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Kitty Durham on touring in America, drinking in England and feeling let down by Chuck Berry




Kitty Durham can do a lot of things most 16-year-olds can’t.

She can buy a beer, for one.

“The drinking age is 18 in the U.K., but if you’re 16, you can drink if you’re eating food at the same time,” the British teenager said recently by phone from St. Louis. “It’s a bit of a mystery, actually”

Another thing she can do: Seamlessly emulate classic American country-rock-swing-blues music, alongside her siblings Daisy and Lewis.

As Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, the British wunderkinds have become hits in their homeland, attracting fans like Mark Ronson, Billy Bragg and and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who asked KDL to open shows on their current North American tour, which hits Tampa Sunday.’

All three Durham siblings play multiple instruments, from piano to lap steel to ukulele, and all three sing. Their mom and dad are their backing band. With a sound that’s equal parts Johnny Cash and Louis Jordan — favorite covers include Johnny Horton’s Mean Son Of a Gun and a rockabilly version of Canned Heat’s Going Up The Country — it’s no surprise that during a recent day off from touring, they took a side trip to tour the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis.

(Click here to listen to Kitty, Daisy and Lewis's Polly Put the Kettle On.)

The band is gearing up for the U.S. release of its self-titled debut album on Aug. 25. And next Wednesday, they’ll make their American television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

But first, Durham called tbt* to chat about touring in America, drinking in England and feeling let down by Chuck Berry. Here are excerpts.

You’ve got a very American sound. Were there American artists that didn’t come to England that you wanted to see live?

Well, most of them are probably dead. (laughs). I’ve seen quite a few, like the old sort of legends. But it’s a bit disappointing when you see them, because you know their music from what they were a few years ago. When you see them live, it’s not the same. They’ve got some crappy backing band that’s often really different. When you see them, you expect so much of them, and then you see them, and it’s like they’ve completely lost it. It’s just not the same as they were.

Give me an example. What’s a performance that let you down?

I’ve seen Chuck Berry a couple of times. And it’s amazing to see him onstage, but it just didn’t feel right. And I’ve kind of had to look away, because — I don’t know, it’s a bit sad, really. He had this backing band that really didn’t seem to fit the music at all, like some sort of rock drummer and all. I don’t know — it just didn’t seem right.

You guys are just starting out. Have you thought about how you can keep your music fresh going forward?

Well, we’ve been going for about nine years now. Sso far, we’ve basically just been playing the same set for quite a few years. And that was our first album. We recorded our set, basically — it was mainly covers, and then there’s a couple of originals on there. We’re going to start writing some more stuff as soon as we get back from the tour. I think we’re going to start getting another album underway as well, hopefully, but it’ll be a while yet before that comes around.

Have you always performed as a family?

There’s always been jamming at home, since we were kids. There were always instruments lying around, like a piano and stuff like that. ... Originally, the band was just me, Daisy and Lewis and various other guitar players, but then we found it was kind of best when our dad played with us, and later on, we asked our mom, 'Will you play bass?’

Do you write together? Or is the writing a singular process?

Someone will come up with an idea for a song, and then they work out the chord arrangements and lyrics. And then if it’s not quite there, we just jam it together and see where it goes. That’s what usually happens.

Is this the biggest tour you’ve been a part of in the States?

Yeah. We’ve never actually toured before, because I’ve only just left school. The longest we’ve toured for is about five days. So yeah, when we got asked to do this, it was really amazing, because it was like, not only is it a concert tour, but it’s in America. If it was around the U.K., it wouldn’t be that spectacular, because we’ve done a lot of shows in the U.K. But it’s pretty exciting to come back here and go all over the country.

Have you gotten the chance to explore? Do you have any time while you’re making this huge cross-country tour to see anything away from the venues?

Yeah, you get a few days off. Yesterday, we had the day off when we were driving from Houston to St. Louis, and we kind of went off route to Memphis. We thought, while we’re going that way, we may as well just go to Memphis as well. We went to tour Sun Studio and that museum, and it was really amazing.

Did you do Graceland?

No. We were thinking about it, but we didn’t really have a lot of time. We arrived late.

Do you have sights that you’re looking forward to seeing? Are you planning out your days off between shows?

I’m not really sure. Our poor manager kind of deals with that. But we’ve got a few days off in New York, so we can go out there to see bars and stuff. And we’ll probably go out in Florida as well. We’ll probably visit the beach.

You’re 16. Are there things that you can do in England when you’re 16 that you can’t do in the U.S.?

The drinking age is 18 in the U.K., but if you’re 16, you can drink if you’re eating food at the same time. It’s a bit of a mystery, actually, because there’s a lot of people who say you can drink at the age of 5. ... I think the law is, if you’re 16, you can drink with dinner.

What’s your drink of choice when you sit down for a meal?

Dunno. Anything. I don’t really go in there, and they know I’m 16. I just get away with it. It’s not as strict. Even if you go to a bar in America, even if you look 21, they’re still going to ID you if you look young. In the U.K., they say that you have to look 21 and then prove that you’re 18, which is really stupid, but if you actually say you’re 18, they don’t really care, they’ll just show you in there. Some places just do it even if they know you’re underage.

How old do you think you look?

Dunno. Depends on what time of the day — if I’ve just woken up. (laughs) I’m not sure, really. I’ve asked a lot of people that before. I asked someone that when I was about 13, and they said I looked 21. (laughs)

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:12pm]


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