If there is a man who has played in more cool bands than Kid Congo Powers, he’s in the Witness Protection Program. Powers has played guitar and crooned haughtily in the Gun Club, the Cramps, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the Divine Horsemen, Congo Norvell… oh, you get the picture. This suave, fashionable cat has been around, creating many squalls of brain-teasing raw rock, and over the last few years, he has made some of his most Powers-ful tunes with the Pink Monkey Birds. SOTC spoke to him in advance of his band’s gig at this weekend’s 4Knots Music Festival Afterparty.
What’s the first record that flipped your wig?
The first record I bought when I was a kid was the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” with “Let’s Spend the Night Together” on the B-side. I was infatuated with the 45 picture sleeve, which was the cover of Between The Buttons LP. The aesthetic of mystery and cool lured me in. But the first song must have been, “Who Wears Short Shorts?” that my sister played while I was a toddler. I loved it. My milieu was set early.
Advantages and disadvantages to having played in the Cramps?
All advantages, no disadvantages. My first recording sessions and records, tutelage and friendship from Lux Interior, Poison Ivy, and Nick Knox, sexy black clothing, and the discovery of the Univox Super Fuzz.
And the Gun Club?
Advantages: Meeting [leader] Jeffrey Lee Pierce in 1979 and forging a, for better or worse, brotherly and musical relationship, picking up the guitar then learning to play it, starting my first band, world travels, a move to the UK, much public drunkenness, and some harrowing—and some magical—live shows. Great records.
Disadvantage: Jeffrey passing away way too soon.
And Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds?
Advantages: Moving to West Berlin in the mid-’80s, filming “Wings of Desire ” with Wim Wenders, recording in Hansa Studios, learning lots from Mick Harvey, making some great records.
Disadvantages: I never learned German in the three years I lived there. Just Australian slang.
How/when did the Pink Monkey Birds come together?
I was curating a month of Sundays at Tonic around Xmas in the late ’90s and had to find an act one week, so I had to play. I got some good friends to help out, and it was so fun and good I just had to keep going.
What’s the current lineup?
The current lineup of the band has been the same since probably 2007. Actually Jonathan Toubin told me I needed a Texas rhythm section, so he sent bassist Kiki Solis my way and later drummer Ron Miller. And he was right: They are the best rhythm section ever! We also have Jesse Roberts playing guitar for the last two albums. We are recording a new album as I write this, again for In The Red Records… This is definitely the longest band that I’ve had.
Isn’t there a collaboration with Mick Collins [Dirtbombs, Gories] coming down the line?
Yes, we will record a single next week. I love his work and think it will be a blast, or a mess. I’m up for either or both.
Unlike some of your peers, you’ve remained in the trenches, rocking the bars, and getting to check out new bands. Got any current faves?
By far my favorite young band is The K-Holes from NYC. They are sexy, dangerous, and fun all that the same time. Not an easy combo to pull off in music. And otherness tumbles out of them so naturally.
You’ve lived or hung out in most of the great cities of the world, large and small. What’s your favorite? And/or which are you favorite for certain moods?
Well New York City is a favorite of course! I do miss living there for many reasons. I still feel like Berlin is a second home to me. I have a lot of friends there and it just feels so right because I feel like I “grew up” in the years that I lived there in my 20s.
Where do you get your suits?
I would say Cherry Vintage in New York. I worked for them for seven years. I met my fiancé Ryan there, as he was a customer and I was working. Very romantic! And I got first pick at Pierre Cardin suits as they came in.
You were once president of the Ramones fan club. What duties did that entail? And was there a coup d’état? What is your current rock’n’roll title?
My duties as Ramones fan club president were to get as many self-addressed stamped envelopes from people to send out my fanzines with latest news on west coast movements of The Ramones. Joey would always call me “The Prez.” My current title is “Kid,” but maybe I’m old enough to be a King.
Kid Congo Powers + The Pink Monkey Birds play the 4Knots Music Festival Afterparty with the Black Lips and Jonathan Toubin on Saturday at Beekman Beer Garden.