I Dream of Vinyl

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“Dancing in the sunshine puts me into a state of bliss” – an Interview with Kate Fagan

A legendary figure from the Chicago punk scene of the early 80’s. Kate Fagan is back with an expanded vinyl album containing four unreleased tracks. Featuring her classic hit single “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” as well as tracks from “The Kissing Concept” (a rock opera that Kate wrote in the mid 80’s), the eight tracks have been remastered and released by Captured Tracks.

Having moved from New York to Chicago in the late 70’s, Kate found the authenticity she was searching for in the local punk scene. She dove in headfirst; opening for The Ramones as the frontwomen of punk group BB Spin and organizing a series of “Rock Against Racism” concerts. It was here that she’d meet the artists with whom she would form the Disturbing Records label, which released the “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” single and dozens of notable new wave and punk records.

In the years that followed, she continued to break new ground. In 1980, she co-founded the enormously popular ska band Heavy Manners (whose dance parties are still legendary), and with them opened shows for The Clash, Grace Jones, Peter Tosh, The English Beat, and many more. With her arresting live show and passionate songwriting, Fagan was voted Chicago’s top female performer numerous times.

Over the years, Kate has remained a stalwart in her local music scene, and she continues to perform and organize shows in her new home of New Orleans. She’s even helped shape new generations of musicians through the several chapters of Girls Camp of Rock.

Make sure you listen to the album while reading our interview with Kate about the new release.

Hi Kate! How’s everything going right now?
We’re deep into the Mardi Gras season with enormous parties and magnificent street parades. I walked with the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus this year, frolicking through the French Quarter as a One-Eye One-horn Flying Purple People Eater.  My costume closet has grown into three closets since moving here ten years ago. The culture is super festive.

What classic album cover is your current mood?
Yes – Close to the Edge

Captured Tracks is releasing an expanded album version of your classic single “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” featuring some previously unreleased tracks. How did the reissue project come to fruition?
Manufactured Recordings put out an EP in 2016 and wanted to renew our contractual relationship. I told them I hoped to release the songs from my rock opera, of which two were on the EP.  They listened to the tracks, liked four of them, and proposed a collectible white vinyl album for Captured Tracks. We’ve been excited about working together. They’re talented, experienced, and positive. They’re totally into it and so am I.

You originally released “I Don’t Wanna Be Too Cool” in 1980. What do you remember about recording the track?
I selected Southport Studio for its reputation for experimentation. Mike Rasfeld was owner and engineer. He coaxed greatness out of my little songs with an assist by the extraordinary guitarist/synth player Ron Rutherford, who brought his own offbeat ideas and brilliant riffs to the project. I worked with Ron throughout the development and performances of “The Kissing Concept” too.

If you could only listen to one record, what would it be?
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison, preferably whilst floating in the Caribbean with a spliff in hand.

The unreleased tracks are from “The Kissing Concept” which you wrote in 1986. What was it about and why did you decide to write a rock opera?
It’s about being seduced by the late night urban universe of disco, punk, sex, and drugs, and finding an edgy amorous playmate.

You were voted Chicago’s top female performer on numerous occasions and your live shows and dance parties with ska band Heavy Manners were legendary. How important to you is putting on a great live performance to get your music across to fans?
It’s a privilege to exchange energy with audiences; music supercharges our feelings and opens the door to sharing in the human predicament. I tend to whip up the emotional content, seeking to communicate the authentic feelings within myself. I never get stage fright and I’m always prepared.

You’ve opened for some amazing artists (The Ramones, The Clash, Grace Jones)? Who was your favorite and who do you wish you could share a stage with?
My ska band Heavy Manners played with Jimmy Cliff in several very different auditoriums. Each time I was impressed with him as an artist and as a soulful, balanced, generous human being. He plays with a joyful spark and emanates a fascinating mystical aura.

You now live in New Orleans, which is obviously known for its great music, and are heavily involved in the local scene. What do you love about your new hometown and what do you miss from Chicago?
I’m a heavily involved fan and sporadic performer with no bonafide southern roots. I’ve performed at private parties but mainly focus on creating larger special events like the Witching Ball and annual Hohoho Show. I released The Hohoho Holiday Party album last year. I was thrilled to record with stellar New Orleans musicians — Wendell Brunius, Tom Hook, Josh Paxton, John Rankin, Susanne Ortner — among other hugely talented players.
From Chicago, I miss the rock scene and neighborhood blues bars. New Orleans music is funkier and jazzier and clubs can feel touristy. I have found wondrous late night dive bars with extraordinary characters and conversations in each city.

What would go on your signature pizza and what would it be called?
Ham, black olives, artichoke hearts, onions, and feta cheese – How about calling it “Pig Latin?”

What do you have planned for the rest of 2023?
I am waiting to see what happens with the album release. Ready to jump on new ideas and opportunities that might spring forth. I keep in touch with guitarist Jeremy Joyce, he’s my main collaborator now, and he’s keen on gigging “The Kissing Concept.” Of course I’ll attend as many summer music festivals as I can.  Dancing in the sunshine puts me into a state of bliss.

You can find out more about Kate on her website and follow her on Instagram for all the latest news.

Photo Credit – John Von Dorn

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