Kitty J is used to being underestimated. As we sit down to talk about her accomplishments, I find that she is unassuming, with a quiet voice and an infectious laugh. Something very different from the rockstar personality that you see of her on stage or in her videos with EDM duo the Jolley Brothers. But that is all part of the appeal, unexpected and multifaceted she describes herself as what would happen if Hayley Williams of Paramore and Rihanna had a baby.
Citing earlier influences as diverse as Mariah Carey & Blink 182, she is crafting a music style all her own with rock, pop and trap sounds. Ignoring all those who tell her that rock is not an option for a girl like her, she explains with conviction, “ There are a lot of people telling me I should stay away from rock music, that it is dead but that is what I want to do and that’s what I am doing. I have to pursue what I love.” Even with all the sweetness, her attitude is all punk rock.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I guess I would classify myself as a pop rock musical artist/model/songwriter, I try to do as much as I possibly can. I am very quiet, but when I get up on stage I am completely different. I have always loved music, it was always the one thing that would make me feel good no matter what. All through high school I was a quiet nerd and even though I didn’t talk, but secretly I knew I could sing, I knew I could do this and be good at it. Nobody knew I was in chorus, I had sung in the background for forever. One day my senior music teacher out of the blue suggested that I try out for a solo and everyone’s response was “What, why?” Nobody had ever heard me sing alone, but I wanted to do it. My teacher played the piano and I sung the part and I think it was for “Silent Night.” And when I sang – no one was expecting that, and it felt great.
“That’s my biggest dream to go from somebody who was really quiet and a geek who goes through a complete transformation and be somebody that people look up to instead of somebody that people forgot about.”
How did you get started making music?
As I graduated I knew I wanted to have that feeling again. I started hitting the studio up and doing open mics and then it grew, people started remembering me.
I started working with this (electronic-dance music) EDM group. The Jolley Brothers. I started recording with them and it kinda got bigger than I thought it would be. And now I am just working and trying to make my own music and really set myself apart from them. I do performances with them and I work with them, but my music is very different.
I like heavy house music and EDM but I like to throw a little bit more rock into it, something harder. If there is guitar in it, it is perfect for me. I try to incorporate guitar into everything I do and a little bit of trap too. I don’t think that there is a genre for what I do. Right now I am experimenting and I having fun while I do it.
Do you think people make assumptions about the kind of music that you are into?
Every single time someone approaches me about working on a new project, they are like, “Oh hey, I have this really cool R & B song that I think you would be great on” or, “I have this really cool hip hop song that I would like you to sing an Aaliyah type verse on.” And my response is always to say, “Well I wonder if you have really heard my music at all.”
It would be like me reaching out to a rapper and saying I have a really cute pop song that I would like you to sing on. They just don’t even listen to your music before they assume. At the same time I am apart of this cool EDM crowd and movement that the Jolley Brothers are doing right now and they are awesome people who I love working with. And people expect my music to sound like that, but they actually let me do exactly what I want. They come out and they are raging on stage and I come out and my cozy, more pop and a a different vibe.
Who would you say your musical influences are?
My influences are – Gwen Stefani, she’s a bad chick. And I get Rihanna a lot because of looks and our ethnicities are similar. Hayley Williams from Parmoure. I think if she had a baby with Rihanna that would sound something like me. That’s what I hear a lot, so I think its pretty true.
I think that it is cool that there isn’t a genre for me. It scares me too because I don’t fit perfectly anywhere, but that could be a good thing too because then I could be something new. It might work out in a good way for me. I like trap, I like hip hop, I like rock and pop. When I write I use a lot of influences and it turns into something different which you definitely can hear.
What about when you were younger, what were you listening to?
I listened to a lot of Mariah Carey especially that first album, and Celine Deon, all of the divas and I got into my tween phase and I was all about No Doubt & Blink 182. I’m into the Counting Crows, Blues Traveller, I grew up on all of that.
Tell me about your tattoos!
