Country With Claws: Kitty Coen Talks “Hellcat”, The Meaning of Southern Goth and Perseverance in the Indie Music Scene

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Photo Credit: Maurice Porter

If you were to pull the cover off an old Chevy Malibu and drive on an empty road into the desert sunset, Kitty Coen would be the ultimate soundtrack for the ride. Combining gritty, bluesy, rock and roll with singer-songwriter lyrics, the Nashville-based dark-pop star writes music which encapsulates the edgy glitter of Lana Del Rey and the pop songstress charm of Chappell Roan. Having released her debut LP Hellcat, out today, the 11-track album showcases a newfound level of maturity in Coen’s artistry.

A record that sounds like a glass of whiskey and brings to mind visions of snakeskin boots and neon lights, Hellcat embodies the best qualities of Coen’s musicality. An album that is smokey, dusty and every bit of rock and roll, Kitty Coen’s Hellcat is the music you’ve been looking for. With a sound she describes as “western witch rock”, Coen’s style calls to mind fellow female icons Stevie Nicks and Miley Cyrus. Highlights from the debut LP include “I’m Afraid All Boys Are the Same,” a gritty track that scratches at the wall’s of listeners’ ears. “El Paso” and “Cadillac”, originally released together as a double single, are as cinematic as they are enthralling. To further discuss her ethereal and emotional artistry, the Texas native sat down with Melodic Mag to discuss the resonance of western culture, how this album differs from her 2021 EP Disco Lemonade and what the world needs to know about Kitty Coen.

Thank you so much for taking the time today! First, I did want to ask about your aesthetics. You were born in Missouri and raised in Texas, and your music and your visuals have this signature country-western vibe that’s very unique to Texas specifically. Tell me a little bit about why that aesthetic means so much to you!
Personally, I really resonate with that aesthetic. Growing up in a smaller town, it’s not really an aesthetic. It’s just who everyone is. You’re literally in the middle of nowhere. So I was always one of those kids that didn’t want to be a part of that. I would always say I hated country music growing up. But then when I actually was in the world and left that town, I kind of felt like this isn’t just a cowboy suit that I put on. Where I’m from, a lot of times you go off into the world and you see a bunch of what we call Connecticut Cowboys, which basically means someone from the city puts on Wrangler jeans and a hat and they say that they’re a cowboy. But those boots have never left the pavement. I realized that so many people celebrate that aesthetic because it is cool and everyone loves that outlaw vibe. So it’s kind of an honor to actually be from it and not just someone that finds it cool and just does it because it’s dope. Also, I can’t help but notice that music that sounds like that is most authentic to me. I sing it the best. I perform it the best. I always like those songs. So now I’m just leaning into it instead of running away from it. 

Whether it’s fashion or music, country is so big now. How do you feel about the fact that people who aren’t really from that culture are taking it on themselves?
I personally think it’s fun. But long before this year of the cowboy, when all these big household names started leaning into country music, I know some people that feel some type of way about it. Because they’re like, “I’ve been working on this brand and this vibe for almost a decade now and then so-and-so can just come in and claim it.” It can be discouraging, but I think at the end of the day the reason why these trends and fads happen is because it’s a universal energy. For years people like Sturgill Simpson, Jonathan Terrell and Billy Strings, they’re from Appalachia, they’re from Kentucky, they’re from the mountains. But they still involve these modern sounds into country and bluegrass music. I think just because now we are seeing it all come to a point, it would be silly to not be supportive of those people. Because at the end of the day, the people wearing cowboy boots just because they’re cute and the people who travel around and wear a cowboy hat, those are the people that are going to listen to my music and support me. I would be biting the hand that fed me if I said, “No, you have to be from the middle of freaking nowhere to like country.” So I’m actually a big fan of it. I think it’s really cute. 

I wanted to ask as well, regarding that specific look or culture, your Spotify bio reads that your music carries with it a “Southern Gothic charm”. What do you define Southern Gothic as and why do you express that in your music?
I think that a lot of times Southern Gothic is basically taking those pretty mainstream tropes from the South, which is religion and family and very traditional themes, and making it kind of emo and being like, “Yes most of us do go to church, but then it comes along with this religious trauma.” That’s kind of the more Gothic emo side of Southern Gothic. But I think when the charm comes into it, I think that there’s a lot of very charming instruments and sounds that are used in southern music and country music that can be used anywhere. But when you hear them, you recognize that that’s a western sound. You hear a slide guitar and you know that’s country music. I think using those sounds in my music, which is more or less dark pop music, really made it feel more authentic to me. Because when I first started, I had a producer who was very much like, “We’re going to make hit songs. We’re going to make songs everybody else likes.” And don’t get me wrong, the songs were good, but they didn’t feel authentic to me. And the only times they did, I was having to pull teeth.

