Interview: River Kittens Talk Opening For Pokey LaFarge This New Year’s Eve
Three witty girls, four string instruments and harmonies that could make a grown man cry—even while they’re insulting his restaurant etiquette—is a band I can get behind. It’s no wonder that St. Louis’ own River Kittens landed an opening spot for Pokey LaFarge’s big New Year’s Eve bash at The Pageant. The duo turned trio’s hard work and dedication to their craft has earned them much recognition in the local music scene including a spot at this year’s Lo-Fi Cherokee, a Tiny House Session video and now a much deserved slot at one of St. Louis’s most recognized venues. This highly anticipated show could be what launches the Kittens into the vast world of professional recording and touring artists—just like LaFarge did after signing with Third Man Records.
Allie Vogler and Martha Mehring founded the band just a few short years ago, adding third member Mattie Schell not long after. Now the girls’ have a drummer, Wallace McCanless and a bass player, Nate Gilberg helping to fill our their sound; it’s coming together like a dream.
I sat down with Vogler, Mehring and Schell at The Fortune Teller Bar on Cherokee to talk music and the upcoming show, while sharing laughs with these incredibly charming and funny girls along the way. We started the night off with a game I like to call “What’s Your Favorite song right now?
Allie Vogler: “Dance Yrslf Clean” by LCD Soundsystem
Martha Mehring: “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand” by Lake Street Dive
Mattie Schell: “Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck
Venue to play in STL?
AV: Off Broadway
MM: Livery Co.
MS: House party
ALL: Anywhere we can play acoustic.
AV: Old Souls Revival
MS: Neil C. Luke. He has this zest for performing and playing; he’s so positive and excited.
AV: Shovels and Rope and Dr. Dog
MM: Alabama Shakes
Restaurant in STL?
AV: Pho Grand
MM: The Vine
Open mic night?
AV: Cree Rider’s at Atomic Cowboy
MM: Revival Open Mic Night at Foam
MS: The Shanti, but it’s closed now.
AV: Yeah! That’s where I met Martha. [The Shanti]
Thing to do in free time?
AV: Anything I can create with my hands—like yesterday I woke up and spent $80 on candle-making materials.
MM: Outdoor recreation
MS: Sketch and improv comedy, and I really like to play sports. Ie: soccer, dancing
Place to visit?
AV: New Orleans
MM: Colorado for white water rafting, climbing, etc.
ALL: “Broad City”
Drink of choice?
MM: Gin & tonic
When did you start playing in front of people?
AV: I started playing in front of people when I was 18 in downtown Little Rock, AR. I was a street performer for like a year. I got feedback and heard that I was good, then I was like, ‘Maybe I am really good,’ so I pursued it.
MS: I sang for as long as I remember. My family’s a big music family. The first time I performed, I was very young and I was in a musical. I did musical theatre as a kid: I remember because I had a bowl cut and I played a boy’s part. I was really like, this was what I was born to do.
MM: I learned to sing in church growing up, but I started playing out three years ago.
How did you come up with the band name?
MM: That was all Alli.
AV: I’ve had it in my back pocket for a while
What was your mother’s reaction to the song “Mama?” (An honest song about the reality of a distant mother daughter relationship.)
AV: My mom stopped talking to me for months. She was mad.
MM: My mom was just proud of me. I thought she was going to be really upset and I warned her, like ‘Hey, we wrote this song and it says all these things and there’s cuss words,’ but she was just so proud of me.
MS: Yeah, and I didn’t have to deal with it because you guys [Vogler and Mehring] had already wrote the song so I was like “Mom, I just sing in this band.”
How do you typically write?
MM: I would say one person comes up with it and writes maybe 50 percent of it and then brings it to the group for ideas and is either bolstered in their idea or the other person helps them finish it; it’s a collaborative effort.
AV: We haven’t written too many songs together. The songs that we have, which is six songs, I would say is not the ultimate way we will probably write. We’re not even sure yet how it goes.
MS: I joined the band later, so a lot of the songs were already there. I just had to add my voice and instrument.
How do you work out the harmonies?
MM: We just kind of go with it and play around with it. Mattie and I switch on and off from low to high. Allie’s usually the lower one. Even then sometimes Mattie and Allie switch low and mids.
