INTERVIEW: KAT ROBICHAUD – May 2017

According to a recent press release: “The Voice finalist, Kat Robichaud, known for her powerful pipes and theatrical flair, is now set to release her new album, MISFIT CABARET.  Due out on June 2nd via CEN/Red Distribution, a division of Sony Music, the album features original songs that appear in Robichaud’s successful San Francisco-based rock opera/theatrical experience of the same name.  Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret show is inspired by her childhood love of musical theater, all things Tim Burton and more.  It is a variety show featuring Kat at the helm, centering on her original music with a rotating cast of eccentric performers.  With each show being completely different, Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret has boasted sold-out crowds in San Francisco over the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. ”  With a new video and disc coming, we grabbed a little time from Kat the new matieral, The Voice, and much more…

Kat: Hi, how’s it going?

Toddstar: Good. How’s it going for you?

Kat: Good. Doing well. I just got a really lovely email from someone saying that they had shared a song of mine with a friend and that that friend had been very touched. That was a really nice way to start my Tuesday.

Toddstar: Oh, I can only imagine. What song would that have been?

Kat: It was “Song for David Bowie.”

Toddstar: Very cool. Listen KAt, I wanted to start this off with thanking you for taking time out for us. We really appreciate it.

Kat: Of course. Thank you for taking the time to interview me.

Toddstar: Well, you’ve got an interesting and fun project, Misfit Cabaret coming out a month from today. What can you tell us about this project that one of your fans may or may not pick up on the first time or two through the disk?  Any nuances you have hidden in here or little gems you have hidden that someone else might not pick up on?

Kat: Well, as I’m sure you can tell that most of the songs are written from the perspective of a character. And I use these characters as masks to talk about my own life and things that I’ve been through and experienced. I hide a lot behind the masks of these characters and it kind of gives me this freedom to talk about very personal things like “Red Satin,” for instance. The song is being sung from the perspective of Satine and she’s talking about Harold Zidler – obviously, this is from the movie Moulin Rouge  – and I’m talking about a person that I have in my life a while ago that did everything that they could to keep me in my place and hold me down. I eventually broke away from them. That’s a very, very personal subject that would be hard for me to just come out and talk about because I never talk about this person. So, by using the platform of that character, I was able to talk about it. “Bully,” for example, is another way that I did that, as far as hiding behind the mask of Carrie White from Stephen King’s Carrie, talking about how I was bullied in school a lot. So, I tend to do that quite a bit. “Divine Decadence”” is Sally Bowles and I’m talking about the fear of rejection that I think we all experience. But, for each one of these songs, they were all written for a specific show. So, the parameters that I set for myself were every show that we do, I have to write two original songs and they have to coincide with the theme of the evening. It’s interesting. I think, in that way, I’ve written songs that would not exist otherwise because of these parameters. I think it makes it really interesting. As far as “Song for David Bowie,” I was writing music for a nautical themed show that we did – Whimsy – and Bowie passed away and I really wanted to write a song about him, but I also had a deadline. So, I was like, “All right. Well I’ll just make this happen on a beach.” So I don’t think that I would have got that melody because melody comes from me sitting at my piano going, “All right. What does it sound like to sit on a calm ocean and listen to the waves and float? What does that sound like on the piano?” So I wouldn’t have got that sound if I hadn’t said, “Okay. I want to write a song about David Bowie as an honor to him but it has to have some kind of nautical element to it.” You always associate Bowie with space and galaxies and cosmos and stars. So, one of the best places to view the stars is sitting on a beach at night. I think that those are things that people can pick up on. Or maybe they don’t pick up on the very first time they listen to it.

Toddstar: Sure. One thing you didn’t mention, was “She Looked Like She Owed Death Money,” which you recently debuted the video for this. What about that song jumped up in your mind to say this one needs a video?

