Friday, February 8, 2008

The KEVIN K Interview! A True Rawk Lifer Speaks Out!

“Rock and roll” is a funny expression. What does it mean? The sound of a Chuck Berry riff while he duckwalked across the stage? A Little Richard scream!? Or is it more a feeling, the wind roaring in the window of a Z-28 while you cruise down the road with “Powerage” blasting? A spirit, a non-giving-a-fuck-moment in time of Keith Moon driving a Cadillac into the pool or Bonzo hurling a TV over a balcony? How about a bunch of guys banging out 3 chords in a dingy garage or a greasy little club just because they love it? Let me introduce you to a guy named KEVIN K. Over the course of many years and even more albums, not to mention shows too numerous to mention (huh?) in cities too widespread to map out, he has honed to perfection a wondrous craft of rawkin’ power pop that, in this writer’s humble opinion, defines the term rock & roll. (Check out my reviews in “Some New Reviews, Baby”Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. KEVIN K.

RAY: Hey Kevin, how’s it going? I know that you’ve had a long history of involvement with music. Rather than guess what to ask or what’s important to you, why don’t I let you tell us? Take us back to whatever is your earliest interest or involvement with music and bring us where you are today. Don’t worry, we’ve got nowhere to go, we’ll sit back & listen….

KEVIN: Well, it’s a long story compared to a lot of my friends who aren’t here today… Alan, my brother and I played organized hockey in Buffalo for 5 years. By age 14, I never grew anymore physically…mentally, YES. I was a good fast skater, good in the corners, knew how to dig the puck out & get it to the open man. But man, that 1968 game when I suffered a concussion…that was it for me. I wanted to have a job that I could do for life and meet girls. It was either a jock or a musician. My parents made me and Alan watch The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and Elvis Presley, the comeback show where he was dressed all in leather. WOW! It was life-changing for us. These girls were going crazy. Unbelievable and you don’t have to get a concussion!! I took up drums and Alan guitar. And we got good FAST! Playing dances and playing clubs at age 17. I looked so young I would wear huge platform shoes & pencil in a fake mustache. Between sets I had to stand outside the bar. We loved the Stones, Hendrix. Cactus, Beatles. I remember seeing the New York Dolls on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert in 1974. Man! We didn’t know what to think. They were great but out of tune & why does the guitar player have all that hair in his face? 1976 we heard the Sex Pistols & saw the Dead Boys live in 1977 and 1978. It changed our lives…this is it! It was the first time I was ever scared at a show. I mean we were nervous sitting in the front and Stiv Bators is having an epileptic fit onstage & Cheetah with that stare. Oh man! We never experienced this before. This is our music! We cut our hair off, colored it blonde. Subscribing to Rock Scene Magazine. We knew by 1980 we wanted to live in New York City, play CBGB, that was it. And what is amazing is all our heroes, we knew them all. By 1984 we opened for Johnny Thunders, Dee Dee Ramone, Cheetah Chrome, Dictators. So even though I have never become well known, Alan and I really accomplished what we wanted as kids. We lived in New York City for 21 years, played at CBGB I think 45 times, became addicted to drugs, lost everything. We were homeless a few times and in 1996, Alan died of a heroin overdose. It ended really sad. But, I try to keep Alan involved in my music today. When writing, I will ask myself “What would Alan do in this part?” And it works. I mean, I’m sure I’m damaged by everything that’s happened but life is for the living. Simple.

RAY: I know this is an age-old question and one you’ve probably heard a million times before but who were some of your biggest influences from the past, possibly some of your contemporaries? Also, is there anybody out there today who impresses you musically, lyrically?

KEVIN: Well, of course The Ramones, Iggy Pop, The Stones, Bob Dylan. New bands, I don’t know, this band Click Five is ok.

RAY: The one thing I’ve gotten from listening to the discs you’ve sent me is just a sense of pure rock enjoyment…if that makes any sense. With “Mr. Bones,” “Hollywood” & “Cool Ways” I just get the sense of wanting to get in a ’72 Camaro, rolling the windows down, cranking the shit to “11” and ripping down the open road. Any commentary, or am I just having a mid-life crisis?

