JANUARY 2010: INTERVIEW with JENNETTE KANTZALIS by BRADLEY MASON HAMLIN for MYSTERY ISLAND MAGAZINE
BMH: First of all, I have to say right up front, your new song “You Don’t Know” kicks butt in the best possible ways. Sounds great, and you look super hot performing.
But before we get to that, let’s dig into your history.
You’ve created many interesting and provocative characters in the music world, but where did it all begin? How early in your life did you start singing and performing?
JEANNETTE: Hmmm. I was Terry in Terry and her Teeth in 4th grade. Does that count? They chose me because I was the smallest one in the class and Donna Maury would look more like my mother.
You know what's funny? I sang all the time but NEVER in front of anybody.
Every Sunday we'd go to my french grandma's house in Monterey Park and the ride on the freeway took about 45 minutes.
I'd go to the back of the van and "sing" to the cars behind us. Of course they couldn't hear me, all they could see was this little black haired girl apparently talking to herself. Gawd I was a weird one.
I didn't let anybody hear me actually sing until I was, oh, 20?
BMH: Do you find the process of taking on different personalities or characters freeing in the creation of making music – as if say – making soundtracks for their lives?
JEANNETTE: Well, they're all me pretty much me. I'm not that clever. They're just the parts that stick out more at that particular time.
Jeannette Katt was my name, I was married as a teenager to Dennis Katt.
The Chubbies, A Brokeheart Pro, Tragic Hearts, Caroline No, Electrolux ... all me.
BMH: I noticed you do “Pink Mischief” on the new album, The Kitten Next Door. That was one of your Jeanette Katt songs. Is she then still creating pink mischief within you?
JEANNETTE: I've put that song everywhere, it's just a cool song! Can I say that? You know where that came from? I once had a guitar lesson (I've had two) and the first thing she taught me was that chord progression. I came back the next Tuesday and let her hear the song I'd made from lesson one. It was literally a chord excersize! Hah! What an arrogant thing I was.
BMH: I love it that you’re making music in the most real sense of the “garage” genre. It’s coming from the home, without overproduction, and therefore, the heart.
JEANNETTE: Well, that's nice to hear. It's not that I haven't tried to play with people and studios, I obviously have but it's really hard for me. I'm extremely shy and very focused when it comes to my work ethic. It puts people off sometimes. And when I get into my room and just sit down and do what I do, I don't know, it's one of the greatest things to me. I really do love the act of creation.
BMH: The Chubbies have this great way of sounding like you girls took a bunch of new wave records and kicked them around your living room. Tell us about The Chubbies.
JEANNETTE: I love that! You know, that's just how Christene and I played together. It was honest and completely organic. We never practiced our instruments, we just practiced playing songs. We met, learned 10 songs and two weeks later went out on the road for 37 days.
BMH: We heard a rumor you sang on the outstanding “I Miss You” single from Klymaxx, featuring our girl guitar hero, Unruley Cheryl Cooley. Tell us about that gig!
JEANNETTE: I did! I used to do background sessions for drug dealer/rappers in Compton. I met a really cool musician that would pay me $50 to come and sing in sessions he was hired for. It would be 3 in the morning and I had no idea what I was doing. I'd just show up and try to do what they asked.
That session was odd and I'm not sure if they used my voice on the recording! I came in and was supposed to lay down the harmonies and I did some "breathy doubles", too. And none of the Klymaxx girls were there but I kept hoping they'd drop by.
BMH: Okay, now tell us about Josephine Lilliwhite and A Brokeheart Pro.
JEANNETTE: Where do I begin? Josephine The Outlaw King started as a blog. I was sort of chronicling my disturbing and dangerous break up with my first son's father. Somehow it came out sort of "beat poet" style, I don't know how or why but Josephine really struck a nerve.
I guess the story of a woman surviving her own murder and coming back with a brutal and impatient hand makes for good reading. I had started recording the album, "Kitten Next Door" about the demise of the relationship, my cheating and lying and my disappointment in myself with what I'd become.
Then a weird thing happened that I don't think I've ever spoke about to anyone except my husband. This stalker moved into the empty house next door to me when I was living alone, just me and my 4 year old son.
One night after I'd put the boy to bed I went out into my yard. I saw somebody under the trees near the fence that separates the two homes. I saw an iPod light and I saw a silhouette of a guy. I'd spoken to him once in the past two months and he said he was the owner and he was fixing up the place. He used to live in the converted garage. I knew what he looked like and I knew that shadow was him.
I was standing on my gazebo and I slowly sat down on a chair. Then I slid out of it and crawled on the lawn back to my house and locked the door. He didn't see me slither inside and he started to lift his head, looking over the shrubs that surrounded the gazebo to see where I'd gone.
I watched his every move from the living room window. I called 911 and told them what was happening as it happened. Then I saw him pop over the 3 foot fence and crawl on his belly towards the gazebo. He had a shiny thing in his hands and I could see it was a knife. I saw him get to the edge and slowly peer over the honeysuckle.
It was chilling.
Something shifted in me right then and there. I wrote "The Kitten Next Door," "Keep This Devil Down," "Charming Fucker," and "Bleed On before the Attack." Then "You Don't Know," "Dark Red and Loud," "Sometimes Saviours End Up On Their Knees" after.
Yet it's still a pretty cohesive album, I think. But then Josephine's songs started coming. I've finished the novel and I'm editing it now. I'm working on the album and have 7 songs written, 2 recorded.
BMH: I hope you got rid of the creepy neighbor. Guys like that deserve no mercy ...
“You Don’t Know” is one of those songs that falls into an A+ perfect single category. The immediate seduction of “You Don’t Know” is like the best moments of a David Lynch movie mixed with the pure honesty of Ricky Nelson’s rock & roll on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Give us some details on creating this sinister ballad, then tell us what you’re doing to get this record on the radio where it belongs.
JEANNETTE: Wow, that's the coolest thing I've ever heard, thanks!
Creating it was easy, one of those songs that comes in minutes. The lyrics still ring as true to me as the day I wrote them. I'm so glad you like that song! It really is one of my faves.
BMH: The first cut on Kitten Next Door, “Dark Red and Loud” is another beautiful tune and it sounds great recorded, but I have to say – it really comes alive watching you perform the actual emotion of the music.
Have you had a chance to take A Brokeheart Pro on the road? I’m wondering what the crowd reaction is like. You’ll definitely have to let us know when you’re performing ‘round this piece of California.
JEANNETTE: Since A Brokeheart Pro's just me doing everything, I've never performed live, but I'm working on it. I may have found the perfect players. I'll definitely let you know and thanks again for the kind words.
BMH: Your scariest moment on stage?
JEANETTE: I've had a few scary ones. Uhm, well, there was a show in Beloit, WI with The Chubbies that got very weird. There was this local opener that I'm sorry, was horrible! They wouldn't get off the stage, they played for almost an hour. I went over and unplugged the guy's amp and told him enough was enough (something I'd never do normally but we'd just been told we weren't getting paid).
He came back right as we were beginning our set with a gun. They stopped him outside the hall but geezus, talk about ego.
BMH: Your funniest moment on stage?
JEANETTE: There's nothing funny about playing live.
BMH: The musician/singer you wanted to kiss the most when you were just a lil’ brokeheart pro?
JEANNETTE: David Cassidy, Steve Martin (he counts, banjo, duh).
BMH: Cassidy's music is definitely on the Mystery Island playlist, and I'm sure Steve would love to hear that!
Tell us about your record company, Kitten Next Door Recordings.
JEANNETTE: That's where you'll find everything I've ever done (almost). Bands I've produced and recorded and all of my incarnations.
BMH: Any other secrets to share?
JEANNETTE: Not that I can think of, Bradley!
Thanks for the insightful and well researched interview. I'm exhausted.
BMH: Thank you for sharing your time and music with Mystery Island, Jeannette.
For more Jeannette Kantzalis aka A Brokeheart Pro: