This week The Cultural Reset highlights the funky and unforgettable members of ‘The Fabulous Red Diesel’. This feature sees Ms. Kitty, the lead songwriter of the band, open up about everything from the group’s formation, to how their creative beginnings have given way to their sound, performance style, and attitude toward the music industry itself.
Photo: The Fabulous Red Diesel
Where/when did your collective creative journey begin?
It began with me (Ms. Kitty) in 1995, I was a solo artist, met Wil (DukeBoom) fell in love, and began playing music together. We were in a jazz/folk band called Naked Angel until 2004 when we left London with our 2 daughters to begin a new life in St. Leonards on the sea.
Duke Boom (Wil) had always wanted to pursue a more funky sound, and so recruited a very funky bassist (Chris) and a very funky guitarist (Max) We then added our friend Simon on trumpet, and his friend Bea on trumpet, and our friend Dave on trombone/percussion. At this point, we were primarily funk, and released 4 albums, 2 live and 2 studio.
Then in 2016, our funky bassist wanted to pursue other stuff, and our trombonist went to live on a boat. We toyed with getting another bassist in, but Bea jumped in and brought out her double bass (and occasional tuba) Our sound morphed, in the most beautiful way. Now we were able to do everything from solo acoustic style to full-on funky dance tunes, all in the same set! It was like being let out of a cage. I can take any song of any style to this amazing bunch of musicians, and they will make it awesome, give it a twist and make it into something that has not existed before and always takes your breath away.
Tell us about your artistry? What would you say is your mission with your art? And who are your influences (message/music style)?
Our mission quite simply is for each of us to play in our own way, together. Nobody is in charge or arrangements, we all are, and all that is asked of each person is to be themselves to their full capability. Nobody can be you as well as you can. There may be other, better, or more accomplished musicians, but they can't be us. Only we can do that, and that applies to all musicians. Being yourself is the very best thing you can be.
Our Influences—many and varied. Each of us has a long list of musical loves. I'll give a few examples: Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Barbara Streisand, Winton Marsallis, Edie Brickell, Prince, Mary Coughlan, Marvin Gaye, Bette Middler, Public Enemy, Dave Brubeck and BadHeadDay.
Can you speak on your process when creating projects? When do you feel most inspired?
I (Ms. Kitty) write the songs, alone, on a piano—in the mornings mostly. Songs that I think the band will like, I take to band practice, on Saturday. We run through the tune, everyone just doing what they feel—then if it seems to have legs, we do it again with each person creating their own part. We might record it on a phone, like a sketch, then move on to something else. We'll repeat the song at each rehearsal (weekly) and start nailing the ending and how it begins, and the final arrangement. Then to finish it off we gig it. In the live situation, it really finds its own level, and when it is really bedded in, we would consider recording it.
Personally, I am most inspired after a good gig. I will often sketch melodies on my phone on the drive home, or in the loo when we've finished. For whole projects it's the same, really fun projects will always inspire me to think of another one! At the moment our main project apart from band gigging is Sparkly Bird, which has dance, aerial, and narration in the show. We have just started doing pop-up versions of this, where we arrive in a car park or some such place and put on the show. It's really challenging, because it's in places where people don't have access to theatre or live music, so it's very rewarding to see them enjoying it. This in turn inspires me to do more, and so it goes on.
Is there anything about the industry you’d want to change as you progress in your career? Tell us about some experiences you overcame.
That's a tough one. The industry has evolved naturally as technology has, so there is no way of turning the clock back to the amazing days when you could hear Queen next to Kate Bush next to the Sex Pistols, all on the same radio show.
If I could, I would remove accountants and non-musicians from positions of influence in the industry. The constant need to make tons of money means that mainstream music is scarily predictable and all the lovely strange and wonderful bands are marginalised. Without income, it's tough to survive as a musician so you end up with another job, and then less time to pursue your own musical business.
I would have a government-funded basic income for musicians like in France, so if you prove that you are regularly creating and gigging music you get a regular income to cover your basics. We used to have something like that (the dole!!!!) but that's out of reach these days. The result is that the bland mass-produced prole-pop becomes the background for our era, and actually, it isn't- there are thousands of amazing bands playing wonderful music out there but it's like finding a needle in a haystack trying to get to them. Also, streaming is a terrible way to rob musicians of money, I would make the streaming companies pay musicians properly because I know they can afford it.
Photo: Ms. Kitty of 'The Fabulous Red Diesel'
Have you ever experienced limitations in your career due to your identity?
Tricky. I have always been me, so I don't know what would have happened if I had presented my music as a different person, (i.e. a man). I think you have to push through, and the pushing through is part of your path, and the insights you gain can then be shared in your work, which is valuable. I also think that your limitations come from how you perceive yourself, and others tend to buy into what you are projecting. So if you feel that others are limiting you, look inside, and ask why you are letting them see you that way. It's an ongoing process though, and for anyone with confidence issues a very difficult one. Maybe it takes a whole lifetime.
What are some upcoming projects you are working on? When can we expect them?
It's a true story, about my sister, who sadly took her own life in 2004. I tell the story to try and get people talking about suicide, and to help people who have had to deal with this with their family or friends. It's a very personal mission, but we have had such amazing comments from people, and feel that it really does its job. The NHS and Brighton University have both used the show to illustrate grief work and suicide awareness. We are all very proud of it.
We hope to record a new album in October/November time. The working title is ''Somewhere Beautiful'' but if I know my band it will end up being NOTHING like that! We hope to have it released by May (2022).
I have another show in development, a more lighthearted one, still with dance and aerial and a narrator, but with more laughs and fun in it. That should be ready by June 2022.
Also, I would like to make a real film of Sparkly Bird, so if anyone sees the recording on YouTube and fancies getting involved, drop me a message!
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives looking to break into the music industry?
Be yourself, no one can be you like you can. Be kind to your fans, they are your biggest asset and they are your friends. Practice regularly. Follow your own path and trust it will lead you where you need to go. Celebrate small wins, and don't beat yourself up when you're not as far ahead as you want to be. Always be nice to the sound engineer, she/he can make you sound like a right arse if you f@Xk her/him off!
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