Performing classic rock 'n' roll numbers with their siblings and parents sounds an unlikely pastime for three North London teenagers. Kitty, Daisy & Lewis ignorned trend culture and decided they just weren't made for these times. “It's best when people can just let go instead of chin stroking and wondering if they're supposed to be into this kind of thing this week or not – we usually win them over!” they tell Ben Rimmer.
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis are struggling with those young person problems like every other teenager. “We still don't consider it a career. It's an enjoyable obsession that has taken over our lives. Lewis divides his time between music and being an uber geek. Kitty takes her GCSEs this year and Daisy has to juggle being fab and earning a penny like everyone else,” so says their Mother and double bass player Ingrid Weiss. Persuaded, along with her husband Graeme Durham (acoustic guitar), to join the kids, Ingrid, the former drummer for The Raincoats, is quick to admit life as part of a touring family band is full of stresses, especially when there was an album to get out. Almost entirely filled with exuberent classic swing and rock 'n' roll covers, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis released their self-titled debut to the UK this month. The music bounces from the speakers with such freedom and fun it is hard to believe the record turned in to such a labour of love. “We're obviously pleased that it's out at last,” Ingrid says, “it took a long time though because, although we record as live, we did it at the same time as putting together the studio, which is all vintage analogue equipment. Old gear needs a lot of attention to get in perfect working condition and Lewis and Graham were fixing and engineering as well as playing. As we're all involved in everything there can be lots of disagreements about final mixes etc but in the end you have to let it go.” And that is exactly what the Durham family are doing. Having released their obsessively compiled ode to vintage 'A to Z – Kitty, Daisy & Lewis – The Roots Of Rock n Roll' and picked their perfect numbers to put their own joyful stamp upon for the album they appear ready to add to the self penned numbers 'Buggin Blues' and 'Swinging Hawaii' from 'Kitty, Daisy & Lewis'. “We love playing all the songs but now that they're down it's time to move on and we've started to play more of our own stuff as it comes.” Their next release will be a double A side single with a Lewis penned number on one and Kitty's the other.
There is an undeniable struggle for the Durham's to find that happy place between carefree and meticulous when playing live and in session. They are learning that perfection doesn't always produce the best performance. “We are very particular about getting the right sound for us, but then we just go for it. For example on our recording there are plenty of mistakes and bum notes but as long as it has the right energy and feel it's ok. We like to keep the sound real. We're all particular about different aspects. On our last single 'Going up the Country' you can hear the piano string snap near the end of the song but it seemed to be the best take so it stayed.” Letting go of the desire for perfect sound is where the ultimate success of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis' may lie. The quintet burst on to our radar at Secret Garden Party 2007 with a seemingly carefree and simply outrageously talented performance. The crowd grew and grew and we danced, smiled and sang along with the beaming, buzzing band. “That Secret Garden Party gig just had a really nice happy energy going on. A lot of people still remember that day. A great audience makes all the difference and you can really respond to that even if there are the (usual) technical problems.” At SXSW 2008, this time ready for anything, their showcase promised to be the highlight of the week as they brought their faultless homage to classic American music back to its' dusty Southern roots. After fourty five minutes of friction, fussing and tension among band and the sound engineers they finally struck up, got the industry talking and just about saved their big chance and growing reputation.
It is a rare thing for an entire family to travel around playing music, perhaps even becoming famous together. America is the home of the old time blues, country, swing rock 'n' roll and hillybilly that Kitty, Daisy & Lewis play at so brilliantly. It is also the land of the Carter Family. Both groups passed their immense musical knowledge and heritage to their multi talented children. “It's always been more about live music than listening to records. Graeme always sang and played guitar to the kids when they were growing up – mainly old songs that he learnt from his parents or grew up with. They knew a lot of songs before they had heard the recordings. Graeme and I have quite eclectic tastes – some of which K, D and L are quite disapproving of! They just took certain elements and went off on their own journeys. I have alway been pretty obsessed with all things past with an attic full of goodies that gets raided from time to time. Out tastes certainly aren't confined to the 50's. No-one restricts themselves to retro style limitations. That would be dull. But like the music, it seems like an appreciation of quality from previous eras is in the genes.” A mother Maybelle then to her three children. The Carter Family started out 1927 with Maybelle, her husband in law A.P.Carter and cousin Sara. Two girls and a boy of the same age playing commercial country music, with Maybelle a multi instrumentalist on banjo, guitar and harpsicord and later playing together with her three daughters. This young modern trio pass guitar, piano, banjo, lapsteel guitar, harmonica, double bass, ukulele, drums, trombone, xylophone and accordion between them.
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis grew up embracing the old masters from Louis Armstrong to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker to Blind Lemon Jefferson and Johnny Cash through Little Richard, Nina Simone and Ray Charles. They, or at least Ingrid, are defiant that they are not pegged as a rockabilly band. Such deep love and passion for their heroes, for real music a century and a million miles away from the neat and tidy air brushed music and the neat categorising of the industry and journalists has Ingrid on the attack again, defending the authenticity of her pack. “We don't consider ourselves falling into any particular category or being retro. Even though we do have good taste in clothes! We get the feeling that the US is perhaps the last place to appreciate their musical heritage and its influence on the rest of the world. Rock and roll didn't start with Elvis. It feels like a different mentality over there but yes, we'd love to go back and play if they ask us.”
They will be asked, of that there is no doubt. For the time being Kitty, Daisy and Lewis are working hard around school term dates to play shows in Europe, Japan and Australia. “We wouldn't want to tour anyway 'cos then it just becomes too much work and not enough fun. In the summer we always do a few festivals. We like to pick and choose gigs. We've never had any kind of game-plan or goals. It all happened very organically. When we stop enjoying playing music and people stop asking us to do gigs then it's time to stop.”
Music runs so strong through the Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham band that this may never happen, their rare gift will surely pass to future generations to produce a musical family tree towards, if not quite reaching, the scale and talent falling from the Carter Cash clan's branches.
'Kitty, Daisy & Lewis' is out now on Sunday Best. Tour dates, songs and an education in rock 'n' roll await on Myspace: link