Kitten Forever: Half serious, half party, all punk

Kitten Forever making an important tour stop at Salvation Mountain in California this summer

Almost two weeks into their 23-date tour, Kitten Forever have miles to go before they load in for the night. When they arrive at Funny World in Phoenix, it's likely that they'll deal with those same old stares when they carry in the drum kit. Add to that the same old condescending offers of help with the heavy amplifiers, the same shocked expressions that say it all. After seven years, the group members are immune to it, and besides, there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

At the moment, the Minneapolis trio of Corrie Harrigan, Laura Larson, and Liz Elton are leaning around a crackling speakerphone in their van, sweating buckets in the southwestern heat. Parked outside of Salvation Mountain, the technicolor desert art piece a couple of hours inland from Los Angeles, the trio is taking a brief respite on the now-familiar route to Phoenix. They've got more shows at DIY venues over the next couple of nights, and the scrappy basements and makeshift art-gallery stages feel like home.

"It doesn't feel so exclusive, in a way," explains Harrigan. "To be surrounded by your peers, who are really into your music and what you create. It's just a little more fun I guess."

"We were all, for lack of a better term, raised in a punk or DIY environment," Larson continues. "It's important for us to stay connected to that scene always."

The sonic fury of Kitten Forever is best witnessed in such a makeshift space, while pressed up against the bodies of the community that calls it home. When there's no stage mediating the distance between your inhibitions and their rallying intensity, you're instantly part of the party. The culture wars outside cease to matter for a moment of catharsis as the band crashes through minute-and-a-half blasts, splitting time between smashing the patriarchy and more gleeful pursuits.

"That's the vibe of the band in general: half serious and half party," Larson says. "It's like a confrontational party or something." "But in a very inclusive, nice way!" Harrigan adds.

Though they've occasionally been derailed while members attended school, Kitten Forever have remained a vital piece of the Twin Cities' feminist punk community since their debut in 2006. Out of a desire to play shows at the house they shared, Larson and Harrigan invited Elton to sing for their new group.

"We really wanted to be like a disgusting L7," Harrigan says. "Like a grungy, gross all-girl band that threw our tampons at people, but we ended up being polite and poppy anyways."

The band's instrumentation was relatively set in stone for the recordings from that earlier era, 2008's Born Ready and 2009's Magical Realism EP, with Larson playing bass and Harrigan on the skins. After returning from hiatus in 2012, the three women had honed their versatility in the off season. Now, each member can trade instruments. The resulting payoff of this experiment was almost immediate for their songwriting, and broke a persistent block.

"With just bass, drums, and vocals, how do we keep ourselves from falling into a songwriting rut?" explains Larson. "We would run up against walls a lot just doing the same things all the time."

Trading axes allowed Kitten Forever to add new depth to their 2013 sophomore album, Pressure. It harnesses Harrigan's sassy yowl on lead single "Famous Friends" and Larson's more sardonic, PJ Harvey-like vocal on "Rat Queen." Harrigan and Larson do such a seamless job of supplementing Elton's trademark cheery defiance that the careless listener might not notice. "We can kind of read each other's minds a little bit," says Harrigan.

The songs on Pressure are undoubtedly the best Kitten Forever have recorded, and the raw but beefed-up production from Hollow Boys mastermind Ali Jaafar finally delivers an album worthy of their live show. "We really felt like we got the big sound that you get when you're listening to a band in a basement," says Larson, "but it's also clean and listenable."

Pressure contains 13 songs in its 22 minutes, which allows the album to fit comfortably into the unique format of a double 7-inch, and it's been selling really well on tour so far — particularly in the aforementioned DIY venues with strong female communities of their own. "Whenever there's a resurgence of anti-women culture or legislation, there's always a resurgence of feminist-oriented thought to counteract that," Larson says.

"On tour I think we've been experiencing a lot more women in bands than I personally have ever seen before," adds Harrigan, "there's so many girls and women at shows, there's so many in bands now, way more than even just a few years ago."

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