I don’t know if I was ever formally introduced to Mikey. We just happened to be at the same places, at the same time, enough times, that we became aware of each other. Then one day we were no longer strangers, but hugging friends, and all this happened without any real conversation, just the informal talk that bar flies embrace, the “Hey, what’s up?” and “How’s it going’s?” Of course, Mikey’s always done more than just sit around the bar and make conversation. He plays music for people, like me, that need it.
I had seen DJ Kittybat spin at many places like Bar B Que bar, Firestone, Cleo’s, and a Florida Film Festival after party, but I didn’t realize he was big time until I found him on the stage of House of Blues. It wasn’t that he was performing on a large stage, or the fact that he was sharing the spotlight with bigger names like A-Trak, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Matt & Kim that made me feel this way. He simply filled the room with music and passion and love. He was in his element, and I loved watching that.
Jana: What are three things on your mind at the moment?
Mikey: A broken needle that I need to fix on my turntable. This salad that I’m eating, because it’s my favorite. And, um, I’m happy to have good weather right now. It’s not that Florida shitty weather … not yet.
Why the name Kittybat?
I had a couple of names that I was playing around with, I think one of them was DJ Cassettes and some other stuff I don’t remember. I came into work at Park Ave Cds and I saw this [CD] cover for Melt Banana. Do you know them? They’re from Japan. They sound like they’re goin’ a million miles an hour, like “Na, na ,na, na na, na,” but it’s controlled chaos. It’s not shitty. The bass player is like three feet tall, and she’s all over the place. She’s amazing. And the guitar player always wears one of those Sars masks and he makes the guitar sound like laser beams. I’ve never heard that before. There’s a cute girl who sings. She’s real high-pitched like a chipmunk. But they’re awesome, and tight.
So they have this cover, and I forget what the album is, but it has this cat-bat thing on it. I thought it was funny. Of course, whatever I think is funny, no one else usually thinks is funny. So I just started using that name because I started meeting a lot of other deejays. I wanted to have fun with it. Everyone else I was meeting sounded like X-Men heroes: DJ Splice and Dice, Cut You In Half and Wolverine. [Laughs] I was like screw that, I’m just gonna have fun with it.
I’ve stuck with it, and it’s funny. At first, it was like, Who’s Kittybat? People thought I was a girl or some shit. Now, everyone’s like, “Hey, Kittybat, what’s up?” I kinda hate the name now, but I’m stuck with it … and fine with it. [Laughs] It’s all in good humor, I guess. I’ve always liked the name Lemonade Thunder, but it’s never takin’ off.
Describe your style.
I think I sound old school. What got me into deejaying is watching movies like Breakin’, all that old school stuff. The way deejays play hip hop—and there was hip hop music before there was hip hop records—they were playing it with other music, like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or some disco or punk song. They weren’t playing hip hop, but their style was hip hop. That’s what I try to do. I play a little bit of everything but I’m overall influenced by hip hop. I’ll play rock, but I’m gonna scratch in a NWA song.
Is there a certain person or thing that inspires you?
As far as deejaying goes? One person who’s really inspired me is this guy out of Arizona called Z Trip. He’s pretty big in the deejay circles. He’s opened up for millions of rock shows. The first time I heard one of his mixes it blew my mind. He started off with Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and then he threw in an instrumental of Jurassic 5. To hear someone do that with current music, and new records … it just blew my mind. If I ever get frustrated or run out of ideas, I go back and listen to one of his mixes, or check out his web site to see what he’s up to.
How did you start deejaying?
It happened way late for me. I didn’t start deejaying until I was twenty-five or twenty-six, now I’m thirty-two. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I was touring with my band [The Attack] for a long time. At some point, I started borrowing friends turntables. Remember Room 39? Well, we used to deejay there on Tuesday nights. We weren’t doing anything but puttin’ on some records and enjoying a few drinks. Then, I kept practicing and borrowing tables. Eventually people wanted their tables back, so I bought my own. I caught the bug, and just kept with it.
How did you go about building credibility?
Just going out and doing it, and finding places lucky enough to let me be bad for awhile before I got good. I never gave up. Eventually, I got good because I had to. I had to hold down a night, no matter what.
