By Halie Davis
KTSW had the chance to chat with The Julie Ruin’s keyboardist Kenny Mellman, drummer Carmine Covelli and guitarist Sara Landeau about what it’s like to be in a band with some of the Riot GRRRL movement queens Kathi Wilcox and Kathleen Hannah.
Halie Davis: I know that Kathleen started The Julie Ruin in the 1990’s. Over the years she has approached each of you to form this band in 2010. What was your reaction to her approach?
Sara Landeau: I kind of knew her from teaching Girls Rock Camp. I was pretty excited to play together. We traded guitar lessons and did some stuff. I was happy to get the email.
Carmine Covelli: Kathleen asked me to be in the band at her birthday party and I couldn’t really say no to the birthday lady. Plus, I was wondering if she was going to start a band again … and I was secretly hoping to be in it. But I hung back. And then she just sprung it on me after we cut the cake.
Kenny Mellman: She asked me to write country songs with her, so we wrote one. She was like, “Um, we’re not really going to be able to break into Nashville, my manager says. So would you like be in my band?” I was like, “Of course.” I’ve loved Kathleen for 20-odd years, so it was amazing.
HD: Kenny, I know that you wrote a letter to Kathleen when you were still part of Kiki and Herb. When you received mail back from her what was your response when you opened it?
KM: It was the most amazing thing ever because she’s always been such a huge inspiration to me. I was telling Carmine (that) when I was in junior high I wrote Ray Bradbury a letter and he wrote me back. Kathleen may have been the second one I ever wrote to. It was like that thing, which I’ve had only a couple times in my life, where I’m like “I’m a huge fan of yours and I love you forever.” Then I get a letter back that says, “I’m a fan of yours.” I still have her letter because that is amazing. It’s the most amazing thing ever to be (in) a band with her. I look over on stage and I can’t believe this is actually happening.
HD: Carmine, you were doing lighting for the Le Tigre documentary, correct?
CC: Lighting and background video. All their shows had a lot of video stuff; their whole show was on a DVD. So I did a bunch of videos for them synced to their backing tracks. Then they were like, “You’re going to be on tour with us. Do you want to run our lights?” Our first show was in Moscow and the computer was in Russian. My heart almost fell out of my body. I couldn’t run any of that equipment. So I had this Russian tech guy run the lights for me. He asked, “What do you want me to do?” I said, “Just make it look really cool.”
HD: Getting together for The Julie Ruin’s first show, where did ya’ll play?
KM: It was at a tribute to Kathleen night. There was a benefit for “The Punk Singer,” the documentary made about her. We ended up doing three songs and then we had, maybe, written two original songs. We did a Bikini Kill, Le Tigre song and one original. Then we went into the studio and recorded what turned out to be “Run Fast.”
HD: Where ya’ll nervous for tribute night?
CC: I was pretty nervous for tribute night. We had never really played in front of people. But I wasn’t really nervous to play, we just didn’t know what our stage dynamic was. I remember starting to play and thinking, “They aren’t looking at me.” At rehearsal we all face each other and on stage you face the crowd.
SL: When we play live — no matter what I do, some crazy solo — I look and all the heads are facing Kathleen because the first 100 people are usually there to see her. I could walk along the bar and they would still be looking at Kathleen, but that’s ok. Tribute night, we were the secret at the end, so Kathleen was actually there. All these bands played that were really great and did a Bikini Kill song and (a) Le Tigre song, so when we came on it was like “Ahh! She’s here!”
CC: We should’ve popped out of a cake…shoot we missed it.
HD: Obviously, this is y’all’s first year playing at Fun Fun Fun Fest as a band, what were the expectations?
CC: I had no expectations. Day time shows… I don’t know what to think of them. It’s like, alright, so the sun will be out and we will be playing. That already seems weird. But, after the first song, I felt great. It was actually fun and sounds good. I saw these people in front of us and they seemed really excited.
HD: Are y’all going to stay for tonight?
CC: I think we’re going to stick around. I think we’re going to see MGMT and Slayer.
KM: Slayer. I really want to see Daniel Johnston. I’m really excited about that. I saw him at Bumbershoot a million years ago, so I’m super psyched about that.
SL: Sarah Silverman is probably going to be on in a little bit.
HD: Kenny, have you seen the historic Daniel Johnston “Hi, how are you?” mural in Austin?
KM: No. I’ve walked by it and I thought it was just sort of fake. I walk by it during SXSW. I always forget he’s from here.
HD: Can I have a crazy tour story?
KM: I have one. We got a Facebook message from this woman who, emphatically, wanted to show us a tattoo she had of the full female reproductive organ. She sent us another Facebook message that was like “No, I really want to show this to you.” So we got to Olympia and did a sound check. We literally walked in front of the venue to decide where we were going to eat and this trembling woman walked in front of Kathleen. She said, “Hi, I’m Caroline. Can I show you my tattoo?” Kathleen and I sort of looked at each other and Kathleen said yes. It was definitely like the long shaggy dog story of hearing about this tattoo for so long and, of course, within five minutes of us being outside in Olympia we get to see that tattoo.
CC: It was that detachment of Facebook comments and messaging and then all of a sudden that person is right in front of you, like, “Here’s that thing I was telling you about,” and you’re like, “Woah.”
HD: Speaking of female tributes. Sarah, this is for you. What’s it like being in a band with members of the Riot Grrrl Movement?
SL: I guess it’s perfect. I mean, I’ve always loved Kathleen’s voice. I liked her and Debby Harry, there was really like five. She was up there with the legends, vocally, to me. To work with, she’s better than all those because she is who she is.
Fun Fun Fun Fest 2013 was The Julie Ruin’s last show for the year in the states. In January the band is set to go to Australia.