4:35am

Sun October 23, 2011
Music Interviews

Kitty, Daisy And Lewis: English Siblings With Vintage Taste

Originally published on Fri November 4, 2011 7:10 pm

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis is a three-piece band, comprising a trio of musical siblings from North London. They're wrapping up a European tour now, back at home in England after getting rave reviews on the road in Spain and France. Their sound has been heralded by the likes of Coldplay, whom they toured with in 2009.

Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish spoke with Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham from the BBC studios in London, and began by asking how the family band got its start.

"We've always played music at home together, but we kind of started off in this pub," says Kitty Durham. "We used to go there to listen to the music with our parents — kids were allowed. It was a Sunday afternoon thing with country and folk bands and stuff. We sort of got to know the guy who ran the night there, and he asked us to come up one day and do one song, just for fun."

That song was "Folsom Prison Blues," the Johnny Cash tune in which a jailed murderer sits in his prison cell, musing on the outside world. Kitty Durham says the song's music, which has shades of the rockabilly sound the siblings would eventually adopt, so moved them that they didn't think twice about its dark content.

"When you don't really care what the lyrics are saying, you don't necessarily have to understand them," she says. "Because we just loved and enjoyed the music and enjoyed playing it, it didn't matter."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, host: Bouffant ponytails, black eyeliner with a cat-eyed flip, skinny ties and greased pompadours. The members of the band Kitty, Daisy and Lewis look exactly the way they sound: vintage - like the hip teens hip shaking in black and white movie reels of pre-Beatles rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T MAKE A FOOL OUT OF ME")

KITTY, DAISY AND LEWIS: (Singing) Baby, you're making a fool out of me...

CORNISH: Not just rock - jump blues, swing, Hawaiian pop, ska and country-western. But don't be fooled by the hair and analog recording. Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham are barely out of their teens. Their parents were on the tour when the North London siblings opened up for the band Coldplay in 2009. Now, they've just released their latest album, "Smoking in Heaven." This song, the single "Don't Make a Fool Out of Me," is coming out this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T MAKE A FOOL OUT OF ME")

LEWIS: (Singing) You're making a fool out of me.

CORNISH: Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham join us from the BBC Studios in London. Welcome, guys.

LEWIS DURHAM: Greetings.

KITTY DURHAM: Welcome.

CORNISH: So, to start, give me the birth order. Who's the oldest and what instruments do you play?

DAISY DURHAM: I'm Daisy and I'm the oldest, and I play piano, sing, play drums, xylophone, accordion. I think that's it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEWIS: I'm the middle and my name is Lewis. And I play the piano, the guitar, sing, drums, the banjo, the lap steel and a couple of other things.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DURHAM: I'm Kitty. I'm the youngest. And play guitar, drums, harmonica, banjo, ukulele. I sing and a couple of other things maybe.

CORNISH: So, when did you guys start performing as a band?

DURHAM: We've always played music at home together, but we just kind of started off in this pub, 'cause we used to, like, just go there to listen to the music with our parents, where kids were allowed. And we sort of got to know the guy who runs the night there. And, yeah, he asked us to come up one day and do one song or something just for fun.

CORNISH: What was the song?

DURHAM: The first song we did was...

DURHAM: "Folsom Prison."

DURHAM: I played - yeah, "Folsom Prison Blues," and I just played the banjo and Kitty played the drums in the back.

CORNISH: That's kind of an intense song for teenagers.

DURHAM: We weren't teenagers by this point.

DURHAM: This is like 10 years ago.

CORNISH: Oh, wow. Trying to imagine, like, 12 year olds playing "Folsom." I know it is the Johnny Cash tune and, I mean, when I've seen it, he's performing it in a prison. So, I'm trying to imagine a bunch of very young people doing this song. Like, what was your take on it?

DURHAM: I think when - this is Kitty, by the way - I think when you're younger, as young as we were, like, when people, oh, like, how did you understand those songs and the lyrics are so deep and all this, like, I think when you're that young you don't necessarily have to understand them. I think it was more because we just loved and enjoyed the music and enjoyed playing it.

