On a crowded night at a Brooklyn dive bar, Kitty and Sam Ray were celebrating. Their premiere EP as The Pom-Poms, a rave-pop project they dubbed “cheerleader music,” was set to be released in a few days– not to mention their upcoming live debut at the Adult Swim Festival, and the drop of their delightfully trippy Noisey mixtape. As the power couple flitted between the wooden tables and twinkle-lit smoking porch, surrounded by old and new friends, they took their victory lap.
Kitty is no stranger to pre-release adrenaline. Since the early 2010’s, the singular producer has consistently put out homemade hits, moving from playful rap into an ethereal trance, and now to EDM pop. Sam, of experimental emo favorites like Teen Suicide and Ricky Eat Acid, is also a master of emotionally raw, self-produced tracks. But throughout her sonic evolution, Kitty has never strayed from her intimate lyricism and glittery production. She gives a voice to the beautifully mundane, oft-unspoken experiences of girlhood, and it was this lyrical grit that bonded her with listeners from day one.
With the release of the single “Watch Me” earlier this summer, it seemed like The Pom-Poms’ EP might sound like Kitty, Amplified: the track is a bass-heavy, capital-B bop, reworking a smooth Soundcloud freestyle into a beat that practically begs you to play it on loop. But The Pom-Poms are a separate sonic entity from Kitty or Sam’s individual releases, and their blacklight pep rally of a debut EP is as unexpected as it is infectious. The duo delivers 5 tracks of unapologetically batshit, early 2000’s era beats, sirens, and one-liners.
Take the standout track “Mary Poppins,” for instance, with its loud ecstatic drops and solemn “peanut butter jelly time” refrain. Or “Full Circle,” the EP’s cheerleader anthem, which drips with the drunken energy of your first time partying under the bleachers. The Pom-Poms own their silliness and execute it to a T; the lyrics are fun yet inclusive (“I love all my daughters, I love all my sons/And fuck a label if you ain’t either one”), the beats are flamboyant but build a perfect tipsy momentum. Despite this paragraph, it’s the kind of music that doesn’t beg to be analyzed, and that’s kind of the point.
As the J train roared behind us, Kitty filled me in on her sonic evolution, radical truth-telling, and just having fun.
Hey Kitty! So how did The Pom-Poms come about?
Sam’s brain is very strange, I still don’t really understand it. When Sam and I first started being friends, I would send him EDM songs because we were so tight that I’d be like, “You understand why I like this crazy song!” And then he was like, “Yes, I get this,” which kind of surprised me, because he’s always been so like, “I make lo-fi emo music” (laughs) and I hated it. And then we got married, to the surprise of everyone, including us.
Sam is just so gifted in a way that makes me angry. Before my last album was even done, I was like, “Sam, we should try to make a really sick EDM remix of one of these songs, I’ll give you the stems of it as soon as I record it,” and then Sam immediately made it and was like “Is this EDM?” And I was like, “Are you fucking serious?” I don’t know anyone else that has a brain like his. [The Pom Poms] started because he was like, “Can you tell me more about this EDM?” And we started making songs together. We both have a lot of projects under our belt, but then we started getting bored with everything. We live in the middle of nowhere, there’s nobody there making anything. We don’t know what’s cool at any time!
So it’s not like, a hip area.
Not at all. (laughs) I mean, we don’t even know anyone there. We both got back into things that stopped being cool, 2005-type things that we both enjoyed. We both realized that we should be making music that we like! When we started listening to Slipknot and Incubus and Die Antwoord, we were like, what the fuck is “cool”? Nothing is cool. We should just be making songs that we like to make.
We were in Florida for Thanksgiving and made a whole bunch of beats, but then just kind of forgot about them. Then we decided, “We’re so sick of this, let’s make songs out of these beats we made when we were all drunk on Thanksgiving food,” and then we made the Pom Poms. It was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done in one week. It was just Sam and I making beats in 5 minutes and being like, “This is fun!” And I just was freestyling all of it, and thinking, “This is what I would be yelling if I was drunk in a club somewhere.”