Your music combines so many different sounds, whether it’s country, rock and roll or dark pop. When you’re writing a song, how do you know what it might sound like?
I always say that every song is different. A good example of my usual songwriting is I will write the song melodically, so I won’t really know what the words are going to be yet, but I’ll come up with a phrase or somebody will say something or I’ll hear something cool. And then through that you come up with the melody, and then I find the key of the song and how fast I want it to be. Then I find the chords and all the words. Some songs I’ve written completely a cappella though. I’ve written the lyrics and then found what the music’s going to sound like. But with that a lot of the time, I’ll love how I have it at the beginning and then by the time everybody gets their hands on it it sounds different. And I’m an indie artist, so I’ve just paid all this money. I don’t want to say I hate it, but it’s so different than what I intended it to be. And once again, it’s not bad, but it’s not what I want. So I think that’s something I’m really trying to work on as an artist this year is making sure that everything I put out is 110% authentic to what I want to do. Not just what people are telling me needs to be done. 

I love that. Speaking of your future music going forward, your debut LP Hellcat comes out April 30. How is this album different from your 2021 EP Disco Lemonade?
Hellcat is just a matured version of Disco Lemonade. It’s much more rock and roll. This was the first time I was really talking about personal stuff that it had taken me years and years to get through the first time I actually finished these songs. Some of these songs were made four or five years ago, so they’re the first time they’re seeing the light of day. On Disco Lemonade, the songs were cool and they were fun, but they weren’t really about anything. But stuff like “Center of the Sun” on the new album is about being told by countless people to give up because you’re not good enough, you’re not pretty enough, you’re not skinny enough, you don’t have a rich parent in the industry or you’re too pretty to wear yourself out on this, go do something easy. Things that people have told me after they have squeezed the juice out of me in a Nashville boardroom, taken all of my ideas and then used them on a bigger artist that already has a name for themselves. This is a true thing that has actually happened that people don’t talk about in the industry. But it is what it is and it happens every day. Every song is seriously about something so personal that I think it’s a little scary to put out, but also only me and a handful of people know what all of the songs are about. So that’s the big difference. It’s more so coming from my heart and my own personal experiences and not so much “I want to start doing music, let’s make a country witch album.”

You say this one’s more personal compared to the last record. What inspired you to be more personal this time around?
Realizing that music was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. When Disco Lemonade was a thing, it was right around the pandemic. I had just graduated college. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but there were all those little voices saying, “It’s a hard thing to do. There’s a lot of people that do music. It doesn’t make a lot of money, especially for the first decade.” So I think all those little voices in my head made me decide to just have fun on Disco Lemonade and just see what we can do. And then after I put it out and saw how many people reached out to me and realizing that I’m helping people navigate through their emotions, I decided music is what I’m going to do forever so I might as well just stop even trying to do anything else because there’s really no Plan B. With that, you’re able to be much more authentic and genuine with your songs and I think that’s what happened. I also learned how to put my foot down in the production aspect of things. I learned how to know when I make the right decision the first time, and not go through seven different options just to waste the time and make sure you know. I think that’s why Hellcat is such an honest album and really authentic to me. If the album was a Zodiac sign, it would be an Aries sun, Cancer moon. It’s very volatile. The top up of the album is very “I’m a bad bitch you can’t kill me” and then the second half of the album is crybaby Blues music. 

You also mention these obstacles that you faced in the industry as an indie artist. How do you stay positive and true to yourself despite all these things that people are going to throw at you?
I wish I could sit here and give a positive answer, but the truth is for me personally I feel like I struggle with finding that positivity every day, unless something really great happens like a TikTok goes viral or some cool brand reaches out to you. Those are the things that keep you going, but on the days where the phone stops ringing or the people who you thought were on your team were really just there for the cash grab, I think it’s just knowing that you’ve touched people’s lives that you don’t even know. A lot of times online my fans will reach out to me and the things that they say keep me so positive. My fans are just so sweet. It’s not like I have a bunch of them, but every single one of them is so kind. I just have to bring my mind back to remembering this is just a moment. This is just a feeling and you’re going to get through it. Also a lot of really amazing creatives have given me the advice that the only way you can really fail is by giving up. It’s such a corny thing, and I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but it’s so true. There’s so many times that if I would have given up a year or two ago I wouldn’t have gotten to meet my awesome publicist, I wouldn’t have gotten to go and write with these other artists or create these great videos for this album. I would have never got to do any of those things, and the only reason I am is because I kept going.

Going back to the album, I did want to ask about some singles that you’ve put out. I read recently that “Everything’s A Mess” is your favorite to perform, but also one of the toughest songs that you’ve written. What inspired you to share this vulnerable song ahead of the album?
I had never lived anywhere. I was born in Missouri. My whole family’s from Missouri. I grew up in Texas and all of my schooling up to college was in Texas. When I left in 2021 and moved to Tennessee, I had a really hard time finding happiness or finding my flow. I got involved with some really bad people who didn’t really care about me. I was just in a vulnerable spot and needed friends. It was one of those days where I felt super super alone and I wrote that song. I sang it to this person and they were like, “That sucks. It’s not a very good song.” And I realized that that’s not true. I know that this song is good. So I think in that moment, I decided this was going to be a slight revenge anthem. Not in the, “You’re never going to find another like me” way but more like, “Life is so in pieces right now and it feels like I’m never going to see the light again, but I’m just going to sing the fuck out of this song and make this song so good that you can’t deny its beauty.” Obviously I don’t talk to any of those people anymore, but when the song came out some of them did reach out to me. But it was one of those things I had to put out for me. 

Your most recent single “Yellow Light” was the last single before the release of Hellcat. It’s such a beautiful song, what was the inspiration for that single?
That song is about my first queer relationship. I had an unwavering crush on this girl who was already in a relationship. We’re still friends, we’re not dating or anything. But she’s the sweetest person. She was in a really toxic relationship, and she would always confide in me whenever things would go wrong or I would come pick her up whenever shit was hitting the fan. One day, during the summer of 2022, I was waiting for her to come outside, and there was this light amber glow around her house, and I had already known that I was pretty much in love with her the more she would explain to me the situation with this guy. But there was no way of me telling her because it’s such a dude thing to say, “Let me make you feel better about this relationship, by the way, I also like you.” I’m not going to put this on her. But I’m going to write a song about it. So I wrote that song about feeling like you’re so in love with someone, but you can’t tell them. 

What do you want people to know about Kitty Coen?
Upon discovering Kitty Coen’s music, I think that people will get the same excitement as when they found artists like Lana Del Rey, Chappell Roan or The Last Dinner Party for the first time before they blew up. I think that’s going to give them the same excitement, because I have so much to deep dive in. I have so much visual stuff. There’s going to be a bunch more music videos for each song on the album that are coming out whenever the album is released. If people are a sucker for a good music video or a good visual, I have tons of those. And I think Hellcat feels like if you were to pack up your car and drive through the desert to start a new life in Las Vegas or something. That’s the energy of this record. I think that people are really going to see that. It’s the best driving music. And there’s much more music coming. This is only the beginning, so stay tuned.

KITTY COEN SUMMER TOUR WITH SLOW FUNERAL:
Jun. 13 – Greenville, SC – Radio Room
Jun. 14 – Charlotte, NC – Petra’s
Jun. 15 – Charleston, SC – The Royal American
Jun. 16 – Nashville, TN – The Basement
Jul. 19 – Washington, DC – Pie Shop
Jul. 20 – Philadelphia, PA – The Fire
Jul. 21 – New York, NY – The Broadway
Jul. 22 – Boston, MA – TBD

Keep up with Kitty Coen: Instagram // TikTok // Spotify // YouTube

Justice Petersen
Justice Petersen
Justice Petersen is a Chicago-based music journalist and freelance writer. She is a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago, having earned a journalism major with a concentration in magazine writing and a minor in music business. Justice regularly contributes artist interviews, On Your Radar features and various other articles for Melodic Magazine, serving as an interviewer, writer and editor. She also writes for several other online magazine publications, including Ghost Cult Magazine, Chicago Music Guide and That Eric Alper, and her work has been featured in Sunstroke Magazine, Fever Dream Zine, ChicagoTalks and the Chicago Reader. Her favorite band is Metallica and her go-to coffee order is an iced vanilla oat milk latte with strawberry cold foam on top.

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