I adore Kid Congo Powers! He’s been a Cramp, Gun Clubber and a Bad Seed, and right now he’s still making exciting, unique and super fun music with the Pink Monkey Birds. Ahead of his May Australian tour we had a chat, Kid giving insight into his forth coming memoir, music, style and creativity—he’s really thoughtful, genuine and funny! A total pleasure.
KID CONGO POWERS: Hello, hello! How are you doing?
Really well, thank you.
KCP: Can you hear me alright? I’m outside and it’s windy; it’s still wintery here.
Yes I can. It’s hot here, 22 °C at 6am.
KCP: Oh man, I can’t wait to get there!
Why is music important to you?
KCP: [Laughs] Well it’s always been important to me, since my childhood. I grew up with lots of music around me. My parents listened to a lot of music. My sisters were rock n roll fans. I had cousins that were in bands. I was always around it. The thing that actually attracted me to music is the excitement that it brought people. I was very young, I liked music because I would see my siblings and different people, my family, would get very excited by it. I always thought, I wanted that excitement; that’s what it always meant to me. I always grew up with the idea that listening to music was something to be excited about—I still carry that with me. As long as you’re engaged and excited I think there’s always hope for you [laughs], for me at least.
I love that your music is always exciting and fun.
KCP: That’s always a part of it; that can be a choice make… with the Pink Monkey Birds I think I went back for that excitement factor. With the Pink Monkey Birds it was like… how could I influence myself actually? [laughs]. All that I learned from all of the bands I was in, all the very visionary people that I’ve worked with… the one thread going through that, it’s the spark of originality. The way that I described it to my record label [In The Red Records] – when I was trying to get them to sign me… they were like, I know your stuff but what are you doing now? I just said it’s going to be New Orleans meets noise and beatnik poetry. She said, ok, sign me up [laughs]. It’s a celebration. I play music that could be seen as punk or hard edged; a thinking man’s garage rock, and fun.
Is there anything you do to nurture your creativity?
KCP: Hmmm…. It’s hard to know. I want things to be transporting, creativity, also the idea of transporting people somewhere else with music. It is the collaboration with other musicians too y’know, that’s a big thing. I think that playing in a band is a fine art in itself, getting other people on the same wave length and when it joins up, it’s a catharsis unlike anything else. It’s very much like sex [laughs] but without the physical contact. When you can get a lot of elements to sync up its magic—I’m a big fan of magic! To me it’s a mystery how that happens, I’m also a big fan of mystery. I love to see what can possibly happen when you mix things up, that’s another thing, mixing a lot of genres up together; you can do that to make it a language that is understandable and a language that people want to learn. It’s creating a new way to say things, for me, in the simplest manner.
I love all the interesting sounds that you use in your music; what’s one of your favourites?
KCP: [Laughs] The guitar. I’m a big fan of guitar, when I was a kid I loved Jimi Hendrix Experience… it’s like, this sounds like a rocket taking off or something shooting through space! That’s my favourite sound because I’m the guitar player [laughs].
With the Pink Monkey Birds you’ve made albums almost every couple of years; are you working on anything new?
KCP: Yes, we have some new stuff. Actually this year though I’ve been working on a book and mostly playing live. I’ve had to put writing new music aside a tiny bit to concentrate on finishing this book, which I’ve actually been writing for the last ten years! It’s a memoir. I started as a hobby, an essay and now it’s turned into a book. It’s a bigger task than… I’m trying not to treat it like a hobby or essay anymore. I’ve been hunkering down, that’s my winter project, I need to finish it now.
There will be new songs on the horizon, we are a band that gets together on a as needed basis, we’re all over the United States; not one of lives within 500 miles of the other [laughs]. Our contact is an intensive course, when we make music. I think it’s also provided longevity for the band. It’s been about ten years since the first album we made. The fact that we’re not in each other’s day-to-day lives, the times we get together, it’s nice to see each other, it’s nice to play music together and it’s our only purpose. As long as we all stick around we’re good for more music [laughs].
You’ve had such a prolific career; has there been a time when you didn’t have a lot of creative output?
