The Beach Reporter | Michael Hixon | Updated Feb 5, 2014
After more than 10 years and thousands of gigs, Feed the Kitty has cultivated a strong fan base in the South Bay. From live karaoke to weddings, the band has turned down few opportunities to perform, often six or seven nights a week. The trials and tribulations of the band, from recording their first album to performing more than 300 shows a year, are documented in “Feed the Kitty: The Movie.”
The short film will be screened at H.T. Grill in Redondo Beach Sunday, Feb. 9, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The band will play its regular show from 7 to 11 p.m.
“No one really understands what we go through on a nightly basis,” said band co-founder, bassist Jed Mottley. “I think the film captures just a little of our lives and what we do. It’s a lot of work. We love what we do, it could be a lot worse. When we start complaining we look at each other, ‘Dude look at our lives.’”
Jon Shumway, the band’s co-founder and drummer, said he was interested in showing an audience what it takes to be a working band.
“I thought it would be a great idea to open people’s eyes as to what it takes to actually be a musician,” Shumway said. “It’s a blue-collar job. A lot of people don’t realize that. You’re not making a whole lot of money and you’re working hard, but you’re having fun at the same time.”
“We at least touched on what it is that we do day to day and that was all I was looking for,” said Jack Maher (guitar, vocals), who joined the band in 2003. “I have relatives who live back in the Midwest who don’t know what I do. They think I’m rich because I live in California and I play music. I must be rich. I have people hitting me up for money … I will get a phone call out of nowhere, ‘It’s aunt so and so, can you help uncle so and so out of jail.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m trying to stay out of jail myself.’”
Mottley enlisted the help from his friend Kenny Stoff to direct the film. Stoff had directed a music video for the band in 2005, which they filmed in San Francisco. When the band returned from a whirlwind tour of Italy last year, where they had 10 gigs in four weeks, they felt it was time to film the documentary. Stoff and his crew filmed the band for six days at nine different shows in the South Bay.
Stoff said it was a privilege working with a “genuine bunch of guys.”
“We really tried to convey the affect music has on people and how it can positively influence them,” Stoff said. “Many spoke of the healing power of music and how playing with Feed the Kitty has truly helped these individuals through difficult times.”
There are also numerous interviews with fans, friends, business owners and others in the community.
“I think it reflected exactly what we’re about and what the people of the South Bay mean to us,” Shumway said.
More than 40 hours of footage was captured, which was edited by Amy Bostrom, but they did have “our fingerprints all over the film.”
“It was scary because she (Bostrom) knew everything about us … she knew my girlfriend’s name, she knew who just broke up with who. Whatever was captured on the mic and film she was in our world,” Maher said.
Feed the Kitty history
While the band’s heart is with their South Bay fans, Feed the Kitty got their start 15 years ago when Mottley and Shumway met at the University of Arizona. The band’s name originated from an off-color remark one day when Shumway was late for practice.
“We didn’t have cell phones at the time so we just sat around and waited for him,” Mottley said. “He came in and (former guitarist) said, ‘Jon, did you feed the kitty last night?’ He said, ‘No, but that would be a cool name for our band.’ Ever since it just stuck. It’s taken on a life of its own. It means whatever you like. It means many different things to many different people.”
Feed the Kitty decided to move to Southern California to give fame a shot, but they lost two of the original members, one to marriage and the other to Texas. Then in late 2003, they met Maher, who they called a “2 for 1,” a lead singer and guitarist.
“We’ve been going non-stop since then,” Mottley said.
“Jack propelled us even further,” Shumway added.
Feed the Kitty took a giant step forward as a band in 2008 when they were signed by Sunset Productions and released their self-titled debut album featuring 12 tracks, which were written by Maher. Baraka (Sting, Weezer, Chris Isaak, Coolio) produced the album. “All Around Me,” the first song on the album, was featured in the Oscar nominated film “Lars and the Real Girl,” which starred Ryan Gosling. And “Guilty Situation” appeared in the comedy “National Lampoon’s Cattle Call.” But it was tough going for the band promoting the album.
