When Kristeen Young, pianist and singer for the two-person rock group of the same…
- Posted on Jun 7th 2011 4:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
Joseph Llanes for AOL
Comprising seven songs, each written from the perspective of a favorite film character, 'Volcanic' marks the culmination of a decidedly less-than-wonderful stretch in Young's own life. In 2007, an off-color stage remark cost her a job opening for Morrissey, and soon after, she claims, Lady Gaga began copying some of the elaborate costumes she'd designed for her own live shows. (Check out pictures of Young's "bubble dress" and decide for yourself.)
Having emerged from her funk and recently launched a tour that includes residencies in several major cities, Young chatted with Spinner about her love of cinema, repaired relationship with Morrissey and inability to see the sweetness in 'It's a Wonderful Life.'
You went through a rough couple of years before making this EP. Were your troubles mostly personal or professional?
I think it was all professional. I'm very affected by what's happening in my musical life. That's really my whole life.
I was affected by a bunch of stuff that had happened ... the firing that had happened from the Morrissey tour and the Gaga thing, feeling like, "Who am I now?" and [dealing with] a lot of the fallout from all of that. It was the first time in my whole writing experience I just didn't feel like writing. I'd never had that before. I was sick of myself, and I didn't want to be me. So it was liberating when the idea came to write from other characters' perspectives. Of course, I'm in there, but not as much as I would [usually] be.
Joseph Llanes for AOLHave you always been a big movie buff?
Completely. I love old movies, and I quote them all the time, which is annoying. It's an annoying trait to have. I'm very affected by a lot of stuff.
The decision to write from the perspective of Violet in 'It's a Wonderful Life' is interesting. What drew you to her?
Every time I watch that movie, it doesn't make sense to me, a lot of the message of it. [George Bailey] is never doing what he wants to do. He's doing what other people want him to do. Everyone else is happy, but the message of the film is, "Don't do what you really want to do, so you'll have friends," or something. Really, I don't understand the message of the film. And then he seems to settle for Mary. Why would that be a good message? He always seemed to really want Violet. When he runs into her at some point, he gets all excited about the life they could have had -- they'd go running through the fields. That seemed so much more exciting to me. And then Violet has lived her life how she wanted to. She didn't really care how the people at the time are treating her, until at the end, when they have to deliver their message.
It's almost masochistic: You take it and take it and take it long enough, and you'll find happiness or something. The other thing that cracks me up is that 'The Wizard of Oz' has that message too: "There's no place like home." Stay at home, and that solves all your problems. But when you think about it, the actors who are saying those words, they don't believe that. They left home to follow their dreams!
You go from Violet, this sort of minor, tragic character, to Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, who's obviously quite a bit different. Elsewhere, you write from the perspective of Pris in 'Blade Runner,' Lucy Westerna in 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' and even the Angry Apple Tree in 'The Wizard of Oz.' Was the intention from the beginning to pick supporting characters?
I started off with supporting characters. I think the only one who's not a supporting character is Cleopatra. I thought the message of Cleopatra was in character with all the other ones. In a way, she was a failure in the end, and so it kind of leveled her out. If you're going to fail, fail huge.
The supporting character idea -- I relate to that in some ways, because I feel often like I have this small part in the world, or in my world, or in the music world. So I'm attracted to that. People who you don't hear enough of their voice -- I want to know more of their voice, or whatever they're saying. I think that attracts me in some ways.
You mention having a small role in the music world. Your producer, Tony Visconti, has said that he knew right away you're a major talent, and he's compared you to people like David Bowie and Marc Bolan. Are you disappointed you haven't become a giant superstar, like he thinks you should be? Is that something you've aspired to?
Giant superstar? I don't know if that's ever been a cognizant goal, but I definitely have always wanted mainstream success. I never set out to be indie person. In fact, the indie people don't even like me. I really don't fit in anywhere. But yeah, I definitely want mainstream success. I would like to have a lot of people like me.
At the same time, though, you've never seemed willing to pander to audiences. Your songs can be very melodic, but they're also very twisty and unpredictable.
Yeah, I have an inability to pander. I would like them to like me, but I would like them to like me on my own terms.
Joseph Llanes for AOL
Yeah, I went through different phases, as maybe a lot of kids do, where I'm really into this for a few years, and I'm really into that, and in the end, I wound up loving it all and being influenced by all different styles ... I just thought ['80s funk] was kind of refreshing. After what I described, that time period that I went through these past couple years, not only did it seem refreshing to write from other characters' points of view; it also seemed refreshing to get away from the style that I'd been writing in. It was something I loved when I was younger.
Now that you've written from the perspective of other characters and gained some distance from the troubles you were going through, do you think you'll revisit any of those things with more autobiographical songs?
I really don't know. All of that is in [the new EP]. It's hard to get rid of certain feelings and emotions. They just pop out at certain times, even when you think you're over them. In theory, I like the idea of not thinking about that at all anymore.
Since you're such a movie fan, would you ever consider acting?
It's nothing I would pursue. I just want to do what I do really well and get better at that. I'm more a focus-on-one-thing sort of person. I know I design my own clothes, but to me, that's part of what I do. A lot of musicians, at some point, are like, "I want my own clothing line." I don't even think I'd do that. I think when you really look at people who do that, parts of their lives suffer. Part of what they do tends to suffer a little bit. I don't want [my music] to dip at all. I want it to keep getting better.
Since the incident in 2007, you've made amends with Morrissey right?
Yeah, I'm opening for him in England [on July 8].
His fans tend to be pretty loyal and hold grudges. Are you at all nervous about opening for him again?
People tend to ... I don't even want to get into that. I'm not worried about it. I think the fact that he is having me back on tour makes a statement in itself. I'm not really worried. They've become kinder to me over the past few years. I think time puts things in perspective.
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