The Chainsaw Kittens
The Chainsaw Kittens
After more than a decade of performing, recording, and surviving lineup changes, the pop/glam-rock/punk-rock group Chainsaw Kittens from Norman, Oklahoma, remains one of the best-kept secrets in rock music. Though not too well known among the mainstream, they repeatedly receive stellar reviews and have toured with some of the biggest names in the business, including Jane’s Addiction, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Iggy Pop. To critics, fans, and fellow musicians, the Chainsaw Kittens are fine examples of continual creativity; undoubtedly, they have their own distinct sound, and yet no two Chainsaw Kittens songs ever sound the same.
Whereas so many other groups seem most energetic and inventive at the onset of their career, the Chainsaw Kittens, by comparison, continued to evolve as the years passed, from their 1990 debut Violent Religion through their 2000 release The All American. As Kurt B. Reighly asserted in a review for Seattle Weekly: “At the risk of sounding evangelical, The All American un-clogged my jaded ears and reminded me why I love rock.”
The Chainsaw Kittens’ lead vocalist, chief songwriter, and guitarist, the charismatic Tyson Todd Meade, was born around 1963 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the youngest of five children. Before settling into retirement, his father worked as an architect, and his mother pursued a career as a nurse. Both parents, according to Meade, instilled in their son the values of treating others with respect, as well as frugality.
Meade, who grew up on a steady diet of Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls, and Marc Bolan, joined his first band, Defenestration, in the mid 1980s. Although they recorded a couple records, the group did not quite take off, thus opening the door for Meade to move forward with something new. In January of 1989 in Norman, Meade founded the Chainsaw Kittens. These were the days before “alternative” rock groups—like Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, or Bush—had infiltrated the mainstream market. As opposed to the popular guitar-based bands at the time like Whitesnake or Skid Row, the Chainsaw Kittens were just four guys playing music without the long hair and wandering groupies. “I wanted to make a change in the music and it was really kind of scary because I didn’t know if anybody would take us seriously or if we’d get signed or whatever,” Meade stated in an interview with LMNOP online.
After holding practice sessions for a month, Meade, along with the other founding Kittens—guitarist Mark Metzger, bass guitarist Kevin McElhaney, and drummer Ted Leader—recorded a demo and, to his surprise, received a contract offer immediately from Mammoth Records. “We were really lucky in that way, and we’ve been really unlucky in other ways,” explained Meade. “We’ve watched as other bands that opened for us have sold millions of records. Weezer opened for us when they first put out their record. They actually even got stiffed by the club. And Everclear opened for us at one point, the Toadies opened for us at one point.”
In the meantime, though, the Chainsaw Kittens held high hopes. In 1990, they released their self-made debut album, Violent Religion, introducing the Kittens’ knack for creating fragile melodies and catchy pop choruses alongside twisted lyrics and powerful, raw guitars. Unfortunately, the record received little attention, but the band built a reputation through touring and performing with various up-and-coming acts, most notably the Smashing Pumpkins.
Before touring in support of their debut, the Chainsaw Kittens introduced a new member, guitarist Trent Bell. And while on the road, the band witnessed two additional changes to the lineup; Aaron Preston took over drumming duties, while Clint McBay replaced McElhaney on bass. With the new lineup, featuring Meade, Metzger, McBay, Preston, and Bell, the band recorded their sophomore effort, Flipped Out in Singapore, for which they employed the services of Nirvana’s Nevermind producer, Butch Vig. Released on Mammoth in 1992, the album, containing the songs “Connie I’ve Found the Door” and “High in High School,” enabled the group’s profile and fanbase to grow.
Apparently, the departures of some of the founding members failed to quiet the Chainsaw Kittens’ sound. “Indeed,” wrote Los Angeles Times reviewer Elena Oumano after attending a concert, “the Kittens reject
Members include Trent Bell (joined band, 1990), guitar; Eric Harmon (joined band, 1993), drums; Matt Johnson (joined band, 1993), bass guitar; Ted Leader (left band, 1990), drums; Clint McBay (joined band, 1990; left band, 1993), bass guitar; Kevin McElhaney (left band, 1990), bass guitar; Tyson Meade (born Tyson Todd Meade, c. 1963, in Bartlesville, OK), vocals, guitar; Mark Metzger (left band, 1993), guitar; Aaron Preston (joined band, 1990; left band, 1993), drums.