What’s happened to your career since music has gone digital?
Just a lot more learning. I used to hate on guys using CD players, and this and that. As soon as I let that go, I embraced the technology that was coming around. It was hard to get used to. It made me learn, which I appreciate now.
I think that technology is cool. It gives you things to do. You’re no longer limited. I appreciate it. I just hate having to turn around everyday and learn something new. That’s my only gripe.
If you’re a good deejay, technology doesn’t matter as much. It’s not gonna make a bad deejay good, or even a good deejay bad, well maybe if they rely on it too much. As long as you stay on top of your game, you should be good.
How much money do you think you’ve spent building a library?
Oh man, I don’t even know. We’ll say a zilljillion.
Where do you go to get new music?
Fortunately, I work in a record store so I’m forced to hear new music. That’s a huge plus. A record convention comes into town every three months and those are always nice. Any time I do any sort of traveling, I hit up an independent record store. There are some cool sites online, too. Even on EBay you can find stuff you’re looking for. So as long as I have the time, I look everywhere.
I saw you last year at the HOB Bacardi event with A-Trak, Matt & Kim, and DJ Jazzy Jeff. A-Trek seems to have a huge following.
He’s always been huge. He’s been deejaying ever since he came out of the womb. Nah, really he started deejaying when he was fifteen. He deejayed for Kanye West, he’s won every competition, and all before he was old enough to drink. He’s awesome.
I like to see where deejays go. A-Trak started doing these hip hop competitions and he’s evolved from a concert dee jay to doing really hard dance stuff. It may be not for everybody, but I like that he’s doing what he wants. He’s not being told what to deejay. He’s trying new things and killing it. He’s a fun one to look out for and watch.
Do you ever become conflicted between playing music you love and playing requests?
No, because it’s usually taken care of a head of time. I never walk up to situations where they tell me to do one thing and I want to do another. If I’m doing a regular night, I always ask, “What kind of music are you looking for?” And then I either answer, “Yes, I can do it,” or “No, I won’t.”
If I’m doing a one time event, or whatever, I go ahead and knock that ball straight out of the park. I’ve had one situation where I was told one thing, and the guy that booked me didn’t show up, and the people were expected another and I bombed for a good two to three hours. I swore I’d never do that again. I still got paid but still … now, I’m like tell me every song you want to hear. I may not play it but I want to know. It just ends up bad when there’s no communication.
What is the number one requested song?
There’s no number one request. People are all over the place.
Phew. I thought you were going to say something like Beyonce’ or something.
You’d be surprised. I’ll be playing a straight hip hop set with Tribe Called Quest and maybe some new Kanye West, and someone will come up to me and say, “Hey, will you play some hip hop?” You wouldn’t believe it. I don’t know if it’s just this town or what. I’ve been all over and this doesn’t happen anywhere but here.
This town has a lot of weekend warriors. They come into Cleo’s and it’s free, so I get it. But it’s crazy. Every weekend there’s a whole new set of people, all new requests. I want to be like, “Haven’t you ever been here before? First of all, there’s a sign above the booth that says no requests, and I’ve never played Journey in this place in my entire life.” [Laughs]
[Laughs] I think the weekend warrior’s anthem comes from Journey.
Yeah, I get asked for them a lot. That and whatever new song Lady Gaga has out.
Is there a request you won’t play?
There’s lots of songs I won’t play. I will not play anything by Journey. [Laughs]
Are you able to survive by deejaying alone?
Close. I still work over at the record store. I like it. I can’t make a living off a deejaying alone, but if I wasn’t deejaying I wouldn’t have a house. I’d be on the streets.
Why do you think it’s important for a city to have an independent record store?
There are so many reasons. I’ve spent my whole youth in record stores. It shaped me into loving music, appreciating music and realizing what music does for people. I hope that there’s still people out there that care and has that same appreciation for independent record stores as I do.