KCP: No [laughs]. There was a time that I decided that I needed some time off, it was actually around the time I was doing The Bad Seeds and The Gun Club at the same time and a solo record… I thought, I need to take some time off, I’ve been jet lagged for three years [laughs] and I think I need to rest… boy that was a long time ago. I tried it and then after a couple of months I was completely miserable and depressed. When I got back to making music I realised that I wasn’t depressed, making music is good for my mental health [laughs]. It gives me excitement, it gives me hope and it’s what I know how to do, it’s what I love—you should do what you do best!
Agreed! I know that you were the manger of a vintage shop for some time; what was the best pieces that you scored?
KCP: Oh, the best piece? I can tell you exactly! The best thing I ever got working in a vintage shop was an early ‘70s pinstripe Pierre Cardin couture suit. I saw it come in and I was like, I know how much you paid for that, a lot! I knew it was my suit. I wore that thing to death. I still have it. Its paler, I think I’ll have to let it out a bit [laughs]. It’s stayed with me, I don’t even care if I can’t fit into it anymore! [laughs].
I totally know what that’s like! I have a whole wardrobe full of vintage finds that I would never part with.
KCP: Yeah! Vintage clothing is the best, I’m very pro vintage clothing, I like the styles and the idea of recycling, and you’re not making new waste. It’s the most practical thing. It also can help ensure that you have a style like no one else’s. I enjoy the whole trip and I learnt a lot, I had to learn about fashion and style, and fashion movements. It was a good education. It was called, Cherry. It’s still open. I’m into the way things look, like in music too… I go back to Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, all the rockin’ textiles they’d wear and Edwardian jackets, that was something that was always super attractive to me, even as a young kid, it would get me into the music in that psychedelic era.
What’s one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever received?
KCP: Oh lord… the best piece of advice that someone has given me, my mother always said, “Never be embarrassed about doing an honest day’s work.” That’s really a nice piece of advice that I’ve actually remembered. As an underground musician things go up and down. After I was an international recording artist… I remember a journalist from France came and did a piece on me and was like, “Oh, poor Kid Congo has to work in this junk store!” [laughs]. I’m like please, it’s a high end vintage store. They wrote it out like I was really down on my luck. I remember being like, wow! That’s crazy someone would think that… I thought of my mother’s “never be embarrassed about an honest day’s work”—I have a good work ethic because of that.
The other, but really best example, in music, is just watching people like Nick Cave, Lux and Ivy from The Cramps and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, stay true to their vision, to not let anyone tell you any different and not be swayed by public opinion, don’t be swayed by trends, follow your muse and defend it at all costs. Stick to your vision and respect it. Don’t let anyone tell you not to do it.
You DJ-ed the Sex Beat Dance Party last night; is there a song you play in your set that’s guaranteed to get people dancing?
KCP: There’s a few that work every time. “Leather” by Smokey is a floor filler. Soul like “Quittin’ Time” by Big Maybelle always gets people on the dance floor. If you play “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie people always go nuts [laughs].
Where do you find beauty?
KCP: Ah, in Madonna [laughs], no I’m only kidding. I find beauty in love. Love of things, personal love, a love of nature… when you feel strongly enough to love something, I think it’s very beautiful. Beauty is when you’re moved by something.
Music moves me intensely, that’s why I started interviewing over two decades ago, talking to creative people about what they do and sharing that with other’s.
KCP: Have you found a common thread? I guess everyone is different.
Often I found its people expressing themselves, trying to navigate and make sense of their life, a craving for connection. Life is pretty weird so you just have to do your best.
KCP: Yeah, exactly. Most people I know that make music or that are in my circle, very much come from being misfits and feeling outside of everything, not being able to find a place. Music provides a place for you to go. When you start creating music it’s an escape from what may ail you—you can read all about it in my book [laughs].
Yay. I’m excited for it!
KCP: I’ve been shooting my mouth off about this book for years. There’s a publisher, an editor and layout person, it’s already being laid out.
Aaah that’s SO awesome!
KCP: Yes, I’m even shocked its happening [laughs]. No release date yet, we’re finessing the writing. My label, In The Red, is putting it out; it’s their first publishing effort. They’re waiting for me to hand in the final manuscript. My deadline is like, now! [laughs]. I’m meant to have it done before I go to Australia… hopefully that will happen.
I can’t wait to see you play. I missed last time you were here.
KCP: Yes, we’ll have fun! We bring the party.
Kid Congo Australia dates: