Itchy Kitty: their fire, their rules

Sofa on fire

It’s crazy to me… but in every one of our lives — and this is not exclusive to us — but every woman has been told, ‘If you want to do anything, you’re going to have to play by these fucking weird made-up rules.’

Jennie Cotterill, in the punk band Bad Cop/Bad Cop, quote from the Razorcake interview in Issue #97 (April/May 2017).
Itchy Kitty band photo
Itchy Kitty (photo from Facebook by Alicia Hauff Photography, used by permission of the band)

For the Spokane-based punk band, Itchy Kitty, all eyes are on Ami Elston (guitar & vocals), and her cousin, Naomi Eisenbrey (bass & vocals). It’s a four-piece band, of course, but the other two members — Mike “Sug” Tschirgi (drums) and Ethan “Catman” McCracken (guitar & vocals & the band’s intense producer) — somehow seem backgrounded by the media into supporting roles. The excitement of Itchy Kitty’s music, however, comes from their authenticity and collective sonic rejection of any “weird, made up rules.” (Follow them on Facebook to see just how rebellious they can be.)

The “cat-punk” trap happened because, in part, of the band’s name, of course, the nominal cat makeup, and initial cat-themed songwriting when the band launched themselves in 2016, with “Careless Whisker.” In 2020, the preponderance of cat-motif feels more like a joke that served its purpose, but now needs to be retired based on the universal punk strength of their second LP, “Mr. Universe” (Corporat Records, 2018). This band is too good for tired cat jokes. Unfortunately, the stereotype has inveigled its way into many responses to the band, song mentions, and almost every press inquiry, as the definitive interpretation of what drives this band’s aesthetic: cats. Wrong. Look again.

It’s easy to write songs if you have subject matter, so it was like, ‘We write one song about a cat, and we can write a bunch of songs about cats…’ We’ve grown out of that now, but it was a good starting point.

Naomi Eisenbrey (from an interview in The Spokesman-Review, November 2018)

Without insider knowledge of what drives this band today, what started out with a humorous device now feels like a burden, one that the band must be ready to put down. Punk is, however, one of the best no-bullshit music genres because of its rapid morphology. Beginnings are almost always obvious, raw, rude, and designed to shock and amuse. Punk mutates quickly. Over the span of two full-length releases and one EP of live covers, Itchy Kitty has grown steadily into a powerhouse punk band coming up in a time of protest and pandemic. This is where punk thrives: an overheated social moment, something to say aggressively, and a pissed-off fan base ready to listen. What’s not to love?

Record: Careless Whisker (2016)

Itchy Kitty LP art for their record "Careless Whisker"

Let’s start with the cats. The ten tracks on this record include “My Name Is BOO!,” apparently Elston and Tschirgi’s first voyage as Itchy Kitty. A song about… a cat named BOO, presumably. It’s a fun guitar-driven song, as are most tracks on this first-effort record. But with titles like “Kitty Puke,” “Hairballs” (with actual gacking vocal sounds), “Tomcat Society,” you get the idea. The sound is satisfyingly aggressive; the lyrics mostly shouty (about cats) and hard to parse for a full sense of meaning (alas, no lyrics are provided on Bandcamp with each track).

The musicianship, if not the entire premise, is impressive for a first record. “Careless Whisker” is a satisfying, entertaining punk listening experience. The tempos are muscular and intense, a hallmark of first-punk efforts. Clearly, Itchy Kitty emerged as a high-energy “cat-punk” experiment, probably with the intention of testing Spokane’s fan acceptance of… is there such a thing as “cat-punk”? Beyond “cat people” dressing up their cats as… punks? Regardless, Itchy Kitty is the real deal with real skills not destined to remain trapped by rules, gimmicks, or flagging narratives.

Record: Mr. Universe (2018)

Mr. Universe LP art.

Itchy Kitty’s first release with Spokane’s Corporat Records, “Mr. Universe,” is where we see this band reaching past some of their cat themes into more universal and challenging punk spaces. The sound is cleaner, but still rages. Many tracks showcase the power of Tschirgi’s drum skills. Again, the lyrics are passionate and mostly shouty, again we have no lyrics on Bandcamp, so grasping all of the meanings in each song is impossible. Elston and Catman’s guitars storm and tease across the entire record. “Stray,” “Crazy Boi” (which almost has a Third Man Records blues-punk vibe), and “Year of the Goth” (with it’s sultry bass lines, and nasty lyrics, including “You can feel it in your gut / It’s the year of the slut…”), are particularly satisfying.

Corporat Records is quickly becoming one of Spokane’s bellwether culture compasses. Signing Itchy Kitty was a singular move given the band’s potential reach as marked out by “Mr. Universe.” It’s also worth noting the production on this record, which has a much greater depth than found on “Careless Whisker.” Every track opens up and allows each musician (and instrument) more voice and greater impact. “Mr. Universe” is a defining moment in the transition of this band from a novelty into a legitimate punk force.

Record: Under the Covers (2020)

Under the Covers LP art.

A small collection of our favorite covers that show up on the setlist from time to time. Cobbled together in hopes of bringing a smile to your ugly sequestered faces.

Band statement on Bandcamp

Now we arrive at the moment of transition. This small but forceful, four-track EP, lays bare this band’s source material and inspirations rich in punk history. Performed live, this EP is an essential listening experience in understanding the potential of Itchy Kitty that will, no doubt, appear on their next full-length LP. These four tracks answer the question of whether Itchy Kitty is capable of breaking free of any rules laid on them. Recorded live at Spokane’s The Big Dipper, these four songs include: “Sonic Reducer” (written by the Dead Boys), “Don’t Talk to Me” (written by GG Allin), “Psycho Killer” (written by the Talking Heads), and “Dark Entries” (written by Bauhaus).

“Psycho Killer” is probably the public’s easy go-to favorite given the popularity of that song as a ubiquitous 1977 cultural marker. But “Sonic Reducer” is blistering, and covering anything written by the shock-rock, brilliant GG Allin makes a huge statement about pedigree for any punk band. It’s astonishing they would take on such a song, as well as anything by Bauhaus. To be fair, Itchy Kitty’s “Psycho Killer” is distinctive and energized and fun, if just a little too harmless as far as cover material for this band.

In the end, Itchy Kitty will soon be the name of an iconic and uncommon punk band. They might have started out in the scablands of heat-blasted Spokane, Washington, but their music won’t be confined to that city. When the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a thing of the past, and it will, this band will be everywhere. Forget the cute cat distractions, watch for this band to break large into a much wider discussion of new punk from the West Coast of this country. Razorcake, pay attention! Future cover band, right here.

Itchy Kitty (photo from Bandcamp, used by permission of the band)

photo credits (where not otherwise credited)

“burning sofa” / by Javier Castro on Adobe Stock (editorial use by permission)
“old Kitchen” (footer) / by Northwest photographer Timothy Epp on Shutterstock (editorial use by permission)