Itchy Kitty's tours with Built to Spill are earning the Spokane punks a new following

click to enlarge Itchy Kitty's tours with Built to Spill are earning the Spokane punks a new following
Greg Chow photo
Litter box rock.

Because of the inherent core simplicity and sonic rawness, it can be hard for punk bands to be taken seriously. Having a guitarist dressed like a cat doesn't help one's cause. Nor does... you know... the band literally being started as a joke.

"I just wanted a band," says Itchy Kitty guitarist and singer Ami (Itchy Kitty prefers to go by first names), "and I kind of half-serious wanted to just do a band where we covered classic punk songs but just made them about cats. I was 23, and I thought that would be funny."

Despite all that, Itchy Kitty has been carving out its own niche in Spokane since forming in 2013, while slowly starting to build a bigger and bigger profile outside of the city. The band's sound roots itself in pure unapologetic punk aggression with plenty of frantic wails and weirdo warbling. Itchy Kitty operates claws out, hissing and slashing away with abandon.

Ami enlisted her cousin Naomi (bass/vocals) and fellow Guitar Center employee Sug (drums) to actualize her cat fancy. After a few tunes (Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" became "Kitty Yell," Bad Brains' "Right Brigade" became "Cat Brigade," etc.), the cat theme faded but the Itchy Kitty name stuck.

"I found it much easier to write original songs and made them kinda about cats. And then that just stopped, and the songs started being food and sex," says Ami. "That's all it's about now."

In the aftermath of the release of 2016's debut album Careless Whisker, the Itchy Kitty added a fourth member, the mysterious guitarist/synth player Catman. The group agrees it was this addition that helped unlock the true Itchy Kitty sound on Mr. Universe, the band's second LP.

"[On] Mr. Universe, we found our spot," says Naomi, "but it's like the leaping ground, kind of the footing to go further and just experiment."

After releasing two EPs during the pandemic — one originals (Feargasm), one covers (Under the Covers) — Itchy Kitty is prepping another, which the band hopes to record in-studio sometime this year.

"We've finally gotten really comfortable as musicians with each other, we've gotten comfortable in our sound," says Naomi, "But now we're branching out, exploring, like, other weird shit. Weird, quiet stuff."

The biggest moment in Itchy Kitty history came when Idaho indie rock stalwart Built to Spill tapped the band to open its West Coast tour in early 2022. The Spokanites got on the radar of Built to Spill frontman Doug Martsch years ago when he wandered into a very sparsely attended midday set Itchy Kitty was playing at Moscow's Modest Music Fest. While they ran in similar circles as BtS, Itchy Kitty's members were shocked when they were asked to join the tour.

"We thought it was kind. Doug was like, 'Oh, yeah, these guys are great. But like, I'll have them open for my old, first punkish band (Treepeople),' says Catman. "We never dreamed we'd be hanging out on tour with Built to Spill."

Playing venues like The Fillmore in San Francisco and Portland's Wonder Ballroom was somewhat intimidating for the punks who were used to tiny club shows, but Itchy Kitty rose to the challenge.

"When you get to the bigger venues and many shows in a row in places you've never been, it's like, 'OK, is the show going to play to the bigger rooms? Is it gonna happen?' Because you never know," says Sug. "I mean, it's one thing in a 50-seat club, and it's a way different thing in a 1,000-capacity room that's full of people who have no idea what you're about."

To Itchy Kitty's surprise, the older indie folks that comprise Built to Spill crowds dug what they were putting down. Maybe it was a release of pent-up pandemic energy, but mosh pits got going in what would typically be non-moshing crowds.

"I don't want to make any kind of sweeping generalizations or anything, but there's usually not that big of a platform for DIY bands that are as fast and loud and stuff as we are," says Catman. "But I think people — either because they've been cooped up or just like generally — people love to f---ing go crazy. When people show up to a show, and they're not expecting that and they get us? They just went crazy. I think we played some of the best shows we've ever played."

Itchy Kitty must've made a good impression, because Built to Spill is taking the band back on the road for 18 dates across the Southwest, South, and East Coast in April and May.

But before the itchy ones leave us once again, the band will headline a Big Dipper show on March 20 with its "best friend band" and Built to Spill tourmates, the energetic Albuquerque indie rock outfit Prism Bitch.

And while it's been great garnering love from larger audiences on the road, Itchy Kitty is always glad to be back in Spokane and doesn't see any reason to leave. The group relishes the opportunity to hone its sound in a less pressured music scene than metroplexes offer. The ability to hop into opening spots for fun bands passing through town and experiment without fear of too bright a spotlight suits these humble kittens.

"I'm glad we're in Spokane," says Ami. "People are always like, 'Oh, you guys gotta go move to LA or Seattle or Portland or something.' Why? Maybe I'm wrong, but I always think that there's so many bands in those places that it'd just be easy to get lost in it. But the music scene here is so unique and cool and different. I like being a part of it. I like coming home to this place." ♦

Itchy Kitty, Prism Bitch, Reaping Fields • Sun, March 20 at 8 pm • $10 • The Big Dipper • 171 S. Washington St. •

Sullivan King, Level Up, Benda, Vastive @ Knitting Factory

Wed., March 29, 8 p.m.
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...