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Meow! Spokane’s Itchy Kitty to release ‘Mr. Universe’ at the Big Dipper

November 16, 2018

It all started with a cat named Boo.

More precisely, it all started with a song about a cat named Boo.

Singer/guitarist Ami Elston played “My Name Is BOO!” at work, where drummer Michael “Sug” Tschirgi heard the tune and expressed interest in starting a band.

Elston reached out to her cousin, bassist/vocalist Naomi Eisenbrey, and the three began writing cat-themed songs.

With that, Spokane punk rock band Itchy Kitty was born.

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

The band remembers its first introduction to Spokane being pretty mild, a house show featuring just Elston on guitar and Eisenbrey on bass.

But nevertheless, crowds were immediately smitten with the punk rock kittens.

“People moshed, oddly enough, to that,” Elston said.

A few shows in, guitarist/vocalist/producer Ethan “Catman” McCracken joined the crew.

The quartet released its first album, “Careless Whisker,” in 2016.

The album features “Year of the Slut,” “My Name is BOO!” and “Hairballs,” the latter of which marked a launching point for the band’s sophomore album “Mr. Universe,” which Itchy Kitty is releasing at the Big Dipper on Friday.

“That was the last one written for the first album, and we knew we wanted to go in that direction,” Catman said about “Hairballs.” “Once that song happened, new songs, less cat-themed stuff and more ideas for sounds and stuff like that, we all started experimenting more.”

The band has road-tested many of the songs on “Mr. Universe” and said fans who have seen Itchy Kitty recently will likely recognize a tune or two on the album.

Some songs changed significantly over time because of that road testing.

By playing a song live and gauging their own reactions, as well as crowd response, the band would take something that started as a small, specific idea and finesse it into something “10 times louder or weirder,” Catman said.

“Tempos tend to get settled on,” Tschirgi added. “When we write stuff, it tends to be a little bit slower till we really figure it out. Tempos ramp up after we get familiar and comfortable with them, until they land where they’re supposed to be.”

Lyrically, “Mr. Universe” isn’t as cat-centric as “Careless Whisker,” though a few “leftover” cat songs made the record.

As Elston puts it, she writes more about relationships, while Eisenbrey is a natural when it comes to incorporating feline-friendly themes into songs.

But even Eisenbrey admits there’s only so far she can run with the theme until she’s out of ideas.

“There is still some cat themes in the new album, but I think coming out of the new album, I think it’s going to stray away from it a little more,” she said. “I think in the next few albums, I’m going to try not to do it anymore.”

“It’s less of a mission statement-type thing and more of a silly thing that we might throw in there sometimes,” Catman said.

Like they did with “Careless Whisker,” Itchy Kitty recorded “Mr. Universe” themselves in their practice space.

The first album was recorded in one weekend, but this time around, the band decided to take its time, taking two months to complete the album.

“Size Queen” took longer than most tunes to come together, and the band decided to use an earlier recording of another song, but other than that the recording process was fairly smooth.

“Mr. Universe” is Itchy Kitty’s first release on Spokane-based Corporat Records.

Labelmates Indian Goat and Bad Motivator will open the band’s album release show.

The quartet wasn’t actively looking for a label, but when Corporat’s Kris Martin reached out, the timing was right.

“Our record was probably 90 percent done,” Tschirgi said. “It was going to come out regardless but it was nice to have a little support in other ways too.”

With a new album out, Itchy Kitty is looking forward to new tours and new merch. The band also hopes to perform in new places like California and Colorado and play more festivals.

So, perhaps most importantly, where do the members of Itchy Kitty stand on the question of cats versus dogs?

Eisenbrey is a strict cat person who said she can’t handle dogs because “they’re too happy.”

Elston loves cats and little dogs, while Tschirgi loves cats and dogs equally.

As for Catman?

“I am a cat man, so there it is,” he said.

The band then mentioned they’ve shared bills with bands with some sort of dog-related name at least twice now.

“So naturally we have to pee on their stuff.”

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