KO and The Knockout Interview
Ko in NYC! photo: Theresa Kereakes
By: Rich Tupica
Picking up where Suzi Quatro in her Pleasure Seekers days left off, Ko released her debut album on Sympathy Records in 2002. The record mixed ‘60s garage rock and power pop, giving the record a brilliant sound. Her snotty yet catchy song “Black & Blue” was featured on The Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, a compilation featuring the best bands in the Motor City, recorded and compiled by Mr. Jack White.
Since then, Ko has been tied up with her Dirtbomb duties and has yet to release a follow-up to her Ko & The Knockouts LP.
Now that I just made you read some shit that you probably already know about her, keep reading to find out how Ko and her band were left with blood, guts and severed limbs all over the front of their tour van.
Hey Ko, was The Breakdowns the first band you played in?
"Technically, I was playing with The Come Ons before I joined The Breakdowns, so I guess it wasn't my first band. It was the first time that I'd played bass though. Basically, Steve Shaw and Jeff Meier, who had played guitar and bass for The Detroit Cobras had left the band and were looking to start something new. Steve suggested that I pick up the bass, I think because Jeff wanted to be a guitar player and recruited a friend of ours named Jeff Kline to play drums.
How did you go about learning the bass guitar so quickly for the band?
At that point I sat in my house for like three months and did nothing but try to learn the bass. The first song I learned was Booker T and the MG's "Green Onions" and from there I listened to James Brown and Motown Records to try to teach myself. When we got to the point where I could kind of play, Steve, the two Jeff’s and I started practicing."
So how did you find a singer?
"It's sort of funny because I think it was another three months before we got a singer! We tried out lots of different people, from Jim Diamond’s wife at the time, they are now divorced, to the janitor at Steve's work. We ended up with Virginia, she is a lovely girl."
So where did things go wrong for The Breakdowns?
"The whole thing was kind of a mess because I didn't really play bass, Virginia had never really sung before and drummer Jeff was more of a punk drummer. We ended up putting out one single, played a few local shows and SXSW before Steve and guitar-Jeff realized that one of the reasons they'd both quit the Cobras was because they didn't really get along. Drummer-Jeff and Virginia had started dating and eventually I just didn't feel like the band was something that I wanted to keep doing."
How did you decide to go out on your own with Ko and the Knockouts?
"After The Breakdowns 'broke down', sorry, very cheesy, I know, I began to realize what anybody who's ever been in a band knows, being in a band is like having four, or however many boyfriends or girlfriends! I got a couple of offers to join other bands, one of them being The Von Bondies but I kind of decided that I have a hard enough time trying to be in a relationship with one person and sort of came to the conclusion that I didn't want to be in a band."
Did Long Gone John from Sympathy for the Record Industry have anything to do with the Knockouts LP?
"Oh, backtracking a little bit, before The Breakdowns split, Steve had talked to Long Gone John about putting out a full length, which is how he even knew I existed. So at this point in time I was sort of content being a bartender, but then along came Long Gone John who was putting out the 'Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit' for Jack White and asked for a song and record."
Will there ever be another Ko and the Knockouts album?
"Right now, I've got some songs and I am writing with Eddie from The Sights so if I can get things together and get off my lazy ass..."
What city did you grow up in & what kind of student was Ko back in high school?
"I grew up in Ann Arbor. I sort of have the opinion that the people who liked high school are the ones who are forever living as that being 'the best days of their lives.' I am definitely not one of them, that's all I'll say."
What was your favorite band or artist growing up?
"The Jam, The Who, The Specials, all that good stuff that makes me smile when I hear it these days."
How was it touring with The Black Lips?
"Contrary to popular belief, The Black Lips are total gentlemen! Maybe they were on their best behavior because I'm a girl or they were happy to be out with The Dirtbombs, but they aren't as wild and crazy as people might think."
Ko & The Knockouts! photo: Matthew Toledo
What are The Dirtbombs up to right now? Anything new on the way anytime soon?
"I guess we're on break for 2006, but we're supposed to be going in to record in November, maybe? It's all up to Mick, I just show up when they tell me."
What is the best and worst part of going on so many tours around the world?
"The best part is getting to go everywhere, doing what I love. The worst is that it's really hard to adjust back and forth to being at home and on the road. Someone told me that they saw an interview with one of The Smiths where they were saying how great it is to be in a band and on the road, but then you come home and realize that you've got no friends because you've been away for so long. I totally agree, it's hard to come home and try to explain what you've been doing for the past 10-years to someone who's never done it."