MS: On any given song we all switch—sometimes we switch several times within one song. Like on “Trouble,” I sing the mid, the high and the low all in one song because we all do different verses; someone has to fill in that gap when they’re soloing. Singing is the easiest part, we’ve never really had a problem.
AV: It matters where the melody is. I’m the lowest one but I have a lot of melodies.
MM: Yeah, it matters who writes the song, because if I write it, then you guys just fit around me.
MS: We switch it up so it’s fun and we don’t get bored, and in that way we all shine. And to me, we all sound really good.
What was the biggest obstacle this far that you’ve overcome as a band?
AV: Honestly, the business side of things because all we want to do is hangout and make music.
MS: When it comes to the music, we’re fine.
MM: Being punctual and responding to messages, knowing when to make a decision without people and when to wait and be like ‘what do you guys think.’ I want to be like ‘ok, yes, let’s do it,’ but I need to make sure everyone’s included.
Did you ever think you’d be opening for Pokey at the Pageant?
MM: It was almost a joke to us. We’d be like “Oh yeah we’re opening for Pokey, HAHA! Oh, at The Pageant, yeah right!”
Describe what went down when you first got the offer to play with Pokey.
AV: I called my mom and said, ‘I have some pretty big news,’ and she thought I was pregnant or married.
MM: It was via our River Kittens page, Pokey’s manager messaged us. “A million times yes!” I think was the answer.
MS: I just told anyone who would be as excited about it as I was.
How has adding a third member changed the band’s dynamic and sound?
AV: It has helped so much.
MM: I think it’s helped define our sound as far as a direction in genre goes. We’ve gone from kind of jazzy to more of an americana feel.
What about adding a drummer and bass player?
AV: It just helped us tighten everything up.
MM: Thank God.
MS: We went through probably three or four of each, trying to figure out; is this guy the right one, is this guy the right one? We got Wallace and the second Nate showed up and played with Wallace, it was basically like “Yep, that’s it.” They are personal, young, they’re diverse. They’re very talented and they just fit.
Describe the STL music scene the way you see it.
MM: If I’m being honest, it’s a little too kind. It’s built me up a lot and it makes you comfortable playing, but I wish I got a little more constructive feedback. Everyone’s so nice and that’s a wonderful thing, but I sometimes wish there was a more competitive edge.
MS: I like that it’s kind. I love that people that play hip hop at Blank Space still love to come down and see our shows, and vice versa. It’s just supportive.
At this point in the interview, bass player Nate Gilberg comes in to join the ladies for a pre-rehearsal drink. Just as soon as we wrap here, the dedicated musicians are getting right to work on their usual Monday night practice.
If you weren’t pursuing music so successfully what would you be doing?
MM: I’d rehab furniture.
MS: If I hadn’t decided that being in a band was cooler than not being in a band, I would still be chasing after my broadway musical dreams.
AV: I’d be a woodworker.
What do you hope for the future of the band?
AV: I’m just looking forward to the good music that we’re gonna make. We’ve only done one album so far. I have so many ideas that would be cool for our band as far as instrumentation; the power of all three of our voices, ideas and lyrics, I can’t imagine how crazy it’s gonna get. I hope for it to be a little bit of rock and roll, a little blues, R&B, country. All of us are so influenced by different genres, I look forward to taking over whatever we’re good at. Martha is really good at R&B and jazz, I’m pretty bluesy, and Mattie’s country.
MS: Here’s the thing, we should not sound good together, but we do.
AV: Take that sibling bands!
What is the River Kittens’ message?
MM: Don’t mess around with me. We’re strong women, there are other strong women out there, don’t mess with us.
AV: Each of us is so hard working. We work so hard at our restaurant jobs and then we’ll go record. We wanna hangout, jam, make good music and we’re gonna write good lyrics.
MS: We’re soul mates. Some people say they have a soul mate, well I have two.
What is your fondest River Kittens moment this far?
AV: Monday night practices.
MM: Sitting at the Lo-Fi premier and watching our video.
MS: The moments when we’re laughing our a** off.
MM: But I can’t even count all those times.
When can we expect the release of your EP?
AV: We will have it available to purchase at the New Year’s Eve show, but once we run out, it won’t be until March which is going to be our album release show. It’s [the album release show] at KAOH Media, they do a series called “Live in the Living Room.”
Don’t forget to pick up tickets for the New Year’s Eve show at The Pageant with Pokey Lafarge, The Hooten Hallers and River Kittens here!