“He (Baraka) was the guy who picked us up and said, ‘Hey guys, try going this direction musically,’” Maher said. “We kind of followed his lead. When the record was done there was no money to support promotion or anything like that. We were kind of sitting on our hands. We got to the point where we had no money … I was living on my girlfriend’s couch, as cliche as it is. We were pretty much downtrodden.”
“The recording aspect of it was a great experience, but then we had a product that we didn’t have any distribution for. We were marketing it on our own, doing the Hollywood circuit, Arizona, going to San Francisco … essentially on our own account,” Shumway added.
Mottley continued, “That’s when it could have gone in any direction and we decided to play every night and make money doing it. Any show that paid money we were going to do it and we were going to play music if it was the last thing we did.”
Maher added, “We said let’s just pull ourselves by our bootstraps and see how far we can take it by playing music.”
The band battled on, taking as many gigs as possible, while adding hundreds of songs to their arsenal that they can “bust out at any gig.”
“If you’re only playing a couple times a month it can take a long time, but we started going six nights a week, pretty soon the whole South Bay knew who we were,” Mottley said. “We want to play what people want to hear. At this point we get a lot of requests for our original music too, which is awesome.”
“We’ve gotten to a point where our pay has increased over the years, the more we do this the better we get, the more we can ask for,” Maher added. “At the time we were making $50 a piece so we were making $150, $200 a week, maybe $300 with tips. We started learning more and more songs … we just kept rolling with that.”
Even with some tough times, they never thought about hanging it up, even when Maher took a hiatus from the band in 2005.
“We are really committed to playing music with each other and just playing music in general,” Shumway said. “If I wasn’t playing with them, I’d be playing with somebody else. It just so happens I like the two guys I play with, which you don’t find a lot. We have a good relationship professionally and we’re good friends. It never really entered my mind not to do it and give up on it. We’re just now starting to see the benefits of our hard work.”
Over the past two years alone, Feed the Kitty has performed more than 600 gigs, with most of those in the beach cities. Currently they play at H.T. Grill Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.; Tuesday nights at Mickie Finnz where they host an open mic jam karaoke; every other Thursday at Hennessey’s in Hermosa Beach; periodically at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach where they will be performing on Valentine’s Day; Shark’s Cove in Manhattan Beach where they will hit the stage Saturday, Feb. 15; they will perform at Baleen at the Portofino Hotel in Redondo Beach on Feb. 21; and they will perform at the eighth annual Adrienne’s Search for Children’s Cancer Cure at the Kiwanis Club in Hermosa Beach on March 1. Also, beginning Feb. 28, they will be at Salt Creek Grille in El Segundo every Friday night.
The open mic jams have especially helped them as musicians, according to Mottley.
“I became way better as a player after just six months of that and it’s been three and a half years of that,” Mottley said. “That’s where you get your chops up, it’s nights like that.”
Maher said that’s when their “material really blew up” as people were asking if they knew a variety of songs. Some of those requests can come out of left field, from Conway Twitty to Lady Gaga to Britney Spears, but they take it in stride.
“If it’s a song we’ve heard, we’ll pull it up and try to fake it on the spot. We do that all the time,” Mottley said.
One night, Maher was playing by himself when a customer bet him $100 he couldn’t play “Saint James Infirmary,” which was made famous by Louis Armstrong in the late 1920s.
“I was like, ‘Oh yeah,’” Maher said. “I had my little iPad … because I know the song from my dad. So I looked up the words and played it and he’s like, ‘God—–t.’ He reluctantly paid.”
Feed the Kitty has been in the studio, recording tunes for their next studio album. They recently put three original songs on iTunes in preparation for the new album.
The band has already screened the documentary to friends and family, but they are anxious for their fans and supporters to see the film as well.
“We have played just about every city in Southern California and there’s no community that has embraced us quite like the people in the South Bay,” Mottley said. “We feel grateful for the love that they have given us and truly consider these people our family.”