Kid Congo Powers is one of those cats whose name alone should land him in the Gutter Gods Hall of Fame that I really should get a Kickstarter going for. But he’s also spent a lifetime as a main player in such infinitely influential bands as Gun Club, the Cramps, and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Yeah, I know. The stories this man has could, and one day probably will, fill a hefty tome. But for now, unlike many a seasoned rocker who prefers to sit at the corner dive and whine about “the damn kids today,” Powers pays no mind to the groggy look back, and is as active as ever, grinning above and beyond whatever has happened to the music biz since he started strumming and singing back in the late ’70s. His latest combo, Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds, has been spreading their suave, steamy, graveyard-strolling rock around for nearly nine years, and just released their fifth album, Haunted Head. They leave for tour soon, playing with pals the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for some of the dates.
A quick history of Kid Congo’s artistic life, please.
1976-77: President of The Ramones Unofficial Fan Club, Los Angeles chapter. 1979-80: Started the band the Gun Club with Jeffrey Lee Pierce. 1980-1983: Joined the Cramps and played on two albums, Psychedelic Jungle and Smell Of Female. 1984-1990 or so: Rejoined the Gun Club. Moved to London, then Berlin when I joined Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, made a shitload of records. 1993-present: Moved back to L.A., started the band Congo Norvell. Then moved to NYC, played with Knoxville Girls, Kid And Khan, then started Kid Congo And The Pink Monkey Birds. After 12 years in NYC, moved with now-husband Ryan Hill to Washington, D.C., where I still play with Pink Monkey Birds and hang out with Ian Svenonius. Hanging out is an art form too, I believe.
Did you imagine the Pink Monkey Birds would last this long? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the longest you’ve been in one band?
I never think about how long bands will last. They have been much less in time span in the past. I found the formula of being older with younger band members. Maybe it stretches time and space.
Where did you record Haunted Head, and with whom?
We recorded Haunted Head at The Harveyville Project, a rural town about an hour outside Lawrence, KS, all by our lonesome. It’s a converted high school building with a gym, basketball court and 20 or more rooms. We usually record in the gym, but this time we recorded in the school band classroom on an 8-track Tascam. Jesse Roberts, our former guitarist, engineered it, and drummer Ron Miller mixed it along with Adam Hess. We’ve done three albums there now.
Do you remember when you first met Lux and Ivy (of the Cramps)?
I first met Lux and Ivy when I was a teenage punk from L.A. who rode a Greyhound bus to NYC to be a part of the music scene. Me and some friends couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on the CBGB/Max’s Kansas City scene. I saw the Cramps at CBGB and was converted on the spot. When I met them I was wearing a 1950s gold blazer from Lansky Brothers, where Elvis bought his clothes in Memphis. They remembered that about me when I joined the band a few years later. I think it cinched the deal.
You’ve played with a veritable who’s who of trash-rock masters. Who had the worst hygiene? Who was the best dressed? Who made the best music?
I dont think people with such clear visions of what they are doing have bad hygiene, or the ones I played with didn’t, even the junkies! Jeffrey Lee Pierce had poor eating habits. He chose cookies and ice cream over any other food on tour. Best dressed is hard, they were all very well put together, no slobs. Again, Jeffrey’s dress sense was nonsensical, but I was fond of his “Marilyn Monroe From Hell” phase. These bands all made very different music from each other, so I can’t say any one was better than the other. I love them all equally. Does that make me a polygamist?
What are your plans for the tour? Any special regional guests?
As a band, we are lone wolves. It’s easier that way. Although, I am very thrilled to be playing with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on a handful of dates this outing. The Subsonics are playing with us in Atlanta, which is thrilling. And I hope the new band, Jailbait, will play with us at The Mercury Lounge in NYC.
You DJ pretty frequently in NYC. Do you have anything lined up?
I DJ a monthly party in D.C. called “Smashing Time” with Ian Svenoinius and Baby Alcatraz at The Velvet Lounge. I will be in NYC to DJ a dance contest with my long-time friend and leading light, Jonathan Toubin, at Brooklyn Bowl for his “Soul Clap” party on September 28. Three days later I leave to tour!
To this day, I just can’t figure you as a Californian. You seem so, uh, urbanely east coast. What is something very “California” about you?
I’m a mystic. That is so California!