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INTERVIEW: Kittens Slay Dragons

Hi Sarah, welcome to VENTS! How have you been? 

I am doing well, somehow just as busy now as I was when I was recording both of my new records.

The single comes off your new album Big Big Heart – what’s the story behind the title?

My husband and I fostered a special needs kitten named Melon last year who had a number of congenital issues including an enlarged heart, lung disease, and eyelid agenesis (no eyelids). The vet estimated she would only survive a month or two, so we adopted her to give her the best life. A year and a half and three surgeries later,  Melon is a very active cat. She was the inspiration behind the whole project. While I was in the throes of some deep depression, Melon kept me focused and showed me how to take it moment by moment.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Love Is Surgery”?

Initially we weren’t sure that Melon could survive any surgeries because of her enlarged heart. She needed eyelids because her fur was rubbing on her cornea and she couldn’t blink properly. It was causing ulcers and could lead to blindness. My fans became her fans, and they banded together to raise over $5000 which covered the cost of Melon’s multiple surgeries. I was extremely anxious about it, and after she survived I wrote this song.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

Gatekeeper is very music from my heart. I’ve spent so many years trying to impress people who seem like they hold the key to my own success. I did it when I was a kid trying to get a role in the school play. I do it now when I meet folks who are doing the things I want to be doing. While it’d be super if someone actually had that key and opened up the door, I don’t think it should stop me from moving forward and making things. I have to remind myself constantly not to stand in that line. My own career moves forward a tiny step every time I release a song or video or go on tour. I’m trying to concentrate on doing more of that and less of waiting for permission and acceptance from those gatekeepers who make the decisions on who gets into their schmancy gated party.

How was the music video experience? 

The Love Is Surgery music video was my first try at making a lyric video. I wanted to use footage of Melon starting from when she was a kitten and tell her story up until now. It was quite fun going through so many kitten videos in my phone, but it took a long time to sort it out. I have a shameful amount of cat pics and videos in there. I was really glad I had so much to choose from though, especially when her surgery came. We were able to visit her in her cage after she woke up. She was just heartbreaking to look at with a shaved face and stitched eyes and tubes and a cone. It’s happy in the end though! So I piled all of it together and slapped on the lyrics. My thoughts on music videos for Kittens Slay Dragons is make them more like kitten therapy. The internet loves cat videos. Maybe they won’t mind if there’s some original boopy music snuck in there.

The single comes off your new album Big Big Heart – what’s the story behind the title?

My husband and I fostered a special needs kitten named Melon last year who had a number of congenital issues including an enlarged heart, lung disease, and eyelid agenesis (no eyelids). The vet estimated she would only survive a month or two, so we adopted her to give her the best life. A year and a half and three surgeries later,  Melon is a very active cat. She was the inspiration behind the whole project. While I was in the throes of some deep depression, Melon kept me focused and showed me how to take it moment by moment.

How was the recording and writing process?

We recorded mostly in the loft of an art classroom at the Miquon School in Conshohocken PA. It’s a private school in the middle of the woods. While I have recorded a half dozen or so albums, this was the first time for my husband who also plays and sings in the band. I had to be extremely patient as he found his bearing and figured out the rhythm of working in the studio. He was also patient with me when I’d lose my patience. We learned a lot in the process. It was our first time using exclusively electronic instruments. Both of us had to navigate a learning curve with the new technology, but I’m so glad that we did it.

Right from the beginning you wanted kitties played a major role on this record or how did that come about?

Kitties have played a major role in our lives. We have adopted out hundreds of kittens at this point, and there is no separating them from our creative process when you live in a tiny apartment with six cats, plus fosters. I heavily rely on our animals as therapy for my depression and anxiety. Our band name was based on a Facebook comment from a fan when I began to talk publicly about it. They are tiny creatures who do far more good for my mental health, than I can ever do for them. We give them all the love we can, and in return, they make for some damn good marketing on social media!

I know in the videos they are pretty much the stars, but how did cats influence the music and lyrics on this album?

Big Big Heart has beats that symbolize Melon’s ticker. I wrote that before all of her surgeries when I wasn’t expecting the best outcome. There is a lot of eyeball metaphor in Love Is Surgery. In general their presence is always close by when I’m writing. I’m sure if you isolated some of the vocals that I recorded at home, you might catch a meow or the scratching of the litter box. They ALWAYS poop when I need silence!

What aspect of depression and overcoming struggles did you get to explore on this record?

In my acoustic projects, generally I hadn’t really addressed those issues. I felt safe doing it now because I had these fun dancey beats to balance the heavy subject matter. In “Smile Pretty” I am recalling a stranger who told me “Just smile. It’s not that bad.” I am also having arguments with myself in my own head. “Under the Waves” uses my metaphor for the darkest of days. After living like this for so many years I have learned that, it IS possible to ride out those dangerous and destructive feelings. The day will brighten again. And then it will get dark again. That is life, and I am fortunate to be part of it right now. Finally “Queer and Square” is an anthem I wrote for FlameCon, an LGBTQ Comic Con that happens in Brooklyn, which is in its third year. It took me about twenty years to find my tribe, and it’s full of nerds, queers, board games, and jazz hands. The gay community is home for me, and I wanted to celebrate that.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes! We are touring in late May. Currently our dates take us to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, North Carolina, Nashville, and Ohio. More dates are in the works as well!

What else is happening next in Kittens Slay Dragons’ world?

We have written a few political songs that we’d like to release soon, but first we are working on learning new technology and adding mixing and mastering to our list of tricks. Because we are deep in the tabletop word of gaming, we have a Kittens Slay Dragons card game that is in beta testing. We are hoping to have a playable version by the time our favorite conventions happen this summer. Finally, April is prime kitten seasons, so surely there will be a batch of bottle babies who will need us. Rescues and shelters start to overflow in the spring. There would be no Kittens Slay Dragons without them though. I ask them to slay my dragons, and in return, I give them all the cuddles and kibble they want! 

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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