KRISTEENYOUNG V THE VOLCANIC BIO
There are no small parts, only small minds. But KRISTEENYOUNG has never suffered from a deficit of imagination. For the new EP V The Volcanic, songwriter and performer Kristeen Young drew upon the cinema, writing originals inspired by supporting characters—some of them quite unexpected—in seven different films: Violet Bick in Frank Capra's 1946 favorite It's A Wonderful Life("V The Volcanic"); the Angry Apple Tree of 1939's The Wizard of Oz ("I'll Get You Back"); Lucy Westenra in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 take on Bram Stoker's Dracula ("Why Can't It Be Me?"); Old Lodge Skins in 1970's Little Big Man ("Now I'm Invisible"); the android Pris from 1982's Blade Runner ("The Devil Made Me"); Sarah Jane Johnson in Douglas Sirk's 1959 melodrama Imitation of Life ("Imitation of Life"); and Cleopatra in the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton adaptation of Cleopatra ("Fantastic Failure")....the exception to the supporting character rule.
At the outset, Young intended the follow-up to 2009's thunderous Music for Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd On-Looker to be a funk record. Only at the time, she was in a bit of a funk herself. "I was going through a particularly dank depression," she reveals. Mired in the midst of this protracted "blue period," she sought solace through immersion in her favorite movies—and from that escapism sprang new inspiration. "I didn't want to be me, so I decided to use what was killing my time and become other people." Not real people, but her very real-seeming companions at the time: movie characters. Now she had a legit excuse to spend even more time disappearing into the world onscreen. And "disappear" is the right word, as that theme crops up throughout V The Volcanic—not just in the sense of getting lost in the alternate realm of movies, but also apropos of how the expanding virtual universe crowds out the "real" world.
Young admits she isn't entirely certain what drew her to each of these specific characters, although she pinpoints some clues. "Some of them, like Violet Bick in It's A Wonderful Life, I can always imagine having another life. And because she's a minor character, I want to know more of what's going on in her head." On the EP's explosive and kaleidoscopic title track, KRISTEENYOUNG delves into Violet's psyche, demanding "how much can be swallowed 'til she explodes?" Violet displays a confidence in who she is that George and his namby-pamby wife Mary lack, yet is painted as somehow lacking because she doesn't aspire to the same ideals. "I always feel sorry for Violet. She was a woman ahead of her time." Underscoring that notion, "V The Volcanic" calls out a litany of revolutionary women: including Josephine Baker, Camille Paglia, Yoko Ono, Harriet Tubman, Benazir Bhutto, & Courtney Love.....women whose unique behavior or words (in their time) upset people.
One of the record's most arresting turns comes courtesy of a very unlikely character: the Angry Apple Tree from The Wizard of Oz. Her voice effortlessly flipping into its highest register as murderous piano pounds beneath her, Young runs the listener through a bitch-slap spelling bee inspired by the sheer gall of young Dorothy Gale. "I relate too much to the Apple Tree," the composer admits. "The idea of doing all this work and creating something, and someone just happens to pop by and pluck it from you. That was my complete experience of the past couple years: being food for thieves."
Musically, V The Volcanic marks a departure from earlier KRISTEENYOUNG releases. Having set out to restore the piano to its rightful place alongside the guitar as one of the most fearsome instruments in the rock music pantheon, and feeling that she'd finally met that goal with 2009's Music for Strippers…, Young was now interested in going back to her roots, drawing on the electro-funk grooves she loved in her Midwest childhood: Prince, Rick James, Teena Marie, Cameo. Yet as the new material took shape, she began to lose interest in mining just one musical vein. "I started branching out into other styles a bit, opera, dark wave, and other sounds that felt cozy to me." V The Volcanic may not sound precisely the same as its predecessors in the discography, but it always sounds like KRISTEENYOUNG. With Young's thrilling four-octave vocal range and dramatic performance style, it couldn't be anyone else.
V The Volcanic was recorded with legendary producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex, Morrissey), who also contributed bass and guitar. The arrangements, however, are solely Young's handiwork. Former Fall Out Boy front man, Patrick Stump, also plays guitar, as does NYC noise maker, Lou Rossi. Since much of the material was written in St. Louis, or inspired by notions of what constitutes "home," Young worked with several players from the Gateway City, including longtime percussionist "Baby" Jef White, bassist Chris Sauer, and guitarist Richard Fortus.