Kat: Because the video already existed and I’m poor. I’m very fortunate to live in San Francisco where there’s a ton of art fighting to stay alive and not get kicked out by the tech boom and incredible, stupid rent prices. We have a very close-knit community where we’re constantly helping each other out. So there is this really amazing event, a ball, which happens annually. It’s called The Edwardian Ball. It’s been going on for 17 years and they branched out to LA. I think they just celebrated their 9th year in LA. And then this year was their very first year in New Orleans. So, they’re really growing it. It’s a huge even in San Francisco and they rent out the Regency ballroom, all three floors, and it gets so packed that you can’t move. People dress up to the nines in the craziest turn-of-the-century gear, corsets everywhere, crazy mess. People go all out and build their own costumes. You’ve got a lot of the Burning Man community that turns out for this event. I was hired to bring my band and perform a set at The Edwardian Ball… The Darling Misfits performed a set at The Edwardian Ball and I had recently made friends with this incredible clown dance troupe called Fou Fou Ha. I basically left it to them. They said, “Okay, we’re going to choreograph a dance.” And I gave them the entire album and I said, “Which one really speaks to you?” They got really excited about “Death Money” and I didn’t tell them what the song is about or anything and they just came up with the whole dance. I just loved it so much. I thought to myself, “How often is it that you get a clown dance troupe to choreograph an entire song? I’m going to take my paycheck from this show and spend it on videographers.” And that’s what I did. Then I edited it and that video exists because of that. I want to do more music videos but it’s basically like, “Creatively, what can I do for a next-to-no budget?” So, it’ll be interesting to see what comes from that. It’s also one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s not like it was my least favorite song but I have a video. It’s one of my favorite songs.

Toddstar: So, it’s growing on you?

Kat: Yeah. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album. The subject matter is a lot of different things, mainly it’s a metaphor for alcoholism, alcohol being the vampire. I know there are a lot of people in my life that have succumbed to alcoholism and I’ve seen it just completely wreck their lives. My friend that does a lot of design work for RuPaul’s Drag Race stars, she gave me the dress that I wear in the video because we all live in San Francisco and we don’t have closets. It’s an enormous dress and I think she just wanted to get rid of it and I was like, “Yes! I will take this!” It’s really how the song got started because I saw that dress and I said, That’s a very vampire dress and I’m going to write a song around this dress.” It ended up being this whole encompassing thing.

Toddstar: Very cool. I love all the candid insight you give on this stuff. People are going to see your name, hear your name, hear your voice, see your face, and recognize you obviously, not from this part of your career but from The Voice, how do you feel you’re able to well blend, from what your artistic perspective, those two different crowds, so to speak? You’re bringing in something that’s a little more mainstream into something that most people really can’t wrap their hands around, let alone, their ears.

Kat: Well, that’s interesting because the video just premiered on Yahoo Music. Yahoo Music is predominantly The Voice crowd. People that are checking out Yahoo Music are predominantly the mainstream Voice crowd. I read all the comments and it was pretty negative, which is cool because, to me, I experienced first-hand what it is to really, really love an artist and have most of the world hate them. I grew up loving Marilyn Manson. He took so much shit from mainstream people. My mother hated him. Mainly because she was very concerned because I was listening to him when I was 14, 15, a very, very impressionable age. He still does. He still takes a lot of shit. People hate him; people think he can’t think, whatever, but he’s an artist. I also understand that. I’ve experienced all this. I’m from rural North Carolina where I had a very mainstream top 40 cover band that toured up and down the east coast. Certainly, any time that I tried to be weird on that particular stage, the audience didn’t know how to respond to it because they’re there to dance to “Sweet Home Alabama” and drink ten dollar Firefly sweet tea. And then I moved to San Francisco and here it is a very accepting, weird art community. The weirder the better. The more underground the better. We’ve got this whole huge community of people that just really love stuff like that. I’m friends with Amanda Palmer and I got a bad review a couple of years ago and I sent it to her just to be like “wah wah wah” and she, in exchange, sent me a Rolling Stone review of one of her Dresden Dolls albums that completely panned it. And that made me realize “Okay. Yeah. That’s one of my favorite albums of all time.” I love that album and somebody out there thought it sucked. When I got off The Voice… and I did it because I had literally nothing to lose. My cover band of eight years had broken up; I was still in North Carolina; I was still very much trying to find myself as a musician, trying to figure out how to make a living doing the kind of music that I really loved. I went on The Voice and I knew that it might not necessarily be my crowd. I have a really good analogy for this. I’m in one of those corporate type bands that’s literally just a bunch of session musicians are put together to form a band to play a show a handful of times a year. We’re hired to play and sing silly songs in front of the local orchestra. The towns that we’re playing these in with these giant orchestras are not necessarily art meccas. We’re not playing San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin, we’re playing Modesto, California, we’re playing Columbus, Ohio, and we just played Calgary, Alberta. It is stressed to me every time before I go out on that stage, “This is a very conservative crowd. Please watch what you say and do and act.” Every time I go out on that stage, I look out in the crowd and I see people dressed up as David Bowie and wearing David Bowie t-shirts. I think about what it was like growing up in rural North Carolina and getting picked on for liking Marilyn Manson and David Bowie and really getting made fun of in high school for listening to David Bowie. I just thought to myself, “No, this is a conservative city. In every conservative city, you have the weirdos that are just looking for release.” Every time I go out on that crowd after I’ve been told, “This is a very conservative crowd,” like, “No, you’re a conservative. They’re here to have fun.” So, I think, when I got off The Voice, I was sitting and having a glass of wine with Amanda Palmer and she said, “Okay. The fans that you’ve made on this show are your fans. Now you need to grab those weirdos and you need to take them on the ride with you.” You can’t assume that out of the 15 million people that watch The Voice, those are all mainstream people. There are people that watch the show and they’re looking for relief. They’re looking for the weirdo on the episode. The thing is, if you grow up in a small town, you can’t just go out and see whatever weird show you want. Television is all you have. For me, growing up I had MTV, but now kids don’t even have MTV anymore. They just have a show that calls itself music television but it’s not. It’s just all reality shows. Whereas I remember sitting in my bedroom and watching the MTV Awards on this tiny little television and watching Marilyn Manson strut his naked ass all over the stage and Chris Rock saying, “Go to church or you’re going to burn in Hell.” That’s all I had. That is all I had. If people don’t have MTV anymore showing them music videos, well, they’ve got The Voice and they’re looking for that weirdo. I will say that when I got off The Voice, I had about 30,000 followers on Twitter and the longer that I’ve been off the show, the number just keeps dwindling. I think it’s because those people realize that I’m not going to be that pop girl that they thought that I was.

