July 7, 2017 Interview – Mercedes Lander of Kittie & The White Swan
There are events and experiences that make up who we were, who we are, and who we want to be. It is an ever changing cycle impossible to predict and even more impossible to control. Driven by a passion and dedication, Mercedes Lander surrenders to one constant throughout her life, music. At only 33 years years of age, Lander has already had a mass of experience in the topsy turvy world of music as co-founder of chart-topping Alternative Metal band Kittie.
Behind the drum kit of Kittie since she was only a teeanger, Lander has gone on to become an easily distinguished member of the Metal community. Spreading her wings and diving into uncharted waters, Lander now fronts her own band called The White Swan, musically melodic, heavy, and dark. Excited for what the future brings, Lander and The White Swan recently released their new EP The White, with plains of plenty more to come. Recently we caught up with the motivated Lander to talk the early beginnings with Kittie, the possibility of Kittie’s return, the story behind The White Swan, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in Rock and Metal for the better part of two decades, and have built a really respected name in the Metal community with Kittie. Now you have your latest band, The White Swan. What has this incredible ride been like for you?
Mercedes Lander – I feel like I’ve had a pretty interesting life. I don’t think very many people get to experience a lot of things that I got to experience. I feel pretty lucky about that. I’m just some girl from a smaller town in Ontario. I didn’t expect this to happen, but it’s pretty exciting that it did. I feel like I got to experience a lot of really cool things and have had a lot of fun on the way.
CrypticRock.com – Sometimes life takes you in unexpected directions. You began Kittie when you were very young, and the band built a really strong name from the 2000 debut up through each album. Each album broke the Billboard 200, that is really impressive. How would you describe that journey?
Mercedes Lander – Crazy! I was only 15 years old at the time. It was definitely, first, a culture shock going into a couple different countries and getting to experience that whole side of things. At the same time, our schedules were jammed pack. I don’t know very many 15 year olds that have a job like that where you work your butt off 24 hours a day basically. It was a lot, it was a lot to deal with, it was really overwhelming. It takes a different kind of person to be able to do that, experience that, and be able to come out on the other end of that okay.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. It sounds like a lot, and overwhelming.
Mercedes Lander – It definitely was, and it just became more manageable as time progressed. It became easier to deal with the craziness and being on the road constantly. It just became a little easier, it definitely was a wild ride, that’s for sure.
CrypticRock.com – There is no question. As you said, you started young, now you are an adult. Would you say all of this kind of shaped your perception into adulthood?
Mercedes Lander – I wouldn’t say shaped, I probably use the word warped (laughs). I think I see things a lot differently than most people obviously because of the experiences that I have had. I think that it’s definitely made me a very different person from a lot of people. I’m definitely not normal, but again, having an education like that and getting to experience the world that way I guess really helped to shape who I am today. I don’t trust a lot of people, that’s for sure. Being in a touring band, it’s a lot more difficult than people think, especially when you’re that young and people are really trying to take advantage of you. It’s definitely very interesting.
CrypticRock.com – Entertainment is a very tough business; as you said, it’s difficult to trust people because there are a lot of people who are opportunists and people who have ill intent in their visions of what they want from you.
Mercedes Lander – Oh yeah, 100%, you are correct. Exactly what you explained there, that was 100% my experience with being in a band. Luckily I ended up having my parents with me because I was a minor, and they were able to shield us from a lot of that stuff. Those people are not your friends, that’s for sure.
CrypticRock.com – Yes. Now it has been about 6 years since the last Kitte record. Now you have this new band, The White Swan. Tell us, how did the project of The White Swan come about for you?
Mercedes Lander – Basically, one day, I was hanging out with a friend of mine, she and I played in a band called The Alcohollys together. Basically, I had kind of been toying with the idea of playing in another band cause The Alcohollys kind of were taking a break, our singer ended up having a baby. I had been chatting with Kira and asked, “Do you wanna start a band?” She said, “Sure,” and I told her, “Ok cool, because I already bought a domain name last month for The White Swan, how do you feel about that?” She said she liked it so we got going.
