By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious
Touring is a family affair for Kitty Durham.
The multi-instrumentalist and singer is back on the road, on the West Coast leg of a world tour that has seen her band play dates across Europe, the United States, and gearing up to head out to Japan, before wrapping up with a slew of festivals across the Old Continent. She’s enjoying a day of rest and relaxation in Solano Beach, California, kicking it poolside with her band mates: her siblings Daisy and Lewis, and their backing band – their parents.
“Every time we come here, it’s really nice. It’s good to get some sunshine as well,” Kitty says, as she takes the call from what I imagine is a luxurious cabana.
It’s the first day of spring, and Washington D.C. has just experienced yet another wave of snowfall. I express my jealousy and petty resentment, but Kitty quickly puts me at ease in her warm and disarming way. “I mean, the summer was really nice at home last year, but we kind of missed it because we were in the studio the whole time. We were stuck in this dark dungeon while everyone else was out having picnics; oh well!”
Her Cockney accent makes every word hang in the air a little bit longer than normal, and who can begrudge her for enjoying some down time? The Durham family band, better known as Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, has been performing and putting out music since the early 2000s. On the circuit again to promote their third album, aptly titled, erm, The Third, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis are beginning to make real waves in the United States. Their vibrant performance style and eclectic blend of sounds are sure to get you grooving.
You’ve been doing this for over a decade now. Do you have a schedule you adhere to, in terms of seasonal calendar?
Not really. I mean, we’re not really one of those bands that can churn out albums and songs a lot – we’ve done three albums, but everything takes a lot of time. We’ve got our own studio, but it’s analog, so it kind of takes a while to record anything, and we don’t sit down together and write songs. It’s done over a period of a few years, individually, and when it’s time to do an album we’ll spend a few months rehearsing and developing songs. Once we’ve done that, we’ll tour the album for a year or so. That’s kind of what we’re doing at the moment – we released the album in Europe a couple of months back, and I believe it’s coming out in the states on March 31st.
So yeah, we’re just touring around; we just did a month in Europe, and now we’re doing a month in the states, and then we’re off to Japan and so on, and a bunch of festivals. It’s going really well so far.
How is the major song-writing responsibility split among the three of you? Is one of you the main lyricist or composer?
It’s always done separately. We all write our own songs; lyrics and chord structures and the rest of it, and then kind of bring it together. But we all write really differently. I write on the guitar, Daisy writes on the piano, but sometimes she doesn’t have all the chords figured out, so we get together and do that, but it’s all kind of equal, even if the songs are written individually initially.
So, in a way, yeah, we write them all together because we develop them and add our own little parts in. There’s nobody going “oh you have to play this line” or whatever. The songs on this album were written over a period of four years, I guess. We were building a studio, and getting all that together, and it’s kind of weird now that we’re here that we’re actually playing music, rather than sitting in the studio and listening to it. It’s great to be back on the road and playing.
What dictated the choice to use analog recording equipment for your own studio?It’s the way we’ve always done it. My dad’s a mastering engineer for his day job, and he’s always been into analog equipment, which my brother Lewis has gotten into as well. For us, it’s ideal – it captures what we do in a way digital can’t, really. And we’ve tried digital studios, top BBC studios and all the rest of it, but it just sounded crap, you know? What [analog] does is it records what you’re hearing in the room, and it doesn’t take anything away from it, it just captures what’s going on. If you had Jimi Hendrix recording on a computer, it would sound shit, you know? It wouldn’t sound the same. Obviously, you can EQ the recording afterwards, and fiddle around with it, and do what you want.
In the past, the last thing we do is overdub vocals and a bit of bass, but for this album we layered things – recording things bit by bit, and we used a 16 track tape machine instead of 8 this time. We had a string section, and a horn section, and layered backing vocals. It’s exciting, it’s a journey. You keep adding more stuff to see what you can do with it.
Let’s take a step back and talk a bit about the band’s origins. I understand it’s a family affair, and not just between the three siblings.
Yeah, our Mum and Dad are in the band as well. Mum plays bass, and Dad plays rhythm guitar, and we just kind of grew up playing music together. There was always instruments in the house, but nothing was ever forced upon us in terms of what to do. There was a piano, and a tenor banjo, and stuff like that. Our Dad would sing to us; he comes from a big family in India, where they played music together in a traditional way, like in the old days. People would gather round the piano and play songs, as a way of entertaining themselves, and that definitely happened in our house. And my Mum obviously loves music. She was in a post-punk band called The Raincoats, back in the late 70s. My dad hasn’t played in a band before, but he’s made his career as a mastering engineer. There was constantly music around the house.
The band thing just kind of happened naturally. We just used to go to this Sunday afternoon thing at a pub, where bands would get up and play, and me and Lewis did a couple of Johnny Cash numbers when I was 8 and he was 10. Then kept playing here and there, at friends’ clubs and festivals, and that’s how it started, really. Now we’re here doing big tours, 15 years later. [Laughs].
Do you tour as an entire family and travel together? Any sort of family road trip, even without the added pressure of performing, can have its fair share of squabbles and friction.
Yeah, we do, we do. There’s so many arguments, there’s constant arguing, as you can imagine. [Laughs]. But it’s good overall, because we all get on, and we’ll go for a drink together, and we hang out together at home anyways. But yeah – sound checks are nightmares, you know? And you’re not afraid to hold back, and say “Oh, would you mind not doing that please?” – there’s none of that. If you don’t like something you’re like “what the fuck are you doing?!” [Laughs]. But we still enjoy it.
Do you live with any of your family members when you’re off tour, or do you have your own place?
So, me, Daisy, and Lewis, we share a house in Camden, and we’ve always lived in Camden, so it’s nice to be close to home.
What records or artists influenced you as an individual when you were growing up?
There are so many things over the years, and for us it was more playing music at the beginning, rather than listening to it. But I listened to all kinds of music; a lot of blues, and jazz. And obviously, coming from London, there’s a big West Indian influence, and we grew up with a lot of ska, and rocksteady. I’m well into jazz and stuff at the moment, and calypso, and old South American music as well. One of my favorite guitarists is this guy called Oscar Aleman – he’s from Argentina, and was big in the 30s and 40s. He played with a Gypsy swing style, with a South American feel, and I really, really like that kind of stuff. T-Rex were also one of my favorite bands growing up. Love T-Rex.
How do you find the scene for the kind of music you play – for jump-blues, neo-soul, rockabilly – to be in the UK? Is it a ripe scene to this day?
We’re not really a part of any kind of scene. We’re lucky, because we play so many kinds of music that we can’t get tied down or pigeonholed into any one thing. There are certain things that happen, but we’re not part of it, and it’s a good thing, I think.
Do you ever feel a disconnect performing a song you wrote four years ago, particularly as you’ve been writing and performing while going through what are objectively your formative years? Do you ever think to yourself “I can’t believe I wrote that”?
[Laughs]. Yeah, I mean the songs on this album, some of them I wrote three or four years ago, and they’re about someone in particular, but they evolve and have taken on a new meaning. They appeal to everybody, and everybody’s been through similar things. And meanings can change sometimes, as you meet new people and have new experiences, and get old, I guess.
What has been the most rewarding part about your career so far?
I think the fact that we get to travel the world, and play music, and have people come and see you and enjoy it. Any job that you love and you can afford to do – that, to me, is success – to be able to do what you love and put food about the table. That’s the best part of this job. And today has been great! We’re laying out on the beach, and I’m thinking “how the hell did I get here?” One minute you’re in a dingy venue in the bottom of a car park, and the next you’re in California drinking a cocktail. [Laughs]. You get the best of both worlds, and it’s brilliant to be able to play music for a living.
What’s been your favorite city or country you’ve played in so far?
That’s a tough question. I think Berlin, maybe – Germany’s our biggest market at the moment, and people are lovely over there. Berlin’s a great city. Japan is amazing as well; we haven’t been back there in a few years, but we’re going after this U.S. tour. What I love about Japanese audiences is that they clap in time. They’re one of the only audiences that actually clap in time! [Laughs]. They go crazy out there – it’s brilliant!
I think because we get to travel a lot of the U.S., it’s interesting because each place is so different from the next. Everything in Europe just starts to look a bit same, but because it’s so big over here, you never get sick of it. New York is brilliant. I like the hot weather, and I like California, but I prefer walking, and so I guess New York is where I would live if I ever moved to the States.