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INTERVIEWS : Kitchens of Distinction interviews


"The Kooky Krew" - Sounds, June 30 1990
Tim Peacock meets the trio on the back of their 'Quick As Rainbows' release and discovers that despite their love lorn lyrics they are not the miserable bastards that people imagine.

"The Kooky Krew"

Despite their love lorn lyrics, Kitchens of Distinction are not the miserable bastards that people imagine, as Tim Peacock discovers. Photo: Ian T Tilton (not available)

"We were amazed when we saw pictures from the last Anti-Poll Tax march in London.

"There were all these people with, spiky hair, hurling bricks, and a load of them were wearing 'Elephantine' T-shirts!"

Despite his obvious mirth at relating this little anecdote, Kitchens Of Distinction bassist, vocalist and raconteur Patrick Fitzgerald seems genuinely surprised by his band's ever expanding popularity.

But after last year s glorious 'Love Is Hell' debut LP and the nonchalant genius of the 'Elephantine' EP, it's difficult to believe that this resonant British power trio should retain any doubts about their ability.

But Kitchens guitar maestro Julian Swales soon reasserts their true belief.

"Of course, we're actually much more interesting and mysterious than every other band put together," he declares, his tongue fastened only loosely in his cheek.

The third vital component to the Distinctive jigsaw puzzle, drummer Dan Goodwin, takes up the thread.

"This is a once in a lifetime thing. It could only be Kitchens Of Distinction, but there's no game plan with career moves worked out in advance. Whatever happens happens."

"I can see us being as famous as John Noakes," reckons Patrick, smiling. "We'll inherit our own Shep soon. We're happy to let things go slowly, though. I hate bands who seem in such a rush to be successful."

Refusing to let their feathers be ruffled by the rawk 'n' rawl circus, Kitchens Of Distinction recently released the single 'Quick As Rainbows'. Taking a leaf from Happy Mondays' wigged-out notebook, Sarf London's heroes headed for StockPort's Strawberry Studios to record with 'Bummed'’s knob twiddler Martin Hannett. Their meeting was, however, far from blissful.

"Our record company suggested we try working with a producer as we hadn't before," elaborates Patrick, "and, after we tried three people who were busy, we found Martin and went up to Stockport and…well, we should have met him first."

"We came out of the session with three different mixes," says Dan ruefully. "We weren't happy with any, so we went back to London and re-recorded it with an engineer called Norman Hall - our latest guru!"

"Some of Martin's stuff is great," finishes Julian. "'Bummed' sounds brilliant, but with us he thought, Oh, bloody hell, these precious musicians who don't know what they want."

Any minor qualms aside, 'Quick As Rainbows' is another irresistible Kitchen sink drama, fired-up by Julian's shooting star guitar thrill and Patrick's almost fatalistic, love torn wordplay.

"The dynamics of that song are better than anything we've laid down before," says the singer. "It's got a far better feel to it."

"There's special techniques we use, too," grins Dan. "One of them involves hamsters."

Hmm, yes. But in typical Patrick fashion, 'Rainbows' ends with the telling line "always corpses at breakfast time". Contrary to my assumption, it's not a morning-after-the-night-before scenario.

"No, that's about waking up in the morning and looking at your lover across the kitchen table and both wanting each other to be dead. It's the final end to the relationship."

Some people could (and some do) accuse you of being a miserable bastard writing wrongs like that, Patrick.

"Of course we sit at home surrounded by black walls clutching razor blades all day," he deadpans sarcastically.

"Nah, we're really uplifting and joyful. It's our version of soul music. Maybe the lyrics aren't as optimistic, but they're more realistic than the stuff most groups write."

Optimism. Now we're talking, for the humour in Kitchens Of Distinction's work is often ridiculously overlooked. After all, this is a band who cheekily took the piss out of their record company's motivational messages in the lyrics to their sub-reggae masterpiece, 'Anvil Dub', while Patrick's 'tween song banter is becoming legendary.

"Some guy asked us why we f**k around onstage and crack up with laughter if we're so miserable and emotional, but our songs are a release for us. The two things go hand in hand."

