Courtney Kaiser's resume includes three and a half years as a Mellencamp backup singer as well as rock bands United States Three, The Darlings (The Prom), The Academy and eeqwa. Since transplanting from Bloomington to NYC, her current projects include KaiserCartel (KaiserCartel.com), Patina (PatinaRocks.com) and teaching music to the next generation at the Brooklyn Heights Montessori school.
Q: What have you taken with you from Bloomington to Brooklyn?
A: I feel like my songwriting became more Midwest after I left. Influences like Lisa Germano, The Vulgar Boatmen, Mysteries of Life and United States Three appeared more in my songwriting. I think in some ways it is easier to play in NYC, while New Yorkers are also critical, you don't have to be in the "right" crowd to be noticed.
Q: Describe KaiserCartel and Patina.
A: KaiserCartel is an eclectic mix of drums, guitars, vocals, xylophone, a $5 Casio keyboard and it is full of smart songwriting by me and Benjamin Cartel. Our sound is a combination of pop and rock with room for eclectic instrumentation. Patina is very different. I graduated to using pedals and I sing very differently than I ever have before in my life. It's the first democratic situation I've been in [where] all the writing is done by everyone, even down to the lyrics. It's a cross between My Bloody Valentine, Rolling Stones and Bjork. The drummer comes from Kitty in the Tree, the guitarist from Public and the bass player from Longwave.
Q: How do you manage both physically and creatively?
A: It's difficult to get me to practice sometimes. My days are spent teaching children to learn to read and write their own music and how to play instruments. Many days I just don't feel like it, but once I am doing it, I love it and forget all about the racket of being too tired.
Q: What did you take away from the Mellencamp experience?
A: In rehearsals, John would decide he wanted a particular instrument and would ask someone to play it. If they couldn't do it quickly he would just say, "Oh forget it!" Because I wanted to please him and was up for the challenge, I would go for it every time I was asked, even when the task seemed frightening! He also gave me many opportunities to showcase my singing ability on stage in front of thousands of people through solos. I think without that experience I would have never done solo music or been the leader of a band.
Q: You sang prominently on "See You When You Get There," easily the best song from The Wallflowers 2002 release, Red Letter Days. In the back or front of your mind, do you think about exposure like that in terms of advancing your own projects?
A: No. If someone invites me into a project and I like the music and the people, I'm completely interested in doing it because I want to, not because I think it will be a career breaker. While playing a few sold-out shows at places like Radio City every summer would be incredible, I believe in affecting as many people as possible through music. If it happens to be only one person that I can inspire or move, then that's great!
Q: What do you miss about being here?
A: I miss Tom Donahue and his record store, Value Village, the farmer's market, breakfast at Bloomingfood's on Sunday mornings, all the trees [and] there is a great music scene. I miss having Paul Mahern as a constant inspiration. He is underappreciated. He has done so much for everyone in the music community; so much for me. Without him, I would not have made such a bold move to NYC. With his faith and support I continue to do what I do best.