Kitten's self-titled debut album points to a promising future
This 19-year-old Kitten has an affection for New Wave pop. Getty Images
South Pasadena, Calif.
Band members may have come and gone, but as long as Chloe Chaidez remains, Kitten is intact. "Kitten has always been a moniker for me and my projects," Ms. Chaidez said last week at a coffee shop here. As if to prove her independence, later that afternoon she performed solo with an acoustic guitar at Amoeba Music. On the Hollywood record shop's little stage, she demonstrated her ability to hold an audience, as well as the appeal and integrity of the songs she wrote with producer Chad Anderson.
With the recent release of "Kitten" (Elektra), Ms. Chaidez reveals her affection for the New Wave pop of the late 1970s and early '80s—a bit of a curiosity, since she was born in 1994. Vintage synths and drum pads provide the foundation while Ms. Chaidez sings with a blend of drama, passion and sincerity befitting an angst-filled youth. "Kitten" points to a promising future for the 19-year-old, even as the album celebrates rock's past.
"I love those New Wave bands—Eurythmics, Tears for Fears," she said, adding that her three favorite songs are "Purple Rain" by Prince, "Slave to Love" by Bryan Ferry and "Every Breath You Take" by the Police. All were released between 1983 and 1985.
In an Oakland Raiders jersey and platform shoes, Ms. Chaidez said she's always been driven. As a child, she was determined to become a world-class gymnast, and she believes she was on the path: "Olympics, not quite. A scholarship, definitely." But music's allure proved too powerful. "I had always pictured myself as a rock star—never a doubt." When she was in the third grade, she wrote a letter to her future self. Recently, her teacher forwarded it to her. "'I want to be a rock star' was the first line," Ms. Chaidez said.
Her father, Mike, who played drums in Los Angeles's punk scene, warned her that sustaining a career in rock could be difficult. "He said it was a hard life, but he was secretly joyful that I wanted to do it." She released an EP in October 2010; seven months later, another EP followed: "Cut It Out" was distributed by Atlantic Records and Ms. Chaidez was on her way.
"During 'Cut It Out,'" she said, "I started dabbling with using synthesizers and getting into characters. I discovered reverb and started playing with my voice." The dreamy sound of the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive infiltrated her approach to song, she added. "I began to think of myself as a vocal stylist. I grew into what my music is."
Ms. Chaidez said she has been touring since she was 15. "There's something grinding about playing in front of 10 people, but there's something romantic about it too," she said. Kitten performed before much larger audiences when it later opened on separate tours for Charli XCX, Garbage, the Joy Formidable, Paramore and No Doubt.
In late May, two members of Kitten resigned. Having weathered other such roster changes since the band's early days in 2009, she pressed on. To celebrate the release of the new album, Ms. Chaidez, backed by an ad-hoc group of musicians, headlined a June 21 concert at Los Angeles's El Rey Theatre. She prowled the stage in a black-and-gold dress and torn black stockings.
"It was an amazing show," she said, her enthusiasm suddenly overpowering her practiced self-control. The band's first headlining tour of the U.S. and Canada is now underway, and Ms. Chaidez said a European tour is planned for the fall.
Ms. Chaidez said Kitten's audience comprises "guys in their 40s who get the references and younger girls who identify with me." At Amoeba, where teen and college-age girls outnumbered the Gen X men, she kicked off with "Apples and Cigarettes," which she performs solo on "Kitten." Other tunes, including "Cut It Out," didn't need the full-band treatment they receive on the album: Turns out the New Wave approach is only dressing and these songs work just as well when stripped to their essence. But Ms. Chaidez didn't abandon the '80s completely: She played a stirring version of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over," a track originally released eight years before she was born.