GINGER COYOTE SPEAKS WITH KITTY KOWALSKI -- ONE ON ONE!!!!
by Ginger Coyote

 

Kitty Kowalski and her band The Kowalskis are a staple in the NYC Music Community. She is a role model for us all...I hope you enjoy my interview with the irrepressible Ms.Kitty Kowalski.

PUNK GLOBE: Ms. Kitty, You Are An Inspiration For All. How Long Have The Kowalskis Been Together?

KITTY: Gee, thanks!  We’ve been together as The Kowalskis for almost 10 years.  1996 may be our official starting year.  We were Killer Kowalski and released our first 7” then.  We morphed into The Kowalskis after the wrestler, whom we thought was dead, proved himself alive enough to have his “Theatrical Agent” send us a cease and desist letter.  Talking to this guy was like talking to an 80-year-old Broadway Danny Rose.  That’s why we are called The Kowalskis.  You don’t know how many people have told me it’s a stupid name, but we fought pretty hard for it.  Hell, The Ramones is a stupid name if no one knew who they were.  If we ever get famous, it will just BE.
 
PUNK GLOBE: Tell The Readers About The Other Members Of The Kowalskis.

KITTY:  Right now, we have Mike Hoffman, whom Howie Pyro named “Mike Hunt” when he first joined.  I mistakenly named him “Ace Freakus” on stage once.  I was trying to call him Ace Frehley Circa 1975” and it came out Ace Freakus, which really fits Mike, once you get to know him.  He was in a  NYC garage band called The Vacant Lot and another band called Sloth.  Our drummer was a guy who has been playing with us off and on since the Killer Kowalski days called Greg Farah.  He plays on our All Hopped up on Goofballs record.  Our bass player, Mike McNamara, which makes me a Mike Sandwich on stage, played with Greg in High School.  He plays with Greg in two other bands as well – Sux and Mental Decay.  Pretty crazy.

We’ve had so many members, that soon everyone in NY will have the last name Kowalski.  We have some abroad, too.  Let’s see, we had Jay Burnside of the Flaming Sideburns on drums, as well as Mighty Joe Vincent of the Devil Dogs for a couple of months.  We had Mitzi Dodge of the Friggs, but now he has her own band, The Booty Olympics. 

But the two most notable guys, that I played the longest with were Jack Steeples and Paul Richard, formerly of Adrenalin OD (AOD).  They were in the band for about four years and on the Goofballs record.  It was
funny – I had been in these bands that had a reputation for being, uh, sloppy.  So, when I made this band, a lot of skeptics thought, “Here comes that girl again with the hot pants and halter tops who can’t play…”,
and when they saw the band they were shocked.  People thought, well, if those guys will play with her, she can’t suck too badly.  I actually got good at playing guitar again touring in most of 2000, but those guys
really whipped me in shape.  I used to joke that I want to be the worst musician in my band – gives me something to aspire to.  I love my guys.   They are great.
 
PUNK GLOBE:  Who Writes Your Material?

KITTY:  Now, it’s just me.  One or forthcoming record, all the songs are mine except for an Undertones cover and an Andy Shernoff song I wrote the lyrics for.  It’s a lot of pressure.  Paul wrote a number of songs for
“Goofballs”, so it was pretty balanced.  Jack even lobbed in a song – one of my faves called “Know it all”.  Just a fun song to play!  It’s hard being the only consistent songwriter in the band.  Mike and I tried to
write songs together, but we mainly would up drinking a lot of beer.  Or he played stuff I couldn’t play, so I gave up.  All my songs have to be easy to play, so even I can play them.

PUNK GLOBE:  Who Are Some Of Your Inspirations Musically?

