Kitty and Sam Ray were kind enough to talk to me about their new project The Pom-Poms! It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of this ep already - I have been listening to it on repeat. I’m a big fan of both artist’s solo works and it was fascinating to hear about their unique collaborative process! This ep is just the beginning for The Pom-Poms and interviewing them was just as fun as their music is. Thank you Sam and Kitty!
AQ: I’m loving your self-titled ep! It makes me really happy whenever I listen to it. It’s a record that’s fun and you can dance to it but there’s more depth there in both your production and song writing talents. I know you say the lyrics are silly and I admit that I caught that vibe from Mary Poppins the first time I listened to it, but I also think it’s genius. I can really imagine this character. It’s an extremely funny song. The production is to die for too. How do you create something that seems both polished and so exuberant and effortless?
Kitty: First of all- thank you very much!! As far as the lyrics go- I struggle with "quality control" when it comes to writing in general. Especially since writing my last album, I've noticed myself becoming overly conscious of the messages I'm conveying and the words I'm using, and I sort of drive myself crazy sometimes trying to make every syllable "perfect". With this project, I didn't feel like I needed to agonize over my lyrics, and I think that made it so much better; it's been a long time since I felt okay recording a song I hadn't spend weeks poring over. Some of the lyrics are literally just made up on the spot (most of Full Circle), some of them are built around one silly sentence I thought sounded good (Mary Poppins).
In terms of production, we've both spent the past couple of years learning about production and trying to improve the way our music sounds. All of our past projects have been pretty DIY and lo-fi, so it was cool to have a reason to practice the things we've learned and I think that contributes a lot to the more "polished" sound.
Sam: I think something we have going for us that maybe a lot of others don’t – and that’s not a knock on anyone or a big-up for us, either, but just a fact based on… well, our life, the fact we’re married, we work together in one house/shared studio spaces/etc – is that when one of us starts working on a track the other produced, or mixed, we’re right there to work in real time, to re-tool that instrumental, that beat, whatever, to the song that’s being written, in real life, or the next day – it’s like two minds working as one and four hands as two.
For example, Mary Poppins – I made that instrumental like…. 16 months before the EP came out, at least, it was going to be some generic boring EDM-y song, maybe as a lark or something – but it felt skeletal and hollow and I never went back to mix it or finish it. One day Kitty tells me she’s recorded an idea over it, and even un-mixed like it was, just kind of vocals raw over a shitty, unmixed track like that, I heard immediately exactly what she heard, like, the “finished song” I guess, so to speak, and the very next day I went back re-working and re-building that track to fit her voice, adding whole new sections, structuring it out the way she had in mind, etc.
The whole second verse is new to the song, none of those drums, bass, etc – nothing about that flip was there originally, but it felt like the right thing to fit what she’d written. A lot of singers, rappers, whatever – you get a beat from someone, and you record over it, and MAYBE sometimes your own producer or whoever, they have the stems for that beat and they put some work in re-working stuff to fit you better, but it’s rarely one vision, it’s rarely the same producer making the beat, running the session, mixing the song – and when you’re mixing someone else’s instrumental, for someone else’s song, you don’t really feel comfortable adding your own ideas, changing things, playing around with it.
We have this sort of freedom, working together, to push things in as far a direction as we want, as we’re able, and if it fails – it fails (and it often fails) – but after you fail a few times, you might hit on something really, truly momentous that you could never reach just working traditionally, working straight that way, linear-fashion, like “beat is made, song is written & recorded to beat, both are mixed together”. No, that’s so rigid (by nature, by design) and the way we like to work brings a huge amount of fluidity and experimentation to it that is absent, working that way, and it’s always in support of the song, it’s always something done in order to make the best song we possibly can, to make something pop. Plus, we check each other haha, if I have a really bad idea, there’s someone brilliant there to tell me, honestly, that I’m chasing the wrong car, or yelling at the wrong tree, you know?
AQ: The feeling I get listening to a song like I Got That Boom is something like listening to Kyary or PC music. It’s so hyper! It’s a complete rush. Are you a big fan of that kind of music?
Kitty: We LOVE PC Music and Kyary. Most of the music I listen to is equally fun and hyper.
Sam has a way of taking a bunch of disjointed, jarring sounds and turning them into songs that sound tantalizing in a way- it's a weird, intricate process that mostly makes no sense to me. I think a lot of the PC Music-vibe comes from that.
Sam: Yes. Especially K-pop & J-pop stuff, Pc Music - GFOTY especially – her stuff is hugely influential to me. There are a lot of things – some surprising, maybe – that went into that song, for me, producing it. There’s a lot of the immediacy of like, the old nu-metal, rap-rock stuff that’s maybe so garish & juvenile & off-putting to think back on, for a lot of people our age, or whatever, but there’s such a specifically huge and immediate “pop” sense to so many of those tracks, in the production & also the songwriting, there’s a reason all of those bands had huge, absolutely massive major label deals.
Something like “breaking the habit” by Linkin Park, it’s so incredibly pop. You absolutely can’t deny it. Same for Black Eyed Peas, DEV/Far East Movement, stuff like that that absolutely dominated pop radio a while ago, before EDM took over – it’s so absolutely “fun”, it never lets up, if you listen to any of those Black Eyed Peas hits now you notice how incredibly smart they are, as pop music, despite being like, absolutely stupid (not a bad thing fyi), via things like “my lovely lady lumps” or the Dick Dale sample, or whatever.
I guess I bring it up via the word “hyper”. It’s hyper music, without a doubt, it’s restless, it goes through five, six, seven melodic ideas, different styles of production, references, etc, in two or three minutes (or less) and each one you think “oh they can’t top this” and they do. That’s something I love so much, from all those acts & genres.
