There are no small parts, only small minds. But Kristeen Young 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, Kristeen Young 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 Kristeen Young 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 Kristeen Young. 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 Kristeen Young’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—Kristeen 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, Kristeen 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.