Morrissey's fans are a demanding crowd: They're passionate about what they
like (the music of the Moz) and dislike (pretty much everything else), and
winning them over can be tough for an opening act.
When she walked onstage at the Aragon Ballroom to launch Morrissey's rare
one-off performance here last November, Kristeen Young was greeted with a
tidal wave of indifference. But by the middle of her set, the New York-based
singer and songwriter had turned a sold-out crowd of skeptics into converts,
winning them over with her fiery vocals and aggressive keyboard playing,
with only powerhouse drummer Baby Jeff White to back her up. Now, Young is
returning to open for Morrissey throughout his U.S. tour, which stops at the
Auditorium Theatre on Tuesday.
How did this little-known indie musician connect with the Master of Mope?
"That's a good story," Young says.
"Tony Visconti produced his last record ['Ringleader of the Tormentors'],
and Tony had recorded a show of ours on DVD that he would bring to the
studio in Rome where they were working. They have a big screen there, and he
went in early one morning to watch the film when Morrissey walked in. Tony
didn't know -- Morrissey never came in that early -- and at the end of the
first song he heard 'Who's that?' And there's Morrissey standing behind him.
He had seen it and he said how much he liked it, and Tony said, 'Well, I'm
doing their record next, so I'll send it to you.' But even before that
happened, Morrissey called us up and asked if we could come over right away
to Europe and open a few shows for him."
Because of his rapacious wit, many listeners think of Morrissey as an
ogre, albeit a well-meaning one. "But I think he's misunderstood," Young
says. "He does have that sharp wit, so everyone automatically jumps to 'Oh,
he must be mean.' But he's completely the opposite -- the most loving and
generous person I've ever met."
Half-Native American and half-German, the 32-year-old musician grew up as
the daughter of Christian fundamentalist parents in Affton, Mo., 12 miles
outside St. Louis. "I was adopted, and my adopted mother always wanted to
play piano, so she gave me piano lessons. Of course, I hated it, but at some
point it started sinking in. I tried to make it sound like the songs on the
radio, but I'd get frustrated because it didn't sound like guitar, which is
mostly what's on the radio. I think that was the seed that made me want my
keyboard to sound like a cross between piano and guitar: It had to have more
power, like the fire the piano used to have in the early days of rock 'n'
roll, with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard."
Young started playing her own music in the clubs in the early '90s,
eventually performing as a duo with White after attempts to form a full band
proved unsuccessful. "We've auditioned different people over the years, and
we've never really been able to find someone I thought really fit in, so at
some point, we just gave up. Plus, Jeff plays pretty busy, and I am very
noisy myself, so there's not much room for someone else anyway!"
The band -- which, in the style of PJ Harvey, also goes by the name
Kristeen Young -- made its recorded debut in 1997 on World Domination, the
L.A. label started by Dave Allen of Gang of Four. Three more self-released
collections of stark but riveting songs followed -- "Enemy" (1999), the
provocatively titled "Breasticles" (2003) and "X" (2004) -- before Young
linked up with legendary glam-rock producer Visconti for last year's "The
Orphans." Musically, it's her most immediate disc, while lyrically, it's the
most compelling and autobiographical.
"We kind of recorded it live, as much as we possibly could, because we
really wanted to capture our sound onstage. When people would send me DVDs
or videos they had made of us playing live, I always thought that was a
better sound than anything else that I'd heard us do. So we actually used
one of those small video-camera microphones for some of the recording and
mixed that in. I don't know if it compresses the sound or what it does, but
I really like it.
"On the past couple of records, I felt like I lost my way a little bit
with listening to people who said what I should to further for my career or
what I needed to do to get signed," Young says. "My first couple of records
were so free -- I just wanted to make music that was natural to me -- but
then I moved to New York and people started saying all of these things to
me. For this one, I wanted to forget about all of that and get back to how I
used to think before, and a lot of the songs are about my experiences with
Indeed, the album can be heard as a long, sustained scream of "Hey, wake
up and pay attention!," delivered via a collection of tunes that find Young
railing against any box that would try to contain her -- sexual, religious,
musical or even geographical. Witness the song "Under a Landlocked Moon." "Middle
America's conservative, right?" she howls. "I've seen what weapons
clothes can be / And I know only devil music sets you free / And I had the
kind of sex that says, 'F--- you!' / Under a landlocked moon."
"That song comes from a lot of different places, but I picked up some
magazine once and they were doing a review of an album that said, 'I know
Middle America will never get this.' I was so offended by that, because it's
such the attitude of the East- and West-Coasters. They have no idea where
St. Louis even is; they get it mixed up with New Orleans and St. Paul. They
have this stereotype that goes back to 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' or
something, and of course they think everyone is a big believer in Bush in
Middle America. But I know from living there that anytime there is a strong
authority, there will always be a backlash to it, and it will be much
stronger when it comes from a place that is, on the surface, more
conservative. The people that I know in St. Louis on the music scene or art
scene, when they react, they do it much more definitively then people in New
York or L.A."
This is certainly true of Young, and it's high time Middle America took
MORRISSEY, KRISTEEN YOUNG
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
Phone: (312) 559-1212