Hopefully Kid Congo Powers doesn’t need an introduction to those of you reading this, but I’ll give one anyway. Born Brian Tristen in El Monte California, Tristen lived the ultimate dream of going from avid champion of what was a burgeoning punk to an influential member of The Gun Club, The Cramps & Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds in their prime of their careers. More resecntly Powers has embarked on a solo career and been a member of the Knoxville Girls and Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. He remains not only a living legend but a testament to the power and legacy of Punk Rock.
5 Questions With Kid Congo Powers
1) How did you go from President of the Ramone’s Fan Club to guitarist in 3 of the most the influential bands (The Gun Club, The Bad Seeds & The Cramps) of the last 30 years? What were the circumstances that brought you to each and why were tenures only for an album or so?
This is a funny two pronged 30 year long question. My journey in music has been a natural progression from a young music fanatic and record collector, to music journalist know it all, to putting my money where my mouth is by picking up a guitar and making music for others to enjoy and judge.
The circumstances of my entry to these bands has been about : like mindedness of the band leaders and members, right place right time, sense of humor, romantic ideals, good vintage clothing, willingness to relocate and unorthodox guitar stylings. My exit from the bands have been facilitated by musical differences, bad drugs, alcoholism, apathy, and,in one case, it was “just time to move on…” Those bands are all too explosive to keep the same line ups for too long. You can match those to which ever band you choose as they all apply.
2) I’m curious which of the albums you’ve worked on is your favorite? The one you’re most proud to have your name associated with and why?
My favorite album I’ve made is actually my latest one, Dracula Boots by Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds. I know it’s a cliche to say that, but it is actually true in this case. It was/is the most satisfying record to and listen to, and to play live. It is all the lessons of things I learned from all my previous bands boiled down to the essence of what I love in music. It is funny, sexy, noisy, smart, dumb, modern and primitive simultaneously. I guess I am in a great place!
As for the past, Almost all the records hold great work which has music that differs from each other. I refuse to put them in a competition ever. I am proud to be on The Cramps Psychedelic Jungle album (1980) because it is the most different sounding from the other Cramps records. For Nick’s records, I am partial to Tender Prey (1988) because it was my first recording with the band and it was such an ear raising experience as I had just moved to West Berlin and got to really spread my wings musically and twist my wig personally. That recording was done in Berlin, London, and Australia in a most tumultuous time in all our still young lives. For that, I love Tender Prey.
Of all the Gun Club albums I am on I like The Las Vegas Story (1984) as it was my return to the band and a totally great work by Jeffrey Lee Pierce. When we started that band in 1979 I would never have guessed we would pull off such a masterwork.
Kid Congo with Siouxie Sioux photo by Debbie Schow
3) Did Lux’s passing take you by surprise? He wasn’t all that old and last I remember he was still doing his thing on stage.
I am still taken by surprise and saddened, it was only a few months ago. There is so much to say. I wrote an obit for Lux on my blog if you’re curious to read.
4) Besides being one of the few Mexican-Americans in Punk you’re also openly and proudly Gay. Did either or both ever pose any sort of uphill battles for you establishing yourself within the 70′s and 80′s punk community?
Well, I came into punk out of the mid 70′s glitter rock scene as a teen in LA, which was not necessarily homosexual but definitely homosexual looking. Bowie, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan were all flamboyant and gay acting in appearance and in song lyrics. I believed it at the time and it was really liberating to me at the age of 15 . Also I had a local neighbor who befriended me and got me into all things underground, as in records, comics, films. Being a minority only helped with the identification as a outsider. Los Angeles is mainly minority, Mexican or Chicanos, so it was not unusual. Alice from The Bags, and bands like The Zeros were Chicanos and some of the first local bands to gain popularity.
Punk in the beginning in Los Angeles was full of gay men and women out of the music and art scenes and schools. Anything that bucked the system was not only welcome, but required. The LA punk scene starting in 1975 influenced by Patti Smith, Blondie and The Ramones was also equally informed by fashion, old Hollywood, and new films like Pink Flamingos with Divine as , shall we say, a HUGE influence. The Mumps with an openly gay Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman very early came from NYC and made an impact on LA-ers. My first bands with Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Cramps were beyond freaky friendly, so, really, being gay was actually a plus in those bands, I was practically a drag queen and they helped encourage it. Funnily enough, the mainstream gay community never takes much notice of my music. I guess I am still an outsider.
5) I know you’re DJing a bunch, you’ve got your band Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds and I hear you’re working on a book? Get people up to speed with what you have going on nowadays.
Currently I am concentrating on my band Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds and promoting our new album, Dracula Boots on In the Red Records. We have been enjoying touring in Europe and are planning USA dates in October. Keep an eye our for our myspace and blog for tour and DJing dates.
I’m also currently working on a memoir which is untitled and unfinished, but have been doing public readings and will be doing one in NYC on August 8 at Santo’s Party House. Here is the blurb for that:
August 8, 2009, Chronic Youth presents Heartworm Press #37 at Santos Party House in New York City. Featuring the first live performance by NON in many years, and the negative hiss and out-of-body-bliss of supporters Prurient and Cold Cave. What makes this event unique enough to merit a Heartworm catalog number is the fact that all of these death-cheaters and dangerous thinkers will be (somewhat) contained under one roof for the first time. In between the three acts there will be spoken word performances by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), Kid Congo Powers (The Cramps, Gun Club, Bad Seeds), Chris Leo (The Van Pelt, The Lapse), Eric Paul (Chinese Stars, Arab On Radar) and renowned tattoo artist and underground journalist legend Jonathan Shaw- A man who seeps old New York. and was wolf enough to run with the likes of Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, the Manson Family and Charles Bukowski. This will be Shaw’s first reading in New York City.
A big thanks to Kid Congo Powers! Those of you unfamiliar with the bands and albums mentioned should do yourselves a favor and track them down!- My Pal the Crook