I was just constantly writing, so I had a bunch of songs that I couldn’t really use for anything other than something a little more doomy. Kira, Shane, and I started demoing songs in their living room. They’re both engineers, they both went to engineering school, so it was pretty easy. It was nice too because I didn’t have to think about stuff. Then we went in and recorded Anubis, which is our first EP, in August of 2016. We kind of sat on it for a little bit and we didn’t release that EP till November of 2016 because we really wanted to build things up a little bit. We wanted to make sure there was a good delivery with the actual EP and stuff.
It was definitely very interesting. So far, so good. We had the new EP, The White, which came out on the 9th of June. It’s just basically a continuation of Anubis; it is a little more focused, but a lot of the songs are still just as old. A couple of the songs are from that original demoing session that we started. We just keep putting EPs out and see how it goes. We just wanna take our time and make sure we do things right.
CrypticRock.com – As you mentioned, you do have the new EP out. This is a three track EP, it is different than what people would expect from your previous work, like you said, it is more doomy. It is definitely very melodic and very dark. What was the writing process behind this music?
Mercedes Lander – Well again, I just kind of have everything tucked away in the meatlocker, in my brain. It’s a process right; I’ll sit in front of my amp and kind of just riff out and then once I find kind of something that sounds good to me, I’ll record it and then immediately I’ll send it to Kira and Shane and vice versa. We kind of riff back and forth and find some really cool stuff. Lyrics are always last, right, so that’s the afterthought. It’s always the afterthought for me. I think, for me, the most important thing is always writing the music. You want to use that as a backdrop for whatever you feel like you have to say in that period of time.
For the first EP, the writing process was just us demoing. For The White, things were a little different because we really had a pretty jam-packed schedule for shows, so we got to test out the songs live, which was something we didn’t really get to do with Anubis. I definitely liked that, I liked the fact we could do that. I felt like it kind of helped to make the songs grow a little bit. It helped with the creative process. You always have those nice little happy accidents whenever you’re playing live and you’re like, “Oh, I just made a mistake, but it sounds really good.” That happens sometimes, obviously, and that always happens when you road test songs. In my personal opinion, that’s a great way to make those songs a little better or change them a little bit, but for the better. I guess that’s kind of what happened with those songs from The White where we got to play them live a little more than the songs from Anubis before we recorded them and committed to them, which is nice.
CrypticRock.com – You also get that instant feedback from the crowd to see what really moves people and what perhaps does not move them as much.
Mercedes Lander – Oh yeah, of course! This goes back to basically everything that I’ve ever done. I always like to road test songs, I’ve always been that person. I can remember playing songs with Kittie back in 2001 that we didn’t record until 2004. I feel like it’s a great experience for the people that are seeing the show, they get to see the creation of a song, which is nice. So again, there’s so many different levels of awesomeness that you can experience with that.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Now, with The White Swan, you take on lead vocals. You have done vocals in the past and you have done backing vocals for many years. How is this experience different for you taking on lead vocals like this?
Mercedes Lander – I still feel like I am drummer pretending to be a front person (laughs). It’s still not comfortable for me, and I don’t really think that it ever will be, but that’s okay. It’s what it is and that’s the way I wanted to get this music across. There needed to be some sort of compromise, that compromise was me having to be a front person. Which I don’t really think I fit the roll, but again, it’s what it is. I feel like I’m a drummer pretending to be a guitar player, pretending to be a singer (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It is definitely a new experience. It also has to be a new challenge for yourself.
Mercedes Lander – Oh, for sure! I taught myself how to sing and play guitar because we kind of jumped into the whole show thing really fast. We weren’t really sure how we were gonna go about doing the live show. I said, “Ya know what, I’m just gonna play guitar.” So I taught myself how to sing and play guitar in 3 weeks. It was definitely an experience, trial and error basically. Thank god I had a little bit of time to be able to figure that out on my own before I played a show (laughs). It’s interesting, it’s all a learning experience and it’s nice to be able to learn how to do different things.
