River Rocks Rehab is nigh, and headlining the festivities this year is American Kid Congo Powers, bringing his latest act Kid Congo and the Near Death Experience to Australia for the first time. Kid Congo has been rocking around the States since the 80s and has played with names like The Gun Club and Nick Cave, lately focusing on his band The Pink Monkey Birds. Kid Congo last brought his band to our shores in 2015 for the first time in 25 years, and again in 2018. Congo and the Near Death Experience appear for two Australian dates this year, the RRR being their final show, so we thought we better sit down and chat with the absolute legend.
So, firstly we must say four decades as a musician is a credit to your hard work and clear passion. For you, what’s been the standout part of your rich musical history?
The standout part is that it happened at all. I was just a big music fanatic that was forced into playing guitar by Jeffrey Lee Pierce of The Gun Club, having never touched one before age of 19. The fact I presently continue to make music that people enjoy is a real standout to me.
You’ve been in bands since 1979. In your expert opinion, what are some of the key ingredients to a solid band?
A strong vision of the way you’d like to hear and experience music. Also, the ability to create a musical language and world that people can join in on and understand, a good look, and magic, of course.
On that, with such a prolific career and with a variety of collaborators; has there been a time when you struggled with creative output?
I constantly struggle with creative output to this day. It takes hard work, a lot of trial and error, concentration and for me, a fair amount of wringing of hands. Also, it depends on the musicians I’m working with. Thankfully, I have been lucky in this area; the musicians I have and do play with are very giving.
We know both are super important to any musician, but what’s got your heart: songwriting, or the live stage?
I can most definitely say playing live. I like performing and feel the communication with an audience. Instant result and satisfaction – said like a true recovering addict.
The past 40 years have also seen a lot of changes in the music industry, which is proving to be ever-evolving. What’s something that you’ve noticed change the most, and where do you see it heading in the future (good or bad)?
Ha. I try not to look! I have been lucky enough to have gone down, mostly, the independent route and the past 11 years or so on In The Red Records which has afforded me the freedom to do as I please, as Larry Hardy only releases artists he likes personally. I have had his full support all these years and I also admire his tastes. He is actually going into publishing and will release my memoir in the next year, so we’re trying something new together. This has put me somewhat out of the music industry at large. I have been signed to larger labels that ended in disaster and unreleased material. I vowed “never again” and, thus far, kept that promise. I don’t make a lot from download streams like Spotify or Pandora. That is still a bone of contention.
It was announced last month that you’ll be back in Australia for a surprise visit and one-off Melbourne show in support of the launch of the definitive Kim Salmon biography written by Douglas Galbraith. How did that one come about? What convinced you to venture back to Australia?
I am venturing back to Australia at the request of Kim Salmon and Douglas Galbraith. A royal command performance, much like from the Queen. I have known Kim from the earliest days of the ’80s as we barely scraped by in London at the same time and toured together with The Gun Club and The Scientists. Kim sent me a letter, before we met, TELLING ME that The Scientists were going to go on a UK tour as support. How could I resist such tenacity? Also, I dug their music in the biggest way. Since then we have remained friendly and I see Kim as the perfect peer group, with his groups! Like i said before, he has created a strong vision and music world. Plus, we laugh a lot which is important.
Now you’ve teamed up with supergroup Harry Howard & the NDE to become Kid Congo & The Near Death Experience – what were the conversations like that led to this? Is this where you’ll be focusing a lot of your energy from now on?
Like Kim Salmon, Harry, with Crime and The City Solution and These Immortal Souls, were in London those 80’s, no doubt also scraping by and creating great music. We didn’t know each other personally but were in the same circles spinning around. I certainly admired him and his bands. Also, Dave Graney and Clare Moore were in London with The Moodists at the same juncture. I really liked them. There was a bill in London at The Town and Country Club with The Gun Club, These Immortal Souls, and The Moodists before we fled back to our respective homelands. In past years we have reconnected and here we are, all together again – in much better shape, I will guess.
You’re heading to Geelong later this year to headline River Rocks Rehab. Have you ever ventured down to Geelong and The Barwon Club before?
I have not and it will be a first. I am excited and looking forward to it.
Can we expect any Gun Club & Cramps classics and some Pink Monkey Bird goodness, or will there be some surprises??
All of the above will be played. I always like to say hello to the mentors. We will even include some NDE songs. They are so good.
We hear you’re been writing an autobiography which is sure to have kept you busy! What kind of angle/theme/story are you wanting to express through this memoir?
Yes, I am in the final editing stages. I have been chipping away at it for over 10 years. It is a memoir starting at childhood and going to mid-’90s perhaps, when I go solo after being in “the big three”, meaning The Gun Club, The Cramps, and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. I suppose the Pink Monkey Birds have been going for 12 years, so the next memoir will have to state “the big four”. It deals with my personal life, not only as a rock n roll fanatic, and the elements that led me to become a musician, but growing up as Latino and Queer in America. Inner adventures.
River Rocks Rehab kicks off on Sunday 10 November. Tickets available at the BC or from Oztix.
Photo by Luz Gallardo