Home Read Features 20 Questions With Grumpy Kitty Boy

20 Questions With Grumpy Kitty Boy

The synth-pop singer-songwriter talks vinyl records, dry kibble and pet peeves.

271
Photo by Prince Requino.

There are cat people and dog people. No points for guessing which camp is home to Grumpy Kitty Boy. But don’t think you know everything about him based on his unique handle — as he proved with his debut single Airplane Wings earlier this summer, he’s one cool cat. Let’s see if the Toronto synth-pop singer-songwriter can keep that cool in the face of my goofy questions:

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base, other details you’d like to share (height, weight, identifying marks, astrology sign, your choice).
Hi there! I’m Juro Kim Feliz, aka Grumpy Kitty Boy (GKBoy). I’m now based in Toronto, moving all the way from Manila in 2013 and Montreal in 2017. I can fully disclose the fact that I was born a day right before novelist and activist James Baldwin died on the other side of the world. Zodiac sign, you say? Sagittarius sun, Aries moon, Cancer rising. Let the psychoanalysis begin! (Oh, if you see someone grumpy around, that’s probably either me or your favourite neighbour. Don’t forget to say hi!)

What is your musical origin story?
I started as a classical pianist and a keyboardist in church rock bands. Having my first attempts in composition during high school, I went to study in the University of the Philippines and McGill University. My works as a classical contemporary composer have received performances in concerts across Asia, North America, and Europe. I won a competition in Kuala Lumpur during 2010, got invited for artist residencies in Wyoming, Nebraska, and Toronto, and got nominated for the Golden Balangay Awards (honouring outstanding Filipino-Canadians) in 2019. I also got involved in the radio talk show Sigaw ng Bayan at CKUT 90.3 FM Montreal from 2014 to 2017, co-hosting and eventually volunteering as the producer. Dabbling a little into pop songwriting back in undergrad, serious attempts of what will eventually form Grumpy Kitty Boy only started taking shape in late 2018. I officially launched the artist alter-ego the next year, and I got my Canadian Permanent Resident status in 2020. This life-changing moment made me completely switch gears in my music making — Grumpy Kitty Boy is now where I channel my artistry.

What do we need to know about your latest project?
Alongside my debut single release Airplane Wings in July 2020, I’m now collaborating with visual artist Yuna Kim for its official animated music video! Yuna designed the Grumpy Kitty Boy character and has produced fantastic artwork (including the cover art of Airplane Wings) to complement the musicality of GKBoy. Another single release toward the end of this year will lead into a debut EP release early next year. We are in the middle of the production phase with friends based in Germany, and I’m quite excited with how this EP will all turn out!

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
Grumpy Kitty Boy is not your typical (fictional) singing grumpy cat — if you’ve even seen Tardar Sauce do it (bless his soul)! GKBoy inhabits an ideal world where it’s perfectly fine to “embrace the grumpy” and live authentic lives without judgment. Instead of the more civil, domesticated animals for company, he has characters like Raccoon, Pet Monkey, Bad Puppy Mummy and others to help him explore deep thoughts about life. He likes irony and cynicism, all wrapped in glittery candy wrappings! Because of this, it’s important that GKBoy songs sound cute while staying authentic, surreal, and sometimes dark.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
Grumpy Kitty Boy hates what he calls “dry kibbles” — those manufactured things made to validate and satisfy desires on the surface level (I largely made that up, but go figure). Unfortunately, I believe that this popular “positive thinking” idea has gone this route. People want to emulate “positive thinking” at the expense of realizing that one’s thoughts and feelings are far more complex than just saying they’re “positive” or “negative.” Many people are quick to dismiss many things as “negativity,” and it prohibits ourselves from being in touch with our human selves. I guess the main takeaway in my work is the assurance that it’s okay not to be okay. As an outsider with nowhere to belong to, GKBoy is unashamed to sing about that and still move on with life, after all.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
I used to think that my first gigs came when I became a collaborative pianist in my first year of university. On the other hand, I vaguely remember my sixth or seventh-grade self playing a paid gig with my church band for a friend’s wedding. I got paid around Php300-500 for that (around CA$9-13 today!). My mom was tagging along, that’s for sure! First song? I used to be a churchgoer, and I wrote a Christian song back in undergrad. It was merely something on the side — my focus on contemporary classical music kept my mind away. I also wrote another song that eventually got exposure in a compilation of Christian songs, and it’s funny that a friend recently asked me if I could remember how it goes (they want to sing it now in church!). Unfortunately, I left that all behind now.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
The strangest: I performed in a piano teachers’ guild recital around 8-10 years ago in Manila. If anyone knows the composer Erik Satie, he has this flair for humour and satire in his piano pieces. I had my take of Embryons Desséchés where I wore a suit and tie on top, and shorts and sneakers all the way down! I also instructed a friend to hand out loads of Hallmark greeting cards to audience members at a specific section of the piece (where Satie says it’s a Chopin mazurka section but it’s totally not!). The audience, the piano teachers, and the other kids had no idea what was going on! I definitely got my polite applause, but never heard anything out of it afterwards. It’s as if it never happened. *laughs*

