Sunday, January 3, 2010

Q&A: New York City girl rocker Kitty Kowalski

I first got to meet Kitty as far as I can recall in 2005. She set up a show at CBGB, and not only was it a blast, her band rocked hard, and she played this crazy cool glitter green guitar. Me and my band stayed at her apartment and we had a lovely time. She set up another show at the Continental but was called away to Sweden on business and couldn't make it. We'd been in the same rock-and-roll orbit for years, and I believe we have a mutual respect for each other's music and opnions on so many things. She's been a New Yorker since the old days and has seen it all. She found time to do this Q&A, and I think all of you need to get to know miss Kitty K!

Q: what sort of guitar are you playing now? you still have that crazy cool green glitter one? why do you play the one you do?

KK: I've gotten into my semi-hollow body Mosrite lately. It's a 1962. I still have the sea foam green 1972 Gibson SG Special. I think it's my favorite for the way it plays and the way it sounds. Nasty!

Q: what sort of amplifier do you use and why?

KK: For small rooms I have a 1960s Silvertone combo 2 X 10. Then for the arenas, I have the 1977 Marshall 100W JMP.

Q: do you use any effects pedals and why?

KK: Nope. To much to mess with. I'm not that technical.

Q: what made you want to become a rock and roller to begin with?

KK: David Bowie. Ha ha. No seriously, I used to play "Beatles" with my sisters when I was like 5. I watched The Monkees and Josie & The Pussycats n TV, and said, that's the life for me. But seriously, David Bowie.

Q: what are 5 landmark rock albums for you and why?

KK: Never Mind The Bollocks - it was like the album I had waited my whole life to hear. Can't Stand The Rezillos - it has great timing song to song to song, and no album filler. X's Under The Big Black Sun - perfect mix of the uniquely American music I love - Country, Rockabilly and punk - a great collection of Americana. Dawn of The Dickies - some of the tightest, catchiest and clever songwriting known to man. Leonard Phillips is the John Phillips of my generation. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - a concept, a man, a band. Mythological in its undertaking.

Q: what bands/artists do you listen to on a regular basis lately?

KK: The Wildhearts - I discovered them kinda late so I'm catching up. Electric Six - it's like a party on a disc. Hedwig & The Angry Inch soundtrack - see David Bowie above. Mostly, I kinda hate bands. I like songs. I can hate a band and like one of their songs.

Q: do you still drive that sexy schweet classic convertible?

KK: Sure do. 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible. Some guy on a bike self-righteously asked me at a stoplight, "What kinda mileage you get on that?", with a sneer, to which I replied, "With a car like this, you think I give a f***?".

Q: do you still live in manhattan?

KK: I'm one of the last holdouts. It's sad that the artists and cultural contributors that made Manhattan interesting are now forced out. I've been in my place for 12 years, so I'm hangin' in there, by my fingernails, which are really short because I bite them.

Q: what's the NYC music scene like nowadays? what has changed and do you like it now or not?

KK: Everything changes over time. "The Scene" moved out to Brooklyn and beyond, and a bunch of new little joints cropped up. Some of them are quite DiY. In Manhattan, there are no good small rock venues. Mercury Lounge is about the best there is for about 250 people, but there's no good say 100 - 150 people place. I think there is a lot of interesting stuff going on right now because people are experimenting more. A few years back it was kinda annoying because it seemed a lot of bands were just making music "to get signed" or to be popular, so it had no soul and it was very watered down. Because that doesn't happen like that anymore, and bands break in unusual ways, and sometimes the quirkier the better, bands are kind of chucking out the formula and experimenting with different sounds. It's cool. There's good stuff in every era and in every seen - sometimes you just have to work harder to find it.

Q: do you have any crazy, funny New York stories you can legally tell us?

KK: There are so many. One of my faves, is a crazy guy who rides the Broadway line who calls himself Broadway Bob. He rants on the train, but it's like a standup act. I know several people who have Broadway Bob stories. He called a very fair friend of mine "a delicious, cream-filled, golden Twinkie". I hear him rant on the train, "They say that AIDS come from the MONKEY! They SAY that AIDS come from the monkey! How did the AIDS get from the Monkey to the man? (maniacal laugh a la Live & Let Die voodoo man) The wimmins! The wimmins LOVE the monkeys!" I was trying not to crack up or draw attention to myself. The seats next to him cleared out at the next top of course, and some poor unsuspecting hippie girl sits next to him and the doors shut. He looks at her and there is more maniacal laughter. "Your hair...looks like a PONY!", he shouts. I was about to pee in my pants, when he said, "How 'come your hair looks like a pony? (pause - wait for it) The wimmins! The wimmins LOVE the ponies!" I could not contain myself and had to get off at the next stop. Also, there used to be a lot of hookers in my neighborhood and I got into a fight with a pimp once. It was scary at the time, but I can laugh about it now.

Q: what's parking like in New York if you own a car?

KK: You have to be like a fisherman or farmer and study the almanac. Traffic is like the tides - there is an ebb and flow. You also need common sense. It's hard to find a spot between 7 - 9 PM, because everyone is eating dinner. Things free up after 9:30 or so, but on a weeknight, if you don't find a spot for the next day by midnight, you are kinda f***ed. You have to do it at night, and not in the morning when the commuters come in. If you are unemployed, you can do the alternate side of the street parking for street cleaning thing and follow the sweeper, but you have to babysit your car for an hour and a half.

Q: tell us a little about the Kowalskis. how you started it, what you've done so far and what the future holds.

KK: Sheesh - it started a long time ago and morphed from my first NY band, the all-girl Starkist. When that fell apart, me and the guitar player formed a band called The Drags, until we found out there was another one - this was in the days before google, where you actually had to read fanzines to find this shit out. We became Killer Kowalski. As the other girl members fell away, I got Greg whom I played with forever and Paul from AOD, who brought Jack in and that was the Goofballs line up that was probably together for 3-4 years where we had an awesome run as The Kowalskis. When the record came out and we needed to tour, Jack & Paul dropped out, and we had a touring line-up for a while. I kept losing people touring. It came time to make another record, and that was such a long process. I picked up Mike when I was working on The Manges recordings and they wanted a guy to play guitar. I always wanted to steal him from The Vacant Lot, but didn't, so when they stopped playing I stole him. We first recorded with session guys and then I put the band back together, so the other half was the original Kowalskis drummer Greg and another guy he played with, another Mike. I kind of added in some parts, and now The Kowalskis is like Chuck Berry's band with me and Mike. I married a drummer, so he's stuck as a Kowalski for life, and he can't quit. We're working on a top secret, Internet only project that I can't discuss due to legal issues, but we're kinda doing to entertain ourselves. I have to have something subversive going on or I'm not happy. I have other conceptual projetcs - the experimental band, that all-girl country band, the supergroup. I need about 3 more brains for all the stuff I have in my head. Right now, I'm playing guitar in Bebe Buell's band, so that's been fun, and that does not take the brain power that writing your own songs, booking your own shows and chasing band members around does. I always say the worst thing about having a band is dealing with musicians.

Q: Do you listen patiently or wait to talk?

KK: Both. Depends on if the person is actually communicating information I want to listen to. It happens so rarely.

Q: Are you an obnoxious person?

KK: I'm sure lots of people may think I am.

Q: Do you enjoy causing a ruckus?

KK: I'm not a drama queen. In fact I despise people who manufacture problems and run around acting as if the most trivial thing actually matters. Very little matters. I do like to challenge people and ideas in my own way. I like railing on people, places and things that deserve it. I like to expose hypocrisy. I like to f*** with the system. I commit little acts of cultural terrorism every once in a while. I think it was Elvis Costello who said you should aspire to be an irritant, or something to that effect.

Q: What is your adult beverage of choice?

KK: Beer. Boring.

Q: do you have any favourite songs of yours and why do you like that song or songs best?

KK: I have different ones at different times. I loved "10 Things" when I wrote is as it was my first big girl song - a real song about something real in my life. I liked "Matter of Time" to explore my Country side and got some pedal steel on that, which I love. Some songs are fun to play, like "Mr. Wrong". Right now, "Oh Dee Dee" has been my fave for a while because it's a super short and simple pop song. Very concise.

Q: any last words for readers?

KK: Live every day as if it were your last because one day, you'll be right.

Find and Stalk miss Kitty Kowalski online at and