Kat Leon—lead singer and one-half of the Los Angeles band Holy Wars—knows how to craft compelling lyrics, especially for the band’s latest single, “1% Milk,” off their upcoming, full-length, debut LP, Eat It Up, Spit It Out.
Kat—along with guitarist/producer Nicolas Perez—looked at the “American dream” and the “American family” and how 2020 shed an even bigger light on struggles such as microaggression, racism and misogyny, issues that have always been present in society, but are now being highlighted to more and more people than ever before. When we connect by phone, Kat delves deeper into her artistic inspirations, how cannabis helps relax her mind and how being your true self ultimately sets you free.
Kat Leon of Holy Wars Gets Deep with High Times
When it comes to your music, what inspires the messages you focus on conveying?
Kat Leon: The Holy Wars project was born out of my personal story of losing my parents. It was never even meant to be a band at that time, since I’d written that music in grief, and was more part of my survival. After our album Mother Father dropped, I didn’t know what to say and was honestly considering that maybe this was all I had to say.
But then, I started to really look outside myself and outside of my own, personal story and I saw how damaged we’ve become in this new world of the Internet and social media apps, all of which I’m also guilty of participating in. Starting with the song “Little Gods,” which I wrote in December 2019, I began writing a whole new wave of music where I was fed up with everything being valued by a “like ” or a “comment” or how many “followers” one has. It’s so vapid, fleeting and depressing because this value is really worth nothing in the end.
“Little Gods” ended up becoming huge for us, and Spotify Rock Playlist got behind it and gave it a huge push, which opened a lot of doors. While I felt strongly about the song, it was more about the message of the song that was resonating with people. Though we’re all guilty of being hooked into the machine, I felt the song represented how other people felt because it was being said in a way they hadn’t yet heard.
I say my opinions in a way that has so much energy that it makes you want to punch the walls, but you’re also kind of having fun. I feel my survival—whether through a personal or societal struggle—is through creating art. What I can’t change, I’ll create in my own manifestations, and hopefully, that art will inspire other people. I always want to make sure my message is true, raw and thought-provoking.
You made art that was born out of grief, shared it with others, and it resonated. What better way to simultaneously share and process emotions?
Kat Leon: I found that doing that was not only cathartic for me, but fans would reach out and say they lost their mother when they were nine, are now in their 30s, and are still not over it. I would make sure that I was responding to everyone in our DMs because they were sharing their very real stories and very real loss, and I found family through it.
To this day, the same fans are here, even though the music has transformed and [the fans] have accepted that I can’t keep talking about my mom and dad every single song. It’s been six years, and I’m grieving in a different way now.
My personal loss was in 2015. When my parents passed, it was around the same time David Bowie and Prince had passed, and while the rest of the world was mourning as if they lost a family member, I literally lost both of my parents in one year.
Loss is loss, no matter how you cut it, and while it felt like nobody else knows my parents and nobody cares, I wanted to make them timeless, honor them and put them out there in such a way like, “You’ve existed, and you matter, and you matter to me.” Maybe they won’t personally matter to the person listening, but they will inspire the listener’s love for their parents.
Being as vulnerable as I’ve been sometimes does cut deep because I am writing music that is so personal to me. I think when bands and artists write for themselves first, that’s the healthiest place because you’re not going to please everybody. I think that was the problem with my previous project—which, although it did get some mainstream success—I always felt I was chasing something. I was chasing the radio or the opinion of someone else. Even the fans, I would always try to figure out what they wanted.
When you’re so vulnerable and you say exactly what’s on your mind, there’s a sort of “fuck it” mentality that comes with it because it’s like, “Fuck it, I’m going to say who I am, and you’re either going to like me or you won’t, and that’s it.” I think people can smell inauthenticity really quickly. They may not know [inauthenticity] is what they’re smelling, but they know something is off. It’s why I don’t try to “people please” anybody, I just do what I want to do and somebody will like it.
If you like the music and Nick likes the music, whatever happens next is essentially the purest version of what should happen.
