Brooklyn’s Kittens Ablaze took this year’s SXSW as the place to tease their fans with some new songs…which was great and all, but left us wondering how much longer until that second full-length. I sat down with the band’s cellist and fashion icon in the making, Michelle Young, to talk about music, a wee bit of fashion, and of all things, John Denver.
SOTR: First of all, the name of your band is brilliant. Where did you come up with it?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): I think collectively we’ve probably agreed on only three things since we formed. As such, the band name was a contentious topic and hundreds of names were suggested each day. It came down to the wire when we were recording our EP in the studio and the producer came out and was like, “guys, I have to label your tracks with something.” That day we had been laughing about “Kittens Ablaze” which was a euphemism for…[sic].
SOTR: It’s rare you find a violinist and a cellist in an indie rock band. How did your divine motley crew come together?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): We’re a mishmosh crew of kids who wouldn’t be pegged as friends in the schoolyard but through fate and circumstance we all converged in New York City around 2007. Tim, Grant, Brett (original bass player) and Nate (original electric guitar player) went to college together making music in grungy basements. Brett and Grant went sailing on a little yacht in late 2006 and didn’t return for 8 months, leaving Tim and Nate to experiment with bleeps and bloops until they came back. In summer 2007, Grant showed up at a jam session and said, “let’s do this, fools,” and the band was formed. Jenny met Tim in a lab at where they torture monkeys and humans (just kidding!). They randomly found me in a pool through a friend. Nick and Grant were childhood pals in Maine – and when Brett fled the country, nick became our jack of all trades – bass guitar, banjo, harmonica, accordion, washboard player. Sometimes he does a little jig too.
SOTR: Your greatest musical influences?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): When we write music, there are elements of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, the Pixies, Radiohead, Elgar, Bach, Seasick Steve. We are always responding to our personal backgrounds and our collective generation. The only bands we’ve all collectively been able to agree on are Titus Andronicus, Frightened Rabbit and the National. I grew up in a town on Long Island where everyone I knew became a musician or involved in the creative industries — we joke that there was something in the water. Personally, I was influenced by classical, jazz and bluegrass.
SOTR: How do you prepare for a performance? Do you, as a band, have any particular rituals you practice right before going on stage?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): Growing up as a classical cellist, I’ve been playing for audiences since I was four so I don’t really get nervous anymore. I think each of us has a personal style ritual though. Tim often makes his own t-shirts out of Sharpies and we make t-shirts for people in the audience sometimes. Before shows, I try to combine outrageous things from my closet into an outfit. I used to work as a fashion buyer and now that I’m back in school, it’s my only outlet! Back when I had a real job, I would buy a round of shots but now we just hang out, drink some beers and pretend we don’t have 10 instruments to set up on stage.
SOTR: You played some new songs during your show at this year’s SXSW. Any idea when we can expect a new ep or full length?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): We’ve been recording and experimenting. I’m seeing a really exciting change and evolution to our sound this year, and we’re making sure we get it right before releasing anything. But definitely this year…
What would be your dream song to cover live?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): My band is going to kill me for saying this, but I think I already lived that dream with Country Roads, by John Denver. I have only ever heard that song in a drunken haze and I’m happy to be continuing that tradition. Also, something from the Nirvana Live album…And this isn’t a cover but we have amazing songs called “Sexy Like a Metronome” and “Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins” that we’ve never recorded or performed except as a joke in the van. People out there – request them!
SOTR: What’s the first album you ever bought?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): This will be embarrassing for me to answer. Leaving this one to Jenny and Tim.
SOTR: If a director came along and wanted to make a movie about Kittens Ablaze, what actors would you want to play you guys?
Michelle Young (Kittens Ablaze): CMJ once wrote that Tim looked like Michael Cera! I’ve always hated being identified by my race, so I think it might be kind of hilarious for a white actress to play me in kabuki makeup and a black wig. Was that totally inappropriate?
You can keep up with everything Kittens Ablaze related at: http://www.kittensablaze.com/
By, Amanda Chatel