Sounds, June 30 1990, Page 44

"Within The Days Of Passion" - Spiral Scratch, August 1991
On the eve of a gig at the Princess Charlotte venue in Leicester, Peter Lis talks to Patrick about the band's latest offering, 'Strange Free World'.


"Within The Days Of Passion"

Softly softly comes the train into the station…
actually, it’s the Kitchens Of Distinction’s tour van parked outside the Princess Charlotte pub in Leicester. So much for life imitating art...

Bodies and equipment emerge into daylight. You’d be hard pressed to pick any of them out of an identity parade of mature students from the local university. The band’s anonimity only throws into great relief the power, intelligence and beauty of Strange Free World, their latest offering and, by general consent, the album of the year so far.

PF: The last time we played here, there were only ten people.

Patrick Fitzgerald, only one third of the Kitchens Of Distinction, is waiting his turn on the coffee rota. Economic hardship being what it is in the East Midlands, there are only five cups to be found. Patrick is on the second shift. This, together with the open plan changing room (there is no door), and the perfunctory sound check, is accepted with good grace and more than a hint of mild amusement. It is April Fool’s day after all.

PF: In America last January we played a couple of shows on our own and then supported the Charlatans in San Francisco in front of 2,000 people. It was good fun. It’s nice playing big places.

With both the Poly and the Uni closed for Easter, they might be hard pressed to make even 20. If that’s what Patrick’s thinking, it doesn’t seem to bother him unduly. And why should it? Their album, Strange Free World, and its attendant single, Drive That Fast, have both been rapturously received with Patrick’s lyrics being frequently mentioned in dispatches.

PF: Most of the songs are extremely difficult to write words for. I find it difficult anyway. I hate doing it. It’s always the last thing in the song writing process. The melodies, the tunes are done first. The lyrics are the very last thing we bother about. I churn ‘em out! The thing about the words is that they’re suggested by the music itself. As far as the lyrics go, there’s an awful lot of water imagery and I really don’t know why it’s there. I only realised it a month afterwards when I proof read the (lyric) sheets. It’s an easy metaphor to use, isn’t it? But it’s very powerful. Like in Gorgeous Love: ‘I can feel the waves of your gorgeous love…’ - it just seemed appropriate.

Patrick’s account of the Genesis of Aspray is typically self-effacing. You can’t help but be drawn to someone so articulate, yet so untainted. (Nothing’s untainted, not even Pooh Bear).

PF: The whole feeling of that was very pretentious as far as I was concerned. I decided to write really pretentious lyrics. So I thought, what’s really pretentious? Sartre! - so I took the idea of Nausea and the whole existential crisis and turned it into a three minute waltz! I thought it was funny. A lot of people miss out on our sense of humour…

He cites The Third Time We Opened The Capsule from their first album Love Is Hell as a prime example of this kind of misunderstanding.

PF: It’s so simple - it’s all about Jesus - ‘turning water into brine.’ It was another joke, you see. No one else got it either - maybe it’s just not funny. The title is just a line from a dream that Julian had. The rest of the words are about the idea of being able to wake up every morning completely innocent.

So why is it that they seem to have acquired the reputation of a band well acquainted with grief?

PF: If I’m writing about something, I like it to be a bit serious. It’s not miserable (and I’m really going to risk pretension now!) but I think there’s a sadness there purely because it’s looking at the human condition and that’s inevitably a sad thing. It doesn’t mean you live your life in a miserable way but there’s always that edge, isn’t there? Always that feeling of ‘What on earth am I doing?’ The other two are a lot funnier than I am but they won’t write any words.

The Kitchens are often mentioned in the same breath as the Cocteaus, the Smiths, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Although well intentioned, Patrick feels that such comparisons are fundamentally flawed.

PF: I think it is hard to define what we sound like. But I also think that people who compare us with those bands are missing something because all of them have their set image and their leaders, whereas we work in a very different way. We try and do interviews together or to take turns. We do try and force that democracy in the band. The trouble is as soon as you have someone writing the words they seem to become ‘important’ for whatever reason - it’s a historical thing. We had a review in Time Out the other week and it had just my picture: they’d clipped the other two off - so it’s now become my band all of a sudden! (laughs) yeah, pathetic.

And what of the pop press in general?

PF: Some of them are nice but the majority are complete arseholes. It’s very depressing. These people who try to get an ‘angle’: they’re not interested in the band. They’re only interested in how, as journalists, will be seen when they write this piece that they are writing for themselves because they’re so important. It’s a major ego trip. The weeklies won’t interview you unless you’re flavour of the month. It’s very irritating.

This is spoken more in sorrow than in anger. You can see his point: especially when somebody who’s five or six years younger than you mistakes enthusiasm for naivety.

Patrick’s views on Section 28 (the bill forbidding the promotion of homosexuality) and Clause 25 (a kind ‘sex-sus’ conflation) are well documented elsewhere. But how has the fact that he is gay affected the Kitchens?

PF: The band’s all about being honest. The whole point about me being out is that it ends there. A lot of people are very relieved that somebody like myself is doing what I do. Not in the way that Jimmy Somerville does what he does but in that you can be into this kind of music and be out. Yeah, of course it’ll hinder us. I think it has done already but it’s not anything we would compromise on.

This collective responsibility also extends to the music and the working process.

PF: We’re so self-critical. Incredibly critical. We almost dumped Gorgeous Love, Hypnogogic and Drive That Fast. It didn’t work for ages. It took about four months for it to gel. It was a totally different song to begin with. Initially, it was like singing about condoms over Mahler’s Fifth Symphony: nothing wrong with either of them but the two together don’t fit…inappropriate, wrong. There’s still stuff on the album we disagree about. Julian is convinced I sing Railwayed out of tune. I think it’s alright. He thinks it’s out of tune. (laughs)

And Dan?

PF: Dan’s the most definite about what he wants. I’m quite happy to have odd little things happening but Dan will say: “No, we’re not having that,” or “Yes, that’s in” - he’s the main mixer - definitely - he’s got an ear for it. You always have to ask Dan (laughs). No, you don’t have to ask him - he just says it.

So what does the future hold for Tooting’s finest? If Patrick gets his way (and it’s a big ‘if’) Strange Free World will be the spring board for a more expansive, looser sound. The Kitchens are music fanatics, you see…

PF: It goes beyond the Indie thing: World music, African stuff, Bulgarian voices, anything that’s honest music…we watched a Glam Rock video on the way up here…the Sweet, Gary Glitter…they influence me in a big way. I think we’re going to move off into a very bizarre direction next: Jazz-Dub-Flamenco-fusion, something like that - I dunno…we’ve all got different ideas. My idea at the moment is to hone up the structures of the songs: I’m really into the idea of making it looser now. The songs on Strange Free World are all really honed down - there’s no room to breathe on it at all. I’d like to spend less time writing the songs so that they’re more amenable to change in the studio. We had this one all worked out before we went in so there was less chance for experimentation.

I see us getting loads of other people working with us, either permanently or temporarily. The other two don’t but that’s up to us to sort out. I don’t see that it should be a fixed unit. It should always be in a flux although it hasn’t been so far. Orchestras…more different guitars…as weird as possible…some Kurdistan shriekers or Bulgarian singers. Anything, so long as it’s not crap, as long as it works…

What new material there is (one or two little ideas) won’t be recorded just yet. Most of the next six months is taken up with the current tour before going back to America, and then it’s Germany and Japan. The Kitchens’ contract with One Little Indian gives them as much control as they want over their work. This, together with a licensing deal with A&M in America, suggests that it’s only a matter of time before things start to happen on both sides of the pond. So, is that the ultimate aim for the Kitchens? World Domination before the turn of the century?

PF: There is no ultimate aim. The ultimate aim is to carry on doing this as long as we’re happy doing it and to be aware of what we’re happy doing it and to be aware of what we’re doing. As soon as it stops being fun, we’ll stop. I think being aware of what you’re doing is incredibly important because you can get swept along by it all. Besides, we’re all sort of aging quite heavily…

Three hours later. A near capacity crowd is entranced, spellbound. Patrick’s voice is railwayed along on a shuddering sweet surge of sound which Julian is somehow conjuring from a choir of invisible guitars. Dan anchors everything with muscular, metronomic precision. Trampled underfoot, the Charlotte’s flagstones seem to be floating…

And, after it’s all over, you’re walking home, ignoring the stars, knowing, with your whole being, that there’s places the other side of here…just like the man said.

Peter Lis
Spiral Scratch, August 1991, pages 30-31

"Protection as purpose" - Alternative Press, November 1992
Ben Micallef talks to the band on the U.S. leg of the 'Death of Cool' tour.


"Protection as Purpose"

Alternative Press [cover: "Kitchen of Distinction Stir the Prismatic Pot"]
November 1992

Kitchens of Distinction live in a world of their own creation. An insular, protective shell surrounds the Tooting trio, fostered by music, strong friendship, and a love of language and living. Let the Kitchens loose in a foreign place and they'll probably get lost. Tell these jokers that they've just walked through a fully operative riot-in-progress and they'll reply, "We thought they were filming a movie. Didn't those policemen look real?!"

By Ken Micallef
Photos Marina Chavez [not available]

Hopeless naiveté turns to brusque honesty when the members - Patrick Fitzgerald, vocals and bass; Julian Swales, guitars; and Dan Goodwin, drums - turn their attention to the music. Like three romantic Musketeers, the Kitchens craft shimmering, bittersweet songs that leave you caught up in ringing melodies and buzzing visions. It's fast music for daydreaming - part of the final gasp from a once great literary superpower. Fitzgerald's poetic lyrics and salty singing are couched in Swales' vibrant Sensurround guitar playing, a sun-light-through-stained-glass pop sound that won the group many stateside fans with 1991's Strange Free World. Their video for "Drive That Fast" secured 120 Minutes rotation, propelling the Kitchens into kitchens, and living rooms and dorm rooms across the continent.

The Death of Cool (A&M) follows the evolution (the remodelling perhaps?) of the band into territory both familiar and wholly uncharted. Goodwin's propulsive, nearly over-the-edge drumming is still there as are Swales' resounding layers of melody and atonal chirping, a sound not unlike that of an oncoming horde of locusts. But it's Fitzgerald's new-found confidence, both vocally and lyrically, that enchants and startles the listener. Inspired by Irish writers Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats, Fitzgerald is an articulate voice amidst that present sour-milk sea of garbled droning and monosyllabic grunts.

To the Kitchens, the Death of Cool is all around us. Or not around us, considering that it's dead. But what exactly are they getting at? The Death of some '50s bebop jive-talking nightmare? The Death of a "kinder, gentler nation?" The Death of the Mayan civilization, whose art and symbols fill the CD's cover? The Death of kitsch? "Yes, the death of kitsch like this," says Fitzgerald, holding up a ten-pound gold brick that was recently awarded to the trio. "It's from the National American Federation of Brick Makers for 'The Most Number of Bricks Used In A Rock Video', it says here. This was for a video we did in Camden under these arches that had a lot of bricks in them."

"Oh no," says Julian. "It's a real brick. That's brilliant!"

"I'm glad to accept this brick on behalf of my mum," quips Patrick.

"We can't accept it cause we can't lift it!" screams Julian.

"Let's chuck it out the window!"

Coaxed to put the brick back down on the table, Patrick directs his craggy voice and whiskered appearance to my question.

"The title was going to be "The Death Of The Cool" because of Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool. Miles died and he was the last cool person. But we decided to make it more extreme. Utterly. Finally. The Death of Cool. The urge for integrity and honesty. When you see all this chaos around you and all this bullshit, like MTV leather bands with long hair and foxy chicks, that's completely irrelevant. That's not saying anything to anybody about anyone's life.

"The Scottish writer Alex De Gray said 'Work as if you're in the early days of a better nation.' That's our motto in a way. With that attitude you'll be working for something rather than against it.

"The news is so fucking depressing. The total annihilation of Serbia and Bosnia. Just killing each other off like mad. God it's horrible. The last time we were here the Gulf War was in full swing. It's crazy. But you have to believe in something. You have to say something."