KITTY: There are so many.  I could go back to the Brill Building songwriters.  I love all that stuff.  Or Holland/Dozier/Holland, and all the Motown stuff.  I learned to harmonize from The Mamas & The Papas, ABBA and bands like the Beach Boys and The Monkees (yeah, I know.  They were not a real band).
I think the music that sticks with you emotionally the most is the stuff you come of age to.  You will NEVER feel about music like you did between the ages of 12 and 15, I think.  For me, that’s Blondie, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Heartbreakers, New York Dolls, The Dickies, The Rezillos, Cheap Trick, KISS, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, Queen.  I loved so much of that
Glam or Glam-influenced rock.  Punk Rock for me was like being hit by cupid’s arrow.  It was like hearing the sound of my mother’s voice for the first time.  Making out to that music was the best.  Everything was so
new and raw and intense – I just wanted to feel like that forever.

 PUNK GLOBE: Tell Me About Your First Show. I Have Heard It Was With Iggy. I Bet You Were Nervous.

KITTY: My first show with the “real” line-up of The Kowalskis – me, Jack, Paul and Greg – was with Iggy Pop at Coney Island High.  If I remember correctly, we had not even rehearsed with Jack yet.  He just learned the
tape.  Iggy was soundchecking, and I said to the guys, "Let's go to the basement and practice", and they all stood there watching Iggy, with their mouths open and shook their heads, “No”.  That was that.  I had no
idea what was going to come out when we went in stage.  That was really the first and only time I ever went on stage feeling that nervous.

PUNK GLOBE: Tell Me About Other Stand Out Shows You Have Played?

KITTY:  Wow.  There are so many – and some were stand out for all kinds of weird reasons.  I think every show we had with The Dickies was a blast.  They are always great and we have become really good friends because of all those shows.  They are just the best – STILL such a great live show.  Every show we did for Joey Ramone was really fun and great – some of the most fun nights in my life – especially his birthday and the Blitzkrieg Bash.  All of these were at Coney Island High.  I think we did one show for him for CMJ after Coney closed.  We always had great shows with The Dictators, too, and Andy Shernoff produced Goofballs, so it was great working with him.

We once drove straight back from Texas after South by Southwest to play a show with the Toilet Boys and D Generation.  That was wild.  We had a great show with Snuff at the Mercury Lounge.  Recently, we got to play with The Undertones, who still look and sound great.  Anyone who wants to study the art of the pop song should listen to them.  The Rezillos is another band that I just ADORED, and we did a show together and managed to hit it off.  I have seen them all over – from the UK to Texas!  We’ve become really friendly and I’d love to do more shows with them. More people who do it right.

There are just so many people whose music meant a lot to me growing up that I have been able to share a stage with AND STILL rock and are also completely cool!  It’s really funny, because we have had shows with
many bands that were Hot Shit Band-of-the-Week, and treated us like we were subhuman at the show.  We have played with many music legends who have a history who have earned the RIGHT to give us an attitude are the most down to earth and confident in themselves that they don’t act like rock stars – in a bad way.  Go figure.

PUNK GLOBE: You Have Toured A lot  What Is Your Favorite Country To Tour In?

KITTY: This may sound freakish, but Switzerland.  We had some of the craziest and fun fan responses in both Zurich and Winterthur.  Geneva was great, too, once we finally go there.  AND they pay AND people have money to buy merch!  The UK is great for people, bands and fans, but it costs and arm and a leg to tour there, and there is no shortage of good bands, so the crowds are a little more hard to win over.  We had an INSANE show in Canterbury of all places.  It was totally great.  I never expected that this famous church town would be so wild.

Italy was great because we played with friend there, members of The Manges.  We are like brother/sister bands.  They have a great scene there in La Spezia, and that crowd was really great.  When we dressed up like The Manges in our gondolier shirts and played one of their songs while Andrea, their singer, sang, people really lost it.  It was very emotional because we toured with them in the US and Canada, and it was kind of
tough, so we bonded heavily and became very close.

PUNK GLOBE:  I Know That You Have A Bowling Team At Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas. Has The Kowalskis Ever Played For The Event?

