This month Kiki Shakti interviews Katy P and the Business (Katy Palmier, Giles Shelton, Norm J. Cutliff III, and Zack Sain) who recently began rocking the regular Tuesday night spot at the Alley.
Editor’s note: if the lineup seems suspiciously familiar, you’re right — the Monkey Feeders, long Taos’s main cover band, was Omar Rane with Katy, Giles, and Norm. Omar and the other three have gone splitsville; the latter picked up a new-to-town young-gun guitarist (Zack) and kept right on rolling, with a new name and a seafoam-green axe.
The pre-interview discussion:
Giles: They’re talking about how one of the big things these days is people taking nude pictures of themselves and sending it to each other and then they break up and somebody takes the photo and posts it on, I guess it’s called revenge porn, that’s like the term for it. They post a naked picture of their ex, or whatever it is, you know. Revenge porn.
Katy: Oh, that’s horrible!
Giles: And supposedly, then they try to leave as much real information about them as they can, you know, facebook and all that stuff.
Katy (whispering in horror): Oh my god…
Norm: Um hmm, that’s kind of fucked up…
Giles: So, if you ever decide to leave the band, Zack, it’s going to be nothing but revenge porn…
1. Why Katy P and the Business? What’s with the name change? Is Katy suddenly more special because Katy is a girl?
Katy: YES! I am special. Well, we decided to change it out of respect, because Omar is not in the band anymore and it’s not the [original] Monkey Feeders at all.
Norm: And, we’re changing the sound.
Katy: Yes, and we’re changing the sound. But, for the record, they wanted to do Katy P and I wasn’t sure we should do it, because, I didn’t want people to be like “Oh, who the fuck does she think she is?” Know what I mean?
Norm: If you want to get real honest, for me, it’s about instant marketing in the sense that Katy is the spotlight of the Monkey Feeders — and it would make sense to promote that, so that we don’t have to create a whole new momentum.
Giles: Yeah, and she is a very special girl, doing plays and singing all over, and basically I would say is a pretty heavy hitter in the Taos artistic community. I think we all are in that way, but she’s the front person. There’s big name recognition there, and we wanted the people who knew and loved the Monkey Feeders to know that there would be some of the same flavor and style going on. And, that was the quickest and easiest way we could think of to do that.
2. Well, that goes into my next question. You’re billing yourself as “a whole new monkey” — what kind of changes can we expect?
Norm: New songs.
Katy: New songs.
Norm: Original songs.
Zack: More energy.
Norm: More energy, a younger hipper vibe. You know, if we got you dancing before…
Zack: And, eventually, stepping outside of being just a cover band, because the Monkey Feeders was a cover band.
Giles: We thought a new direction was in order. Hopefully, by the time the summer comes around we’ll have a good enough original set, we could do some different types of shows that we were missing out on, being a cover band.
3. You do mostly covers, but in your own flavor or style, and it totally rocks. You guys play everything from Sly and the Family Stone to Al Green to Adele to Robin Thicke. What is the source of the variety, how do you choose your songs?
Norm: Everyone picks a song. We take turns learning each other’s songs we’ve picked out and sometimes you have to be in a place where, you know, if you’re thinking, “Man, that song sucks. I don’t want to learn this.” You have to be willing to do it, because there are quite often times when I’ve felt that way about a song and then show up to do it live and it totally works. And then, there are times when I feel like a song is going to fuckin’ fly and it doesn’t. You think you have a pulse on your audience, but you kind of get sideswiped with, really, what do they want.
Giles: I think a lot of times our choice in songs is a reflection of what kind of mood that we’re all in the week that we practice.
Katy: It’s so true!
Giles: Because, the day before practice we’re all trying to brainstorm, firing off song ideas through text messages to each other and all that kind of thing. So much of the picks is where all the band members’ lives and everything are at that point, and those are the songs that we’re finding appealing for whatever reason. And like Norm said, we all pick one, fire off ideas, and learn one song for rehearsal. And sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.
Norm: It’s crazy, how many songs that we’ve learned that have actually never really been played live.
4. Katy, how, when, what’s the story of how you started singing?
Giles: Wasn’t it a musical when you were a kid?
Katy: I was in choirs. I started in choirs in high school.
Norm: I thought you got some badass role or something.
Katy: I did. I mean, I guess as far as performing, it would be when I was a freshman in high school and I got a really big role in the high school musical, so I guess there was that — and I was in choirs. And then I came here and thought, “What am I going to do? How can I get myself involved?” The first thing was I found the Gospel Choir. I think what it really was was Kids Unleashed. And then from that, I got to do some jazz stuff, and I was in Axle’s Nighties at the Alley, and then the Monkey Feeders, and now this.
5. Zack, you are fairly new to Taos. What’s your story? How did you end up here?
Zack: So, I moved here from New Orleans after studying jazz piano at Loyola University. Actually, I was living in Colorado for a couple of months and a friend told me that he was visiting Taos, so I decided to come down and check it out and I really liked it. So, yeah, I decided to stay here. And, really I wanted to get away from the city. I was staying in Denver, and before that I was living in New Orleans, and I grew up in Memphis, so I just wanted to get away from the big city and focus on writing music instead of studying jazz. Basically I felt like it just traps you eventually. So yeah, I wanted to focus on writing, and this seemed like a good place to do it.
6. What’s with the lime green guitar?
Giles: It’s seafoam green.
Zack: Yeah, it’s seafoam. I went to go buy a guitar and played all the ones there. That’s the one that sounded the best and it just happened to be that color.
