Interview: Kat (Salome, Agoraphobic Nosebleed)
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Metal vocalists like one-word nicknames: Cronos, Ripper, Mortuus. Add another to the batch: Salome frontwoman Kat. Kat (Katherine Katz) jammed for years with bands in Northern Virginia before finding a match with drummer Aaron Deal and guitarist Rob Moore. These are promising times for the trio. When I ordered Salome’s first album, it shipped from a German record store; their second album (and Profound Lore debut) Terminal streamed for weeks on National Public Radio before it was released earlier this month. There’s good reason for the hype: Terminal is one of the better metal albums this year. Kat is also a co-vocalist for longtime grinders Agoraphobic Nosebleed. We began our discussion by talking about a chance visitor at a Salome concert.
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Salome has been in The New York Times, The Financial Times, and was showcased on National Public Radio. What do you make of the attention?
I’m excited about it. It’s unusual because the genre doesn’t get a lot of press. I think we’ve been kind of lucky. The guy who wrote The New York Times article, Ben Ratliff, saw one of our shows. That’s how it got started. I think it kept on building, and other people got the word. It’s very cool, and I feel very appreciative.
Did he approach you after the show?
He came up to me and wanted a record and said he enjoyed the show. He told me he was going to review it in The New York Times. So he reviewed it, and he wrote me later and asked if I want to do an interview. I was psyched.
Was it strange going from metal magazines and websites to a headline in the national newspaper of record?
It’s a little strange. It’s nice when you are recognized if you have spent a lot of time making music, in my case 11 years. I’ve been very dedicated to making metal. You never think you are going to be recognized just because of the way the genre is. It feels good, even if it is a little weird.
Did your parents see the article?
Oh my god, my parents were so excited. It’s funny, because my family had a weird feeling about my involvement in metal. They didn’t get it. I got involved in high school, and they thought I would grow out of it. But I didn’t. When they saw The New York Times, they were impressed. My brother, in particular, never thought much of what I had done musically or artistically until he saw the article.
In a way it offered them some validation for something that you have loved your entire life?
I don’t expect my family and friends to get it. But it’s really nice when people you care about start to get what you are into.
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The title Terminal seems open-ended. For example, there’s a train terminal taking you to a new destination and the finality of terminal cancer.
I think the album title means different things to everyone in the band. I think of it as the beginning of things. But I tend to be a little more positive than the dudes in the band. I think Deal was thinking of the title as the end of things. I, of course, am a yoga instructor and think about the beginning.
So there’s a yin and yang in the band between those two viewpoints?
Oh, yeah. I’m very spiritual, and he’s an atheist. We get into these debates before a show, and sometimes we get there and we’re riled up. It’s definitely a topic we’ve talked about before.
Another yoga practitioner in metal is Rich Hoak from Brutal Truth. He does Bikram.
I didn’t know that (laughs). I know very few people that do yoga in the genre. There are a few people in the scene into Eastern philosophy.
Rich said he’s not into the spiritual aspect of it, but that it allows him to perform grindcore on 110-degree stages.
I’m sure that’s true. I hate the heat. so I don’t do Bikram. But it does allow you to perform better at whatever you do. My voice is certainly better from practicing yoga.
It seems like every story references your gender or height when discussing your vocals. Do you tire of that? It’s not like female singers are an anomaly in metal anymore.
It’s awesome that you asked that because I am sick of it. It’s in almost every article that’s been published about us and almost every review. My gender or how I look has nothing to do with my vocals. It’s one of the parts that sucks about being a woman in metal.
Most people weren’t consistently pointing out Dio’s height. They just talked about his voice.
I don’t think it’s fair. There are tons of short dudes in metal and people that aren’t very attractive. They don’t get any shit. Let me tell you, if you are a unattractive woman in metal, it’s bad news. That’s all people will talk about.
It’s almost 2011 – why aren’t we past that as a culture or a scene that is supposed to champion individuality?
I get in this conversation with my friends because it frustrates me. There’s a lack of progress in general in our culture on gender and race.
When you are being interviewed or talking to someone and the first thing they say is you’re a woman and you’re not tall but your voice is so powerful are you like, "Here we go again?”
Yeah, but I expect it. It happens so often that I know it will come up. I try to accept it. More women are playing metal, but there still aren’t that many. The majority is still male, so I expect that question. There are a lot of shorter male singers who produce amazing vocals. I’m not sure why people just point it out with petite women. When you think about it, there are a lot of petite women in metal. Look at Karyn Crisis. I think she’s actually smaller than I am.
Part of it could be the commodification of women that still takes place in certain parts of metal - magazines with the hottest chicks in metal and ads where almost naked women pose with guitars by stacks of amps.
It frustrates me whenever I see it. I don’t want to say anything negative about Revolver because they’ve written some great stuff about ANB. But I’m not fond of "the hottest chicks in metal”. Women keep getting judged on how they look instead of their talent, and I think it’s a shame. I think women need to show what they can actually do rather than just putting their sexuality right out there to attract men. I find that lame. I was actually asked to do [the hottest chicks in metal feature], but I turned it down. I said, "No way”.
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Salome - "Carving the Ether" (live)
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How do you come up with Salome's lyrics?
I have a weird, complicated writing process, but it lets me come up with stronger lyrics. My band does think it’s a little bit strange. They want me to write lyrics beforehand, so I have shit ready to go. I just don’t do it that way. They give me a song. I listen to it and write whatever feeling it inspires. I start to arrange it and keep going from there. It helps it fit better with the song than writing lyrics beforehand. I know a lot of people do it that way, but it’s not me.
