(Voluptuous Horror of Karen
Just when you thought you've
heard of everything, along comes a group like The Voluptuous Horror of Karen
This group is the "hottest" thing around especially in the New
York club scene.
When The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black performs, the celebrities turn
out, celebrities like actor Christian Slater, and supermodels Kate Moss and
Naomi Campbell. Recording for Triple X Records, the group recently recorded
the CD. "The Anti-Naturalists."
We spoke with lead singer Kembra.
Q. You've been through Syracuse at least a couple of
times that I know of. Do you remember those performances?
A. Oh, very well. In the winter the highway was very treacherous. There was
all this Black Ice on it. We thought we were going to die. We thought that
was going to be our last concert at The Lost Horizon. You guys have this reputation
for the Black Ice. Coining to upstate New York was one of the first times that
my band, which is based in New York City, was able to go out on the road on
tour. We travel with nine people in The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, in
Q. What is this group all about onstage?
A. Basically we are like a stage Soul Revue. We are really trying to bring
a sense of pageantry and glamour into contemporary rock 'n' roll. Our music
I always describe it to people who haven't seen us as, our music is like the
bread. The performance theatre part is sort of like the butter. That's sort
of the way it goes down. You sort of digest it together. The music is a very
important part of our whole project. It's not just about making crazy, artistic
noise in combination with this sick, gory, stage show. We're very much concerned
with making great pop songs, songs that you can sing along to, in the car or
the laundromat. We're all big fans of Cheap Trick, AC/DC, and all the classic
punk rockers. The music is kind of like, I feel like using food analogies right
now, but it's sort of like meat and potatoes rock 'n' roll. Real simple rock
'n' roll. We don't have an alternative sound. I wouldn't consider our sound
alternative at all. Our stage show is kind of out there, so that kind of confuses
people I guess.
Q. Would you say you've been influenced by groups like Kiss and GWAR?
A. I'm influenced by James Brown, by his stage soul revue. On the left side
he's got his Bitter Sweet back-up singers and on the right side he has his
horn section. Then he's right in the middle and he's always coming out with
that cape at the end. We have constants in our show too, which is sort of like
all the images we present in the band, of voluptuous horror, in other words
something that's cross and beautiful at the same time. It's nothing about platter
horror, bloody horror. I'm not interested in violence. I think violence has
really been done before. We are not based in any kind of Nordic mythology.
The vocabulary we're presenting, this voluptuous horror is very much like of
our own invention. In other words, there's this one art of the show during
a song "Oh, Diane" where I stand on my head and crack eggs on my
butt. That's kind of similar to James Brown always coming out with his cape.
That's a constant image in our little alphabet, in our vocabulary. Then we
have these costumes that illustrate each song specifically, like, these flower
heads that illustrate this number "Diane." Each song is sort of a
movie. We use a theatrical part to help explain to the audience, or to help
better tell the story to our audience. We're not up there slinging around dead
chickens for shock effect. This is not about being shocking. I guess because
we're musicians, and because we make movies and because we're artistic
or something although I hate to admit I have an artistic side, that's how we
communicate with our friends and audience. We probably wouldn't be the best
people to sit down and talk to about our feelings. These things come out in
our songs and in our little stage shows. I feel like our use of props is just
sort of a way to help explain what's going on, and to make it glamorous. We
like glamour. Glamour is very important. Karen Black is the band I always want
to go and see. That's why I started it. I feel like my relationship with my
audience is more like a country western relationship. People come to see us
'cause we have a lot in common.' We share a lot of the same hobbies.
Q. When did you put this group together and was it expensive to launch it?
A. It's 5 years old. I started the project after I made Super 8 movies, and
I did little shows with the other founder of the group, Samoa. He's a guitar
player. We founded it together. Was it expensive? I don't know. I consider
myself an availablist. I just make the best use of what's available. I don't
use not having anything as an excuse to not do something. I just use what's
available. I'm not one of these people who sits around depressed 'cause I don't
have a 4 track.
Q. It says in your bio. you were mugged. Just how serious were your injuries?
A. I feel like I died. I feel like I was one of those people on T.V. that
talk about seeing the white light at the end of the hallway.
Q. That's pretty bad isn't it?
A. Yeah, it was bad. It changed my life. Any remaining inhibitions that I
had before that mugging, they weren't there when I woke up. I started singing
after that mugging. I was always afraid of singing. After I got practically
killed I decided, I don't know, it just seemed that I should be in a rock band
for some reason.
