Posted May 7, 2002



Back in the mid-90s, when we were temporarily ensconsed in Canberra (a place dubbed "Suicide City" by Rose Tattoo - 'cos it's one of Australia's bleakest places), one of the fave things was to get back to Sydney for live shows and music retail therapy. One of the things that kept us alive through those years was "Vicious Kitten", a cooler than cool and free 'zine that trawled through everything that was Real Rock Action and beyond. The authors peddling unpopular stuff like the Stooges, the NY Dolls, the Tatts, Birdman, the Hitmen and - most defintely - Johnny Thunders, were Denis and Col Gray, brothers from - irony of irony - Canberra.

The years moved on and "Cat Scratch Fever" transmogrified to online form before becoming exctinct. The indomitable Grays, however, had other things in mind and Vicious Kitten records were born. Singles by Sydney garage fuzz fiends like Sheek the Shayk sats in racks with the likes of Frenchman Freddie Lynxx and NY glam punker Kevin K, to be followed by online retail sales and a handful of cool CD albums. On the rosdter were Nikki Sudden, Kevin K, Rick Blaze and the Ballbusters, but top of the heap for mine was 2001's "Rock 'n' Roll War" a sampler of worldwide guitar damage featuring the likes of Pete Wells, the Botswanas, the Waldos, Deniz Tek and Kevin K.

Brother Deniz has moved on to married life in Japan. Brother Col (aka Col Lision) has largely turned his back on Canberra but remains wedded to The Rock and a burning desire to bring his style of Thunders-inspired tuneage to the wider world. We asked Col to pull up a stoll and give us the rundown on what makes him do it and what's on his label's newest release, "Rock 'n' Roll War Part 2".

Q Thanks for joining us at the Bar, Col. What are you drinking?

Hey Craig. I’ll have a schooner of New thanks, and some change for the jukebox…

Q The Vicious Kitten label is an outgrowth of the Vicious Kitten zine. How did the zine start and what prompted the move into label ownership?

I guess I’d always been a fan of underground rock n roll, and had a pretty good rock n roll education whilst growing up in Sydney. I’d always had drive and energy and belief in underground rock n roll and believed that bands in this field needed a greater voice. My brother and I were doing some stuff with the Candy Harlots in the late 80’s and then my brother started working with Girl Monstar from Melbourne in ’91 or 92. We kind of put our heads together and with the assistance of an unsung Canterbury rock dog known as the Duke Of Earl, the zine was born. (early 95).

I think I was down on all the grunge and post grunge excess, and figured that we’d put out a straight down the line zine that focused on guitar based rock n roll – with a nod to the past as well. We always did the zine for free and self distributed it to every capital city and larger country centres in Australia. It served it’s purpose. It hipped a lot of people to my doctrine of rock n roll and educated them in the belief that there is a musical world that exists beyond Triple J. Yet after three years it self-combusted. Zines are a thankless and tireless task at the end of the day, and it went as far as it could.

What Vicious Kitten zine did though was garner a good name worldwide which enabled me to capitalise on that and start the label. My brother jumped ship at this time, so the label has always been run by me. The labels intention was and always will be, to promote the best rock n roll to a larger audience.

Q How long did the zine last? Would you crank it up again?

The zine lasted from 95 and the final issue was December ’98. Though it did continue up until December 2000 in a reincarnated format known as "Cat Scratch Fever". (all the zines are available for free at Vicous Kitten's site). I always enjoy writing and wouldn’t mind writing a regular column for the right zine or something in the future, but at present the focus in on the label and trying to sell as much product as possible.

Also, the advent of online zines and larger print zines like Sonic Iguana, Razorcake, Beanz Baxter etc have filled the void and kicked on, so it would be kind of unnecessary at this point in time to start anything new up. But yeah, being self opinionated and armed with a pen and soapbox…who knows.

Q It hasn't been easy for the label lately. What's the prognosis?

The prognosis is that if things don’t start turning around financially, we will be out of business soon. It’s a frustration, because I have yet again lowered my expectations for the label, something I have had to do over the last couple of years. We have had to drastically sell all our stock at $5 a CD, in fact most stuff is on sale at $5. Without airplay and media support – dropping prices to below wholesale costs is the last thing we can do to keep Vicious Kitten alive.

We have quality releases available, but get little media support. I have a faithful exporter in Melbourne – Olivia at Rocket Records, who really keeps the label alive. That and internet sales. With the exception of a hardcore of supporters in this county, who buy all our stuff, it disappoints me to say that 90% of our sales are overseas. And that comes through no lack of trying to push our product in this country mind you – it’s just reality.

But I can look back and say, 'OK, I have managed to let the label grow to become a kind of centre for all the Johnny Thunders-inspired and related artists from around the world. Guys like Kevin K and Freddy Lynxx and Hiroshi and the Golden Arms from Japan, Rick Blaze and Mike Thimren'.

