Giant Kitty is an up-and-coming Houston-based punk band with a delicious sense of humor and a second full-length album on the way. They’re a band that embodies the cultural cross-currents of today’s Southern indie music scene, and they’re coming to a city near you this summer. Guitarist Cassandra Chiles graciously took the time to tell us about the band, their evolving sound, and gettting of the couch and just doing it.
Where are you from? Where are you now?
Hi! I am Cassandra Chiles, the guitarist and co-founder of the Texas based band Giant Kitty. Originally I am from the Washington D.C. area. Currently, I (and the rest of the band) make my home in Houston, Texas. I am a transgender woman, I came out and transitioned about 15 years ago. (I was 29 at the time, so you do the math, if you must) Like most people my transition wasn’t a cakewalk, but I have met some of the most amazing people along the way. I am also proud to say I was one of the famous Dr. Marci Bower’s first Gender Reassignment Surgery patients.
Tell me about the music you make.
We are a Riot Grrrl or punk rock band. A lot of our music focuses on feminist ideals, challenging gender norms, and humor. Giant Kitty is a four piece like most rock bands, and we often get compared to bands like L7, The Ramones, or Sleater Kinney. The band was founded almost four years ago by myself and my wife Trinity (who is also the drummer). One of my big influences was the band Shonen Knife from Osaka, Japan. Shonen Knife uses a lot of everyday situations and humor in their music, something I felt was missing in modern music. We lifted our name “Giant Kitty” from the Shonen Knife song of the same name. On our first album which was released last year “This Stupid Stuff”, we covered all sorts of topics, from forced feminization, our love of Keanu Reeves, xenophobia, tiny hats, and even suicide prevention. Our stage shows are pretty high energy and usually end with me laying on the floor. We are very lucky to have a dedicated fan base and a record label that really wants us to succeed. Lyrics tend to be pretty straight forward with a bit more sass that your average punk band. I think sarcasm can drive home a point sometimes better than being direct. Our songs tend to be fast with distorted guitar tones. Our lead singer Miriam Hakim has an amazing voice which is easily at home in a jazz club or a hard rock band. Our drummer Trinity Quirk is like a human metronome which keeps us honest, and our new bass player Roger Medina has a great heavy style that really suits the direction we are going. As far as my guitar style, I take a lot of influence from Bob Mothersbaugh, from the legendary band Devo, and Joan Jett.
Does living in the South impact your music? How?
I wasn’t raised in the South, so I come into Texas as a proud Yankee. I think there are some pretty big misconceptions most people in the rest of the US have about the south. Not everyone who enjoys Southern Culture is a bumbling redneck with a pickup truck. Texas is so beautiful and Houston has one of the greatest arts scenes in the country. I think being a fish out of water allows me to see some of the social interactions of living in the south with a pretty big sense of humor as well. I love watching all the guys downtown in 1200 dollar suits and cowboy boots. The first week I moved to Houston I got trapped in an elevator with a Mariachi Band. How can you not love it down here?
How do your family and job affect your musicmaking?
All four members of the band have full time jobs, since the music doesn’t pay our bills yet. Part of the challenge with any indie band I would imagine is working with everyone’s schedules to plan shows and practices. All four of us are lucky to have jobs that encourage our musical activities, so we don’t tend to run into too many hiccups in that area. Most of our families also are supportive, I think everyone’s Mom has been to at least one of our shows at this point. But I don’t think any of our parents will think of it as a legit career until we have our faces on Rolling Stone . . . HA!
What are your hopes for your music?
Personally, my goal is to be the band that encourages other people to start bands or explore art. I don’t really consider myself a “musician” per se. My background is mostly in visual arts, and I have never really considered myself a fantastic guitarist. I figure with enough distortion in my amplifier no one will really notice my mistakes. Hopefully people listen to us and see the representation of diversity on the stage and see that punk rock isn’t just a bunch of skinny white cis males. Our lead singer is a Muslim, our bass player is Mexican, and Trinity and I are both trans. I also started Giant Kitty – the only band I have ever been in – in my (gulp) 40’s, so I would encourage everyone to go out and pursue your passions ASAP. What are you waiting for? Go do it! Time is wasting! Get off the couch!
Where will you go and what will you do next?
This summer we play several major festivals in Texas including the Houston Whatever Festival, and the Deep Ellum Arts Festival in Dallas. In June we have an 8-date East Coast tour with the band The Kominas. The tour starts in Richmond, Va and ends in Boston. I am particularly excited to play my hometown of Washington D.C. Giant Kitty goes back into the studio in March to record our second album titled “Rampage”. Barring any major issues we will release it this summer worldwide on the Roologic label. The new LP is a bit heavier in both musical tone and lyrical content. We are also planning a possible tour later in the year for the West Coast or maybe even Japan.
Who do you listen to?
My tastes tend to be all over the map musically. I am a huge fan of the Pretenders. I just love Chrissie Hynde’s vocal style. There just aren’t enough rock bands fronted by strong woman who play guitars. Or they tend to get pushed under the rug. Dressy Bessy is another favorite of mine. We were lucky to play with them twice last year. They have playful lyrics that are just wonderfully clever.
Who inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by others in the music scene, especially bands on the local level. It takes a ton of guts to get up on a stage in front of other people. Creating original material and throwing it out there for anyone on the street to judge is the ultimate trust fall. Most bands are terrible early on. Being on stage is, in a way, like being naked in front of strangers. It’s also an incredible rush when it all goes well. The average person on the street or in the club just has no idea of the time and money it takes to be in a band. It’s a huge commitment to practice and try to create something with other people. Art is the backbone of society, and when people stop creating, society falls.
Any favorite Southern women?
I am a huge . . . HUGE . . . Dolly Parton fan. She has to be the most positive person in the known universe. She is also a wicked amazing musician. Talk about your rags to riches story. If Dolly can achieve her dreams, what is stopping the rest of us? I also really dig her attitude towards loving herself. She dresses like she wants to, and doesn’t really care about anyone who thinks otherwise.
Any other Southern women or non-binary or trans Southerners making music that we should know about?
Doomstress Alexis is a local trans woman here in Houston that is part of the Metal scene. She is also a advocate of LGBT rights, and a real inspiration to anyone who feels we should all treat each other a little nicer.
photos by Daniel Jackson Photography