Kembra Interview
(Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black)

Just when you thought you've heard of everything, along comes a group like The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black.

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 a Winnebago.

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 Goldberg?
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 what happened.

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 movies.

Q. Where were your parents?
A. Well, you know, we're shady kids. They didn't know that we weren't going to school.

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 about school.

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