So that’s been good, it’s centralised all those artists so it’s easier for people to discover those guys if they buy one VK record and like it, they will no doubt dig the other stuff we have out. But consider also that the label has had such renowned artists on it’s roster as the Dictators, Syl from the Dolls, the Hitmen, Deniz and Chris from Birdman, Jeff Dahl, Pete Wells, Nikki Sudden, Cheetah from the Dead Boys, Walter Lure, the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs etc…is quite an accomplishment in such a short period of time, and all this for a small Australian label (from Canberra no less).

I have worked hard to build the label’s profile and it’s reputation is one that is genuine and built on honesty and integrity – like most things I do. A lot of artists have wanted to be on the label because it has developed a solid name for quality rock n roll and the profile has increased overseas. It’s a fact that the major media and radio have ignored in this country. I mean if radio would rather give the people the Strokes, than those aforementioned bands, then I really don’t care….

The first volume of Rock n Roll War has done really well, and following its success we decided to branch onto the East Coast of the States and try and develop greater inroads there – but in hindsight it has not proved to be the best business decision I could have made. I went into partnership with Rick Blaze and he’s a guy I really believe in – as a musician and as a person. (I mean we released two albums with him) but his business skills leave a lot to be desired when combined with an addiction and the venture was doomed to fail from the outset.

But thankfully he’s clean now and trying to get his act together, so we have put it all behind us, and move on into the future. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right – and Vicious Kitten USA did manage to get one release out - the 2nd Volume of Rock n Roll War which is pretty rockin’.

But I’m still cynical about success and the lack of media support has been a drag. If Triple J had have got behind just one of our albums that would put the wind in our sails in Australia. They get behind tripe like Candle Records and all that boring nonsensical indy guitar pop, but they don’t know what to do with Vicious Kitten.

Look, none of us make any real money out of this, but we are involved in it because the music is the best there is. It’s a true labour of love, it’s a passion. Success works on many levels. If you are in a band and you self release a CD and sell 20 copies at a gig, great. Be thankful for that. That is success on one level in an exceedingly competitive market where on a pure success level, the worst bands are at the top and the best bands are on the bottom. I realise that we aren’t going to get radio or media support or Triple J airplay, so I have to concentrate on the markets that we do OK in. That is North America, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Japan. All your traditional rock markets. I would love to get major media support – but it ain’t going to happen. That’s a reality of today’s industry. What was the question again ?

Q So your view of the conventional Australia music industry is pretty low?

I think I kind of answered that, but I’ll elaborate.

I think the major media and Australian industry are confused or bewildered by Vicious Kitten and don’t know what to do with us. A label from Canberra releasing predominantly overseas based product into Australia – particularly guitar driven rock n roll ? I have just come up against so many obstacles in this industry, but it doesn’t faze me. I don’t have the cash in the brown paper bag to pay the Program Directors at Triple J, and I’m certainly not going to sell my soul by taking some musically uneducated 20-year-old 'music journalist' out to lunch.

Triple J blows. How can the media here promote your product when they don’t know who the hell the Dolls were ? No rock n roll education, but that matters little nowadays huh. So long as they can name drop the Stooges or the 5 every now and then they maintain their cool. When you have a bed-wetter like [Brendan] Shanahan writing cynical and witty commentaries in a national Sunday newspaper you need to look further afield. What is he cynical about ? He grew up in the grunge generation. Had it all laid out there for him.

Anyway, Vicious Kitten has gotten far better press overseas than we have here. With the exception of say Dave Tyler from Beat in Melbourne who has always been a believer.

Q Any prospects of signing any local bands in the near future?

Well we’ve had some Australian bands on comps – Brother Brick, Asteroids, Repo, did a single with Sheek The Shayk. To be honest I doubt it. I am content with the label’s established reputation as a home to all things Johnny Thunders related at this point in time.

Q Tell us a bit more about the latest release ("Rock and Roll War Volume Two")?

Well, it’s finally out. It was the first and only release on Vicious Kitten USA. It’s mainly looking at being distributed in foreign markets, so you will only be able to get it from Vicious Kitten via mail order, it will not be available in any shops in Australia.

Everything was arranged from the States, though I did have an input into certain bands which I wanted to be included. The compilation is dedicated to Johnny Heff of The Bullys, a New York City firefighter who lost his life on September 11. There is a great Bully’s track on the comp called ‘New York City Man’. Johnny Thunders and the Ballbusters do a live version of ‘In Cold Blood’. What else. Nikki Sudden and also Dave Kusworth from the Jacobites. Walter Lure of Johnny Thunders Heartbreakers and the Waldos fame does a live version of ‘Too Much Junkie Business’. Streetwalkin Cheetahs, Kevin K, Freddy Lynxx, The Golden Arms, Dave Cuneo and Jeff Crane from the Ballbusters, lots of cool stuff.

Q What's the story with the Cheetah Chrome song and how did you line him up?

I approached Cheetah and sent him a copy of Volume One which he dug. He’s good friends with Jeff Dahl and has known Kevin K for a long time and things just happened from there. The song he contributed "The Morning’s Gonna Come" he recorded specifically for Rock n Roll War 2, which is a tremendous compliment. Cheetah’s one of my heroes so to have him on the project was very pleasing. I hope to turn as many new people onto him as possible. He is one of the most genuine rock n rollers around and is deserving of greater success and recognition. His last album"‘Live In Detroit" is out now on DUI Records [and available in limited quantities from VK.]

Q It was a helluva impressive roster of acts on the first volume. How did you line them all up?

I did a short list of bands I wanted and things just took off from there. Like I mentioned previously, the label and zine have developed a good reputation, and I never rip people off, so most were happy to be involved. The idea was to make it a solid balls-to-the-wall comp, and it achieved that.

Q Tell us about some of the more obscure acts on the new disc.

OK. You have Former Johnny Thunders guitar player and Swedish guitar god Michael Thimren doing ‘Jet Boy Blues’ a stunning and heartfelt rocker dedicated to Thunders. Michael played with Johnny for five years, on and off, between 83-88 and is featured on several of Thunders albums. There’s the Cartridge Family from NYC who feature Donna from the Cycle Sluts From Hell. There are a couple of Italian bands. One is called The Valentines who have the hottest sounding female vocalist around. She’s got a truly amazing voice. Loose are also from Italy and play Birdman inspired action. There’s also Echodrive who feature Lucy Knight on vocals (she has appeared on a couple of Stooges tributes, the one from France I remember). Who else ? Of course, the glam punk excess of The Detox Darlings from NYC who are fronted by the gorgeous Jet Set Jenna (aka the female Steven Tyler !). So yeah, there’s plenty of cool stuff to appease everyone’s tastes. It’s a very strong and impressive line up.

Q I understand you left Canberra and moved to Wollongong. What prompted that and how's the local music scene?

The business is and will always be based in Canberra so that’s where all the mail and correspondence goes to. Personally, I have been living closer to Wollongong for the past 15 months. Prompted by the fact that Canberra blows. The local music scene? Well it’s more happening than Canberra. There’s still a couple of venues here but I’m seeing more stuff in Sydney anyway.

Q Have you had any good overseas trips lately?

Not lately, but I’m hoping to head overseas mid year and see Kevin K on tour somewhere. Also hoping to move overseas and relocate for good at some point in the future.

Q Johnny Thunders is obviously a big influence on VK and the bands it puts out. What was it about JT that pressed the buttons?

Johnny was an originator, one of a kind. His slashing style. He had style. He had charm and wit. He became a legend inspite of his addiction, not because of it. Johnny’s been gone for a while now, but it’s important his memory and music live on. I still would like to do a Johnny Thunders Live In Australia CD with material lifted from his ’86 tour here, but it’s just a matter of finances and timing etc.

Q What's your brother up to in Japan?

Denis is married and scouring the 2nd hand record and junk stores of Japan buying used CD’s and records and selling Japanese pressings of stuff to people wide and afar. ( He works as an English Teacher and sees Motorhead and hangs out with Sour Jazz guitar wiz Mr. Ratboy (who also works as an English teacher). He’s still hanging out for a Runaways reunion.

Q Kevin K is obviously able to operate at a reasonable level in Europe and Japan. Is there any prospect we might see him touring Australia? What's he up to lately?

I’m a believer in Kevin K because he gets off his ass and makes things happen for himself. He’ll pack his guitar and go to Europe or Japan or the mid West or New York and play. He has worked hard to establish those markets for himself and the momentum is slowly starting to turn in his favour. There is nothing conceited about him nor his rock n roll. He just played a few shows in Worcester and New York including the launch for Rock n Roll War 2 and he is currently in France and Spain until mid May touring with the Kevin K Band as part of the 'Pink Lingerie' Tour 2002. His current album "13th Street" on Vicious Kitten is doing OK and he just has a new one out on Sucksex Records in France called "The Story of My Life". Probably a tour of Sweden in July.

The possibility of a tour to Australia ? Maybe following the leg of a Japan tour. If people in this country get out and support him and buy his stuff on Vicious Kitten, then sure, anything’s possible. I think people here would really be blown away by him live. What can I tell ya. In my opinion Kevin K rock n roll is the best rock n roll in the world.

People can e-mail Colin or check out the web site for all "Rock 'n' Roll Volume 2", the label's back catalogue or a vast range of $5 sale CDs. You can also join the label's mailing list, Subway Train.