, it was kinda cool to just have a video camera around all the time. We just pulled it out and filmed stuff. We liked to film our shows just to kind of watch them later to see how we could improve, and it was cool to keep that stuff around. We also made friends with bootleggers, so they’d send us a copy if they bootlegged one of our shows or whatever. So we’d get a VHS tape of a bootleg, we’d always make sure to send them our information and be like, “Hey, please send us a copy of that. We’ll let you film, just send us a copy when you’re done.”
Honestly, it was just something to do at the time, to document. We obviously never thought this was gonna happen years later.
Rock Cellar: Or that you’d be in a position in which anybody would really be interested in that footage.
Mercedes Lander: Yeah. We started an Indiegogo campaign to help raise money for it in the beginning and we raised 204 percent of our goal, so we doubled it. Which is nice. And we’d never made a movie before, so we didn’t really know how much it was going to cost. I’m kinda glad we made that kind of money because we definitely still ran out of money.
Rock Cellar: Documentary films are expensive!
Mercedes Lander: It’s a lot. We had no idea. But I’m really happy that it happened. And we also have a book, as well, that’s going to be coming out later on. But so far, so good. The company we’re with that’s going to distribute the doc, Lightyear Entertainment, they’ve been really great in setting this up and getting everything moving with it.
Rock Cellar: At this point, Kittie isn’t an “active” band, right? You probably do things when you can, given your individual schedules?
Mercedes Lander: Things just kind of became a little too difficult to be able to tour in the U.S., financially. Visas, IRS, all that. It’s expensive, I don’t think a lot of people really understand that. But to go anywhere in any other country in the world, really, you don’t have to pay much. So for some reason coming here, the government makes it really hard — and that’s fine, but we just do what we want to do. For instance, we did a show in October where we held a private screening for the documentary for the Indiegogo people and then we ended up playing a show with, I’d say, 5/8 of various versions of the Kittie lineup, which was nice!
I got to play onstage with people I haven’t played with in eighteen years.
Rock Cellar: So back when you and Morgan formed the band, how old were you?
Mercedes Lander: I was twelve.
Rock Cellar: You’re twelve years old, and you want to start a band that sounds like that. Not just in terms of your family, but were people in your town just blown away by it?
Mercedes Lander: Yeah, 100 percent. I got really lucky, I had really supportive parents. I think my mom maybe thought we were crazy, but my dad was like, “This is cool!” But yeah, at the time, we lived in a smaller town. It’s not huge, but it’s not tiny. The music scene there was really super punk-rock oriented. Back then, there was maybe a handful of metal bands. So we really stuck out like a sore thumb, like really did. That was pretty cool.
In the late ’90s, it was just different.
Rock Cellar: We had MTVX at my family’s house back then, so I saw Kittie videos all the time — “What I Always Wanted” and “Brackish” seemed to always be in heavy rotation. By that point, Kittie was playing Ozzfest. How was that, considering the Ozzfest crowd tended to skew on the brutish jock/metal fan contingent just a bit?
Mercedes Lander: That’s the thing. We’d play, and — I’d say the majority of Ozzfest, we won a lot of people over, which was nice. We co-headlined the second stage, so we went on around 5 PM, which was a pretty prime spot.
Rock Cellar: I never really went to Ozzfest so I didn’t really get to see Kittie back in the day, but I’m sure those shows were wild. Kittie later toured with Slipknot, right? What era?
Mercedes Lander: Yeah, a couple times. It was early 2000, January of 2000, around then.
Rock Cellar: It feels like Slipknot fans probably “got” Kittie.
Mercedes Lander: Yeah, it was a good mix. It went over very well, we had fun.
Rock Cellar: We interviewed Corey Taylor at the NAMM Show last year and he had a lot of fun stories to tell. I imagine their whole band crew and ensemble must be like 85, 100 people.
Mercedes Lander: Oh, I’m pretty sure they had at least two buses. Back then, we were playing like 500 to 1000-cap venues, so if you can imagine all of their gear on stage and then us trying to fit all of our shit, oh man.
Rock Cellar: And by “their gear” that also means the huge trash can rig that Clown uses on stage as drums, too, so that’s a lot of stuff.
Mercedes Lander: Yeah, it was absolutely amazing.
Rock Cellar: As teenagers, who were your main inspirations that helped form and develop the Kittie sound?
Mercedes Lander: It’s interesting, it was really the period of music that we were listening to — lots of early Portrait of An American Family Marilyn Manson, bands like Tool, Silverchair — they were a huge influence on us, obviously not as heavy but they were definitely the band that we looked up to, like “they did it when they were this young, so why can’t we?”
Just the music that we were listening to at the time, really. It blossomed from there.
Rock Cellar: This past year has brought with it some big losses to the music community, including Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, among others. Their deaths brought to the forefront a lot of conversations about mental health and the struggles we all feel sometimes, no matter our line of work or profession. Do you have any particular memories or stories of either of them? I’m assuming you and the band at least ran into Chester and Linkin Park at some point.
Mercedes Lander: I never met Chris Cornell, but I definitely met Chester a bunch of times, we hung out a lot when they were on Ozzfest. They played a different year than we did, but we always went anyway to support our friends and say hello to everybody.
I just remember Chester…we were hanging out or whatever at Ozzfest, and somebody was like, “Oh, do you smoke weed, man?” and Chester replied with, “No, man, I don’t smoke weed. I’m high on life!”
That’s literally what he said, it was amazing.
Rock Cellar: We spoke with Dan and Josh from Story of the Year recently, and one of their biggest tours ever was opening for Linkin Park in 2004 and they had nothing but nice things to say about him too.
Mercedes Lander: Yeah, he was so nice. Just a really fun dude to be around, really, all of those guys were super fun to be around.
Rock Cellar: Kittie has the documentary coming out soon, you guys are probably all in your mid-thirties or around there — see, that’s cool. Start a band when you’re twelve, and twenty years later it’s not like you’re fifty.
Mercedes Lander: I know, right? Thank God. I could very well be fifty.
Rock Cellar: What’s one of the moments early in your career where you guys looked at each other and thought, “Shit, this is really happening”?
Mercedes Lander: In 1999, we were signed to a super-small punk label from New York called NG Records. The plan was, we’d put the record (Spit) out, tour for the summer and then go home and go back to school. October rolls around and we release Spit. We only printed 5,000 copies, just as regional release in that tri-state area.
So those copies sold out in one day. At the same time, we started getting crazy responses with “Brackish” on the radio, on KROQ in New York. So they pulled the record, they were like “Holy fuck.”
We did a proper set-up, they pulled the record and we re-released it on January 11, 2000.
Rock Cellar: Fun way to realize, “Hey, this isn’t our summer hobby anymore.”
Mercedes Lander: Yeah, it was like, “Hey, Dad, guess you’re gonna have to go out on the road with us” since we were so young. He did that until I was three months shy of my eighteenth birthday. He was like “you’re fine, you got this.” (laughs)
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