KITTY: We have not!  Though I have been a Punk Rock Bowling fixture, at least as a “scenester” for the first few years, we have not played.  There is a very tight West Coast Punk Rock Mafia that is very hard to break
into.  If you are not a Fat/Lookout/BYO/TKO/Side1/Hopeless kind of band, you are kind of shit out of luck.  We don’t really have that kind of machine going here on the East Coast.  I feel like I had to really fight to
get in there.  We are still kind of on the outside, but I have such a big mouth, and a big reputation, that people know who we are now, even though they have probably never seen up or never heard a note.  Maybe
we’ll play the Double Down next year so people can see that I’m more than just a bowling whore.

PUNK GLOBE: Have You Ever Played The West Coast. You Go Over So Well. You Are So Well Liked.

KITTY: We did in 2000 only one tour.  We did go over very well, to the few folks that saw us.  I still get e-mails about those shows.  I love the West Coast, even though I probably sounded bitter in the last response.  I think we would do well out there, and we did for that brief time, but it’s just hard and expensive to get out there and play to build any kind of fan base.  We will again when we tour for this new record.

I also kind of hit a wall after we got back from that December 2000 tour.  My whole band quit.  That really sucked.  We toured all year and it was really hard and there was a lot of personality conflicts that had
nothing to do with me.  After that, I had to put the band back together, and write some new stuff and keep going.  It’s taken time to gain the momentum back, but I think I’ve got it right now!

PUNK GLOBE:  Tell Me About Where You Have Played In Canada?

KITTY: Are you a Canuck?  C’mon!  Confess!  Canada is another place we do really well.  We used to drive 10 hours just to play the Elmocambo.  Larry Retard of Amp records used to always get us shows in Hamilton, too, at the Corktown.  Some of those shows were legendary.  There was one show where we played on Social Benefits day (when everyone got their welfare checks) so the place was packed, everybody was drunk, and at one point there were people throwing tables and chairs at us.  I almost stopped the set, but someone said, No, They LIKE it!”.  They also tore the toilets off the walls in the men’s room.  Those guys know how to party!

But we love Canadian bands – old school like The Forgotten Rebels, Teenage Head, The B Girls, and all that.  Canadian rock is more than Bryan Adams and Alanis Morissette!  And the punk rock certainly has NOTHING to do with bands like Sum 41.
  
PUNK GLOBE: How do You Feel About CBGB's Closing Down?

KITTY: I have REALLY mixed feelings on this.  The knee-jerk reaction is to say what a shame it is, and how we will lose this place and piece of history that means a lot to people.  On the other hand, it didn’t seem like
Hilly even cared anymore, not until all this fuss was raised.   He stopped paying his rent.  He makes a killing off T-shirts.  They don’t actively try to book good shows.  Any good shows they have are bands that seek them out because want to play CBGB.  They were just kind of on autopilot.

They should turn it into a rock and roll museum – like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if it were cool.  The rock and roll Hall of Fame looks like a hospital.  To me, CBGB already IS the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They would probably be able to make the ridiculous rent if they were a museum, too.  That way, people can still come look and have the memories and see some cool stuff, or an occasional show, and we have this
place as a monument to New York Rock and Roll.  It’s an important symbol, even though the reality is the great shows are few and far between.

PUNK GLOBE: You Were Part Owner Of The Legendary Club "Coney Island High"- Tell Us Some  Of Your Fond Memories  From The Club.

KITTY: Well, there are so many, I would be here for a year if I even started.  All the events we did with Joey Ramone were great, as I mentioned before.  He just wanted to support bands he liked and make a fun night and play good records.  That’s all he really cared about.  Having the Ronnie Spector Christmas show was REALLY special.  Meeting her was a REAL treat.  There were some REAL surprises –one of them being Question Mark and The Mysterians.  My partner Jesse called me, “Get down here!  This is one of the greatest shows I have ever seen”, and he was right.  They recorded one of the shows for Norton Records.

