Hard life! Here’s our extended interview with Kate from Big Eyes. We sat down before their July 4th show and talked as the sound of premature fireworks and drunken Portlanders carried through the streets. Check out Big Eye’s ridiculously catchy pop-punk jammer from earlier this year, “Back From the Moon,” and then wait for their never-ending tour to come to your front doorstep.
M: How long have you been playing guitar?
Kate: Half of my life. I’ve been playing since I was 12, and I’m 24 now.
M: What made you want to start playing guitar?
K: I was always into music. I played the viola in elementary school—my dad thought that playing the guitar would be helpful for that, but once I got focused on the guitar, I didn’t really give a shit about the viola. I was always really good at the viola, too. I don’t know, i guess I was always into music. Like, if I was ever around a piano, I would sit there for hours. My neighbor, my moms friend that she grew up with, would always take me to rock concerts and when she told my dad he said “you should get Katie a guitar, I think she’d be good.”
M: What was the first song you learned to play on guitar?
K: I remember learning “Crazy Train” really early on. A lot of Van Halen songs—my guitar teacher was like, 19, and I was 12, and he was obsessed with 80s pop metal.
M: [Laughs] Did you start learning with tapping?
K: Honestly, pretty fast he was teaching me how to solo. I was kind of really good, really fast, because i would just practice for hours every day. When I was in middle school I would practice for three, four hours a day.
M: Not viola?
K: Yeah—I mean I played it all throughout high school. I was first chair. Chamber orchestra and rock music, yeah.
M: Do you still play?
K: Not in years, it’s in my moms closet.
M: Who is your favorite guitarist?
K: George Harrison! My boy George Harrison. He just plays really weird solos, a lot of his stuff is really sad sounding, like minor chords sort of things. Sometimes he gets some of that going on. Like on “And Your Bird Can Sing,” that song is just amazing, that is one of my favorite guitar parts. He was by far the coolest Beatle.
CJ (drums): He’s my favorite Beatle. (to Chris) Do you have a favorite Beatle?
Chris (bass): I don’t know, maybe John Lennon.
M: Did you guys see the George Harrison documentary?
CJ: No, but it looks terribly sad, I’m afraid to go see it.
K: I saw Nowhere Boy, that movie that was based on early John Lennon. He was like 16, learning how to play guitar.
M: Didn’t he kind of come off as a prick [Ed. note: Sorry, John]?
K: Yeah, it seems like he’s had a rough life. Asshole teenager, but weren’t we all? I was.
M: What is your current guitar setup?
K: Right now, my guitar setup has changed a lot in the last year. I’m playing an SG, through a Musicman HD150 tube head, and then I play that through a Marshall 4x12. What’s that one called?
K: Yeah. It’s Chris’ cab. I actually used to play a Fender Mustang through the musicman head through a Fender 2x12 and the fact that we’re a 3 piece, it just sounded kind of thin, and then I started playing through the Marshall and was like “Oh that sounds chunkier” and then I was like “I actually like playing the SG” because one of the dudes in our guitar—practice space has an SG, and he would let me mess around with his, and I just decided to get one, kinda on a whim, I checked Craigslist one day when we were on tour in Orlando, Florida, and one was listed for like $450, with a case, and I was like “alright, I’m getting it.”
M: Do you have a special attachment to any of your guitars?
K: I take really good care of my things, I always have. I definitely am always making sure that it’s alright. I totally do love that guitar, I’d say I have more of an attachment to my Mustang, but I don’t play that at shows anymore, but I do love the SG.
The first guitar I ever had was a Cort. It was just black—it looked like, you know Joan Jett used to play this guitar with spiky horns, and it was big and round over here? It was like that, this little cheap-ass guitar my dad got me.
M: Do you ever think your gender influences people’s perception of you?
K: I think it does, because dudes are rude! And they just are like “you play guitar,” and I get up there and play well, and at first—I didn’t start playing guitar because it’s like “this is so dude-oriented, I need to get involved,” I just always loved music and rock and roll, it definitely has nothing to do with me. I just would rather people realize that I’m a great guitar player, and not a good female guitar player, a “chick guitar player.”
M: You play because you want to.
CJ: The gender thing is really a non-issue for us. It’s not like “you play great for a girl.” It’s like “you played great,” that’s it. I don’t have to deal with it, I only hear about it second-hand, I’m usually out of it, after we play, I’m the drummer, so I’m sweating, I’m breaking down my drums. She’s the one who gets the creeps running over to her, you know? Most of the time I hear about it after the fact, it’s annoying, but it’s your—
K: It’s happened so many times, I don’t want to name-drop or anything.
CJ: There’s not like a city, or a community or—
K: It’s everywhere, I grew up right outside New York City, and people would say that shit in New York City. It’s supposed to be a forward moving city—now we live in Seattle. Chris has a good story about when you were working, at Belinda’s? It wasn’t about me, it was—
C: Yeah yeah, Screaming Females were coming to town and this guy was just like talking about “Oh yeah, Marisa, that girl from Screaming Females, she’s like the best chick guitar player I’ve ever seen,” and they were just talking about like, “oh yeah, my girlfriend, she’s like playing guitar, and I guess she’s pretty good for a girl.”
CJ: That’s definitely a term I can’t use anymore. “Pretty good for a girl.”
K: I think it has nothing to do with the girl. There’s definitely less girls that play the guitar—I’ve just always been friends with guys, in everything I’ve ever done, I did taekwon do when I was younger, I was into skateboarding and riding my scooter around, and like, soccer, and hanging out with the boys and playing guitar was very natural. I’m definitely a tomboy. It’s just so weird that it’s 2012 and people think it’s this crazy weird thing.
CJ: We’re not breaking any ground here. Yeah, there is a female playing guitar, leading the band, and there’s two guys back there. This has been happening since at least the 70s. If not, a lot further back—I’m thinking of like rock stuff, rock bands, that stuff’s happening early—it’s so weird, it’s literally been 40 years. Why do people still…
M: Why do we still have to have the phrase “good for a girl?”
K: It’s obnoxious. When it comes out of people’s mouths, and you’re immediately, like, “oh my god,” and you’re friends of friends!