Kat Leon: That’s what we always say—no matter what, we have to stand by the music. It doesn’t mean we can’t improve through the years and look back at some older discographies and be like, “Yeah, I probably wouldn’t write that one today,” but you’ll still look at that and acknowledge that that’s who you were in 2017.
That’s what I felt, and it was music I wanted to hear. Looking back, I’m so happy I stayed true to myself because no matter what happens, I can look back and know that I never did anything that I felt was not who I was. I can always say for good or for bad, that was me.
It’s also harder to overthink things when you’re coming from that place.
Kat Leon: As we said it earlier, “Fuck it.” I think as we get older, the “fuck it” rule applies to everything. “Am I going to eat those carbs today? Yeah, fuck it, whatever. In-N-Out it is. Animal-style fries, fuck it.”
The garlic onions are on point.
Kat Leon: In-N-Out and Shake Shack are my munchie treats.
On the munchies tip, what role does cannabis play in your existence?
Kat Leon: I’ve tried to write stoned, and it does not work for me, so it doesn’t really impact my creativity. However, I’m always thinking of music, and cannabis helps stop the music so I can just sit in my body and be completely within myself. I know for some people, weed makes them very creative, but whenever I explore pot—or even shrooms—I find myself inside the song.
It happened to me with a Kendrick Lamar song where I could actually see the color of the notes. I was so fascinated by it. But, I couldn’t write a damn song. With me and weed, the creative switch is currently turned off, but I do need it to unwind and ease my brain.
Are indicas then your go-to?
Kat Leon: I actually like a blend. I have these pre-roll blends—which are indica-dominant—but they’re definitely a Sativa/Indica blend. CBD pre-rolls also work really well for calming me. People say mushrooms do the same thing when it comes to anxiety, and I’ve definitely dabbled.
I was in Joshua Tree in November of 2019 with a group of friends, and we decided to take mushrooms. On the last day, me and my friend Erin—who actually directed the “TV Dinner” music video with me—ended up taking way too much, had a bad trip, and thought we were trapped in another dimension. There were also several ego deaths.
I remember looking at my phone at one point, and the background picture of my parents was melting off the screen. It felt like my identity was fading away. I thought to myself, “If I’m not me, who am I?” and I ended up losing my voice. I literally thought I was never going to sing again. I was like Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” and someone had taken the voice from my throat. We had a big headlining show the following week and I went through this moment where I thought I had to cancel everything.
I came out of that trip—obviously getting my voice back—but realizing I am not the music. I came back realizing singing is what I do, but it’s not who I am, and the ensuing, headlining show was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever played. The “fuck it” mentality aligned me with myself, and the experience really changed everything for me for about three months. Unfortunately, over time, your old patterns return, and your bad habits come back, so I’d probably need another deep-dive to hell again to get back to that place within myself.
The place where the music works through you rather than is you.
Kat Leon: As connected as I am to our music and the lyrics, to be able to separate yourself from it once you get it out there is very healthy. Now it’s more, “This is me; this is my opinion; this is where I am today, but now, I can move on to the next thing.”
Speaking of next things, your forthcoming album, Eat It Up, Spit It Out, has a pretty unique influence. Maybe talk a little bit about the overall concept and what went into its creation.
Kat Leon: Eat It up / Spit It Out is a line from “TV Dinner,” but we felt it conveyed the tone of everything else on the album because—metaphorically speaking—the songs all touch on the same theme of how we just ingest what we’re told, what we’ve learned, or what the cool kids like to do, and then we regurgitate it.
The album is named after that mindless regurgitation, without any thought, without any question. Whatever it is—religion, politics, money, social media, fashion—I don’t believe any of us have an original thought, and Eat It Up, Spit It Out really conveys the message that everything just comes in through the filter, we export it out, and then somebody else ingests it.
The other inspiration is my own personal “fuck you,” which is, “Eat my album up or spit it out; I don’t care.” It’s literally my fucking dinner, my fucking flavor, so eat it or spit it out.
Follow @holywarsrmusic and check out their new single, “1% Milk,” off their forthcoming, full-length, debut LP, Eat It Up, Spit It Out.