It’s good to be king.  We got to do things like drag the Dickies out of retirement and fly them to NY for shows.  They weren’t even playing shows in California at the time.  Jesse and I would call Leonard in the
middle of the night all drunk begging him to play.  Thank god it was three hours earlier in LA.  We also  got Nick Apollo Forte to play a show.  If the name does not sound familiar, he’s the guy who plays the lounge
singer in Broadway Danny Rose, which is Jesse’s favorite movie.  So we track this guy down and he played an all-ages punk show, and everybody went NUTS!  He’s in a pink suit rocking, “Feniculi Fenicula” and these
kids were having the time of their lives.  Being able to do stuff like that made it all worthwhile.

PUNK GLOBE: Who Did the Booking For Coney Island High? You Had Some Major Talent Play There. I Remember Seeing Blanks 77, The Ramones, DeGeneration, Bebe Buell so many people play there.

KITTY: We had a few bookers but the one we had for most of the time for the longest was Dana McDonald, who for a time was booking both floors, seven days a week.  She did a really good job, and if she didn’t know
something, she would ask and learn about it.  It also became a thing that people sought us out to play shows, even bigger bands who wanted to play a more intimate show, like Social Distortion, Rancid, Beastie Boys, Bad Religion and bands like that.  Hell, we had Iggy Pop and the Ramones farewell tour.  That place only held 500 people. 

We had another booker toward the end, Kelly Keller, who booked the upstairs and she was really into garage rock, and some really obscure and really cool music.  She booked a lot of bands that no one came to see
at the time, but that are really bog now.  She booked a lot of influential acts.  She had great taste in music, and was a really cool person.  The first time I met her, I came bouncing into the office, Jesse introduced me, and I go skipping out.  She turned to Jesse and asked him, “Was that the girl from Rock and Roll High School?”.  I thought that was super funny.

I found out last year that she died and it REALLY hit me hard.  She had her own bar and venue down in New Orleans, where she was originally from.  I read a great article they did in the Gambit on her, and it was
amazing to see the influence she had on so many people.  I wrote about her in my blog, and they mentioned it in the article.  I still get people writing me because of that blog.  One reader and friend of hers told me
they even have a foundation for her now.  I’m glad that people recognize her for her contribution to rock and roll.  She deserves it. 

PUNK GLOBE:  Jesse Malin Was Also An Owner. How Many Owners Did the Club Have?

KITTY: You Also Had Quite A Few  Rockers Who worked The Club Including Howie Pyro, Jayne County, Rafael (Cycle Sluts From Hell) You Had Quite A List Of Employee's.

The “real” owners of Coney Island High, at it’s peak, are Jesse, who came up with the whole concept; Dean, who had a business in Jersey and now owns Connections in Passaic  - he and his family put in the most
money; and me, who was just an “investor” for a while, but I took over operations after we kicked out a crooked partner.  My sister also put money into the business and really saved us at a bad time. 

Howie was and is one of our greatest DJs.  Jayne County is the best, but don’t ask her for any requests!  Raff was this totally tough manager who didn’t take shit from anyone.  She really kept things running for a few years.  Her former bandmate Ginny also tended bar.  Joey’s brother was a bartender and did our Fanzine.  Stephan from Lost Prophets did our concessions after Sisters Grimm moved to LA.  We really thought of it
as a place for musicians run by musicians.  We tried to be as musician-friendly as possible.

PUNK GLOBE: Tell Me About The Film You Did For Troma?

KITTY: That was fun!  I almost feel like now I can die that I have been in a  Troma film!  My film was called “Terror Firmer” which was a kind of Toxic Avenger film.  There were lots of New York scene people and rockers in that, too like Theo from the Lunachicks, Sean from The Toilet Boys and Lemmy from Motorhead.  For one day of shooting, they asked me to keep Lemmy company.  I was up for the job, but I had some kind of emergency at the club, so I had to go and my sister hung out with him.  Anyway, people tell me that Terror Firmer is their favorite Troma film.  It’s really cool.  Lloyd Kaufman is just an amazing person.

