For Kitten frontwoman Chloe Chaidez, there's endless possibility for passionate innovation in the art of making pop music. Like the boldest of pop records, Kitten's new EP "Like a Stranger" proves both escapist and challenging, mixing candy-coated melodies with seductive synth vibes, searing guitar, and lyrics that endlessly skitter from sweetly starry-eyed to brilliantly twisted. With recent gigs ranging from opening slots for No Doubt and Garbage to a set at a Southern California women's prison and fresh off of a winter tour with London indie popster Charli XCX. the L.A.-based band is also fast gaining a reputation as an unforgettable live act powered by Chaidez's icon-worthy, larger-than-life onstage performance.
The follow-up to Kitten's acclaimed "Cut It Out" (a sophomore EP released in 2012), "Like a Stranger" finds the band refining its vision and expanding its sound with grander arrangements and a more elaborately stylized take on electro-pop. In its merging of dreamy, synth-heavy sophistication and an edgy energy revealing the band's punk roots, the EP is "much more narrowed in on what I've always been trying to do with Kitten," says Chaidez, a 19-year-old multi-instrumentalist who founded the group in 2010.
Hailed by Spin as "a dark but glitzy union of post-punk melodrama and New Wave synth symphonics," "Like a Stranger"'s title track is a strobe-lit piece of pop perfection on which Chaidez transforms romantic desperation into glory the way only the most masterful of pop divas can ("I'm gonna find someone to love me for who I am, a perfect star," she breathily announces on the opening lyric, claiming her diva status right from the get-go). Both "Graffiti Soul" and "Doubt" thunder with hard-charging beats and a frenetic spirit, while "Yesterday" and "I'll Be Your Girl" alternately sparkle and smolder ("I'll be your protection, I'll be yours for life," Chaidez promises on the latter, adding "I'll be your machine gun, I'll be your knife" with characteristic cool). And at six sprawling minutes, "King of Kings" is a stadium-sized epic that melts Rector's majestic guitar noise into vocals that veer from tender to soaring as Chaidez fiercely delivers lyrics like "I want everything, and I want it now."
All of "Like a Stranger" shimmers with unbridled pop emotionalism, an effect that Chaidez is quick to attribute first and foremost to the sonics of the songs. "Even though every lyric I write absolutely means something to me, I don't think of my lyrics as necessarily the heart of the song," she says. "For me the sounds, textures and the overall vibe are what I'm really using to express myself." Unlike in the early days of Kitten (such as on their 2010 debut EP "Sunday School"), Chaidez now builds songs from "rhythms, beats and vibes" instead of letting her guitar be the sole guide to the songwriting process. And when it comes to crafting lyrics, Chaidez keeps it experimental in dreaming up turns of phrase. "Sometimes I'll pick up a book -- whether it's a book I'm in the middle of reading or the Bible -- and then look for interesting words and find a way to work them into the lyrics. I really enjoy imagery. Phrases that at first seem random but subtly create their own meaning. Something different and unique to every listener," she notes.
A shift in musical taste is also a major force behind Kitten's steady progression over the past few years. Although the band once aspired to the stripped-down garage-punk of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs and White Stripes, electro-centric pop now dominates their musical palette. "I used to think all electronic music was just about pushing buttons -- I hated it," says Chaidez. But after discovering post-punk and New Wave -- and developing a fascination with vintage keyboards -- Chaidez found herself exhilarated by the prospect of infusing electronic sounds into her music. Newly tuned into the ingenuity and inventiveness of classic Euro synth-pop, Kitten also began studying the sonic artistry of Nile Rodgers (producer for such legendary acts as David Bowie, Madonna, and INXS) and working to create more intricate soundscapes in their own songs.
A lifelong music obsessive, Chaidez learned to play bass at age ten. Eventually picking up guitar and drums as well, Chaidez formed her first band that same year and was quickly opening for indie heavyweights like Midlake and Conor Oberst. At 14 Chaidez began throwing herself into songwriting, working intensely with her co-writer and musical partner Chad Anderson on honing her craft and then began to expand her musical palette inspired by her brother's introducing her to Ableton keyboards (the favored gear for many makers of the new electronic music). The following year, Chaidez made her debut as Kitten at The Smell, a downtown all-ages venue and hotbed of the L.A. underground. "I walked in with my guitar and played my three songs, to an audience of about seven emo kids," Chaidez recalls with a laugh. Continuing to play The Smell, Kitten released "Sunday School" in 2010, soon nabbed their deal with Elektra Records, and ultimately landed shows with Paramore, Garbage, electro-indie crooner Twin Shadow, New Wave pioneer Gary Numan and Charli XCX.
Finishing work on their first full-length album, Kitten is now gearing up for an early spring tour with The Neighbourhood. Like their recorded material, Kitten's live shows are at turns hypnotic and galvanizing, with Chaidez's dance-fueled performance intensifying the transcendent power of their songs. "One moment I just want to dance like Beyoncé, and the next I'm ready to crowd-surf or punch a band member -- or I'll go from feeling like Madonna in one song, to thinking I'm Iggy Pop the next," says Chaidez. "Being onstage puts me into this place where I'm not thinking about anything and I feel completely free. It's just this out-of-body experience that I can't control, and it's one of the truest forms of expression I've ever known."