As delightfully chatty as he is distinguished, punk rock luminary Kid Congo Powers is humble about his time playing in great bands. The American guitarist, now out on his own in Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, does however acknowledge the role that playing in these bands has had on his career. I caught up with Kid Congo, real name Brian Tristan, before his run of Australian shows started last month.
“To be stung by the black widow is probably the best kind of sting you can get,” says Tristan, when discussing the inspiration for the Spanish name of the record. The title is largely a homage to the spider as a femme fatale, and is also influenced by the story of a Mexican spider goddess.
“She was a goddess that was worshipped and her role was that she guarded the underworld, and she would do this by sprouting these hallucinogenic morning glories and having these psychedelic visions encouraging and warding off vice in the land... That’s kind of what our role we’ve chosen in music, which is to guard the underground – underground music – and make sure that it remains pure. Our job is to have psychedelic visions and to bring them to people, and to bring a view of life that is askew to what normal people might want. So I thought she was my role model, I related to her.”
Having now been playing with the Pink Monkey Birds for 10 years, Tristan has carved out a more than respectable career away from the bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s that he made his name in.
“Coming from such strong and well known people [and groups], who are... Visionary people who made their own world and their own language, trying to figure out what my language is that I have to teach [was important],” he says. “It turned out it was just a combination of everything I’ve done, and it took a while to get there. So the difference is carving out your own niche and creating your own world for people and to get people to feel like they’re invited into your world... Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud and I’m very honoured to be included in Nick’s vision and The Cramps’ vision, I learned everything from them, so I feel a big debt to them. [But now] I’m doing my own thing. I don’t have to be the guitar player in the Bad Seeds or The Cramps’ old guitar player, I will always be that, but I will also be something else. I’m Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, that is the reward.”
With the new album being named a feature album on both PBS and RRR in Melbourne soon after its release, there’s obviously a lot of love for Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds down under, a love that is definitely reciprocated.
“Australia is a great rock and roll place. Australian bands are great to us, they’re exotic to us. The Birthday Party, going back to The Saints, I befriended Scientist when they lived in London in the ‘80s. You could just go down the line of dozens of Australian bands that I really like, so I’ve always been aware of what a good rock and roll country it is. [At our shows], people want to come and have fun, so that’s what we do. I think we have a grassroots sort of following, and those people are our tribe. Sometimes it’s bigger and sometimes it’s very, very local, so it’s hard to say. We get a lot of press, so people know about us, but radio play is mostly college, community [and] public radio... [Community radio] champion the underground and they’re actually interested in something that’s new.”
Forming a band under his own name has helped Tristan realise that focusing all of his energy on one band is what he needs to be doing. His musical output has certainly backed up this statement, with an album pretty much every second year since their first together in 2005 and an undeniable connection with the band.
“Me and the rhythm section... We recently realised it’s been 10 years we’ve been playing together, and that’s for me a world record. And it’s great because we don’t even have to talk about making music anymore. Everyone brings equal talent to the table, everyone writes songs and we’re all collaborative and we hardly ever have to discuss what’s happening, we just kind of let it happen.”
La Araña Es La Vida is out now via In The Red Records. For more details, head to the official Kid Congo Facebook Page.