"That's the Death of Cool, too," says Dan Goodwin, his shaved head and fat hands lending weight to his words. "There's too many bands that have nothing to say. But they look very cool and very boring.

The importance of empty statements has become really widespread. So many bands in England have absolutely nothing to say, except [feigning a fairy-tale voice and looking upward] 'Oh, I'm up in the sky, she was up in the sky, she was trying to fly.' Meaningless."

"But Frank Sinatra is still around. He's cool," says Julian.

"Oh, yeah," says Dan, [singing in schmaltzy fashion] "'You make me feel so young, you make me feel like I'm so well hung...'

"A while ago we bought Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and listened to it after smoking some hydroponically grown weed someone gave us. It was like, Miles...WOW! Birth of the Cool/The Death of Cool-death sells is what we figured. Particularly in the U.S. where everyone is afraid of the future".

"And England is right behind you guys."

"We die about a year later," adds Patrick.

The Death of Cool may signal a call to honesty but the predominant atmosphere is one of protection. Closure. Security. Swales' enveloping choruses of guitar-induced waves vibrate around the rhythm, rising like prayer to the top of a medieval cathedral while Fitzgerald's words of love and reflection are almost priestly in their conviction.

"If we can offer people a little world that they can step into, that's very nice," muses Patrick. "Not many bands do that. Most music of the moment is offering people a brief alternative, an ephemeral thing. Hopefully, this is more of a step-inside-and-live-it offering. This reminds me of the music I listened to when I was 15. The personal feel of it. That's what I've been missing in the last few years. Bands have become very remote."

Songs like "What Happens Now?," "On Tooting Broadway Station," "Gone World Gone," "Mad As Snow" and their first single, "Smiling," are about reflection and relationships that go against the norm. Not quite impressionistic noire.

"The best records have some kind of atmosphere," says Goodwin. "The albums with the biggest impact on you have some vibe that floats through the entire record. Over the last two or three years we're getting deeper and deeper into something we don't entirely comprehend. We have no clear goal of what we're trying to achieve but at the same time we get locked up on our own thing. No timetables, we're trapped in our own little music world."

"To us the albums are like diaries," adds Patrick. "Moments of our lives that we stop in time. Love Is Hell [1989, Rough Trade] was very simple. Strange Free World was a progression. We must be going somewhere: I hope we're going somewhere and I hope it's not just up our own assholes. I feel far less disillusioned about what we do musically now and far more disillusioned about what goes on around us. The industry especially. The idea that you have to feed the machine. 'Where's the power ballad?' No one's asked us yet but we're aware of the possibility."

Jamming in Cornwall's Roundhouse studios is how KOD come up with most of their music. They'll blow like some improv outfit for weeks on one tune before considering vocals. Patrick usually writes the words in the eleventh hour, which is hard to believe after perusing the lyric sheet. No bones about it, Fitzgerald is a poet.

Ask the dreaded influences quez: "Sinatra to African music to my Bloody Valentine to Bulgarian Women's Choir, anything except what's popular at the moment. That stuff all sounds like early Black Sabbath. It's grave."

Thumb through the Kitchens' encyclopaedic CD stash: "Let's see," Patrick says, "We've got Billie Holiday, Unrest, Shudder to Think, the Platters, Beach Boys, Neil Young, West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast), Tim Buckley, PJ Harvey, MBV, Ella Fitzgerald, Bowie, Mercury Rev, Swervedriver. I like Ella, Julian likes Led Zeppelin - you'll get some crisis there, won't you? It feeds off that. Imagine Zep riffs with Ella singing over it."

And oh, yes. Shopping. Grocery shopping, lumber shopping, tire shopping. KOD love to shop. Just turn them loose with the checkbook and they'll return with a bag of produce-inspired tunes.

"You pick up a certain piece of fruit and then you get a tune," says Patrick. His eyes widen. "Well, that's what happens to me. I got a bass line for one song by buying toilet paper. Andrex as a matter of fact."

"You know why?" asks Julian. "You pick up that Andrex and subconsciously you're thinking of the music from the advert. You're ripping that off, that's what you're doing. You're nothing but a charlatan."