I actually only have one tattoo and its that big one that you see on my arm. I just felt I should go big or go home. I read it one day and it made me feel like I was untouchable. The tattoo extends all the way up my arm from my wrist, it is Psalm 9:3 My enemies retreated; they staggered and died when you appeared’. Despite all the adversity and the way that I am constantly competing with nothing but boys. Its always ‘boys, boys, boys’, I am always the only girl and its hard because there is so much extra that you have to deal with. I just want to walk around and literally have people see don’t touch on my arm, just a way of saying don’t mess with me, because I am very small, and really innocent so I have to do something. When I went to get it done, the tattoo artist couldn’t believe that I wanted it all down my arm. He made it into a small box and he had to cut it up and redo it there. I definitely want more, I just want them to mean something, so I am holding out.
How do you feel like you’ve changed? My first tattoo was a big one and it felt a bit more bad-ass in ways I didn’t expect. What did you notice?
Exactly. I definitely felt the same way I felt like it showed that I didn’t care what other people thought about me and what I looked like, and that I was gonna do what I want. I wanted it and I did it, and I felt great about it.
How does it feel to work in your industry?
I feel like I have to be twice as professional than the guys. You would think that because there are so many female vocalists, that in the studio it would be half and half. But in the studios I rarely see a female mixer or female dj or female anything working. When I go in to record, I am surrounded by six or seven dudes constantly that run the studio. It is hard sometimes for them to take you seriously. I am always there for business, but it is a fun job. I am doing something that I love, so I can’t just be this serious person. You have to be able to show them that you are having a good time, but that’s not the only reason that you are there, a good time, and that you are there to work and you want to be taken seriously. It’s like that song “Just A Girl’. That song plays in my head all the time,
“I’m just a girl
I’m just a girl in the world…
That’s all that you’ll let me be! “
That’s exactly how I feel sometimes; they won’t let me do what I want to do or be bigger than I want to be. I really think that she wrote that because she was feeling just like me. And I have all brothers, 2 younger huge brothers, so I am always surrounded by them. Being the only girl in the studio, I get joked on and tricks played on me, I’ve got thick skin now. I’ve seen and heard it all.
What are you working on right now?
Walk Away was my first video release and its very personal, so I hope other people love it. My favorite quote in Walk Alone is the very first line.
“I sleep alone, its always cold, in my castle, on this fucking throne.”
Now I am trying to really focus on Kitty J and creating my own brand. I am working on a girl power show right now. Rock with female DJs, all female musicians which is really hard to find here in Suffolk, Virginia. I want them to be bad-ass and to be looked at like that. The show will be sometime in the next few months, I am Working on first EP titled “NIGHTMARE” with Producers Mike Mizzle, and Tim Roberts.
I am trying to shoot a video for one of my other songs. And I have a lot of unreleased music that I am making videos for. Filming the videos and putting stories to the songs is so much fun. I am slowly leaking stuff, but I am more concerned with live performances right now. When I get on stage, it’s so hard to get off. And a few other things I can’t speak about yet.
What about some advice for other young women, things you wish you had heard when you were coming up?
I wish I would have heard to just do it. You can talk about the things that you are good at and want to pursue. Once you start doing it there is no way that opportunities aren’t just going to come to you. Once you start doing it, things will happen I promise, even by accident, just by being in the right place. But If you are at sitting at home, then you can’t be in the right place. I wish I would have heard that because I would have gotten into this sooner. Live for yourself and be independent, work for the things that you want. Don’t live for anybody else until its time. Wait until you feel like are you are personally where you need to be before you share that with someone. I think that when we focus too much on the lives of other instead of our own we get sucked in like a mud trap and you are stuck. Everybody is good at something, everybody has been blessed with something and there is a reason for it. You are good at something for a reason. If you are good at something you should definitely use what you are good at, because only good things can come from using what you are good at. Work for what you want. There are a lot of people telling me I should stay away from rock music, that rock is dead but that is what I want to. I don’t see many girls like me doing rock. Pursue what you love.
What the big dream for it all?
I want to release an album. I have been doing a lot of songwriting. I need that break, that one thing that is going to make me. I want to be on stage and I want the Kitty J show to be a success. I want to be a superstar, I want to be a household name, I want to be a brand. That’s my biggest dream to go from somebody who was really quiet and a geek who goes through a complete transformation and be somebody that people look up to instead of somebody that people forgot about.
All photos are a product of Travis Ilapit: www.Travisilapitphotography.com