Toddstar: The thing for me, and you talk about influences and everything else, I grew up in the mid, late 70s and then into the 80s, the whole metal thing, so I was not the popular kid at school either. And then you talk about reviews and everything else and Gene Simmons made a career out of bad record reviews.

Kat: Oh, yeah.

Toddstar: So take that to heart. The first song I heard from the new disk, which again, Misfit Cabaret, which I love top to bottom, but my knee-jerk reaction when I first heard the opening strings of Bully, was it took me back to some early Emilie Autumn stuff.

Kat: When we do the Facebook ads and it’s like, “Who’s your target audience,” I always put her in there because I do connect with her and I think we have a lot of similarities in our performance and song style.

Toddstar: I think you bring something different to this in that you say you’re hiding behind or wearing the mask of certain characters or certain songs, but there’s something that you breathe into these songs that seem to show the real you at the same time. When you’re doing this, obviously, you’re doing this for you and you’re not doing this half-ass by any means, but when you’re laying down tracks or even getting to the production part of it, because, again, you can write the most heartfelt, inspiring lyrics and musical strands ever, but if you don’t feel them, they don’t come out right. How much prep time do you put into the actual production part of getting the vocal just the way to want it or getting the emotion just the way you want it?

Kat: I had about anywhere from six months to a year with these songs before we recorded and I got to perform them live before we recorded them to an audience of about 400 people a night. I embodied that character. That’s something that I did growing up. That was kind of my defense mechanism as a kid. I would pretend in my mind that I was another person or I was another character. My imaginary friends when I was a kid were Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Jack Skellington. Obviously I’m a Tim Burton Fan. That’s why as a kid, when all of your friends are watching Disney films and you know you’re the weirdo, but you haven’t accessed The Rocky Horror Picture Show, yet, or anything like that because you’re too young and there’s no way your parents are going to let you watch that, Tim Burton is the closest thing you have and you just latch onto that and you just don’t let go because it’s like, “This is me!” As far as production, I hired a brilliant producer in the Bay area. His name is Daniel Garcia. He’s Guatemalan. He did such an amazing job with direction on this album. I would tell him, “This is what the song is about. This is what I’m feeling,” and we sat in his studio for a solid month before we laid anything down and just talked about all the songs and tried out different sounds. He’s a DJ and he’s heavy into the electronic music scene. So I wanted to hire him because I didn’t want the album to just have the regular instruments and just to sit in a cabaret lounge setting. I wanted it to have aspects of new music, like what’s current right now, granted I hate EDM. I hate all of that shit. But I think it’s really cool when you combine different genres and different aspects – I think it’s really cool to combine computer sounds with a string quartet. So, it was really fun working with him that way. I can say, as far as getting the sound right, there were certain aspects where I was like, “I know what this needs to sound like,” because this is actually my fourth album that I’ve recorded. I feel like it’s taken me a long time but I’ve finessed the figuring out the emotion and not being too afraid to be super emotion in the way that I sing things. As far as “Death Money,” Daniel gave me a lot of direction as far as how to sing that song. I would sing it one way and he was like, “No, no, no. You need to sound like you’re completely out of breath.” And it’s funny because he’s also a videographer. I was in this tiny, tiny, little sound booth recording my vocals and he put the camera in there and filmed me singing “Death Money” and it shot right up my nose. I hope this never surfaces anywhere. I’m sure it’s a terrible angle. I’m sure you can see that I’m red in the face and just I collapsed after every time we finished a take. I just collapsed because I would just be so out of breath just because that was the point. Strain your voice. Don’t sing this pretty. Sing out of desperation. That was crazy. That was absolutely crazy. There were some tracks that were the scratch tracks that stayed a minute because I would listen to that and I would say, “There’s just no way I’m going to sing that any better. That was just a perfect take,”whatever I did just there it was a mistake but it was a happy mistake and I don’t think I can recreate that. Let’s leave it.” That happened a lot, where it was just like, “Man, these first takes were pure, raw emotion. That’s what has to stay.” Lots and lots and lots of thought went into the production of this album. The album would’ve sounded completely different if it weren’t for him.

