By Andi Teran
When you think of a family band, it’s easy to conjure images of successful groups like the Beach Boys, Bee Gees, and the Jackson 5, as well as fictional outfits like The Partridge Family and even The Brady Bunch’s The Silver Platters. Almost considered a novelty of the past, all that’s about to change thanks to the Durham family, aka Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, a trio of London siblings who, along with their parents Graeme and Ingrid, are bringing their vintage-tinged sound (and look) to the forefront of new music. Hard to classify, they are collective multi-instrumentalists who blend R&B, swing, rockabilly, country, and blues, and sell out venues to crowds all over Great Britain. With only one previous tour of the U.S., supporting Coldplay, Andi Teran recently spoke to Kitty (pictured, left) about when they’ll return stateside, how they make music as a family, and what continues to make oldies goodies.
Where did you record your new album, Smoking in Heaven?
We recorded in our home studio, in the back room. It was hard at first. We got a new tape machine at the start, recorded four songs, and then it broke. It was the one from Atlantic Studios—it was a bit of legendary equipment.
Who else recorded on it?
Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.
Wow. How do you typically come together to write your songs?
We all pretty much write them separately. We go off on our own and come up with something. Daisy doesn’t play guitar, so she comes up with the lyrics and the melody first, then she’ll come to us and ask what chords go with this and that. Lewis plays guitar, and I write most of my songs on guitar and come up with rhythms and chords adding the other stuff later. We do that and get together in a big room and jam.
Do you ever have any down time as a family that doesn’t involve music?
At the moment we’ve been really busy with work, but it’s harder for me when there’s that pressure to write. We haven’t had much time off lately!
Your mother plays bass for you but she used to be the drummer for the Raincoats. How did you coerce her into joining the band?
We always used to jam at home, and we had a double bass. She couldn’t play it but could pluck a few strings, so we were like, “We need a bass player! Can you be in the band?” She kind of had to. We’d been playing at home for years with our parents, so it felt natural to bring them in because we started out playing with them.
Do they help write songs?
Yeah, it’s all kind of an equal say. They’re an equal part of the band, but they don’t do interviews. My mom co-wrote the first track of the album, called “Tomorrow.”
What music did they play for you growing up?
My dad used to sing to us on guitar when we were little. He was from a family of seven sisters and brothers, so he used to jam with them. My mom had loads of records and there was always music being played from blues to 60s records, not Beatles-stuff, more T. Rex and Gary Glitter. My dad sung us songs that he grew up with like Muddy Waters and “Going Up the Country,” so we started playing those songs onstage even before we’d heard the actual records. We just heard him playing it.
Where are your parents from?
My dad’s from Bombay and my mom is half-Norwegian.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I thought you were Mexican! Your style reminds me of old photos of my family who grew up on the border of Mexico.
I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico! When we did the tour with Coldplay we were talking of going out there but we didn’t have time.
Are you going to do a big American tour for this album?
There’s talk of going back at some point, obviously with the album being released, so maybe at the end of the year. With the Coldplay tour, we did a few of our own gigs in small clubs like The Echo in LA. It was pretty much packed out, so hopefully we’ll get to do a few [more] of them. We love LA; we had a good time there. It was our first proper gig. The weather’s a lot better than it is in London. We went down to Venice Beach and had some Mexican food.
No one seems to know how to classify you. You’re often labeled a swing band.
I don’t even know how to describe our music. It’s such a mix of different genres; there’s not really one thing you can say to cover all the bases. It’s a mix of blues, jazz, ska. It’s basically R&B based—there’s not one word to sum it up.
Do you listen to modern music or do you stick with the oldies that seem to influence your sound?
I’m open to a lot of things, but there’s nothing mainstream that I particularly listen to. I think music from the past has got something about it. Music is becoming lazy these days—just get a computer, make a few beats, it’s quite easy. It works for a lot of people.
Is it important to you as a band to record and release albums on vinyl?
I don’t think vinyl will ever die out; I think CD’s will. I think it’s really important to release on vinyl because it sounds a hell of a lot better than digital does, and I think it’s better to have. Even if you don’t have a record player, I find people buy it anyway because it’s a nice thing to have.
What elements from the music of yesteryear can be applied to music today?
Every type of music today is influenced by something from the past. Music has sort of progressed but taken from the past. Blues came to England, and then the Rolling Stones took [that], and then Oasis took their influence from them. It kind of keeps going.
How do you and Daisy feel about being dual front women of a band?
There are more and more female musicians, not just singers but musicians. We’ve grown up playing since we were kids and it never really occurred to us. In terms of the whole band—we’re equal—it’s just kind of normal for us.
What do you hope audiences will take from your music?
Because we started when we were young and we play as a family, it’s hard to steer away from [that]. You get pigeonholed into being a novelty or being rockabilly. We’ve been lucky with our audience because we get such a mix of people of different ages that listen to different music. We just want to be taken seriously as musicians and not just these kids playing instruments.
A contributing editor to Afterzine, Andi Teran writes about film and culture for a handful of publications. She also performs plays for siamese cats, volunteers at 826NYC, and regularly rants on her blog verbosecoma.com.