The family that rocks together; Kitty, Daisy & Lewis
Place your order at the bar, dust off your dancing shoes and push your way to the front of the stage. It's showtime.
The North London multi-instrumentalist culture sponge that is Kitty Daisy and Lewis grew up surrounded by music. They are two sisters and a brother as well as mum Ingrid, former drummer with The Raincoats who they bullied into playing bass and dad Graeme, a founding member and mastering engineer at The Exchange recording studios in south London. The five of them plus legendary former Aswad trumpet man Eddie 'Tan Tan' Thornton, make up the band, who have three albums to their name on DJ Rob da Bank's independent label Sunday Best Records. Their rise to the elite of Britain's roots scene has been complete for some time and they have been busy taking their intoxicating brew of organic toe tapping tunes around the globe. Don't make the mistake of trying to categorize what you hear - there are too many forces at work. Just soak it up and enjoy the ride.
On the back of a triumphant homecoming from their headline world tour in promotion of their latest album Kitty Daisy And Lewis The Third at Camden Town's iconic venue Koko, I caught up with Lewis for a pint and a chat about the family values of rock n roll.
Lewis, tell us a bit about your roots and how your family background forged what was to become Kitty Daisy and Lewis:
"My dad grew up in India, in Bombay and he had seven brothers and sisters and they used to sit around singing old jazz standards on a ukulele that my grandma used to play. They were Anglo Indian so they sang western songs, songs of the day, you know. My mum was the drummer in a post punk band called The Raincoats. They met later on, when my dad was working for Island Records. He was in the studios cutting records and she walked in one day. When me and my sisters were born there were always loads of old records and music paraphernalia lying around. As young children we would always get them to sing us a song before bed, that type of thing."
So how old were you and your sisters when you first started getting up on stage?
"Well that would've been about the year 2000 when we started going down to a folk club in Camden called Come Down And Meet The Folks, run by a guy called Big Steve at The Golden Lion pub so I would've been 10, Kitty, 8 and Daisy,12. It was the only place we could go to hear music because, you know, we couldn't go to clubs or venues or anything. But it was good because the music was there and it was fun and it was interactive, it wasn't just watching a band. One day Big Steve came up and asked me if I wanted to play a song so I picked up the banjo and Kitty got on the drums. We did have a piano and a guitar at home but I found the banjo easier because it had less strings. There was a box with a harmonica and maracas, Kitty picked up the harmonica one day and just started messing around. It just went from there really; all the instruments we play are pretty much self-taught. At that point we hadn't got into the really good blues stuff, all the Sonny Boy (Williamson) stuff and the Little Walter stuff so because Kitty wasn't really learning from anyone I think she was just making it up as she went along. "
Tell us a bit more about the kind of music you were brought up listening to. There has been a lot made of an association between you guys and the "three Louis". Can you explain that?
"I think that was something we said once and then just got repeated but at the time we were listening to a lot of Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima who are all very different but all have a great sound and we still do listen to those guys but we were discovering music back then and mum would play the records she was into when she was a kid, like the Kinks, T Rex, a lot of glam rock. Never any Beatles, we never had any Beatles records at home but we never found that strange because we were kids and we didn't know who any of these people were anyway and we didn't care. That encouraged us to get out there and discover our own stuff and I really liked Lightning Hopkins and the blues stuff, jazz and old rhythm and blues. As teenagers we could go down Gaz's Rockin Blues night (a long standing London rock n roll event) and we knew the doorman so we could get in and we'd hear the most amazing records."
So did you ever get stick from the other kids for being into this scene that must've been so alien to them?
"Not for that reason but because I looked different, maybe. For example I used to wear my hair greased back and shoes instead of trainers and my mum would buy all this old stuff and that's what we grew up in. Everyone knew we played music and had this kind of life outside school so they were alright. I got on pretty good with the other kids at school because funnily enough I'd share stuff with them, you know. They were listening to UK Garage and hip hop and I'd be like, have you checked out Wynonie Harris?"
As a band you've had some run ins with the media over being labelled as a certain brand or genre. I've seen you guys get quite spiky with certain tv presenters who have tried to describe you as "rockabilly"....?
“I think anyone who does anything creative is always going to be a bit touchy about how people perceive what they do. Especially when we were younger we really took it to heart but as we grew up, rather than taking it personally we would just tell them what we thought. I find it embarrassing now that I would have a go at someone on telly because it doesn’t really get you anywhere. It’s a waste of energy trying to explain to someone if they’re not really into listening. I think we would deal with things a lot differently if it was now, I mean, I was fifteen, who wouldn’t? Now we just try to explain people’s misconceptions to them. We end up explaining different cultures from different eras to them. What we come across is people regurgitating retro pop cultures and trying to put us in whatever box that fits their purpose. “
You always look dapper in your suits with hair slicked back etc. Is image a big part of the Kitty Daisy and Lewis experience?
“Of course, image is a massive thing and it makes a big difference. We dress up smartly, differently, because at the end of the day it’s part of the show. People are coming to see you, my sisters put on crazy jump suits, and we want to do something special. People will always judge you, I judge people too but I would never judge a person’s music from their image. I find that disappointing, especially from music journalists that have that approach but I suppose it’s been that way since pop music began, people have dressed to their music. Punks, mods, the list goes on, the difference is that sometimes with us it’s obvious that the media have spent too much time looking at pictures and listening to other people’s opinions and not enough time listening to the music. On the other hand, peace and love to everyone because I understand that sometimes it’s not easy to find the words to describe our music because we just have so many influences. And as far as tv shows go well that’s just entertainment. “
Tell me why you haven’t been snapped up by one of the major labels yet
“Well there has been interest but we tend to stay clear of them, just because we can’t really make our own records. You’re signing up for so much stuff. I’ve got no problem with major labels because they’re not making anyone do anything, everyone signs that paper before they get shafted. No, with Sunday Best they let us do what we want. We make a record, deliver it to them and they say “great”. It's not like they listen to it and tell us to take off a couple of tracks or change this or change that because that's what major labels do and that’s not the way we work. It is a balancing act though because we have to make a living but if we can’t make a living making the music we want to make then what’s the point?"
You’ve just finished touring latest album Kitty Daisy and Lewis the Third. How does the songwriting process work between you and your sisters?
“We all write separately, and then we’ll get together in a room and someone will sing their song on the guitar, piano or whatever they wrote it on. From there we’ll just work on it; the writer will have an idea and say “I can imagine Lewis on guitar for this one and me or drums” or something like that. Usually whoever wrote it will sing it. Funnily enough we never sit around together to write songs. We tried it that way once and it was shit. We make music together and that has led to music being created. I think that when you write it’s a very personal thing and you do it in your own time. I write on the toilet, on the train, on the guitar or on the piano.”
You’ve done Glastonbury and toured with Coldplay, so do you prefer playing festivals, arenas or intimate gigs?
“Intimate gigs are always the best, just two or three hundred people right up close, you know what I mean? You can smell the sweat coming off them and it’s rocking. It’s a shame we’re not doing so many of those anymore. Don’t get me wrong It’s great that we get to play in Berlin in front of five thousand people, We always have such a gas over there, without those guys we’d be a very different band. But during the summer we’ll be doing Bestival, that kind of thing”
Finally, is there a roots music revival in the UK that revolts against the digital era and if so, are Kitty Daisy and Lewis a part of that?
“Ha, two tough questions in one! I think that digital media has affected the record industry very negatively, record sales have gone down by an insane amount. Do I think digital media is a bad thing? No I don’t. You name me a song and I can find it on my phone now, I can download it, I can hear it and that's great. We offer our records on vinyl because we grew up with records and the way we consume music makes us nerds, we’re geeks. So to answer your question I think digital media is good, I think it’s a good way for people to discover things, but I don’t think artists should be abused because of it."
- Artist Website http://www.kittydaisyandlewis.com/