What is the inspiration for the cheerleader pop sound of The Pom-Poms?
We both really liked the Go Team. The drive from Maryland to Florida is like 12 hours, and you run out of things to listen to. And then one time, we were both like, “Do you remember the Go Team?” and then, “Wait, this slaps!” (laughs) I feel like neither of us is really conscious of what’s influencing us when we’re making songs. Or we’re like, “This sounds cool,” and then
, later on,we go back and realize, “We listened to an entire Slipknot record that day, that’s why we made a whole bunch of Slipknot beats.”
How have you approached the lyrical content of The Pom-Poms songs vs. songs under your solo project?
My whole focus has always been on lyrics. I always thought, “I’m a writer, I’m not a musician.” People were constantly telling me that I’m a terrible musician, so I wanted to embrace that. I’m sure it’s very clear to anyone that listens to The Pom Poms that the lyrics are fucking stupid, they mean nothing. But it feels like, “Woah, I can make songs now!” Because it took me 3 years to write my last record. With this, I was like, “Nobody cares about what I’m saying, it’s fun!” Everything I wanted to say, I did.
And I wanna be inclusive. In “I Got That Boom,” it was like, “Boyfriends, girlfriends…” because I was thinking so much about songs where you’re yelling, “My girlfriend is so hot,” but then being like, “Wait, I have a boyfriend!” I think that we should be writing songs for people who don’t wanna be screaming something that doesn’t represent them. Sometimes you don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. You just have a person, you know? I’m gonna be talking about nonsense, but it’s gonna be nonsense that everyone can say. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded by this bullshit. (laughs)
Your DIY recording and producing techniques create a sound that is completely your own. How does the production differ between The Pom-Poms songs and your previous projects?
We care so deeply about the way our personal projects sound, but then for this project we were like, “We want it to sound amazing, but I’m not attaching my entire soul to this.” This entire project is so that we can make things that are fun. When I’m making my own songs, it’s like, “I’m going to access the deepest, most awful things that have ever happened, and I’m gonna write a song about it because I want people to feel better about feeling awful.” With the Pom Poms, I just want people to have fun and not think about awful stuff. It’s cool not to have to worry about the way that you’re expressing your feelings about something heavy. Our words are very specifically written to make everybody feel good about themselves, which is all we’ve really ever wanted. But we sort of get lost in the heaviness of emotions.
With my solo songs, I would think about how they sounded so much. I feel like I’ve been overthinking everything that I’ve ever done, and it’s led to so much inner turmoil that I didn’t need to have. But now I realize that all I’ve ever really wanted to do is have fun. This entire time, there’s been a very specific formula to songs that make me have fun, and I’ve been trying to reject it to prove something. There are lots of people who are gonna say mean shit to me and look down on me, and I should probably just ignore that entirely because, at this point, it’s kind of a waste. There are things about production that I like, and that I’d never even known about. And then I started learning: this is a drum machine, and this is a specific synth that I like, and let’s not reject that because other people use it, let’s just do it!
And you can cross genre lines, you don’t have to sound like one thing.
And some people are really, really mad at me because I don’t make rap songs like I used to. I was really self-conscious when I put my album out, because every single person who criticized it was like, “This doesn’t sound like the last thing you did.” I was like, “Yeah, because I learned more about the world, and it made me kind of feel like an idiot for making the songs that I used to make.” I was a fucking teenager! You have to learn things, or you don’t get better.
It made me really sad to see the way people criticized my last album, because I felt that none of them knew anything about me. And then I felt like I failed, because my entire objective was to get people to understand what I was talking about. But I realized that no one’s really gonna think about me at the end of the day. I’m not the one that’s important, it’s the way the song makes you feel. So we thought, fuck this. Sam’s bands are the same way, and we were both just like, “I don’t wanna care about it anymore, I just wanna make things that are fun.”
Your music has been through a lot of sonic evolution. How were these different styles effective in getting your message across?