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
First thing at the top of my head — I went to see the band Local Natives perform here in Toronto in 2019. I really loved their album Hummingbird, and it blew my mind away to hear them play some of the Hummingbird songs live! I also went alone as always (friends never wanted to tag along with concerts I go to) — not the strangest thing, but definitely memorable.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
Making music, being happy and fulfilled about it! Oh, I also want to live life without the dry kibbles people scatter around, thanks. (That’s no way to feed a poor, disgruntled cat!)

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
I would definitely want to work with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree! I’ve been a fan since hearing their album In Absentia for the first time, and his solo career is an interesting offshoot for me. Writing songs with Adam Young of Owl City or Sufjan Stevens would be spectacular as well! Out of curiosity, I wonder how collaborating with S. Carey or people like the Punch Brothers would look like. I also performed a front act alongside Addictive Remedy for Filipino-American rock star Bamboo in his Montreal 2016 concert tour. After recording a very interesting interview with Bamboo for my radio program, I now wonder how a collaboration with him would go.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Two things: Japanese koto music, and Javanese gamelan music! I used to study and play the Japanese koto back in Manila, and I totally miss it. I’m no gamelan practitioner or expert, but as a home-bred Southeast Asian, understanding the traditions helps me not only generate more ideas in my music making, but also uphold a life perspective that residing in first-world North America will never offer at all.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Artists at the top of my list: Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, Owl City, Sufjan Stevens, The Midnight, Local Natives, Manila Grey. I’m interested in the directions taken by Tanya Tagaq, Jeremy Dutcher, Pantayo, Balawan. I also used to spin tracks in my radio years at CKUT, and I have my favourite regulars too: Blue Scholars, Han Han, Bambu, Kuya, Casey Mecija. Contemporary classical music would include composers Kaija Saariaho, Jennifer Walshe, Helmut Lachenmann. I’m quite all over the place, I think.

How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
I used to love reading detective fiction! Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is definitely on the top, along with Agatha Christie and her Hercule Poirot character. I also love Frank Herbert’s Dune saga, and I’m excited for the upcoming film adaptation! Nowadays, I’m more into reading non-fiction (mostly memoirs) and have immersed in the life stories of Trevor Noah, Leslie Stahl, Antonio Vargas, Lynne Cox, Marina Picasso and others. I like the impressionist paintings by Claude Monet and had been partly influenced by them in my music making (along with listening to Claude Debussy’s music too).

Who would you be starstruck to meet?
Antonio Vargas! His story as an undocumented, Pulitzer-winning journalist was very relevant to me at a time when I myself was in a position to recognize the ugliness of immigration as people now know it. His courage and fierce determination to face that kind of unwanted adversity is something I admire very deeply.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Instant teleportation, if only to show up in places to remind people who used to be part of my life that I still exist.

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
Do skills for radio production still count outside music? I used to produce a radio talk show. I also started writing since my Canadian Music Centre library residency in 2018, and I got to publish my first magazine article in Musicworks this year. Useless skills — I can cross my eyes and voluntarily flap my ears back and forth! *laughs*

What do you collect?
Vinyl records! I recently got a couple of records by the band Genesis, who I’ve known for a long time but never got to actually hear. Next year’s goal for Record Store Day would require filling up every single surface of my entire studio with vinyl records!

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
TikTok with the dance craziness. Sorry folks, but really now…*laughs*

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I would love to go back into producing radio! I’ve learned throughout my radio experience that the process is similar to composition where you simply gather materials and make meaning out of it. I would also write and publish more about music—I already have ideas for a book publication or two. Okay okay, something really outside music. I love computer programming back in high school, and I really wondered at one point if I had a future in being a programmer.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
Worst advice: “Think positive,” only to realize that people who gave such lazy advice absolutely won’t give a damn about your actual life. Nope.

Check out Grumpy Kitty Boy’s videos above and below, and connect with him on his website, Facebook and Instagram.