CORNISH: And how would you describe your music? Because I read an interview where you said it is definitely not rockabilly. And I don't know if I totally know what rockabilly is, other than I associate it with a kind of look of the sort of pompadours and country-western '50 or '40s kind of look of clothing. What do you think it is and what do you think your music is?

DURHAM: Yeah. I don't think really a lot of people quite know what rockabilly is, but they see it as a style now. But, like, it was sort of like a type of music, country kind of bit with drums and things like that, 'cause country records never usually used to have drums and stuff. I mean, yeah, we kind of grew up with like more, not really with rockabilly, but like more like blues and stuff like that.

DURHAM: Like R and B and, like, ska and stuff like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You mention ska, and that influence, which I hear a lot in this album, is there a particular song on the new album that you think kind of gets at that sound you're talking about?

DURHAM: "I'm So Sorry."

DURHAM: Let's see. Yeah.

CORNISH: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M SO SORRY")

LEWIS: (Singing) Hey, you, you never said goodbye. And now I'm so sorry for everything I've done...

CORNISH: And, Kitty, are you the main singer on that track?

DURHAM: The only singer, yes.

CORNISH: The only singer. Walk us through how you guys write a song, because something like that sounds so deeply in the period it's hard to imagine that you came up with it.

DURHAM: That song in particular was - me and Lewis were kind of messing around one day.

DURHAM: And we, like, made up our own, like, cheesy chords and lyrics.

DURHAM: And then, like, my dad, he's like, you should play that. It's a ska song.

DURHAM: So that's why the lyrics, like, they're a bit weird because they were literally made up, like, me and Kitty just knocks on the case of the guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M SO SORRY")

LEWIS: (Singing) And now, on it, we might get soft, strumming away these selected days and I'm so sorry.

CORNISH: The band really feels like a kind of family affair, because your dad is involved, and I gather your parents travel with you. And at one point your mom was a drummer for The Raincoats, like very briefly. Really cool all-female punk band. I don't know. I liked them.

DURHAM: If you say so.

CORNISH: I know, I know. As her kids, I guess you're not allowed to say that. But, I mean, is that fun having them around? I mean, does that help make this work? 'Cause you had this huge tour with Coldplay and seems like a lot.

DURHAM: This is Daisy. It has, like, its ups and downs really, I mean, but there's always arguments. But we couldn't really play without our parents because of the way we've been brought up, like, jamming at home together with the whole family.

DURHAM: I think also 'cause we know each other so well, 'cause my mom plays the bass and my dad plays the acoustic guitar. So, you can just, like, you can just start jamming and we'll feel where it's going to go.

CORNISH: Is there a song on the album that you think has your parents' influence as well?

DURHAM: I think all of them do really. What do you think, Kitty? Daisy?

DURHAM: Maybe "What Quid?"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT QUID?")

DURHAM: Someone just, like, gave us what's called a wa-wa pedal, or a crybaby. And so, it's just like a case of we were all in the studio and just, like, probably the end and we just sort of, like, jammed and then literally just turned on the tape machine and recorded it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT QUID?")

CORNISH: Do you ever worry about being looked at as a novelty?

DURHAM: It used to be - this is Daisy - it used to be more of a worry because, obviously, we were like really young kids.

DURHAM: I think when people actually see a live gig and can see that we do actually play instruments and write the songs and then people start to realize that we are actually, like...

DURHAM: Serious musicians.

DURHAM: Yeah, like, serious musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMOKING IN HEAVEN")

LEWIS: (Singing) You know, the smoking evolution...

CORNISH: The band Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. They spoke with us from the BBC studios in London. Their album, "Smoking in Heaven," is out now. Thank you, guys, so much for talking with us.

DURHAM: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMOKING IN HEAVEN")

CORNISH: This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.

And I'm Audie Cornish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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