When I started out, I just always really liked music, and I realized that I write a lot and could totally do this. But I realized very quickly that I made a lot of people angry because I was me, plus I was in an abusive relationship where I was constantly convinced that I was bad for being me. I got a lot of criticism from people who were like, “This is fucking stupid.” And I thought, “I’m gonna do my best to understand what you mean.” And now, as an adult, I do understand what they mean, and I was being fucking stupid. I don’t really respect anything that I did a long time ago, and I kind of feel weird about the people that do. I feel like everything I did was kind of immature, I had a very immature understanding of the world.
Then I started thinking, “Wait, this is actually kind of a talent that I have,” completely separate from rapping. I thought, “It’s really silly that I’m trying to make a place in this world that I don’t belong in at all.” I never felt like I belonged in it. And I realized that I understand music in different terms. Terms that make sense for me, and my world, and my experiences. That doesn’t translate to fucking rapping, it just doesn’t make sense. When I was like, “I should probably work on things that I understand better,” it ended up being trance music! Which was the thing that I cared about most, and still do.
You have a very personal relationship with your followers, do you think you’ve broken down the “unapproachable artist” thing?
Yes! I don’t feel that I’ve done anything in particular to break that down, but I feel that I’ve never subscribed to the whole, “You can’t talk to me, I’m better than you,” thing. That’s gross. I feel that if you connect with an artist, then you should be able to actually personally connect with them, so I do my best. I think that it’s my job, and it’s the entire point to talk to people who care about what I’m saying. If you get what I’m saying, then you’re my friend.
But I also have the luxury of being able to do that. I don’t have a billion fans, I have a few people who are like, “I totally understand what you’re saying and I care so much,” and I’m like, hell yeah! Then you’re my friend. I owe you that. But I do understand when you’re somebody who’s fucking huge, there’s an element of danger involved, which I have also experienced. So I get why people don’t. But I feel like that’s the entire reason you’d be making art, is for people to connect to it, so you should be paying attention to them.
Your music is so important to so many girls. How have you continued to write and create honestly despite the rampant sexism in the scene?
Because there’s mad shit that nobody will talk about! (laughs) The other day I tweeted about how much anxiety I have about cutting my bangs, and there were so many people DMing me like, “I’ve never seen anyone say anything about cutting your bangs that was so real,” and I was like, “Why?” That’s just silly. Why are we so scared to cut our bangs? Why are we so scared to say something about a person who abused us? We shouldn’t have to be scared of everything. It’s just fucked up.
I lose a lot of opportunities because people are scared that my big mouth is gonna fuck them up. I’ve lost record deals, I’ve lost a lot of money, because people think that I have a big mouth. And I do, so they’re not really wrong. But I’ve started to embrace that as my thing: I can’t really control my mouth but I don’t tell lies, ever. I’m telling the truth. It’s things that need to be said and nobody wants to be saying them, so I’ll just do it and wait until it ruins me, I guess. (laughs)
I also love the sense of girl-love in your music. Even platonically, it’s an important representation of such a big and oft undervalued part of women’s lives.
Yeah! That’s another thing that has driven me insane, is touring with girls, and being like, “Don’t get too close to me, like we don’t want anybody to write anything weird about us.” It grosses me out so much. And it’s a big reason why I moved away from New York and LA, I can’t deal with the fact that living my life makes people wanna talk about it that way. You don’t wanna talk about my music at all, but if I’m doing something at a party somewhere you can write about that? That makes me so uncomfortable.
I think that we need to embrace all of this shit that we’ve been encouraged to shut the fuck up about. I just don’t wanna do that anymore. There’s been enough songs written about the deepest throes of being super in love. I don’t care anymore. I would rather someone write about the feelings I feel everyday. Being like, “My boobs are probably gonna fall out of this dress! And lowkey, I have a crush on my friend! And everything is disgusting, and everyone’s talking to me like I’m a fucking idiot, so I wanna write a song about that instead!” Things like that made me think, “Someone should say this, because no one’s gonna like it either way.” Once everyone has been mad at me, they’re never gonna get as mad at me as they were in 2013, so I can really do whatever I want now. And that was the whole point.