Formed group in Norman, OK, 1989; signed with Mammoth Records, released Violent Religion, 1990; released Flipped Out in Singapore, 1992; released Pop Heiress, 1994; signed with Scratchie Records, 1995; released Chainsaw Kittens, 1996; released The All American on Four Alarm Records, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Four Alarm Records, 660 W. Lake St., Chicago, IL 60661, phone: (312) 454-1105, fax: (312) 454-1182, e-mail: [email protected] alarmrecords.com, website: http://www.fouralarmrecords.com. Fan mail —The Chainsaw Kittens, P.O. Box 2554, Norman, OK 73070-2554. E-mail— Tyson Meade, [email protected]
coifed heavy-metal glamour and self-conscious virtuosity in favor of pallid, poetic looks that belie their nervy plunge deep into the bowels of a song. Kind of like the Ramones on strychnine-laced acid. Meade is one of the more abandoned and accomplished screamers this side of Little Richard.”
However, the band’s 1993 release, the EP Angel on the Range, marked another shift in membership. But with Matt Johnson on bass and Eric Harmon on drums, the Chainsaw Kittens finally found a stable rhythm section that remained the same ever since. At this point and going forward, the group included Meade, Bell, Johnson, and Harmon. In 1994, the Chainsaw Kittens released their third full-length set, Pop Heiress, produced by John Angelo, known for his work with Dinosaur Jr. and Buffalo Tom. Because of Mammoth’s new partnership with Atlantic Records and a subtle string section backing the Kittens’ already solid songwriting, Pop Heiress was poised to become the band’s big breakthrough. But such expectations never materialized. Still, the album proved a significant critical success, ending up on several of the year’s top ten lists, including that of Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan.
Afterward, the Chainsaw Kittens left Mammoth and signed with Scratchie Records, a label co-owned by James lha and D’arcy of the Smashing Pumpkins. In 1995, the group released a preview of their forthcoming new album with an EP entitled Candy for You. The following year saw the release of Chainsaw Kittens, the band’s fourth album. Recorded by the band themselves at Bell’s home studio and mixed by Angelo, the self-titled set, now featuring a more extensive use of string instruments, won the approval of fans and critics alike. It included several notable tracks, including the single “Heartcatchthump,” “Ballad of Newsman 5” and “Mouthful of Glass.” “We had total freedom over recording, packaging and everything,” recalled Meade in an interview published in LiveWire. “It was so nice to have complete artistic freedom while making this record.”
For the next few years, the Chainsaw Kittens took an extended break, during which time the band members explored other musical and personal interests. Then, in 2000, they returned with a new album for Four Alarm Records called The All American, complete with a cover version of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing.” Despite limited exposure, it, too, received critical praise. The Kittens continued to tour thereafter in support of the album, hoping to one day earn the credit their supporters believe they deserve.
Angel on the Range, Mammoth, 1993.
Candy for You, Scratchie, 1995.
Violent Religion, Mammoth, 1990.
Flipped Out in Singapore, Mammoth, 1992.
Pop Heiress, Mammoth/Atlantic, 1994.
Chainsaw Kittens, Scratchie/Mercury, 1996.
The All American, Four Alarm, 2000.
Billboard, January 24, 1998.
Boston Globe, April 17, 1992.
LiveWire, April/May 1997.
Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1992.
Rolling Stone, January 27, 1994.
Seattle Weekly, August 31-September 8, 2000.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 29, 2001).
The Almighty Chainsaw Kittens, http://www.richd.com/kittens/biography/ (April 29, 2001).
Flagpole, http://www.flagpole.com (April 29, 2001).
Four Alarm Records, http://www.fouralarmrecords.com (April 29, 2001).
LMNOP, http://www.lmnop.com (April 29, 2001).
Slade’s Chainsaw Kittens Page, http://www.ionet.net/tslade/kittens.htm (April 29, 2001).
Well Rounded Entertainment, http://www.well-rounded.com (April 29, 2001).
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