PUNK GLOBE:  Have You Done Any Other Acting Roles?

KITTY: I would not call it acting but I have been in some other films.  In Golliwog’s Cakewalk by Christopher Frieri, I played an artists’ model (yes, you thought right!  I was naked!).  He did an excerpt of all the
nudie bits called The B Reel and it’s great.  You can find it at http://www.ghostlimbfilms.com

I was also in Punk Rock Zombie Kung Fu Cat Fight, which is as confusing a film as its title.  It’s got ALL of that in there, so if you are up for it, go to the director’s site at http://www.peterbernard.com

PUNK GLOBE: You Are Also A Journalist  And a Photographer. Tell Me About Your Column In Coolgrrrls?

KITTY: I think I came across the site in 1999, and the concept was really cool – girls who are in bands or are otherwise participating in their local scene write about their city and scene and what is going on.  And they
are global – there are girls in major cities writing from all over the world.  I wrote to the editor, and he had the girls vote me in, so I have been doing it ever since.

I have met some of the greatest people for writing for that site – in addition to all the other coolgrrrls.  When I was writing every couple of week, I had one of the most popular columns on the site.

PUNK GLOBE:  Does Paige Darling Still Contribute To Cool Grrls?

KITTY: You know, I don’t think so.  A lot of the older stuff is archived so you may be able to find it.  Go to www.coolgrrrls.com and check it out!

PUNK GLOBE:. Do You write For Any Other Zines?

KITTY: Not on any regular basis.  I have done interviews here and there, written essays in the “What I think about stuff” vein.  I used to contribute regularly to a fanzine devoted to 80s culture called Aquatulle.  I am 
the kind of person that if you want a contribution from me.  Just ask.  It may take a while for me to get to it, or to be inspired to write something, but I will do it.  That’s how I do most of my writing - someone
says, “Give me something and your deadline is X”.  That gets me going.

I publish my writing and sex advice on myspace.com, and I have put over 6000 of my photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/kittykowalski  You can even search on band names or look at my tags/keywords and see any photo with that band that I’ve taken.

PUNK GLOBE:  Kitty, What Does the Future hold For The Kowalskis Any Tour, Recording Plans?

KITTY: We’re still kicking and we JUST finished recording our newest album.  We are mastering it next week, and I’ll be looking for someone to put it out.  If no one does in a couple of months, I’ll do it myself.  I’ve never been the kind to wait for someone else to do something for me.   It’s a really great record.  I really don’t see how I could make a better one.  I am really proud of myself on this one.

We will tour as soon as we get it into stores and get a good tour together.  It’s hard, but that’s rock and roll.  You know those bumper stickers about fishing?  I should get one for the van – “A Bad Day of Tour
is Better Than a Good Day at The Office”.  Amen.

PUNK GLOBE: Any Words Of Wisdom For Punk Globe Readers?

KITTY: I’m certainly no one to take advice from but there are few things that haven’t let me down.  One is “Live every day as if it were your last, because one day, you’ll be right”.  This is not a permit to go out and
get fucked up, or get fucked, but to do something that is important and make things happen.  Otherwise, it’s just too easy to let the days go by and get stuck in a routine.  Then you put your dreams off and procrastinate.  The other thing is to be a participant and not a spectator.  If there is nothing going on that you like, make it happen.  Do it your way.  People who feel the same way who are waiting for someone else to do it will come out of the woodwork.   Fear is the worst.  Don’t be afraid to make an ass of yourself.  Fear and second-guessing kills more good people and ideas before they even see the light of day.  Those, and the
television.  You wanna do something great?  Turn off the TV.

I will always be a fan of yours- Kitty..... YOU RAWK THANK YOU SO MUCH!!
 

 
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