"I am not," Patrick replies. "They wouldn't think to be that creative."

Dan comes clean: "We took the riff for 'Smiling' from a Carling Black Label TV advert." He starts singing again - keep him away from the microphone. "Do-daa-daa-do. Pop that in over the gaps in 'Smiling' and we could sell lots of beer to unknowing audiences."

"That's what happens when you only have 12 notes to work with," says Patrick. "Let's get to the heart of the matter, shall we?"

Sure, your cragginess.

"We recorded this in Cornwall. It's at the very bottom of England, over on the west side. It's really beautiful. We were in a studio that you can only get to by boat. This very remote, secluded area for six weeks and it was a fairly monk-like existence only with lots of great food and no praying. Fantastic. No one can get a hold of us."

"Nobody wants to. Let's be honest," chimes Julian.

"It's an intense, grieving process," says Patrick.

"We don't have any friends that's what it is," finishes Julian.

KOD met in a grocery store. Well, in the section where they sell beer and nuts. Actually, in a pub right next to the grocery store. Patrick was fed up with his day job as a medical practitioner ("it's a mind-expanding experience watching people die. You just turn into a body mechanic.") and met Julian and Dan at a party one night.

"There's all these great stores on how we met. The 'meeting at the Burning Spear gig' story, the Turkish bath myth, the one where I performed a liver transplant on Dan, saving his life...the truth is boring. We were all drinking buddies before the music came into it.
Julian and I played together for a while but it didn't click. When it finally did, we realized 'Lo! This is good!'"

KOD began releasing singles and EPs on British indie label One Little Indian in early '89, charming off English socks with songs like "Prize" and "The Third Time We Opened the Capsule." Love Is Hell hastened their ascension in England even though the British press didn't quite know how to label this band of early 30-somethings who didn't give a damn about trends. They suckled on American breasts though, Strange Free World topping a couple of notable charts. A happy U.S. touring experience sent the Kitchens back to their London lair, fully confident of wonderful things to come. And Lo. It was good.

The first few listenings of The Death of Cool lead to ambivalence. The meat is buried, hidden away. You can't get to it quickly, expecting easy hooks the first time through. But they're there, in the overdriven modulation in "What Happens Now?," in the bleeding-on-chalk-board sorrow of "Tooting Station," in "Breathing Fear's" war on intolerance and in Julian's beautiful singing on "Can't Trust The Waves."

This is personal music, lyrically fuelled by Fitzgerald's refusal to live a lie. He views his decision to lead an openly gay lifestyle as a risk that must be taken. What with outings taking place regularly in the film and literary worlds, Fitzgerald's timing is right but still bold.

"But don't label us as a queer band," he insists. "My function is to write honestly about my life. I will sing gay love songs and breaking-up songs plus other things. Having always been out in this band, since the beginning, we've tried to present the idea of being out and being accepted. And it's alright. It can happen. There is no grief. Rather than making a forced political statement, just the actual process of doing this is a stronger political statement.

"Somebody's got to do it. If they could've, if it hadn't been illegal, people like Oscar Wilde, and Shakespeare would have done it. More and more, books and film do it, why not music?"

In the hands of a lesser poet, homosexuality could become a clumsy, possibly alienating topic. But Fitzgerald is such a good lyricist, he imbues these songs with passion of love, not of sex. Love, anger, reflection, and sorrow are universal themes.

"This is about having a degree of honesty," says Patrick, "back to the Death of Cool. I refuse to be dishonest about my lifestyle. I'm not going to hide it."

'If Julian and I could write," says Dan, "We'd sing about whatever shit's in our heads. We're just as honest in our approach to the music, but that's harder to explain."

Patrick: "It's the Utopian experience because I'm allowed to get away with it. Completely accepted, there's no grief at all, right?"

Dan: "It's different here in the U.S. When we toured here last year, Patrick got criticism for not being 'out' enough. Not being political enough. In the same way, two years ago in England we were called a gay band! That's just as..."

"Insulting," says Patrick. "Julian's going to get a 'Notorious Heterosexuals' T-shirt."