Q. You were rather shy before "Karen Black." Did
the mugging get you over that?
A. No I think that's sort of reading into it a tiny bit too much. Shyness
is just one adjective to describe many facets of a personality. I would say
that I've lost a lot of fear. But, I'm still who I am. I still get shy sometimes.
Let's put it this way. I feel like getting mugged was a life-changing event
and I got a lot more courage after it. When you survive an almost near fatal
injury it like kicks your a— to a certain degree. When you wake up you
say "I wanna have fun. I'm not going to be miserable anymore."
Q. What's the name of this movie the band was supposed to be in with Whoopi
A. Oh, we were in some stupid movie with Whoopi Goldberg and they ended
up cutting us out. I'm glad we got cut out of the movie. It was called "Boys
On the Side." I wouldn't recommend anyone to see it. It was a horrible
'woman's picture' made by a completely sexist pig monster, Herb Ross.
He made movies like "The Turning Point." It was an o.k. job for us
but I'm glad they cut us out of the movie so that none of my fans had to pay
any money to go and see it.
Q. Before Triple X Records, you had your own label, the Beautiful Label.
And before that you were signed to what label.?
A. I don't want to give them any publicity. They were criminals. That's why
we started our own label. I don't want to give them any free press. They're
still a label in existence. They were just sort of dangling carrots in front
of our faces and then beating us with the carrots. We got so frustrated with
them we decided to start our own label. Samoa and I ran Beautiful Label for
a couple of years, and then we moved on to Triple X. We got so busy touring
around the country, being like a traveling vaudeville show that we decided
we needed to relinquish some of our duties. We really like Triple X. So, that's
Q. Is it true that the actress Karen Black came to see one of your shows
and later said she didn't know if she should be flattered or insulted?
A. She did say that.
Q. Let's say she was insulted, could she in some legal way, stop the band
from using her name?
A. I don't know. At this point we've gotten her so much free press, I feel
like suing her for using my band's name. I mean, most of the kids don't even
know who she is. She was very inspiring that's why I chose to use her name,
to sort of pay homage to her. I don't know, at this point, I just want to detach
from her, from Karen Black. Those big Hollywood stars are so unpredictable.
One day they'll be really supportive of you, and the next day they'll be having
a nervous breakdown.
Q. Were you a fan of Karen Black?
A. Well, I was a fan of her movies. By no means an obsessed fan, just someone
who is paying homage to her. I'm from Los Angeles. All of us kids, we never
went to school, we'd just watch t.v. and go to the movies. So I know a lot
about movies and t.v. I guess that's part of my little, personal history.
Q. You mean once in a while you'd skip school?
A. No, no. I never went to school. I always watched t.v. and went to the
Q. Where were your parents?
A. Well, you know, we're shady kids. They didn't know that we weren't going
Q. How about when those report cards came out?
A. Yeah, yeah. I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. I was really
obsessed with show business, and movies, and t.v., and now it's paying off.
Q. Did you graduate from high school?
A. No. I'm thoroughly self-educated, which isn't saying much. My parents
are kind of Los Angeles, Malibu types. I come from a family of surfers, so
it's probably a far cry from what it's all about in Syracuse, N.Y. I come from
Southern California, the South Bay. My family are the people the Beach Boys
used to write about. My dad's a surfer. My mom's a surfer chick. I was a surfer.
My brothers are punk rockers. We're all like surfers.
Q. You mentioned earlier you got into trouble, with who?
A. Everybody. Oh, c'mon. Don't sound too shocked. I'm in rock 'n' roll. Of
course I got into a lot of trouble. Then you go into rock and you start getting
paid for causing a lot of trouble. This is like another whole long discussion
about the public school systems in California and just how boring they are
for people like me. You know, 40 kids in the class; I was always real bored
in class, 'cause of the way they presented all of the activities. My favorite
thing that I did in school was to make a map of Africa and then make a Japanese
garden out of a McDonald's French fry box. That's like the only thing I remember
Q. You've had some celebrities drop by to catch your
show. I'm talking about people like Christian Slater and Kate Moss. Have
they ever stopped backstage
to chat with you?
A. I'm one of these rock people that never has time to have sex after one
of my shows or talk to big celebrities or do drugs with record co. executives,
'cause we do all these costume and body embellishments, so it's more like I
go in, do the show, and I leave.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved