Beyond the Grave Concerns

The Koffin Kats aim for life beyond blood, guts and just getting by

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or a show focused on two skeevy, aimless teenagers, Beavis and Butt-Head sure has done a lot of good for the world. In its original run, the MTV program delivered endless numbers of gloriously stupid dirty jokes, set the stage for Daria, and gave hundreds of musicians exposure by way of playing music videos alongside the duo’s inane commentary. 

That last practice inadvertently led to the creation of The Koffin Kats, as a music video aired on a 1995 episode served as a cultural eye-opener for then 12-year-old Zac “Vic” Victor. 

“That’s how it all started,” the Kats’ bassist and vocalist recounts with a laugh. 

His introduction to Beavis and Butt-Head occurred at an impressionable age — a time when one is just beginning to learn about music outside of what one’s parents like — and when he caught the clip for Reverend Horton Heat’s “Psychobilly Freakout,” it stuck with him. Today, echoes of the Reverend’s mutated Rockabilly reverberate through his band. 

“It was just kind of a wild sound that Reverend had that I had never heard anything like before,” Victor says. Plus, RHH received Beavis and Butt-Head’s seal of approval, further heartening the boy’s new interest.

Throughout high school, Victor played in Punk bands with Eric Walls, the Kats’ current drummer. After graduating, Victor acquired an upright bass and joined some Rockabilly groups. 

“I kinda got bored with that, so I started trying to start bands that had a more Punk Rock sound, and then eventually Koffin Kats happened,” he says. 

By the time of the Kats’ creation in June of 2003, Victor had gained enough confidence to think of himself as a lead vocalist. (Singalongs to The Damned’s Grave Disorder were his most crucial lessons.) 

“Even from the beginning (of the Kats), I always liked incorporating all of the influences that I liked in music — everything from Punk Rock to Country to Heavy Metal,” he says. “The early recordings might not necessarily reflect that, but the directions that we went — all the way up until the most recent recording we have coming out in January — that’s always been the idea of the band, and I feel like we’ve stuck to it.”

True to Victor’s history as a musician, the Detroit trio’s forte is Rockabilly and Punk immersed in moody motifs. For an example of the Kats at their most adroit, check out “Mors Ex Infernos” off 2005’s Inhumane. It’s a rich, fleet-footed instrumental where those Punk and Metal aspects run amok. The result sounds like a hard-nosed Rock & Roll dirge that’s deeply smitten with Danny Elfman’s theme from the 1989 Batman movie. Lyrically, Victor has shown a preference for violent horror movie-esque imagery, with murder, torture, suicide, vampires and exploding people all playing into Koffin Kats’ discography. Victor tackles more than just death and gore, but those ideas figure into the band’s work so prominently that it’s difficult to not think of Koffin Kats as Horror-Punk or Psychobilly at their core.

Victor — who counts early Welsh Pyschobilly pioneers Demented Are Go, Alice Cooper and science fiction among his lyrical inspirations — calls writing those grim verses “fun” but says that after years of the style, he’d prefer to move closer to a “Bruce Springsteen approach more than a Dracula approach.” 

“I realized that for every Misfits(-inspired) band, there’s a hundred of them for every city you go to. It was like, ‘Wow, I’d rather take my time being in a band doing something somewhat original than trying to carbon copy another band,’ ” Victor says. “You can only sing about bones and coffins and graveyards so much. No offense to any other band that makes a living off of it — it’s just not my thing.”

The Kats’ next album, Our Way & The Highway, arrives next month on Sailor’s Grave Records. 

“This is probably one of our more melodic albums — melodic, but yet not losing any heaviness that we might have had in the past,” Victor says, also noting the record’s predilection for “party-based songs,” lyrics based on “personal experiences we’ve had while on the road” and a more pronounced Motörhead influence than Koffin Kats have demonstrated before.

While the Kats have devoted their career to developing music that feels stylized and often surreal, Victor discusses the band in down-to-earth terms and is immensely proud of their work ethic. They tour vigorously (Victor hopes that the act has completed 230 shows by 2011’s end) and have spent most of their career financing the project straight out of pocket. Up until last year, this also meant that they maintained other jobs: Victor was a carpet cleaner; Walls worked at the post office; and guitarist/vocalist Ian Jarrell worked in a warehouse organizing car filters. Recently, the band became a self-sustaining entity — something that sounds like it provides Victor with a great sense of satisfaction. 

“This has been my life for the past eight years,” he says, “and now to be able to see that we can actually pay the bills off Rock & Roll has pretty much taken all of our lives, in a good way.” 

THE KOFFIN KATS play the Southgate House Wednesday with Dr. Bombay, The Returners, Vice Tricks and Switchblade Syndicate.

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