Rest assured—according to Kid Congo Powers, the “extended family is still family.”
“Yeah, I’m still very in touch with Jeff Lee Pierce’s family and sister, and I see Poison Ivy [Rorschach] whenever I’m in L.A., and I see Nick [Cave] whenever he comes to my town,” says the guitarist, who recently completed a new collaboration with the Dirtbombs’ Mick Collins and another old friend, Lydia Lunch. “She came in, yelled at everyone, did her part, and ran away,” he cheerfully reports.
“I got the most money out of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds but I got the most impact out of the Gun Club,” Powers continues, assessing his own incredible backstory and punctuating the statement, as he frequently does during a lively call to the Straight from his Washington, D.C., home, with a sound that’s part laugh and part death rattle. “And Jeffrey Lee Pierce in particular.”
Let’s not forget the Cramps, who no doubt gave Powers his best movie nights. He brought a touch of glamorous, Chicano-hustler exotica to all three bands when they were at their best, along with enough reverb to conjure a poltergeist. But it’s in his role as frontman for the Pink Monkey Birds that Powers finally graduated to the head of the trash.
The band’s third and best album, Haunted Head (2013), is redolent of Sunset Strip in the ’60s, Times Square in the ’70s, and every neon-lit, shame-drenched topless bar in between. The very best of America, in short. The man is clearly an expert at this shit.
“It’s the rest of the country that’s in a weird delusion,” he states of the obsessions—demented B-movies, cheap rock ’n’ roll, cheaper drugs—that lie behind the music. Speaking for himself and all the gutter aesthetes he hung with over the years, Powers reasons that art was their salvation. “Then you don’t have to express it like a serial killer might do,” he says, returning to that hot-rod version of a chortle he has.
Powers, who was known as Brian Tristan a long time ago, also concedes that stepping out of the wingman position was the toughest challenge he ever faced. “The lineage is great, and the résumé is great, but then you’re expected to be these people,” he explains. “You’re expected to be Nick Cave and Lux Interior and Jeffrey Lee Pierce—and you’re not. You’re just you. There’s a lot of thick grass to cut through with a machete to carve out your own thing.”
Turns out Powers’s “thing” is monstrously impressive, especially when you grasp, as he does, that the real American dream sits somewhere between Mad magazine, Elvis, and Vampira’s tits. Moreover, the La Puente, California–born legend has an intuitive feel for the deep weirdness coursing through the best kind of rock ’n’ roll.
“I definitely think it’s all alchemy,” Powers says. “That’s why people called the Cramps ‘voodoo rockabilly’. It’s the inexplicable. ‘Oh, I never I saw a ghost before, but when I saw the Cramps, I definitely saw—something!’ I would say that all of the people I’ve played with believe that it is in some way linked to magic, or whatever you want to call it. Persuasion without the use of logic. It’s not science. So it must be magic.”
Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds play the Rickshaw Theatre on Thursday (May 14).