Hugh Gulland chats with the Solo Chollo, Kid Congo Powers.
Kid, you’ve had a long evolution from being the ‘singer’s guitarist’ to a frontman in your own right, was Fur Bible the start of this?
“It’s very long-winded, yeah, (Fur Bible) was supposed to be Tex Perkins, but yeah, he got refused a visa. Then we did actually get together, but it was the wrong element at the time, you know, we were both going somewhere else, although we remain friends to today and admirers of each other. But that was just an ill-fated pact. It was a good idea that was ill-fated for whatever possible reasons, so that left us with a recording session with no singer! Someone pushed me to the front, and I reluctantly did that… actually it’s funny ‘cause the Fur Bible was the one big shame of my life, of all the records I’ve made! For years, 15 years, I was ashamed of that record, I never really liked the project really, but suddenly about six years ago people started going, “I just found that Fur Bible record, it’s amazing, I love this record“, and I’m like, ‘Ugh, don’t tell me about it’, people showing up with it to sign, I was like ‘Oh, get this thing away from me’. And then I just decided I should just listen to it… why is everyone into it now, because everyone hated it when it came out! So I played it, and I thought ‘Oh, that’s… quite good!’ It’s produced by Jim Thirlwell and it’s a good slice of hard gothic rock… so I put it on this compilation album I made a few years ago, called Solo Chollo, which was solo collaborations I’ve done, and then I decided it wasn’t so bad. But I hung my head in shame for many years… I never wanted to do it again after that, and then I just got caught up with doing the Gun Club again, and then I joined Nick Cave’s band and that kind of cut my solo project time down.”
It must have been quite a hectic time, you being in the Gun Club and then multi-banding with the Bad Seeds also…
“A lot of airplanes! We (Bad Seeds) recorded in Brazil, they were still living in London and Berlin, but that was a lot of plane rides, getting off one and getting on into another, into one studio and out the other, but I loved that, I was thriving, I was thriving off living in Berlin at the time and Jeffrey (Lee Pierce) was living in London, and that’s when we got the others, Romi (Mori) and Nick (Sanderson), and so it worked out, I wasn’t so far away, they came to Berlin and we recorded Mother Juno, at Hansa. That whole period was busy!” Were Gun Club and the Bad Seeds very different working environments? “Yeah, very, the Gun Club was a rock’n’roll band and very guitar based, and pretty traditional chord structures, interesting stuff, but, whereas the Bad Seeds was more vocal led and more piano, and a lot more experimental stuff was going on, but that was a really amazing learning curve for me there ‘cause I went in just being this guy from the Cramps and the Gun Club, playing pretty basic twelve bar blues rock, to this new idea, so it was really good for me and I think it worked out good for the Gun Club in the end, they were different things and I look at that period of my life as where I kind of grew up and I became more serious about stuff. I just learned a lot and I think that was the launching pad for more solo stuff, it gave me the confidence for that, to be thrown into this strange environment.”
And presumably there was a lot of hard living… you seem to be healthy and happy these days though?
“A lot of drugs, a lot of alcohol… I mean I got out of it early enough, before I turned to stone! I mean, a lot of my friends are healthy and happy, but some are not, and some are not alive… but, yeah, it was hard living, it was just the way it was, the eighties underground rock was like that, and that was the time before, I never knew what rehab was then! It wasn’t like now, everyone knows what it means, then, you didn’t realise, and also everyone was going for broke, there was no limits… a lot of that was about exploration, in the end you’ll find a lot of it was about dealing with whatever demons one has, but it was also about looking to go somewhere, even if that was a pretty dark place! It was extreme research if you like! And it was pretty widespread in underground rock communities, it was the times, it was in the fashion industry at the time, like heroin was everywhere. And ultimately it took its toll, some worse off than others, and musically, once you’re, heroin really just turns you to stone, you have no feeling anymore. And luckily people like me, and people like Nick and whoever, have survival instinct enough, and love for their music and work enough, that the idea to get out came.”
Do you remember a point at which you had to say ‘ok, time to back off now’ as far as the drugs went?
“Yeah, I was living in Berlin, and it was actually just over the death of a friend, who I didn’t know that well, someone in my circle of people, and I just kind of saw the way people were reacting, and being very unfeeling about it, ‘Oh, she was just weak, she wasn’t REALLY a junkie’, and I somehow saw that and was like, you know what, this is not me. And I thought, I’m in this amazing situation, I’m in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, I’m in the Gun Club, and why do I not care about any of this? So, that kind of stuff, it’s just an ennui of sorts, if you get a minute to see it, you stand outside yourself and see it… so, luckily, here we are… (points to pic on the press biog) here I am in a Mariachi suit!”
In common with certain contemporaries such as Blixa Bargelt or Rowland S Howard, your playing comes from a very left field direction, not the conventional guitar-player route…
“Oh yeah, well thank you for putting me in that category! But I think I agree, we all came from a time where we were all untrained, and we all had made it up, and our approach was based on feeling and ideas about sound, it’s expressive more than it is technical. Rowland had a lot of technique to work with, but really a lust and a need to create our own sound. For me, and I know making music for Rowland and Blixa, is about creating language and it’s very much about creating your own language, and that was a goal of a lot of the early punk scene, and that’s something that I still strive for, being able to say things the way I say things… make music that’s unique to that. And luckily, cultivated that over the years , and I have a band that, like now my band (The Pink Monkey Birds) is younger than I am by 10 or 20 years, but they’re very clued in to where I’m coming from, and they’re coming from the same kind of idea, it took a long time to find people like that and I wanted to have younger people in my band because they have fresh ideas too. I can get mired down in all my old ideas, and that can be good for some things or that can be bad, but my band is very important now, and they’re very involved in shaping the way the music happens.”
'Gorilla Rose' by Kid Congo And The Pink Monkey Birds is out now on In The Red records.