Toddstar: It’s definitely something to listen for, especially on that track. There’s definitely excitement behind what you’re doing here. Listen, Kat, I know you’re busy. With everything going on, like you said, you’ve done four albums, you’ve done The Voice, you’re doing the artist thing out in San Francisco where you’re doing your show your way on your schedule, but with all of that said and done, looking over your career, is there anything that you consider a misstep that you wish you had a redo on?

Kat: Oh, yeah. My God. Yes.

Toddstar: I just opened Pandora’s Box, didn’t I?

Kat: The thing is, I was in a cover band for eight years. I gave my 20s to that cover band and because we were making a living and because we were touring every single week, I became complacent. I remember Marilyn Manson saying, “Complacency is just the worst thing in the world. I would rather be miserable than complacent.” I totally understand where he’s coming from because I should have given the band about three or four years because it was the first band I had ever been in and I learned so much from it, but I should have left the band four years before I did. Because it was such an enormous waste of time. We made a lot of fans. We played a lot of wonderful shows. It wasn’t all bad. I learned a lot and I met a lot of really important people in my life. But there were so many times where I was just sobbing, saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” we were writing original music and we were trying to put it out there and we were trying to make something happen. I sunk my inheritance into the first two albums so it was so hard to walk away and I thought, “If I leave this band, if I walk away, that’ll be it for me. I’ll be done.” And maybe the next show, somebody would be in the audience that would be able to help us or lift us up to the next level or that would be the show. Play every show like it’s the most important show and I would do that. I did that every night. There was a Freakonomic podcast, the upside of quitting. I looked into that and I was like, “Oh my God. If I quit, it’s not a failure.” It really changed things for me. I quit and the band. I was the last remaining original member, so it was like the band was over at that point. But a month after I quit that band, I got an audition to go on The Voice. It was literally so fast and everything since quitting the band has just been one really cool thing after another and growth. When I was in the cover band, I was just doing circles. I was just circling, circling, circling and the second that I got out of that band, I started on a path. And it’s been really cool so see that growth. That’s really what I wish because I get so jealous of people that are still in their 20s that are experiencing a ton of success. But I love what I have now and maybe I wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for those eight years in that band.

Toddstar: That’s why I ask the question because you never know exactly what you are going to get. Some people say, “Oh, I never look backwards,” and other people look backwards all the time, not only to where they’ve been and where they’re going, but to appreciate more what they’ve got.

Kat: I don’t look back. I really don’t. But I definitely regret. I just try not to think about it.

Toddstar: Well, listen, Kat, again, I appreciate you taking the time out for us. We wish you so much good luck and good wishes with Misfit Cabaret when it drops June 2nd. I hope people will open their eyes, their ears, and their hearts and really embrace this for what it is. And hopefully someday you’ll be able to take something that you made so famous and so successful in San Francisco and take it across country because I know here in Detroit, we’d love to see you.

Kat: Well, we’re going to Seattle in May. So we’re already started. And you guys have a really cool underground vaudeville scene that I’m just excited to check it out. I hear awesome things. So maybe you will see me soon.

Toddstar: That’d be awesome.

Kat: Thank you so much for your time.

KAT ROBICHAUD LINKS:

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INTERVIEW: KAT ROBICHAUD - May 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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