The Village Voice hailed KRISTEENYOUNG's last record, Music for Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd On-Looker (2009), as "the kind of 'commercial' pop we need more of." Originally from St. Louis—where Young started out in life as a half-Apache, half-German foster child, then was adopted by strict Christian parents—KRISTEENYOUNG is currently based in New York City. In addition to making music, Young also designs her own eye-popping stage wear. To promote V The Volcanic, the band shot its first video (for "Fantastic Failure") amongst the landmarks of hometown, St. Louis. The video was directed by (Los Angeles based) Seaton Lin. Following the album's release in May 2011, KRISTEENYOUNG will embark on series of month-long residencies in four major metropolises—Los Angeles, New York, London, and Chicago—plus side dates in nearby markets.
KEYBOARD MAGAZINE (OCTOBER 2011)
Powerhouse Piano for Thinking People
V The Volcanic
Kristeen Young is that rare talent whose very existence proves how inadequate the tools of music journalism are for describing a true original.
I’m talking in particular about the tired tactic of comparing artists to other artists and then doing a clever backpedal about the actual “sounds like” factor. As in, “If Kate Bush and David Bowie had a baby and hired Trent Reznor as a sitter, you still wouldn’t have Kristeen Young.” Better to note that her operatic voice can jump multiple octaves with absolute precision and haunting tremolo, that her piano playing can swing from thunderous and dissonant to delicate and lyrical on a dime, and that she dishes out an alarming density of melodies that will get stuck in your head. In fact, qualities like these attracted the attention of the Thin White Duke himself, with whom Young sang the duet “Saviour.” In 2007, she recorded vocals on two Morrissey tracks. Produced by Bowie alumnus Tony Visconti, her latest album V The Volcanic draws as much on funk and electro as it does on art-rock, with each song written from the point of view of a different film character that inspires Young. That these range from Violet Bick in It’s a Wonderful Life to the replicant Pris from Blade Runner further speaks to Young’s songwriting breadth. Look—just go get the record. And see a live show if you can. No matter how much you think you’ve heard it all before, Kristeen Young will make you believe in discovering new music again.
You use dissonance as a musical statement more effectively than anyone I’ve heard. Yet your pedal-down glissandi, “off” notes, and other moves are precise and never overpower the arrangement. How did you perfect this technique?
Practice. Trial and Error. Years of humiliation and pain. I’ve always been drawn to dissonance, but to get the percentages of it right is a lifelong pursuit. I love atonality, but too much of it doesn’t even sound like dissonance anymore, and leaves you with nothing to hang your hat on emotionally. Melody has to fulfill that role.
What degree of classical training is in your background, and how does it affect your arrangements?
I’ve taken a lesson or two. Listening to music from centuries ago is inspiring because of the complexity. I’m not sure human beings will ever be capable of this again, as we have too many distractions now— we no longer have that kind of focus. Other than listening and being inspired, I don’t think people should become mired in only performing music from a hundred or more years ago. I think it’s a starting place and can give you a firm foundation of what’s possible. Then you should go your own way. That’s progress.
Live, you use the Roland XP-80 for piano sounds when a lot of newer keyboards are available. Why?
I’ve bought newer keyboards and I always end up returning them to the store because I don’t like the piano sound for my style. Of course the sound can be altered—but—it never sounds as good as the full and biting attack of the XP-80’s “Bright Piano” patch. It’s a pretty strong place to start and is the most assaultive rock piano sound I’ve found.
What keyboards were used on V The Volcanic, and can you describe two or three of your favorite “keyboard moments” in songs—in terms of a chord progression, riff, sonic aspect, or anything you’re particularly proud of because it’s cool or unique?
I only used the XP-80. If you’d asked me about “keyboard moments” on my last album, Music For Strippers, Hookers, & the Odd On-Looker, I could’ve easily answered. A lot of that album features the playing style we’re discussing here: the bashing accents, dissonance, glissandi, wall of assaulting pianos. But this album, musically, is all about combinations of styles and sounds. I’ll leave it up to others to decide whether it’s cool or unique. I’d never know.
What keyboard-playing performer do you find it most flattering to be compared to?
If I was compared to Mike Garson I wouldn't wretch. Mike Garson is the only other pianist I can think of who uses angularity
and dissonance in a rock context, and he does it to perfection. He doesn’t bash like I do, but he doesn’t have to because he’s a virtuoso. I’m more of an emotional player and that part of me is more influenced by Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, even Chico Marx. There’s a piano solo in my song “You Must Love Me,” and when I play it I’m almost always thinking of Chico’s piano performance in the film A Day at the Races.
How about the most annoying comparison?
It doesn’t just annoy me, it angers me when I’m compared to other pianists with whom I have nothing in common other than playing the piano and having a vagina. Yet our actual playing styles are worlds apart.