KEVIN: Yeah, I try to keep things enjoyable. I think I’m pretty good at writing things that people can hear and relate to in their own lives. My songs are real. I have lived them. Never do I have writer’s block. I really think “Cool Ways” might be the best collection of songs I have done. I was feeling good about my life. NOT my bank account, though!

RAY: How in the hell do you write songs that have as great hooks as “Story Of A Girl” or “Cool Ways?” Does songwriting work a specific way for you, that is hear a hook in your head & figure it out on guitar? Do you sit for hours cranking out stuff, looking for something that sticks? Is it always different?

KEVIN: I think it’s a combination of everything. I just can’t seem to get what I want. By writing, it’s my therapy. I would for sure be in the nuthouse if I couldn’t play guitar and sing. Plus, I’m good at taking ideas, either chords or lyrics from the greats like Iggy or The Ramones or The Beatles. I think it helps me because I have a large range of music I listen to…blues, rock, country, I even have The Spice Girls CD. I love Frank Sinatra. I saw him at Radio City Music Hall with Don Rickles. When Frank sang “New York, New York” I was in tears. If it’s pop, I’ll listen. I’m open to all kinds of songs. I love Grand Master Flash, takes me back to my cocaine years in NYC and actually going to Studio 54. Plus, we always had to be as stoned on drugs as Johnny Thunders was and we saw him play at least 30 times in the city. It’s hard to write when you’re happy and rick and dating Jennifer Love Hewitt. At least for me it would be.

RAY: Do you consider your music to be a particular genre? Or do you just roll with whatever comes out & call it “KEVIN K?” For instance, “Mr. Bones” strikes me as a killer, metalized hard rawk direction while “Hollywood” & “Cool Ways” are stick-to-your-brain, magnificent power pop gems. But, each still has an inkling of the other, the KEVIN K Factor, I guess?

KEVIN: No genre. It’s just another KEVIN K outlook on life at that particular year.

RAY: I know you’ve been all around, from Buffalo to Manhattan to LA to Florida. What has that kind of traveling, moving around, done to your music, do you think? Do you think your stuff would sound the same, the same ideas would come out of your brain, if you’d stayed in one place?

KEVIN: NEVER! By touring different countries and seeing and talking with kids from around the world, it has opened my mind from just being American. Example: I have done 3 tours of Poland which were some of the craziest audiences. I mean, stage diving, slam dancing, incredible! They really like me because I’m 100% Polish. My grandparents came over on the boat to Ellis Island from Warsaw, so I have been in a lot of Polish music magazines. These kids have had NOTHING. One kid would by, say a Ramones cassette and make copies for his friends. Nobody had CD’s or band t-shirts. In fact, 2 of my CD’s have been released in Krakow Poland on cassette! I love that. Sometimes I think we get lost in OUR world of the definition of success is how much money you make. I always tell people, in America I’m just a loser, a nothing, a zero. But in Europe I’m known as a survivor and that’s what makes it so nice for me touring there. If I didn’t have my tours of Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, etc. I would probably be dead. And I love playing in Berlin. Probably my favourite city in the world besides the OLD New York City of the 1980’s…Iggy and Bowie completely captured the feeling of life in Berlin with “Lust For Life” and “Heroes”…those records are perfect. I just finished writing and demoing 10 new songs to be recorded in Berlin later this year. This one will be really dark sounding, lots of keyboards. I read two great books, “The Fall Of The Berlin Wall” by William F. Buckley, Jr. and “The Wall Came Tumbling Down” by Jerry Bornstein. I put myself in another state of mind. Two weeks of very intense late nights with my guitar, keyboard, vodka and Vicadins. I conducted an experiment on my brain…and it worked.

RAY: You’ve got different musicians that you’ve worked with, from different areas. In fact, on “Hollywood,” you work with different people on different tracks, recorded everywhere from France to LA. The subtleties of their playing comes through (to these ears, anyway) and yet there’s an unmistakable flow that lets it work so well as an album. What made this work the way it did?

