LIFE After Death

Over the last 40 years, psychobilly — that singular combination of demonic punk, hell-raising rockabilly, and primitive rhythm and blues — has ridden several different waves of popularity. The raunchy, rabid work of West Virginia wildman Hasil Adkins first came to light in the 1980s, thanks to The Cramps drummer Miriam Linna and her husband Billy Miller, keepers of the iconic Norton Records flame. Then, Denmark’s Nekromantix and Los Angeles’ Tiger Army updated the frenetic upright bass-led genre in the ’90s.

We, however, are most partial to Detroit’s Koffin Kats, who kicked off in 2003 and haven’t slowed down one lick since. Nine full-lengths and more than 2,000 chaotic live shows later, founding Kats Vic Victor and Tommy “T-Bags” Koffin, along with latest drummer Eric “E Ball” Walls, are still going strong — even though they operate in one of the most niche-y niches imaginable. Best of all, Koffin Kats has built its celebrated career exploring both psychobilly’s usual horror film/tattoos/retro greaser tropes and deeper subjects like addiction, love and death.

Folio Weekly: So what’s new for the Koffin Kats as you approach your 15th anniversary?

Vic Victor: We just released a new album, Party Time in the End Times, on our own label. We’re packaging up the last of our December pre-orders, then we’ll load up the trailer and hit the road.

Any particular motivating factor behind releasing the new album on the Koffin Kats label?

We realized that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. The way the Internet is today, there’s no reason not to do that. I have nothing against record labels — as I always tell young bands, if you’re getting started, a label is a great way to get your foot in the door and show that your band has some weight. But with us coming up on our ninth release, enough people are aware of us that we could put it out ourselves. We still go through the same distribution outlets that any other record label would go through. But as always, our best form of distribution is touring. We’ve sold more records from our hands into other people’s hands than we ever have in any store or online outlet.

It might not be padding your bank account, but that probably feels pretty damn good.

It does, especially in these times, when people have been saying for years that CDs are dead and it’s all about vinyl. That’s partially true, but we sell just as many CDs as ever. iTunes isn’t hurting us much. We’re lucky, though — our fans want to have an actual physical product.

Has that fanbase changed significantly over the years?

They’re getting older, but they’re also getting younger. And that’s a very good sign. We’ve always been one of those bands where we accept new fans, no matter what kind of music you’re into. All kinds of people come to our shows and say, “I didn’t know what to expect, but I loved it!” We don’t single anyone out or make our music exclusive whatsoever. We obviously lean toward one type of genre, but we also include everything that we can so that we’re appealing to a broader spectrum of people.

Does Party Time in the End Times contain any specific new influences?

When we started, we were really into Southern California punk rock like Bad Religion and Pennywise, but also heavily into Nekromantix and Demented Are Go. So our first few albums were our interpretation of that combination. Then we got into stoner rock and older rock ’n’ roll. But before this most recent release, we went back and re-listened to the first four albums and said, “Let’s write something that’s reminiscent of these.” That way we can say, “Here’s your answer” to anybody who says, “We miss your old sound!”

What is it about those 1950s forms — early rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues and rockabilly — that is still so relevant?

It had an aggression to it. In today’s eyes, that might seem tame, but if you look at it through the lens of those times, it was aggressive. That’s what we try to do: write a melodic, aggressive form of music.

You’ve been touring seemingly nonstop since Koffin Kats formed in 2003. Is that still the best way for the band to make a living?

We got to the point where we were out so much — coming to the same cities three times a year — that we were starting to oversaturate. So we cut the touring in half and opened up a merchandising shop. In the past, if we weren’t on the road, we weren’t paying our bills. But now the shop supplements that.

Was that in part because the pace of touring was getting tougher as you guys got older?

Not yet. [Laughs.] I’m sure my day is coming. Even when we’re not touring, we’re still practicing and staying active. The voice is like a muscle, so you have to keep it going. I look forward to getting older and seeing what that does to me.

You guys get the Detroit question in every interview, but give it to us straight: Is the city really going through a renaissance now?

The Detroit that I started hanging out in all those years ago is almost unrecognizable — and I mean that in a positive sense. The city is growing, people are repopulating downtown … it’s crazy. If you told me 10 years ago that Detroit would have a revitalization like this, I would have never believed it.