You mention J.R. Hayes of Pig Destroyer as an influence, but he often writes from a deranged perspective like the stalker in Prowler in the Yard. Did you ever identify with any of his narrators?
I did. I think J.R. is am amazing writer. I identify even more with the power and imagery of his lyrics. He’s very fluid and evokes emotion. He’s been an inspiration in that way. I’ve been into Pig Destroyer a long time, and we’re actually very good friends. Every now and then I’ll send him lyrics and ask what he thinks because I value his opinion.
He’s a lyricist that’s able to do a lot with very few words.
That’s one of the things he taught me, to simplify. He’s not into loading up lyrics with a lot of bullshit. I remember him looking at some of my lyrics and saying, “You need to reduce what you are saying so that it’s more powerful”. Jay [Randall, of Agoraphobic Nosebleed] has said the same thing. Both of them have influenced my style, and hopefully it’s more powerful than it was five years ago.
It’s almost like e.e. cummings, where you maximize with the fewest words possible.
Let me tell you, I’ve been into e.e. cummings since I was about 13. I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, and he’s a very big influence. I totally believe in that style.
What got you interested in his work?
My friend’s father introduced me to him, because I had started writing a bunch of poetry. I was going through a hard time, and poetry was a good outlet. My friend’s dad looked at my work and thought it was pretty good and recommended cummings. As soon as I picked up one of his books, I was into it. It resonated with me. It wasn’t just the simplicity and the power, but it was also how he formatted his work. You would get a different perception of what he wanted to say by how he formatted everything and the spacing and how he played around with punctuation. I did that a lot when I was in high school.
You must have been interesting in high school. You were reading e.e. cummings, but you were also a metalhead.
(Laughs) I painted a lot, too. That’s what I was known for. I skipped a lot of classes and just went to art class. I did horrible in high school. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t care for it. Now I’m in community college working my ass off, trying to eventually get into another college. At the time I think a lot of people pegged me as the artsy, weird chick.
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Kat on Salome's formation
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You knew you had something special with Salome almost immediately?
I was blown away. I don’t think I’ve had that feeling before jamming with anyone. I’d been in bands since I was 15, and when I met them I was 21. I loved singing, but it felt so amazing to sing with them in particular, there was incredible chemistry. We decided not to get a bass player because of that, because of the chemistry. We figured it was better with the three of us. We decided to work with a minimum of instruments to produce the most interesting, huge sound that we could.
With the absence of a bass player, do you try to add rhythmic components to the music with your voice?
I don’t necessarily think about it. I try to do what is the most fitting, but I guess I do go with the drums the majority of the time.
Was there a conscious decision made to push your voice up more on this album than the first?
On the first album I didn’t want my vocals high in the mix. I know people think that’s strange, and we were critiqued on it. This time around Deal was in charge with most of the production, and he thought we should push it up. I like it for the most part and think it’s cool, but I want everything to be balanced out.
I love how the song “Epidemic” starts with a punk riff and slows it down. Do you ever see Salome slowing down for a whole song or even an album?
I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question. I don’t think we’ll limit ourselves, but I tend to like slower music. I like doom metal a lot, and the slow stuff resonates with me and I think the band knows that. That being said, I’m not averse to faster stuff. I love what I do with ANB. I’ll just say it’s possible.
Who designed the band’s logo?
Deal. He’s the mastermind behind a lot of things. He’s a very talented man.
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Where did you come up with the name Salome? It reminds me of the cover artwork of Cryptopsy’s None So Vile. (In scripture, Salome danced for King Herod and demanded the head of John the Baptist in return).
A friend suggested it. We were trying to come up with a name, and he said he had something perfect. He said we should we should be called Salome, and I did the research on it. I brought it to Aaron and Rob. I don’t remember if they were into it at first. But once Deal researched it, he thought it was cool.
I understand you don’t drink, do drugs, or smoke. What is it like to go on tour with those things going on all around you?
It’s very, very hard. I don’t do it because it makes me feel like shit, and it affects my vocals. I understand why people get trashed when they are on tour. It’s tough when you are only sleeping two or three hours, and you need to drive for five or eight hours and then you just sit there. Then you are loading and unloading gear. It’s understandable why someone would want to get trashed.
What do you do with the downtime?
I do yoga and meditate. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s one of the biggest things in my life. I have to make sure to keep up with my practice when I’m on tour.
Is it hard as someone who meditates to see people who have a self-destructive lifestyle?
It is. I remember one of the last tours we did was particularly difficult, mores o than other tours. It’s hard to see people get fucked up to the point where they can’t walk. I also saw a lot of anger and self-destruction among the kids. I know this is metal, and that’s to be expected to a point. But it’s hard to see anyone that’s in a negative place. You hope that they can get some of it out through the music, which is why they are there in the first place - to connect and feel a little better.
Where does the power in your voice come from?
It’s important when you do these type of vocals that you sing from the stomach. Otherwise you will hurt your throat. I feel like I don’t hurt my throat as much full-on screaming with Salome as I do yelling with ANB. On the ANB vocals, I’m not pushing my voice out as much because I want people to understand what I’m saying. I end up leaving the ANB sessions with my throat torn out. With Salome I need to be on tour for two weeks playing every night before that happens, before I lose power. It’s super-important to sing from your stomach.
Was performing ANB songs your way of playing around with gender expectations?
(Laughs) It was exactly that. It was hilarious to sing some of those lyrics. I remember recording the Crom split a while ago, and there was a lyric in there about “fucking bitches” or something. It’s totally hilarious to be singing something like that. Guys don’t expect that. It’s cool to flip it, and it’s cool to shock people a little bit so they realize women can do this, too. Women can be just as aggressive.
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