New Music To Know: Kitten Puts Its Own Charli XCX-Approved Spin on the ’80s
By Paul de Revere
There’s a moment on the title track of Kitten’s Like a Stranger EP when frontwoman and co-songwriter Chloe Chaidez doubles down on her already breathy vocal performance and near-whispers a talking breakdown reminiscent of Madonna’s “Vogue.” It’s a stunning, commanding vocal take that suggests a maturity beyond Chaidez’s years, ten of them spent in music.
“There’s something so romantic, chic and posh about it that I love,” Chaidez, 18, said of the song’s sotto voce, citing Pet Shop Boys as its inspiration. “Every time I hear someone talking in a song, it stops me in my tracks. You wanna listen to a song and go, ‘Who is that girl? What’s her story?’ I love having that effect on people.”
The Los Angeles synth-pop band has made a name for itself around its hometown with its glammy, charismatic live show, reinforced with exposure on KROQ’s (a Radio.com station) Sunday night radio show, Locals Only, which shines a light on local and unsigned acts from L.A. and Orange County.
The band and its new label Elektra Records seem intent on letting the rest of the world know too, with a recent appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly and an upcoming U.S. tour with Charli XCX, a good friend of Chaidez’s.
“She messaged me on MySpace, like, four years ago,” Chaidez said, who lost touch with the English pop star/songwriter over time. “When I saw the ‘Stay Away’ video, I was like, ‘Charli!’”
The two got back in touch, playing a show together in Chaidez’s native Los Angeles, and have been besties since. Certainly they’re kindred spirits in their inclination toward youthful, free-spirited stage performance. It makes sense for Chaidez, as she grew up in a musical family. Her father– Mike Chaidez, drummer of veteran L.A. punk band Thee Undertakers– raised her on “punk and classic rock,” Chloe said.
Her first band was with her dad at 10 years old, recording punk rock covers and sending these new versions off to those who recorded the songs first. One of the first songs Chaidez learned to play at eight years old? Radiohead’s “National Anthem.”
From that kind of pedigree, Chaidez’s talent soared upward like a rocket as she matured, musically “rebelling” against a punk rock dad the only way one could: getting into synthesizers.
“My rebellion came out in pop and ’80s music,” she said. “There was this huge gap in music he never introduced me to.”
Chaidez cites practically every key ’80s music icon associated with vocal performance and synthesizer music from Annie Lennox to David Gahan of Depeche Mode, she’ll go on and on. As far as being labeled an Eighties Band, however, Chaidez just shrugs.
“I don’t think about it,” she said. “I didn’t grow up in that time but that’s why it fascinates me.”
And that’s exactly what the Like a Stranger EP sounds like. Neither Chaidez nor her Kitten bandmates Lukas Frank, Bryan DeLeon, Waylon Rector and Zach Bilson actually lived in the neon era, but it’s their fresh take on an ’80s sound that makes Like a Stranger sound like it does.
That’s partially due to Chaidez and family friend/Kitten producer Chad Anderson’s ears for production and synth sounds.
“I normally use softsynths,” she said of the software-plugin synthesizer sounds she uses with the music production program Abelton. “But there’s a warmth that you get from a real ’80s Juno that’s really nice.”
True to a sound or at least an idea of what it was or might have been, Kitten’s Like a Stranger is reminiscent of what LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy described as “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties.” But the band isn’t just borrowing, Chaidez and the guys are reclaiming the familiar sound all for themselves.