Julian: "On the back it's going to say 'I Like Vaginas.'

"We met this old guy on the bus one night who thought we were gay," he explains. "He said, 'How can you do that? I don't know how you can do that? I like vaginas.' Dan and I said 'Hey, we do too!'

"Just for the record, my song ["Can't Trust the Waves"] is about women," says Julian. "I just want to say that. Since most of the record has a gay tilt. Let the fucking journalists figure that one out!"

"This is the crux of it," says Patrick, with a look of finality in his eyes. "If art is really good, then life will imitate art. OK? Art is the leader, what life will follow eventually if the art is good enough. This is not my theory, it's Oscar Wilde's. It's an ideal to work for".

"If you can entice people into the world of the Kitchens and they enjoy it, then they found out about me; it can't be a problem anymore."

In the summer of 1990, Kitchens of Distinction were strolling through Greenwich Village towards Thompson Square Park. They were eager to see the '50s home of jazz genius Charlie Parker, which borders the park. Reaching the east side-well, Patrick can fill us in... "We turned the corner," he says, "and we saw these huge white vans. It looked like they were making a movie. All the big lights up. About 100 policemen on the corners. The park was full of people yelling and screaming. We thought, 'They must be actors.' We just merrily drifted through the whole thing. 'Look at those policemen, look at those angry people. They look very good. How realistic.' We went down to Dempsey's Bar thinking nothing of it."

Like the boys in the plastic bubble that they are, KOD had just walked through a ticking time bomb, the infamous Thompson Square riots that injured hundreds and displayed some of "New York's finest" as cold-blooded, brutal thugs. But KOD were unknowing and untouched.

"We don't know what the fuck's going on! It's sad isn't it?," asks Patrick. "I guess we're kind of sheltered. We're very close friends, we drink together, we play music together. Nobody is privy to our world until we present it".

"No ordinary cooking show" - Seattle Gay News, June 9 1995
Dan Morris meets the band on the U.S. leg of the 'Cowboys and Aliens' tour.

"No ordinary cooking show"

"And his laugh, it gets me through those troubled hours of men in suits Dresses my lips with angel kisses Under lemon moons and ice cube licks..." - from "Come On Now" by Kitchens of Distinction.

Trying to sell an uncompromising, fiercely complex, literate band to the masses is a difficult proposition. Add to the equation an openly Gay frontman who makes no attempt to disguise the object(s) of his affections in his lyrics - and without going for the shock value that worked for Nine Inch Nails - and you've got a problem. That is, if you're a major label like A&M records. Though Kitchens of Distinction has topped the alternative charts with their shimmering wall of sound, a dense cascade of guitar, bass and drums that was influentially sculpted by veteran producer Hugh Jones (Echo and the Bunnymen, Modern English), mainstream success has been elusive.

"Passionate" keeps cropping up in reviews to describe Patrick Fitzgerald's poetry and vocals, but equally important components of sheer intelligence and dignity set it apart. That rare combination of dignity and poise has influenced more than a few Gay musicians - including Scott Wagar of Seattle's Girl With 100 Heads, who cites Kitchens as an impetus for starting his own band.

It's astonishing to think that the band is only a trio from the amazing fullness of their records - even more so when you see the band recreate that fullness live with the minimal equipment they use. Somewhat reminiscent of Simple Minds' new string-driven sound, guitarist Julian Swales runs circles around the monolithic drones of U2's Edge. The liner notes of their latest, largely self-produced album Cowboys and Aliens emphatically states, "No-one played keyboards." Their recent live show at RKCNDY revealed, among other things, that Swales does it all with standard foot-pedal effects and an old model Alesis Quadraverb.

"It's not the effects you use," he confided modestly to a group of fans after the show. "It's connecting them all together that makes a difference."

They manage to encompass some of the "dark power" that defined early Joy Division (that was New Order before they went disco), but without the overriding pessimism. Like on the single "Drive That Fast" from their first domestic release Strange Free World, the passion for life, beauty, justice whatever emotions it conjures - is overwhelmingly joyous and positive.

I spoke with Patrick just before the show on May 31, and he was candid on their label situation and their plans for the future.