AQ: How does the process of collaborating work for the two of you? Do you both work on lyrics and music together or does one of you take the lead in each area and then you bring it together? What about recording and producing?
Kitty: It's pretty different every time. Mostly, one of us will have a very very basic idea- a drum beat, or a vocal melody, or a synth lead- and we'll pass it back and forth, adding things and making little changes until we end up with a song. We record and produce everything in our house, so there's a lot of times where I'll be cooking dinner or something, hear Sam working on a song through the walls and run upstairs to tell him an idea I have for it. Things like that.
Sam: Oh it’s always a little different. I haven’t written words for anything yet, or sung on anything more than one track, but I plan to change that with our new stuff – we’re working on stuff that’s more like “duet” style, like Die Antwoord haha where I can work my voice in, hopefully in a smart way that isn’t off-putting against Kitty’s, since hers is so great & fits so well. We do work on just about everything together, though.
Sometimes Kitty will have drums she wants me to try and add something to, sometimes the other way around. Sometimes I start making a beat & give it to her & she writes to it & changes it, sometimes the other way around. Sometimes she gives me a fully recorded song, over an instrumental we have, and I take the vocals out & make an entirely new song around them – that’s what we did with “I got that boom” – for example. It’s always a bit different, but the core thing is the same – that sense of collaboration, the sense that it’s never “one person’s project” or whatever, even song-by-song. As we go, I only imagine that line will get even more blurred.
Generally Kitty records & I mix, though, as she’s much better at recording, and I enjoy the tedious side of mixing, of listening to one thing over and over and over for a full day, just tweaking it – three hours of just bass & one drum, getting it right. I love that. And that also frees her up to keep writing, keep creating, thinking of new songs, concepts, hooks – I do really like that.
AQ: I feel like with music that’s a lot of fun – people are quick to label it a guilty pleasure. Personally, I’m happy to be guilty. Have you had this reaction to your music at all? I guess you can’t worry too much about critical reactions …
Kitty: I've seen a few people call it a guilty pleasure, but pretty much all of my favorite music is someone's guilty pleasure and ALL of my solo music is labeled as such by critics and pretentious people. It's been that way since 2012, so it doesn't bother me. I can't relate to feeling guilty for enjoying music that is meant to make you happy, but I know it makes some people feel smart to broadcast that feeling. I'm just glad it's a pleasure at all!
Sam: I wouldn’t know, I try to just stay out of that side of it. But I agree with you, about it. I’ve always said that nothing is a guilty pleasure, really, it’s just a matter of people not feeling comfortable with themselves. Like, even the term, you can easily align that with “masculine” men, gross teenagers, whatever wanting to listen to music that they feel culturally isn’t “for them” or like, is “for girls” or whatever, listening to Madonna in the 80s, Britney in the 90s, like feeling like you can’t get “caught” listening to something like that, it’s dumb & it reinforces something toxic, for sure.
But that same thing applies to like, a pop record getting thrashed on a popular music criticism site that grades albums, because it doesn’t do anything academic. Like you’re not citing William Basinski or Gavin Bryars as an influence when you’re making songs just for the club. I said from the jump with this project I want to make fun, club/dance/pop music that aims only to be fun, nothing academic about it. I’m glad that comes through! I hope it is in the lineage of “guilty pleasure” music because that music is the best, and the most fun, I just hope that we move away from that idea as a whole too haha
AQ: I love how inclusive the lyrics of The Pom-Poms are – that’s obviously something that resonates with your fans too. It feels really natural. I’m guessing this is important to both of you?
Kitty: Very much so. The thing is, we didn't mean to make any strong statement by writing "inclusive" lyrics- the goal was to have fun and encourage everyone else to have fun with us. I feel like sometimes people in music (especially people who are very invested in cultivating "scenes") make a big deal about inclusion and safe spaces....who is and isn't ENOUGH of an ally...and sometimes that ends up being kind of counterproductive. We are white cisgender people; we don't know what it's like to be discriminated against for our race and gender. With that in mind, our responsibility is to make the world better for people who don't have the privileges we do WITHOUT adding unnecessary layers of drama.
My goal is to write songs that you can sing along to without feeling weird because you don't look like me. That's it!
AQ: I know Kitty is working on another album and Sam is working on new Ricky Eat Acid material. What’s next for both your solo projects and also The Pom Poms. Do you think that working as a duo is informing what you are doing solo at the moment and vice versa?
Kitty: Honestly at this point we spend so much time together that everything we do sort of bleeds into what I'm working on at this point. That's just me though- I think Sam's brain is much different. Sometimes I'll see on Twitter that he released a song and it'll be one I didn't even know he was working on lol.
Sam: We’re working on all kinds of new stuff, which is wonderful, I love the new Pom Poms stuff we’re doing, like I said, I’m hoping to work my voice more into it, and also since we’ve put out kind of our first “hello world” release, we can start branching out into more experimental avenues with anything upcoming, which is nice. Like, we can tone it down for a song and try something just genuinely very beautiful, if we want, like trance, or slowed down trance-pop somehow. Or we can take that thrashy, heavy, hardcore metal etc influenced side (like from songs like ‘pass her the aux’) and bring that out further, make something more angular, louder.
It’s fun to try and synthesize these influences better, but also to push outward, make sure we don’t develop, accidentally, any boundaries to what we feel is “our sound” or whatever. We don’t want to box ourselves into something, the whole point of the project (to me, at least) is to make something intrinsically “pop” out of…. everything. everything we like. everything we hear, everything that inspires us. to take in everything. a big katamari ball of music, just chewing up every sound we like and encounter and are perplexed by or in love with.
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