Grabbing the Kat by the Tail: Koffin Kats Interview
Anyone who’s seen the Koffin Kats live will tell you that they are fueled by sweat and blood and that they put everything they can of themselves on stage. It’s intense, it’s keyed up to 11 and they have no other setting than balls to the wall. The Psychobilly band with the enigmatic ability to infuse elements of punk, hard rock, and metal with their stand up bass-driven rhythms and the substantially rich lead vocals, will be bringing their blistering live act through Salt Lake. SLUG spoke with bass player and lead vocalist Vic Victor and guitar player John Kay about their drive and what seems to be what can only be described as an obsession with what they do.
SLUG: How did the Koffin Kats start out?
Vic Victor: I played in quite a few band here locally in Detroit, and we’d get in the flow of being a band and no one would ever commit to touring and to me that was always the allure of playing music—to travel, play shows and see the world—so it took me finding like-minded guys that had nothing to loose. I wanted to play in a band that was influenced by psychobilly and punk, the stuff that I was into, something you didn’t [see] very much of in those days.
SLUG: You guys pull in more punk and hard rock influences than most psychobilly bands. Do you concern yourself with trying to sounding psychobilly?
Victor: If you want a textbook definition of psychobilly, then I don’t think we’re the band to turn to, but I am a firm believer in the idea of psychobilly is to take rockabilly and infuse your own ideas and influence to it. So I think we exemplify psychobilly in a way, but in another way I would say that we go way out there with inspiration for the type of music we play and we don’t want to be pigeon holed. So punk, metal, rock n’ roll, I always say we do a little bit of everything.
John Kay: I wasn’t into the psychobilly scene. I don’t really think in term of genres, and I find that we get pigeonholed into the ‘billy scene by people outside of it, but anyone really listening knows that we’re a melodic hard rock band that just happens to have an upright bass.
SLUG: The band tours constantly and every show is played as though it’s your last, where does that ethic come from?
Victor: I’ve never been one to sit around and wait for things to happen to me, and that’s what I wanted to do with this band, and I believe that you have to get out there and play. You can’t sit around and whine that nothing is happening with your band if you’re not putting yourself out there. The other side of that is that I know what its like to work for a paycheck and to have eight dollars in your pocket that your trying not spend for a week, so you have money for a show, and nothing is worse than spending that money and not getting 100 percent from the band because they think more people should’ve showed up. We’re there for whoever shows up.
Kay: It’s just something that’s built into us. We are entertainers and we’re not doing our job unless everyone’s having a good time and enjoying themselves so we take that seriously. From the jump when Vic started this band, and when I joined, he made it clear that we tour and we sleep on floors and drive all night, so that’s just what we do.
SLUG: Vic, your voice is one of the strong elements that people seem to enjoy about the band. What did you do to train yourself and cultivate your style?
Victor: I never set out to be a lead vocalist, but when I started this band it was the role I had to step into and I found that I had a similar register to Dave Vanian of The Damned and I started training my voice to their records, not to imitate him, but to make my voice as strong. So, now that I’m in my 30s, I find that I really have to watch myself because if I drink too much or spend too much time in smoky rooms, after a week of shows I don’t bounce back as fast as I used to.
SLUG: The band is featured on a Rancid tribute record that’s coming out soon, you guys did “Detroit.” Why that song and what can you tell us about that?
Victor: Tommy—our old guitar player—and I used to jam on that song all the time and when we were asked if we wanted to be on it, we jumped at the chance and when we saw that none of the bands had taken it so far, it was perfect—except then I realized that I was going to have to play that crazy Matt Freeman bass line on my upright, but we worked it out and it’s different, but I think its really good.
Kay: It’s kind of perfect that we’re from Detroit, I wasn’t in the band at the time but I was helping them record it, and just having the moment of I’m recording a band that I dig covering a band I grew up listening to. The really cool thing was that we played Gillman in Berkley and Tim Armstrong’s brother happened to be there and we had him listen to the track and he loved it, so we kind of got a stamp of approval.
SLUG: After 12 years, what goals do you guys have for the band?
Kay: Every new step is a step towards the next step. We have to keep our own momentum going because no else is doing it for us. I can’t speak for the other guys, but I could die happy knowing I head-lined Wimbley, but now that I’m settled in, I feel like I’m coming into my own with the band and instead of just playing guitar, I can now make my band and do my part.
Victor: We always have goals and that helps keeps us motivated, one of which we’re going to be doing here shortly when we go on tour with Reverend Horton Heat. That was the first concert I ever went to. I was 14 and I went to Cincinnati to visit my sister and she took me and after that show I knew that I wanted to play music for the rest of my life. Another goal is for us the open up for Bad Religion, they’ve just been a huge influence on this band as far as song writing and wanting to have the melodic presence that they have.
Whatever the future holds for the Koffin Kats, you can bet that they’ll keep playing shows and putting out record that won’t hold back, because they never have. You can see for yourself at Devil’s Daughter on April 3.