What’s your favorite thing you learned from working with Tony Visconti?
I’ve always added a touch of distortion to my live piano sound, just to thicken it, but many times this would sound shrill in certain venues. Tony suggested I get a small stage mixer to have more control of the ratio of clean to distorted piano and the EQ. He even made a wooden bracket for the mixer with a metal thread underneath that connects to any mic stand. Adding the mixer did wonders for my live sound. Now, when you stand in the audience, the effect is all encompassing, like a piano cannon—I mean the weapon.
What usually comes first when you’re composing: lyrics, melody, chord progression, or rhythm?
They all take turns—which is surprisingly polite of them.
In the bio on your website, you say that during the past couple of years you often felt like “food for thieves.”
I was speaking mainly of my visual presentation. The world in general seems to care more about visuals than the aural experience at this time. But I don’t even understand the concept of stealing other people’s styles and material. It’s like admitting you can’t come up with your own idea. Wouldn’t you feel like a loser . . . in those solitary, ceiling-staring moments at 3 a.m.?
What gear is essential to your home studio?
I don’t have a home studio, thank the gods. And if I did, I wouldn’t subject your readers to one more person so pleased with himself or herself for sitting alone in a room and masturbating with their electronic toys. I think it’s sad that a lot of musical environments have become so isolationist. To me, that’s not what’s exciting about music or life. I’m much more stimulated when there’s someone else involved.
10.2011 KEYBOARDMAG.COM 13
by Ken Partridge
When Kristeen Young
, pianist and singer for the two-person rock group of the same name, is onstage, even the mundane can seem intriguing. "What are you doing out so late on a Wednesday night?" the eccentric front woman asked her audience last night at the Bell House in Brooklyn, N.Y., her question growing more beguiling as the evening wore on.
On the one hand, the seemingly simple query had served to demystify the St. Louis-born singer. Young may have been wearing a black pleather pirate-biker-spacewoman jacket, superhero eye mask and fingerless gold-lame gloves, but she was grounded enough to know the day of the week. In her world, as in ours, it was Wednesday, and that, somehow, was comforting.
Of course, the way she emphasized "you" -- as in, "you, the less fabulous ones that have to wake up in six or seven hours and go to work" -- underlined a point made over and over again by her frenzied, high-drama piano-pop songs: Kristeen Young is not like the rest of us.
Backed by drummer "Baby" Jef White, a first-rate basher resplendent in 'A Clockwork Orange
' suspenders and bowler, Young gushed personality. With theatrical arm waves and foot stomps, she stormed through a dozen tunes, many from her latest album, 'Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd On-Looker.'
From the opening 'Stop Thinking,' Young's songs were twisty, relentless and epic. As White muscled through fill after fill, sometimes adding live beats to pre-recorded ones blasting from his partner's keyboard rig, Young pounded hard on the keys, mixing deep, rolling chords with choppy, high-pitched accents.
While Young's effects-laden piano exploded sound, she let out quivering operatic bellows and dolphin-like falsettos, two of the sounds that fall within her four-octave range. Her jet-black hair -- piled high, not unlike the coif of onetime tour partnerMorrissey
-- shook as she sang, her pained lyrics rendering things all the more theatrical.
"This is our last song," Young announced before playing 'Comfort Is Never a Goal,' to which one brave fan replied, "No, it's not."
"Yes, it absolutely is," Young said, her tone slightly more severe than it had been seconds earlier. She proceeded to burn through the kind of song Ally Sheedy
's 'Breakfast Club
' character might have heard on a constant loop in her head, then left the stage. True to her word, she didn't return for an encore.
January 11, 2010
OUT MAGAZINE-Need To Know: Kristeen Young
Photo: Jason Rodgers
When interviewing and reviewing musicians is your job, you can grow woefully hard to impress. With so many promo CDs and press show invites making their way across your desk, it takes a lot to truly be blown away by a band. I don't consider myself a music snob (if anything most of my colleagues think my appetite for low-calorie pop is problem) but these days I usually need more than a good bass line or a perky pair of tits slathered in glitter to really get me going.
So when my friend (and Popnog partner in crime) Jessanne Collins suggested I give Kristeen Young (who performs with drummer "Baby" Jef White as KRISTEENYOUNG) a go, I was a bit skeptical. Jessanne knows about my thing for women who play the piano and when you've grown up listening to Kate Bush and Fiona Apple and (vintage) Tori Amos, the newbies usually sound at best derivative and at worst just plain ... bad (I'm looking at you Vanessa Carlton).
Kristeen Young is neither of those things. While my first reaction to hearing her new album Music for Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd-Onlooker was "WTF? Did Kate Bush record an album between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love that's been buried until now?" (Though Young says she didn't begin listening to Bush until after she began making her own music, some of Bush's early experimental whelping and thrashing piano do seem to manifest themselves on Music for Strippers...), I quickly realized that Young has created her own weird, wonderful brand of piano pop.
Photo: Jason Rodgers
Young doesn't so much play the piano as assault it. In fact, she has a dress made out of piano keys fashioned from keyboards that have fallen victim to her Jujitsu-like approach to playing (see above). "I really wanted to expand the vocabulary of the piano, to show it could be a modern rock 'n' roll instrument," she told Jessanne recently for a profile in Out's February issue. Combined with White's drumming, Young says ofMusic for Strippers... "I wanted to make it a machine, really layered -- a wall of pianos, but like that moving, decapitating wall in Caligula." Songs like "Son of Man" and "That's What It Takes, Dear" -- a duet with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump -- stutter and stomp, gnash and wail but Young never loses her hold on melody and she offers no shortage of beautiful moments even when spitting lines like "I, once, swallowed you / Then, you swallowed me / Now it's all shit, son." All in all the album -- daring, biting, and utterly unlike anything anyone else is putting out right now -- is one of my favorites of 2009 and deserves every bit of the praise and attention it will hopefully continue to get.
To hear samples of Young's music, to learn more about her, and to pick up a copy ofMusic for Strippers (or any of her previous releases) head to her MySpace page and/or her official site. And if you're in New York City this Wednesday, January 13, make your way to The Bell House in Brooklyn, where she'll be performing with White at 11 pm.
-- NOAH MICHELSON
VILLAGE VOICE NYC
by Sean Bosler
Kristeenyoung is the poppy, piano-driven ruckus of Kristeen Young and friends. The kind of smart and edgy songwriting found within her newest Tony Visconti (T-Rex, Bowie )-produced disc, Music For Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd-Onlooker, is the kind of "commercial" pop we need more of. Her (allegedly) four-octave voice swirls ethereally, all Kate Bush-like, but then counters those stabbing percussive piano and drum attacks with PJ Harvey heft. Bet she's a hoot live.
by Mark LePage
Kristeen Young appeared wearing what looked like a bagpipe made of broken piano keys slung over her left shoulder and a chimneysweep hat from Tiffany’s perched rakishly on her head. And she brought shard-songs, with a Bjork Amos attack.
And I do mean attack. While Jef White pummeled heavy drum rolls and fills, Young vaulted through her extraordinary upper range, pounding her keyboard (she must have been wearing the previous one) with enough percussive force and emotion for a five-piece.
Fearless, and still something of a broken mirror, songwise, she will eventually dial this into something fierce. She certainly accomplished the rare and coveted feat of frightening some in her audience. The new album is called Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd-Onlooker. She has a backstory: asked to leave a Morrissey tour slot for making a joke about the headliner’s supposed prowess in “going downtown” (a compliment, one would have thought). She’ll have a frontstory, too.
by Joe Cortez
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and there are precious few others that have eyes as telling as Kristeen Young's. She gazes out the corner on the cover of her most recent, Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd On-Looker, looking like the girl that never quite grew up and we regard her in monochromatic tones as a fleeting figment of our imagined past. It's little wonder someone like Morrissey could be so taken with her.
Although not a household name, Kristeenyoung (both the band and the woman) has cut its teeth as a touring act and across four studio albums to varying degrees of success (that being mostly creative). The fifth, Music for Strippers..., finds Young at a point where she seems to have absorbed some of her more eccentric past tendencies to create something that's palatable to a wide audience but retains much of what has made her such a unique and endearing performer to her cult.
Moments of sweet passion and tender mercy are mined throughout Music for Strippers..., however this is not to say Young's latest is without its bite. "That's What it Takes, Dear," "The Depression Contest," and "Stop Thinking" play like highlights for a bitter night, contrasting the more whimsical efforts put forth on this release. Clearly this woman has an axe or two to grind and as a listener you feel it, identify with it. That's the power of a great imagination at work.
As a band it's hard to pin down what exactly it is that Kristeenyoung does. Young herself seems possessed by the same theatrically-inclined rock demons that transformed David Bowie, Tori Amos and Kathleen Hanna, sometimes all at once. Of course comparisons to the Thin White Duke are almost obligatory seeing that Tony Visconti has served as producer on all of Young's albums and has seemingly taken Young under his wing as a protege of sorts. That Young is able to pull off such a balancing act and produce something that's not only original but (for lack of a better phrase) good is refreshing.
Young is certainly not the first girl to take to piano and espouse neurotic but there is a welcome lack of irony to her lyrics that makes everything she says that much more vital and necessary. Make no mistake, Kristeen Young is a bonafide talent and Kristeenyoung is a band that is only beginning to find its stride.
KRISTEENYOUNG, Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd On-Looker (Test Tube Baby) If post-millennial feminism has gone insufferably mawkish, Morrissey-fave KRISTEENYOUNG seems all about dragging it back to the stripper pole of emancipation. The brainchild of the eponymous singer and her drummer, “Baby” Jef White, Music for Strippers is another merciless counter to a culture drowning in emo tantrums. Young rock-operatically shrieks disdainful and literate vitriol while thrashing at her piano with a rather unsettling fervor. Given a Teutonic sheen by Bowie producer Tony Visconti, Young’s sixth album sounds sort of like Cole Porter, Kate Bush and Ziggy Stardust all caught up in the same typhoon—the best thing to happen to sex workers since Mötley Crüe. —Ken Scrudato
Raw passion, undying conviction, power, and undeniable talent, that’s Kristeen Young in a nutshell. Her latest opus is a wild ride through a wall of mind bending musical pieces and eccentric stories, all while being seduced by her imaginative creep-piano-pop rock style. Kristeen’s aim for Music For Strippers, Hookers, And The Odd-Onlookers was to crush all notion of piano based music and make a new sound for piano, which I believe she accomplishes mighty easily. Kristeen’s ultra-colorful, raw, heart-wrenching lyrics tell of stories about sex, death, heartbreak, recovery, strength, and obviously, love. Written at an unsettling time frame in her life, Kristeen captures the moments in vivid quality and narrates viscerally with full emotion and abstract interpretation. Sharp-edged “Son Of Man” cuts like a knife with it’s stingy lyrics while the dissonant swing of “The Depression Contest” leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth. “Everybody Wants Me To Cry” leads into a dark, downward spiral where Kristeen’s words come alive in full color. “You Must Love Me” is a super sexy, serrated pop gem with cutting words that dig deep under the skin, beautifully sung by Kristeen’s powerful vocals. Sitting at the throes of interjections is “That’s What It Takes, Dear,” where Kristeen enlists the help of Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Vaughan Stump for added texture. Most accessible track on the record goes to the pop heavy bang of “If You Marry Him,” which is an undiluted warning to fools in love. The pummeling piano melodies, dissonant harmonic characteristics, off beats and Kristeen’s undeniable vocals make this record one hell of a ride. It’s a good mixture of instrumentation and the production also sounds very well done. Music For Strippers, Hookers And The Odd-Onlookers is one good album that should take Kristeen Young to greater heights, higher up the pecking order. It’s good from the bottom up, inside, out. It also kicks major ass. It is definitely worth your time!
AWWMUSIC.CA Oct. 30, 2009
The piano is a bit of a weird instrument when you think about it. It has a lot of range, and a lot potential but it is kind of rare for someone to do something different. Sure Ben Folds
messes around with it a bit, but it is still just boils down to a blending of genres. However there is one person doing some interesting stuff with it and that is Kristeen Young
Kristeen Young is an experimental group made up of Kristeen Young on piano and Baby Jef White on drums. What stands out Kristeen Young from other piano plays is her amazing use of dissonance. She plays the notes that shouldn’t go together in any way but makes it work beautifully. It doesn’t seem like she is fallowing any kind of rule what so ever but it makes some awesome music. Her latest album Music for Strippers, Hookers and The Odd-onlooker does this beautifully does everything wrong perfectly right. The album will blend notes from all over the keyboard to make an amazing mix.
The piano isn’t the only great part of the album, Baby Jef white has keeps it going with an awesome steady drive using over powering drums. This combined with the spastic piano playing makes for an amazing wall of sound. This is all over top of Kristeen’s awesome vocals, sounding a lot like Kate Bush or Tori Amos at times. Her voice is extremely powerful and booming and just adds to the awesome mix. The Lyrics are pretty good as well, although a little hard to make out at times, with some fairly heavy Morrissey like themes in them.
Overall this album isn’t really like anything I’ve heard in a long time. I know I might say that a lot but really it is completely different. It’s not like some albums that are different that are only a blend of two groups this is something completely different and extremely awesome. It may not be for everyone but everyone should still at least give it a listen.
Kristeen Young – Son Of Man
Kristeen Young – Everybody Wants Me To Cry
Kristeen Young – You Must Love Me