CrpticRock.com – Well it is wonderful to always challenge yourself as a musician. You had said The White Swan was probably going to hold off on putting out a full-length record until you are sure you have a record deal. Which makes sense because in the climate we are in today, it just seems like a full-length record is not very economical because no one buys music anymore.
Mercedes Lander – That’s 100% the reason why we’ve only been doing EPs. We want to be able to continuously put out music economically, to be able to make things worth it for the people that are purchasing the music, and on top of that, for us as well. It’s not very economically to spend a couple thousand dollars on recording a full-length album when we can just literally go in and record for one day, spend a couple hundred bucks, and record three songs in one day and have that be that. To us it just makes sense, and then in three or four months down the road, we can just go ahead and do it again. We’d probably still be saving if we wanted to put out a full-length. Again, we want to be able to continuously put out music, but also do it in a fashion that works for us.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense. It just seems the way the industry has gone, people do not really purchase music as much anymore. If you are going to put the time and effort into a record, you really want people to hear it. You have shows lined up and such, will there be some more shows coming up?
Mercedes Lander – Yeah, of course! We’re gonna be playing lots of shows. We have our EP release, we’ve got a couple of other ones lined up and ready to go. Right now, for us, we’re not going to be coming to the US until we are sure we can pay for it. It’s really expensive to purchase work visas. So until we are able to afford to spend the seven to nine thousand dollars that we’d have to spend to get a work visa for the band, which would be 4 of us, it’s not plausible or feasible until we can afford to do that. Unless we have somebody that will pay for it, which would be nice, but probably not gonna happen, or we pay for it ourselves. Right now, we’re just gonna stick to Canada and places that we can afford to pay to play.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable. Interestingly, you came up at a time when there was still a record industry. Now as a young adult, things have changed drastically in the past 15 to 20 years. What has that been like, to see this gradual change to what it is today from what it was?
Mercedes Lander – It’s interesting. Obviously every industry has movement and changes, but it’s hard because it’s not the people that are making the music who needed to change to make the record industry viable still. That just never happened because the actual industry, the people wearing the suits and making the decisions, never changed. They knew this was coming for years, they knew that things were going to change, but they were so resistant to that change that they stifled their own growth.
There could have been so many different ways they could have taken this, this huge shift in the business, and profited and made it work! Their resistance to change really stifled the growth of the music business and made things more difficult in the end. It’s no fault of the artist, because the artist is not the person or the people that control that. It’s the people wearing the suits and making the decisions.
I think I blame the shift in the music business solely on the record labels and the people distributing the music for not making that change that they needed. Whatever the change would be or could be, they didn’t make that change so everybody could profit, be viable still, and make money. I didn’t see any executives taking pay cuts during the Napster days. It’s just one of those things that if you don’t change, and the business around you is changing, you will get swallowed up. That has happened quite a bit.
CrypticRock.com – That is very accurate. You are absolutely right, the record industry really did do this to themselves for numerous reasons, the ones you mentioned. Also, if you really look at it, there was no need to be charging $25 for a single CD. If they had just perhaps lowered their prices per unit/per CD, people would have continued to buy music. Now we have been led into this culture now where there is no money and everything is very Pop oriented because the industry just goes for things that make money quickly and there is no artist development. It is just an endless cycle that kind of just killed everything.
Mercedes Landers – Yes! It’s interesting just the way that the cookie crumbles. I got to see all of it, which is amazing to watch. But also, at the same time, kind of like “well fuck, I wonder what’s gonna happen?” It’s no fault of the artist and the people that are making the music and creating. The fact that there are still people that want to create, and want to still do this just boggles my mind, myself included! But I feel like, for me, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I couldn’t make music. So that’s my story.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is a testament to your passion for music. With The White Swan, you are obviously very active making music and playing shows. All this said, it has been a while since there has been any Kittie music, obviously back in February there was the tragic passing of Trish Doan. Is there a possibility of Kittie music in the future, or is that something that has been laid to rest for a while?
Mercedes Landers – This is my answer; I don’t really know. It’s not up to me at this point; everybody knows where I stand. And that is, that I like to play, I like to create, and I love playing live. So it’s really up to everyone else in the band right now. Whatever they want to do I’m pretty much cool with, unless The White Swan gets super busy. I guess we’ll just kind of see what happens and take it from there.
Things obviously have been a little bit not great, we all took Trisha’s passing super hard. It’s a big void to be filled; we miss her so much. It’s kind of almost hard to think about doing something like that if she’s not there, because she loved to play so much. We definitely do have a lot to think about, but we do have the documentary coming out. We actually have a date now that we haven’t released yet, but we do have a premiere date. We actually have a premiere that is going to be in theaters, which is kind of nice because we’ve been waiting such a long time for this. There’s that, so you never know what we’ll do in promotion of that. Later this year, we definitely have some things to talk about and to figure out with that little situation. These are things to look out for.
CrypticRock.com – That is very cool to hear about the film! It is quite understandable what you are saying regarding the loss of Trish. This is someone who you have worked with for many years; you are not just musicians together in a band, you are friends.
Mercedes Lander – I liken being a musician… to be in a band is to like being married, but you’re married to three other people; if that makes sense. You have these random spouses, and it’s like being married, that’s the only way I can really describe it. If you think about that, you can imagine losing your spouse, it’s a difficult thing to process.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is. That is a very good analogy because you are spending day in and day out with the people you are in a band with. You are traveling together, you are living in tight quarters; so it really is like you’re being married to them. My last question is pertaining to movies because we also cover Horror movies and Science Fiction movies. If you are a fan of these genres, do you have any favorites?
Mercedes Lander – I love ’80s Horror! I’d like to think I have a pretty extensive collection of VHS. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been harder to continue to follow just because I don’t have as much time as I did. If I’m gonna go for something classic I’m going to pick Evil Dead II (1987), obviously just a classic movie. The Return of the Living Dead (1985), I love that movie. Night of the Demons (1988) is also a great movie.
Then you can also get into the weird ’60s movies like The Undertaker and His Pals (1966) or The Corpse Grinders (1971); oh my god there were so many great movies. I have some pretty rare VHS from back in the day when eBay first started and it was like a playground for people that collected movies. Shock ‘Em Dead (1990) is another great movie. I’m a huge fan of just weird VHS, weird Horror movies, definitely really enjoy that.
CrypticRock.com – It is great to hear that you are into the genre as much as you are. It does not seem like the newer Horror movies really capture the imagination like the older ones do.
Mercedes Lander – No, they don’t, they’re terrible! They just are not good! I haven’t seen a movie that I’ve really liked in a long time. I haven’t seen a Horror movie that I can say, “That was good.” I haven’t said that actual phrase at least in 10 years. I can maybe think of on one hand three or four movies that I was like, “That was a good movie!” High Tension (2003) being one of them, but that came out 14 years ago. Right now I’m not thinking of any other good movies.
CrypticRock.com – Yes. Nowadays, the Indie industry has some of the better quality Horror films. In addition, the best quality Horror now seems to be on television. It just does not seem like any good quality Horror movies are made in Hollywood much anymore.
Mercedes Lander – Which is weird, because you would think considering the VHS culture and collecting from back in the day, people are still really into that stuff! At least from what I understand from any time I go to horror conventions. My sister (Morgan) for instance, she has a podcast called Witch Finger Horror Podcast where they review old Horror movies. Anytime I go to any sort of convention like that, the VHS culture is there, there’s tape trading going on all the time.
You would think that would be something that movie distributors would want to really capitalize on. To make a movie like that now, something of that quality, that you found in the ’80s; it wouldn’t be that expensive to make. With the exception of someone like Eli Roth. He is amazing and he makes great movies, and he makes movies for cheap by today’s standards. He has a really good grasp on the whole VHS culture with the little bit of cheese, which is nice! I really like someone like that, but they’re few and far between.