What is some of the crazy shit you have seen on tour with your band or The Dirtbombs?
"This is one of my favorites, happened a few years back, Ko & The Knockouts went on tour on the west coast with The Dirtbombs and Detroit Cobras. Eddie had prior Sights commitments so Wes from The Clone Defects was playing guitar for us. Wes, Jeff, the drummer and I were in a big van with all the equipment and the other two bands had flown out to meet us. The tour itself was really crazy, insane, I can't even begin to go into it and by the end of the two weeks we were all pretty worn out. After the last show in San Diego the Cobras and Dirtbombs flew home and my band began our long drive back to Detroit. I think it was the second day of driving, I'm not even sure where we were."
Who was all in the tour van?
"I was at the wheel, Jeff was navigating and Wes was sitting on the floor in the back, watching dvds on the computer with an ashtray in one hand and a beer in the other. So anyway, I'm driving along and all of a sudden a pack of deer ran on to the freeway. Luckily for us there were about three cars ahead of us so we didn't actually hit any of the deer, but there was blood and deer parts flying all over the van. Jeff and I were screaming 'Oh my God! There's blood and legs everywhere!' Poor Wes couldn't see a thing, he thought that we were talking about people... When we pulled over, it was one of the most disgusting things I'd ever seen, the entire front of the van just dripping with blood and deer parts."
Detroit bands blew up a few years ago. What's your favorite memory of the peak of the Detroit music fiasco?
"I am really bad with years so I can't say what year it was, but there was a point in time when the Gold Dollar was still open and I was still bartending at the Garden Bowl. My bosses had decided that they wanted me to work on Sunday nights, which really sucked because there was never anyone there and I never made any money. The only highlight was that Tom Potter of Bantam Rooster would always show up and we would hang out for hours. Anyways, at some point in time, I got sick of working an eight hour shift and coming home with $20, so I started asking people to do little solo shows. Jack White was the first, just him, his guitar and amp and one mic. After a few weeks, it became a really great night because it was just everyone from the local bands trying out new stuff in front of their friends. There was such a great sense of camaraderie back then, it was such a great time."
What are some great new bands that you could suggest? From anywhere in the world.
"Obviously love The Black Lips, they are the best, sort of a punk, Cavern Club-era Beatles. The Terrible Twos are really great. Other than that I'd really have to think on that for awhile."
Can you tell me about your Sirius Radio show for Little Steven? How did that come together?
"The Little Steven thing is kind of crazy for me. He'd somehow heard my record and really liked it a lot and ended up coming to a couple of our shows in New York City, so I'd talked to him here and there. When he started putting together his channel for Sirius, he called me and asked if I wanted to be a DJ."
Had you ever done a radio show before Steven called?
"I had never done any radio work at all and I was a bit confused as to why he'd want me to be a DJ. I got even more confused when he told me that the other DJs were people like Andrew Loog Oldham who'd actually done things in their lives. So he flew me out to New York for a week to do some audition tapes and told me to bring music. We had a big talk and when I asked him why the hell he wanted me to do this he said that he thought I had the kind of personality that could really come through, even via radio. I hope he's right! Anyway, I spent most of January through April, 2005 flying back and forth from Detroit to NYC trying to learn how to be a DJ."
How was it hearing your radio voice for the first time?
"It's funny because the first time I ever heard my singing voice recorded it sounded so alien, hearing my speaking voice was much worse!"
Do you get to pick any of the bands you play on air?
"As far as the music goes, he's got a playbook of songs that I choose from and get to add to. That first trip to New York I brought so much stuff that I think the Sirius people thought I was crazy. I set up my own play lists but most of it is from his playbook, being that it is his station. Luckily for me Steven seems to like my taste in music and I give him stuff to listen to, he usually likes it.”
What is one thing you want to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven't already done?
"This is a really difficult question because most of the things that I've done are things that I'd never dreamed I could really do. I really feel lucky that I can make a living and live my life doing what I love to do, which is more than I could have ever hoped for. I often think about when I was young and that first band or song really hits you hard and makes you realize that there's more to music than whatever is on the crap Billboard Charts; If I can do that for just one person I'll be happy, you know what I mean?"
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