Dan Morris: I know the liner notes on Cowboys said "no keyboards," but I'd swear there has to be on "Sand On Fire" and "Get Over Yourself' - at least a mellotron.

Patrick Fitzgerald: (glancing at Julian, who happens to pass by) Julian?

Julian: (defiantly) Never!

Patrick: Swayles will take some of these standard gadgets off the shelf, standard effects - then he takes them apart, then puts them back together again in odd ways.

I admit, I saw the sound check - incredible.

I think we did use bass pedals on "Get Over Yourself." That might explain it.

You did your first record, as I recall, with Hugh Jones. Your first U.S. release...

The first two, actually. That one and "Death of Cool."

He's so good at that impenetrable "wall of sound". You were trying to get away from that on Cowboys somewhat by going for a more live sound.

Hugh is very good at taking your ideas to the logical limit, really pushing things.

You've still got quite a dense sound, though. Did you find Hugh to be a bit gadget-oriented for you?

He wasn't gadget oriented, we were. We kept asking him, pointing at boxes, "What does this thing do? How does it work?"

I know the other two members of the band are straight. But even aside from some of the obvious lyrics, there are some definitive queer images, like in "Thought He Had Everything" - "At 11 p.m. he gets too nervous, even with his friends and beer for company."

That's pretty universal.

But then there's, "He must get home before he breaks without reason... Everything he sings doesn't help anymore..." That sounds personal... Are you single?

Yes, in fact. That's probably the only autobiographical song on the record. But universal, too, about being frightened by your own existence.

But it also seems skeptical of relationships, "... When you're in love you have someone to hit."

I'm more skeptical of people's motives for staying in relationships. That line was inspired by a couple, a man and a woman living upstairs. At night, you could hear them beat the crap out of each other. One night they were particularly loud. The next morning I talked with the woman - she had a black eye and everything - and she announced that they were getting married. It was too perfect.

I liked the title track Cowboys and Aliens. An all-out queer evacuation of the planet, pretty savage. "We'll take away our finery... We'll take away our culture... We're leaving ugly dust."

Think of all the art we've done. Remember, there was a line from that film, The Boys in the Band: "Mary, it takes a fairy to make things pretty." It's so often true when there's any culture, there's a fag around somewhere. And with all this angst and self-hatred that comes from Gay-bashing and the negative press... Well, we'll just take all our nice things and leave, the art, the literature - but they can keep Dickens.

I've never read Browning. I've never had any special literary training. I would count Walt Whitman as an influence. And Truman Capote - he worked so hard at what he did. I like the work of Raymond Carver. No one has the time to work that hard anymore, it doesn't seem to matter as much. Quentin Tarantino, I like him - he works hard... at being ugly.

I see Whitman in "Come On Now," "... and his laugh, it gets me through those troubled hours of men in suits..." Sounds like a record label conference for sure.

We had a great deal of trouble getting this album released. It was rejected at first, we did three mixes. They kept insisting that we needed a hit, so we went back and wrote one. We took that to the extreme, brought in a producer, added extreme strings, everything.

Yes, [producer] Gabriel Pascal. He did a great job on the new Peter Murphy (ex-Bauhaus) album.

I haven't heard it yet. But [Gabriel] did a great job - I really liked the vocal sound on that track. I think it's the best on the record.

Do you think you'd like working with him again?

Probably. He's very funny. As it stands, we're looking for a label (for distribution). We waited 18 months, we had two tours booked and cancelled. They said, "We'll give you tour support," and then they said, "We won't give you support." We were robbed of 18 months. Finally we decided to finance this tour ourselves, and it's the best tour we've done.

We did one show, with They Might Be Giants. We were playing to teenagers - usually we get a late 20s crowd.

There was one show in London, a guy stood near the front of the stage and was singing all the words back to me - I was touched. So many people, other bands have been giving us their own CDs this tour - in the band photo on one, he was wearing a Kitchens T-shirt, right on the cover!

But we're doing everything ourselves now. We want to avoid the "big guys" completely this time out.

Dan Morris
Contributing Writer (Seattle Gay News, June 9 1995)