KEVIN: Well, it works because the people I work with all have the same taste in music. Plus I always come up with the framework for every song…bass, drums, backing vocal. I do all the pre-production on my 4 track cassette machine. No shit, I spend hundreds of hours on it. So when I get to the studio to record I have the basic foundation of what the song will sound like, no surprises. I don’t know how bands write in the studio! What a fucking waste of time. Plus, if I didn’t work like I do I would never have 17 CD’s out. I’d be working at Wal-Mart, bringing in the shopping carts from the parking lot. I still might someday be bringing in the shopping carts for Wal-Mart.

RAY: I know this may be a tough subject, and if you’d like to bail on this one, I’ll totally understand. You’d mentioned that your brother died during the ‘90’s. Was this something sudden or was it over time? Obviously, it affected you deeply as a person, I would think. How about musically? Was your brother involved in music?

KEVIN: ALAN K…Oh, I like talking about my brother. Well, we were in a few bands together for 25 years. From New Toys, Lone Cowboys and Road Vultures. We lived together, wrote songs and traveled together. I like to tell people we went through the war together. When he died I lost my left arm and half my brain. When your heroes are Johnny Thunders and Iggy Pop, chances are you’re gonna try drugs. It’s a fact. Alan just couldn’t deal with getting older & still not having a proper record deal. No money. I saw the good use of heroin when he wrote songs on the Road Vultures “Ride” CD. Very creative. And, then I saw the BAD side of heroin when he sold his clothes and his guitar. He went through 4 or 5 detox clinics in NYC and Florida. He was clean for almost a year when he went back to NYC. This was November of 1996. We weren’t talking and I didn’t even know he was back in the city. Then I got the phone call from the police. Kevin, this is the detective. We are calling you to tell you we found your brother. Found? Yes, he is dead. Just like that. But in NYC when they deal with 20 dead bodies a day it’s like a walk in the park to them. So I had him cremated and put his ashes on Johnny Thunders’ and Jerry Nolan’s graves out in Queens, NY. This was HARD for me. I didn’t know what to do. I started using drugs, drinking…just being really careless about my life. This went on for at least 6 months. But somehow, I had enough. I couldn’t be sad anymore. It wasn’t helping me at all. So I made the choice to jump in full speed ahead in writing, touring and recording…never taking a break. Now it’s almost 12 years. When I have time off, that’s when the demons start bothering me. Still, my brother visits me all the time in dreams. Also my best friend Peter who died while I was on tour in France a couple years ago. But I like it. These people are dead and they are not coming back. I accept it. Cheetah Chrome told me he really, REALLY misses Stiv. All the time. But he is gone. It’s done. I’m just happy we had many great, crazy times together and so many amazing songs Alan wrote. So, at least I have that!

RAY: Playing live has always been talked about by rock & roll bands as the driving force behind what they do. How do you feel about playing live as opposed to studio work?

KEVIN: I like both. The live is great when you have a great audience that doesn’t throw shit at you or spit. And after the show, they buy lots of merchandise and the girl factor, too. Studio I also love…just the start of a song and then the end, when it’s done, very satisfying.

RAY: What kinds of places are you and your band(s) playing these days? I suppose different size/style rooms are the order of the day, depending on where you’re at, eh? Where do you go over better?

KEVIN: I play anywhere and everywhere. If I can get pail I’ll play a show in your basement. These days you can’t be picky. Johnny Thunders would also play any club. He once told me at this club on East Houston Street (used to be a bad area of town), “I used to come down here to buy drugs…now I come down here looking for work.” My French guys saw Johnny play at some clubs that would only fit 50 people. That’s why Johnny was so popular in Europe, he would play anywhere.

RAY: The video footage I saw of you at CBGB was very cool…the sense of history and the way you seem to have a palpable connection to the place. Do you think playing at clubs like this give the artist a different sort of feeling than, let’s say, pulling into some place in the middle of nowhere that you’ve never heard of to do a one night show, possibly never to return there again?

KEVIN: CBGB. That club and Hilly made Alan and I who we became. CBGB taught me a lesson fast. If you think you are a great singer or guitar player, you get to NYC and you ain’t worth shit. There are 100 better singers, 100 better guitar players. At CB’s you would move your amps and drums from the front of the club, right thru the audience and right up on stage. No sound check, nothing, when the lights would turn blue it was time to play your 20 MINUTE SET…that’s it. If you can’t do it good in that time and under those conditions, too bad for you. I LOVED THIS. No bullshit. It really toughened me up for sure. And some nights we would open for Cheetah Chrome…wooooo….I thought we were gonna get stabbed. ON STAGE! And if you didn’t watch your gear, someone would take it. I used to move my drums by cab and we lived at 89 Bleecker Street. Walking it would take 4 minutes to get to CBGB…I would pay the cab drivers $20 for that ride! And they were helpful, they would pop open the trunk while I broke my balls loading in my 24 inch bass drum. Some nights I remember leaving CBGB at 5:00 AM. The sun would start to rise. It was surrealistic.

RAY: What’s next on the agenda for KEVIN K after “Cool Ways?” Any new recording plans formalized? What is your status as far as a label goes?

KEVIN: The new project, it might be called “Berliner.” I hope to even record at Hansa Studios. That’s where Iggy did the “Lust For Life” record, right by the Wall. I’ll probably stay with the same label, Rankoutsider Records. It’s owned by Pat Todd (Lazy Cowgirls). We’re the same age and come from the same school of music, so we understand each other really well. VERY good communication.

RAY: Any big plans for touring/gigs? Have you ever played Baltimore? Will you? (Please!)

KEVIN: The February German “Hollywood” tour dates are up on myspace.com/kevinkrock. In May I will be in Spain for 2 weeks. I think my first band called New Toys in 1981 played The Marble Bar in Baltimore (Man, The Marble Bar…such memories…RD).

RAY: Do you think you’ll ever get too old for this shit? Does this stuff make you a living? If not, how do you get by?

KEVIN: Well, I think as time goes by, I would like to get a good rhythm and blues band. Like a sax player, trombone, keyboards. I have been old for so long I don’t even think about it. I still sing young and that’s good. Well, I have not had any other job for 13 years, only music. I worked at Sounds Record Store at 20 St. Marks Place for 7 years. Then I was a foot messenger for 4 years. That was fun. I loved taking the subway, drinking a beer in a brown bag. How I get by? That’s easy. 1) No girlfriend. 2) No car. 3) No apartment. 4) No kids (at least I don’t think so). 5) No health insurance. So, I have no expenses. I stay with friends in LA, Detroit, NYC, France, Germany. I mean I live a very strange life. Like I’m invisible. I have not been to the movies in 20 years. The last movie I saw was “Pale Rider.” I never go to dinner. Sometimes I don’t even think I’m human. I’m like a lost cat looking for a warm place to sleep!

RAY: Quick Red-Light Challenge: RAMONES – “Ramones,” TELEVISION – “Marquee Moon,” MONTROSE – “Montrose,” NEW YORK DOLLS – “Too Much Too Soon” or TALAS – “Talas.” Which one do you take to a desert island?

KEVIN: RAMONES…and Jennifer Love Hewitt…can I have both?

RAY: With your long involvement in music, can you tell myself and the readers some sort of story about something that has happened to you (connected to the music scene) that is either uproariously funny, touching, unusual or just plain weird?

KEVIN: Oh man, there have been hundreds. In fact, I have been writing a book for 3 years now, just stories that happened to me. It’s gonna be called “KEVIN K…How To Be A Successful Loser.” In Spain, I had a guy interview me and he says, “So Kevin, was it fun playing in the NEW YORK DOLLS?” I said, “Yeah, but Johnny was a real pain in the ass!” Jerry Nolan was using my drums and one night at the Continental he is looking down and says, “Kev..oh..ah…do you have some drum sticks I could use?” Jerry didn’t even have drum sticks! But see this is why I loved these guys. They were real, no big star attitude. They would always sign autographs, take pictures. NEVER did I think these guys were losers. Jerry Nolan would talk for hours about clothes. He was my idol. In 1991 Johnny Thunders was at our apartment at 338 E. 13th St. and he says to Alan and I, “Hey you guys are the same size as me. If you each give me $100 I’m going to Thailand after my Japan tour and have some suits made. I’ll get you each one made.” We said “No, Johnny.” Sure enough, John dies after the Japan tour. We go to the funeral home, there is John in the casket with a nice black suit on. We were sitting with John’s mother and she says to me, “Doesn’t John look nice in his new suit? He had it made in Thailand!” So there you go. Back in the 1980’s, I got into a cab once and looked at the driver’s picture and the name on the glove compartment and it said Albert Bouchard…the drummer from Blue Oyster Cult! Gene Simmons from Kiss called us on the phone asking for a demo tape of Road Vultures. When he had Simmons Records. This guy is a total jackass. About 8 years ago I saw Jennifer Love Hewitt filming a street scene. So I called my roommate on the phone. I started walking down the street and hear girls talking next to me. And, it’s Jennifer with a friend. We walked down the street right next to each other and I couldn’t say anything, I was speechless. I mean, I was so close to her I could smell her perfume! So that’s how “Jennifer Love Song” came about. I sent it to her. I think she thinks I’m a scary old Polish guy with tattoos. That’s ok. The last time I saw Iggy live was at Irving Plaza. After a GREAT show, I get into the dressing room and I’m standing there with Iggy, Steven & Liv Tyler and Bob Gruen and nobody is saying anything…quiet…and Iggy smells like a goat! No shirt on like a caveman…classic…and this is 1 hour after the show. IGGY IS KING! The last time I saw Dee Dee Ramone, he says to me, “Hey Kevin, tell your friends I’m selling pot now! And it’s high grade!” The last time I saw Joey Ramone was at a club. He was leaving and I said, “Joey, man, it’s great to see you. And I gave him my “Party Down” and “Rule The Heart” CD’s. So he says “AAhhh…thanks man.” So I look out the window and see Joey walking up 3rd Avenue with the “Party Down” CD in the left hand and the “Rule The Heart” CD in the right hand, just looking at them. That’s a nice memory for me. At the record store I worked at, people would come in and give me a list of records and bring them to the cash register. So one day my boss says “Kevin, find these records for this guy and make it fast. I said “Cool.” So, I’m running all over the store, rock, classical, pop, dance. I get all the records, like 25 and bring them to the counter…the guy has his back to me. I say, “Sir here are your records.” The guy turns around & it’s LOU REED! Wow! He was nice to me. He said “Thanks.” I worked one year at Tower Records in NYC. I was known as the Tower Plower because I had sex with at least one girl from every department, rock, pop, cassettes, classical, soundtracks, video & dance…yup, that was good. Another time I’m working the cash register. My boss says “Kevin go outside & tell that guy that he cannot sit on the steps.” (At Sounds Record Store we were on the 2nd floor and there were like 15 steps leading to the front door. We would not let people sit there). I look out the window…sure , enough…GG Allin. And this is the 1984 GG Allin, the complete CRAZY INSANE GG ALLIN that just got released from prison. And he doesn’t look too happy. I said to my boss “Ahhhh, that’s GG Allin, I can’t tell him that.” My boss says “Look, either you tell him to move or you’re fired.” I said “Can I think about it for 10 minutes?” Well, I go outside. I sit down next to GG. He has on mirrored sunglasses and is drinking a 20 oz. beer in a brown paper bag. I say, “Excuse me, sir, can you please move? We don’t let people sit here.” He says nothing for like 3 minutes, then turns and looks at me. Gives me the look of “I will move this time, next time you ask me to move I’ll cut you’re fucking heart out.” He gets up, walks away. I go inside, I think I wet my pants.

RAY: Any final comments for the readers of RAYSREALM?

KEVIN: Please buy a KEVIN K CD. You will not be let down. If you want to hear real true rockin roll from New York City, this is it. If I’m in your town someday, come say “Hi.” Let’s have a drink. There really are not too many of me around anymore. Jenkooya (Polish for “thanks”).

Wow, there you have it! Timeless stories and a real, true insight from one of the real veterans of the very heart of rock & roll, KEVIN K. You want some true entertainment with hooks that go on forever and a real life feel that’ll take your breath away? Grab “Hollywood,” ROAD VULTURES – “Ride” or his latest, the scintillating “Cool Ways” and have yourself a slice of that lust for life called rawk. NOTE: KEVIN K's discs are available at cdbaby.com

1 comment:

Mark said...

Jenkooya Ray. Long live KEVIN K!!
His discs sound like some long, lost power pop band from the 70s that the hipsters never discovered!
Great job.