Giles: It’s so much easier when seafoam green is in fashion.
7. You guys are bringing packed houses to the Alley every Tuesday night. I’m sure the new owners are stoked, as are the fans. What is it that you have that makes you so popular? What do you bring that makes people want to be there every Tuesday?
Norm: Personally, I think it’s the fact that we’ve all spent a lot of time perfecting our crafts. And there’s a venue and an opportunity to display that. When you get the chance to make money, whether it be in front of 150 people at the Alley or 4,000 people, it’s rewarding, because it’s what we love to do. That’s what you get from the energy. We all love what we do.
Zack: I think that’s why people get hyped about it, well one it’s coming from us. I can’t speak for them, but I really love playing with these people. We’re just tight, and it’s a lot of fun. When people come and see the musicians on stage having fun and it sounds fuckin’ groovin’, people are going to want to come back. It’s like putting that fire in you. Music can bring you to that higher place.
8. Are you afraid of over-saturation of your audience at all?
Norm: No! And I’ll say this, because, there are plenty of bands out there and when you are a patron or a fan, you don’t necessarily know why you’d rather dance to one band or another, you but there’s a lot of players out there who should probably stay home and perfect their craft. I don’t want that to sound harsh, but it’s kind of true. There’s a lot of players I’d like to go out and watch, and there’s a lot of players where I’m not sure I can stay in the room for five minutes. The fact that we’ve remodeled or refurbished our entire set list makes the past five years of really intense gigging with the Monkey Feeders really refreshing because three-quarters of the members are the same, but you add a little “Tabasco sauce” on the six-string and some new songs…
Giles: It’s more like creamy horseradish.
9. My friends and I have taken to calling you “The Walking Wounded” because: a) Norm, I remember a few years ago you had a broken arm, but you still totally rocked the drums one-handed, b) Katy, you are still recovering from a shoulder surgery, and c) Zack, you recently sprained your foot, which I see is healing nicely. How is that going to affect your Halloween costume choices?
Norm: Well, we’re not playing a Halloween show.
Giles: No, in fact I’m going out of town on Halloween so the band will be a little different without me for a few shows.
Zack: Yeah, while Giles is out of town, I’m going to be playing the piano so that I can play both the bass and the chords at the same time.
Did any of you know that Giles had a blood blister on the tip of his middle finger, which made playing the bass very painful?
Giles: Yes! Extraordinarily painful!
And, Giles are you jealous of all the attention Katy and Zack were getting for their injuries?
Giles: I do feel like I have been suffering in vain and hiding my suffering a lot. Especially one or two gigs there, it was absolutely the most extraordinarily painful blood blister on my finger and there were times I actually had to grit through a couple of songs.
Katy: Aww! Oh no!
Giles: When I’m really in pain I try to be a little stoic about it and not complain too much, but I’m glad for this opportunity to express the pain I was in.
(The band begins to hoot, holler and applaud for Giles)
Katy: You’re awesome, Giles. Way to work through it.
10. How many original songs do you have and when do we get to hear them?
Katy: None yet.
Zack: We are still in the process of writing.
Giles: It’ll probably be late February. We are probably going to try to debut a bunch of them at once and it will still be a little while, but it’s coming.
Zack: I think by next month, some of the Tuesday gigs, while Giles is out of town and I’m playing the piano, I’m going to try to write a whole original set and we may keep half of them. You know, that’s ten songs in a couple of weeks. So, I’m going to try and have some of that going by then so it will make things easier on them and me.
Giles: We’re hoping for late February to have enough tunes so that we can record a few of them and really be able to expand where we can play. In bars, people know cover tunes. They want to hear something they know, or it just seems that way, but…
Norm: Yeah, at a concert they’re coming to see your songs, but in a bar cover tunes can often be more popular.
11. What’s next? What are your plans for the future? Any touring?
Norm: What an original band allows you to do is play more showcase gigs. Say, at the Launchpad where there’s a three or four band lineup, you can get into bigger crowds and fans you normally wouldn’t be in front of. You don’t get paid as much. I mean, when you play every week in a packed bar and you charge even a small cover, and everyone is coming out just to see you, compared to when you are one of four bands and you only play an hour, you’re going to make less money, initially. But if we want to go on the road, the fact that we can do both? You play your money gigs and then you play your promotional gigs.
Giles: I’m sort of fascinated by all these little towns around the state. I mean, people talk about touring and all. But, for me, take for example Taos Plaza Live. All these little towns are sponsoring live music events that happen every week, during the day and showcasing musicians. They’re really happening all over the state. There tend to be a ton of people there. I agree with Norm that the money may not be as good as when you play a packed gig on the weekend at the Alley, but there’s this cool thing that happens where you’re playing for the whole population of the town, at least a really cool mix of people you would never get at a bar. At Taos Plaza Live, for example, every type of person who lives in Taos will come out for that show. I think it’s the best venue — that town-sponsored summer music series is one of the best things that’s happened around here in forever, and it seems that every little town around here is doing it. For next summer we’d really like to travel around to a few of those.
Zack: What I’d like to see in the future, as a musician, is shooting music videos and being much more artistic, reaching for a higher thing. My goal for writing in this band is to make it as far as we can.
Norm: The cover tunes also help us to figure out what we want to sound like. We want it to be impactful.
Norm: When you go see a band the music is going to move you or it’s not. It’s either going to make you feel something that gives you those chills, or it doesn’t. I think playing covers right now helps us to hone our style and figure out what makes people move and what sound we like playing. But for sure, it’s going to be awesome!