Kristeen Young’s volcanic eruption
Willowy young singer presents striking, theatrical figure, with self-designed dresses Lady Gaga would envy.
Kristeen Young Photo: Courtesy of Tony Visconti
When Kristeen Young glides onstage before thousands of Morrissey fans to warm up
the crowd, she’s never afraid of being snubbed. “I really don’t see too many
people being distracted,” explained the St. Louis-raised vocalist/pianist in an
email from the road in Europe, where she’s been opening a world tour for the
former front man of The Smiths.
Maybe it’s because the willowy Young
presents a striking, theatrical figure, with self-designed dresses and gowns
that Lady Gaga could learn a thing or two from, and swept-back hair that gives
new meaning to the term pompadour. But more importantly, her aggressive
electro-pop songs featuring what she calls her “freakish” four-octave voice and
evocative contemporary lyrics that discover the common denominators between Kate
Bush, Bjork and Tori Amos are impossible to ignore.
Morrissey, who’s asked the offbeat Young to open most of his shows since 2006 as
well as appear on his records, recently called her voice “a beautiful bayonet”
in a spread on the two artists in The Guardian. “She sings about the way we live
when we are prevented from living the way we’d like to. The sound is as good as
you’ll ever hear in modern music. We scan the British pop charts in the hopeless
quest for something different. Kristeen Young frees us from this,” he wrote,
adding “Beneath the waterplant hairstyle (hers, not mine) is a face made to be
peered at till the end of time. The eye-crossing drabness of flicking through
music magazines could be undone in a flash by Kristeen Young. Please, lower
Many fans have already taken the plunge, including
Morrissey’s own rabid and passionate following, whom she wins over night after
night on tour.
“A portion of his audience is my audience too,
They are excited for the whole show... which, as some of the ads
state, includes me,” she said with a sardonic nod to her role as a support
But the supporting phase of the 31-year-old Young’s career may soon
be coming to an end. After releasing a series of self-released albums over the
last 10 years, her two commercially released records – 2009’s Music for
Strippers, Hookers, and the Odd On-Looker and last year’s V The Volcanic – have
created their own buzz.
Both produced by Tony Visconti, the wizard behind
David Bowie’s greatest albums, the albums range from art rock and thundering
piano and drums to V The Volcanic’s more funky groove. Asked by the Post how he
ended up working with the relatively unknown Young, Visconti explained that he
heard her 1999 self-made album Enemy and was blown away.
“I phoned her
before the CD finished. Her voice got to me before her compositions, the second
of a one-two punch. I couldn’t believe that someone this talented, with such an
amazing passionate voice, who wrote songs that rival any great artist of the
’70s and ’80s was unsigned,” he said, adding that he played her music for Bowie,
who ended up recording one of her songs.
Visconti also provided the link
between Young and Morrissey – he was playing one of Young’s videos on a big
screen in the studio and Morrissey walked in and said, “Who’s that? She’s very
good.” When his opening band pulled out of a 2006 tour, Morrissey asked Young to
fill in, a role that she’d held ever since, including this Saturday night, July
21, at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
DON’T THINK that Young is hiding in the
shadows of the more famous singer, though. V The Volcanic establishes her as a
thoroughly original and confident artist – the album’s hook is the fact that
each song is written from the point of view of one of her favorite film
characters, like Violet Bick in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (“V The
Volcanic”); the angry apple tree of The Wizard of Oz (“I’ll Get You Back”); Lucy
Westenra in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Why
Can’t It Be Me?”); and the android Pris from Blade Runner (“The Devil Made
Choosing the apple tree in The Wizard of Oz to identify with is
representative of Young’s outsider outlook on life, she said.
too much to the Apple Tree. The idea of doing all this work and creating
something, and someone just happens to pop by and pluck it from you. That was my
complete experience of the past couple years: being food for thieves,” she
Her childhood was not much easier, evidently, as the half-Apache,
half-German Young spent time as a foster child before being adopted by strict
Christian parents in St. Louis. Music provided her with her only outlet of
“They were controlling parents, and I wasn’t allowed out of
the house much to do anything that wasn’t church-related. Music was a way of
escaping the prison I grew up in,” she said, adding that she was only exposed to
the music on mainstream Midwest pop radio, especially the r&b and funk of
Prince, Rick James, Teena Marie and Cameo. “There was an [alternative] music
scene in St. Louis... but, I wasn’t privy to it growing up. I wasn’t familiar
with the St. Louis music scene until I was already writing my own
One slightly non-mainstream artist she did latch onto in high
school was The Smiths, and she immediately grew attached to Morrissey’s voice,
as she told The Guardian.
“I grew up listening to his music, so part of
what I am is formed by him. The first time I heard the Smiths I was 14 and my
boyfriend played me Hatful of Hollow. I lived in the Midwest, I had no brothers
or sisters, and the radio only played the mainstream.
This was something
different. I played that album over and over again.
Morrissey on the B-side of his last single, “Sweetie Pie”, was the thrill of my
life. It was incredible, but somehow felt natural. When I was young, listening
to his records, I could never sing in his key – it was always too low. So
instead, I harmonized.
I grew up harmonizing to his melodies. I know a
lot of people do that, but for some reason it actually happened to me for
She described their relationship to the Post as “a very healthy,
mutually artistic one” but joked to The Guardian that at the photo shoot for
their story, it took on a different level.
“Morrissey asked me to sit on
his shoulders. At first I thought he was joking, but he really wanted me
I thought, “This is bizarre!” So there I am, literally heaving with
desire for him and suddenly his head is between my thighs. We’d certainly never
been that close before,” she said.
It’s a moment of lightheartedness that
rarely surfaces among Young’s dark wave music. But while the singer admitted
that she does have an intense personality and answers questions about keeping
her sanity on the road with pithy answers like “I rarely leave my room,” she
aspires to some sense of a healthy balance between light and dark.
not intense every moment, that would get a bit exhausting,” she said. “I think
the people I am around on a mostly daily basis would tell you... yes... I can be
very focused on something. But, I am mostly told...by people I just meet... how
different I am offstage. I don’t feel different or that I am being different. I
think it’s just that they don’t really know me yet. Am I supposed to meet them
with a scream and a yowl?” For that greeting, Young has the stage, and her