What I like about the record store I work at is that it’s been open for twenty-five years. That’s a big deal. There are so many reasons why an independent record store is needed to support the community. Imagine this town without it. I think about that sometimes. God forbid, but if anything ever happened to Park Ave Cds and it wasn’t around anymore—I can’t even imagine that. There’d be no communication among artists and venues. Where would our local talent go to promote themselves? The thing about this town, unlike New York or Chicago, is we only have one independent record store. They have five or so. We only have one of everything it seems, one good record store, one good venue, one this or that. If it shuts down, that’s it.
I know what you’re saying. We just lost our downtown independent bookstore and it’s sad.
It’s very sad. Even on Park Ave there used to be a Walden Books. Okay, so it’s not an independent bookstore but there was something to it. It’s a place for people to meet and talk and be face-to-face. So many of those little things—and I’m all about the little things—can be huge things at the end of the day. It makes a difference in a town.
What do you like about living in Orlando?
I was born in Monterey, California. My dad was in the military so we moved to Hawaii and then when he retired we moved to Austin. That’s where I grew up as a kid. I was there until about middle school and I’ve been here ever since, besides going back and forth to visit my family in Puerto Rico. Wait. You asked about what I liked about Orlando. [Laughs]
I think Orlando is a really cool town and no one appreciates it. If you’ve lived here you’re whole life, or you haven’t gone out to other cities, you don’t realize how cool this town really is. I just had a friend move to California, and he was back in a few months. I was like, “What happened?” He said, “Man, I just like it here better.”
What makes this city cool?
There are so many cool things to do, and most of them are for locals only. You have to know where to go, like Red Fox or Enzian. Now, there’s that Imperial bar that opened up in Washburn [Imports], that furniture store. I was there two weeks ago for a friend’s graduation. You walk in, they have furniture and a really nice bar, and everything is for sale. You can get a glass of wine or a beer, walk around, and if you really get busted you buy $500 spice rack. [Laughs] I wish we sold alcohol at Park Ave Cds.
There’s something to the landscape, too. I-4 is like the divider between tourists and locals. Tourists just don’t know about the city and things like this, Mills Market. I don’t think we do a good job promoting those kinds of things, but then again I don’t mind it either. Like now, we’re just sitting here chillin’ and hanging out and there are no tourists around. That’s kind of nice too. There are cool things to do here, you just have to look for it. People should stop going to the same bars every night, and see what else is out there.
What do you not like about Orlando?
Besides my friends and the people I hang out with most of the time, other people get on my nerves. There’s a lot of transients that come and go, they don’t care about the town.
What else? People don’t know how to drive in this town! They’re horrible drivers … and sometimes it gets too damn hot.
If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would you go?
That’s a good question. [Pauses] I guess I’d have to say Amsterdam. I didn’t see enough of it when I was there the last time. I was on tour with my band and we had one day off and one day to play. With the tour, you’re in and out. So I’d love to go back and explore that place more.
Would you ever want to tour as a deejay? And which profession do you think you’d like more?
Yeah! I’m all for it. When I do the deejay stuff, I want to do the band stuff. And when I do the band stuff, I want to do the deejay stuff. [Laughs]
How does the copyright thing work as deejay?
[Laughs] I have no idea. That’s one of the reasons why mixed tapes are hard to find. They only make limited runs. Like, I may have sold a hundred to two hundred albums. Bigger deejays sell a thousand here, or five hundred there. Basically enough to stay under the radar or until someone sends you a cease and desist. Then you can’t do anything.
Honestly, I’d like to give the artists money, but at the same time we expose their music to a lot of people that wouldn’t have found it before. So, to me, it falls on both sides. It’s all about your attitude and how you treat it.
So what’s next for you?
I just want to get my ass into recording more. I’ve been deejaying for how many years and have never had an official mix done? I finally got the one done that I gave you, that was my first album, and there’s one more. I just want to keep releasing stuff, and having something tangible to sell. In the past when I’ve deejayed, people have come up and asked me for a mix, and I was like, “I don’t have one, sorry.” Now, I’m like, “Yes, yes, yes!”
*Interview Date: May 14, 2010
To buy DJ Kittybat’s album Peanut Butter Summer Jams, go to DJKittybat.blogspot.com or Park Ave Cds.