DON’T TREAD ON ME: Catfight! Jennifer Leavey (from left), Stacy Kerber, and Katy Graves. Photo by Rose Riot.

Since 1995, Catfight! has delivered sweet and salty rock ‘n’ roll anthems, driven by three-chord charges in which their playfulness is matched only by their pedal-to-the-metal energy.

“We were never quite garage enough to be a full-on garage rock band, and we were never punk enough to be a full punk band, but we could go between the two pretty seamlessly,” says Catfight!’s bass player Katy Graves. “We fit right in playing Bubbapalooza at The Star Bar and we fit in playing Drive-in Invasion at Starlight Drive-in.”

Now, Graves, along with singer and guitarist Jennifer Leavey, and current drummer Stacy Kerber (previously of Mota-Litas), are experiencing renewed energy fueling Catfight!’s ramshackle garage-punk anthems.

Take Catfight!’s car trilogy: The songs “Blue Truck,” “My Mustang,” and “Backseat Baby” from their 1996 album, Kitty Glitter—all three have long been crowd favorites. The latter number, “Backseat Baby,” emerged as a response to a song called “Top Daddy (In A GTO),” a full-throttle psychobilly ode to a classic car and its seductive powers written by New York-based rockabilly trio Jack Black (not to be confused with the actor of the same name).

Over the years, the two groups developed a friendship after playing more than a few shows together in New York and Atlanta. Catfight!’s response is a ready, willing, and not-so-subtle reply that greatly eclipses the metaphors in Jack Black’s song in fierce and melodic high-pitched tirades.

Of course, there’s more nuance to many of Catfight!’s signature tongue-in-cheek lyrics, as other songs traverse a variety of topics ranging from more exploits with boys and fast cars to defending women’s rights. 

“There is irony in the lyrics,” Leavey says. For more on this, look no further than the cover art for Catfight!’s “Panic Attack” 7-inch, which answers the question: “What would the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers LP cover look like without a bulge in the jeans?”

According to Leavey, “Some people take it straight, and don’t see the irony in what we do, which is frustrating.” Graves adds, “That’s when we get comments—like one night in Savannah, a guy came up after the show and said, ‘Y’all were great, but you would be much better if you were playing naked!’”

“We never had it that bad in the Mota-Litas, but we had a strong lesbian following, partially because we were signed to Amy Ray’s label, Daemon Records,” Kerber says. “We played with some pretty amazing people, like the Butchies and the Breeders.”

Leavey continues: “In 2001, we played Ladyfest at CBGB’s, and it was a genuine feminist gathering. I remember halfway through our set, saying, ‘All of our songs are about boys and cars,’” she laughs. “At the same festival we saw Tribe 8, and the drummer played topless. Talk about a true political statement! They had to cover all of the windows! … Here we are playing songs about boys and cars, but they are angry songs about boys and cars.”

The seeds for the group were planted in the early ’90s, when Leavey, who had been writing and performing songs steeped in the aesthetics of riot grrrl awareness and the underground grunge scene of the era in the band Bite, teamed up with Graves and drummer Ann Ciovacco who both played in Doll Squad. After releasing two 7-inches and two full-lengths, Kitty Glitter and 2000’s Frustrated, Catfight! scored a couple of minor hits.

The A-side from their 1995 7-inch, “Mamie Van Doren,” written by Graves, was picked up by Little Steven’s “Underground Garage” on Sirius/ XM, and named one of “the coolest songs in the world.” The song remains in rotation, and since “Underground Garage” is offered on airplanes, publishing payments have continued rolling in. The song also appears on the compilation CD, Little Steven’s Underground Garage Presents The Coolest Songs In The World! Vol. 4.

“I got to speak with Mamie over the phone, because Little Steven gave her my contact,” Graves says. “I got to tell her how great she was, and she sent me a bunch of signed 8x10s. She said, ‘My son Perry and I will listen to the song and we’ll just laugh!’ That was great to hear!”

Another song, the title track from Frustrated, penned by Leavey, appeared in a season 6 episode of The WB’s Dawson’s Creek.

“One of us will come in with song ideas,” Leavey says. “We’ll contribute our individual parts, but whoever writes the lyrics and the melody gets the songwriting credit.”

Ciovacco left Catfight! in 2000, and drummer Susanne Gibboney joined soon after.

In 2004, the group paired up with the Helgas for a split CD, titled Splitsville.

In 2005, Catfight! was tapped to create theme music for director Jay Edwards’ monster movie Stomp! Shout! Scream! about an all-girl band in the 1960s being tormented by a skunk ape — Florida’s version of Bigfoot.

In January 2020, Catfight! released a new single, “Majority Rules” (recorded with Gibboney on drums). The song brought an end to a decade- long writing hiatus, boasting lyrics such as: “Girl I want to see you get elected, girl I want to see you get the votes. You’re the one who’s writing the bills, taking care of business up on Capitol Hill. And when they try to

 take our rights, you know I want to hear you say no!”

The song’s three- minute, 30-second blast revives Catfight!’s familiar rock ‘n’ roll strut, now with Kerber on drums.

“What I love about these ladies isn’t necessarily a political thing, but they’re bringing communities together—[Jennifer] designed T-shirts when she was locked in a room because of COVID, and is now selling them for a cause,” Kerber says about the Catfight! shirts being sold with 100% of the proceeds donated to Planned Parenthood and NARAL. “There’s a lot of good mojo in what she’s doing.”

While contemplating Catfight!’s nearly 30-year legacy, Leavey offers that one of the most important lessons that she’s learned over the years is to have fun. Reeling through memories of playing raucous live shows, while also recalling stories of witnessing divorces, pregnancies, and earning her PhD in Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis from Emory University, she says it’s important to always keep in mind why she’s making music in the first place.

Photo courtesy of Catfight!

“If you’re always thinking carefully about what’s going on around you, it’s easy to write music,” Leavey says. “When you get bogged down in life, and stop seeing what’s going on around you as an inspiration, writing music is difficult. It’s been nice getting to a place where we can talk and craft a new way of looking at things, and turn it into a song.”

This story appears in the September 2022 issue of Record Plug Magazine.

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