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Let's get this out of the way right off: Norwich, England's KaitO is not named after Inspector Clouseau's butler from the Pink Panther series. Nor is it named after the Green Hornet's sidekick/valet from the mid-'60s television series, or any other American pop-culture icon, for that matter. That said, the KaitO in question, while ostensibly named after a character from a Japanese comic book, seems to have a lot more in common with a certain caped crusader.
The comic-book connection makes sense. The band -- singer/guitarist Nikki Colk and bassist Gemma Cullingford (the fairer half of the foursome), guitarist Dave Lake and drummer Dieta Quantrill -- is on a trajectory that paralells that of most comic-book superheroes. A hapless underdog protagonist lets curiosity get the best of his experimentation, something goes awry, madly haywire, and the genteel, unsuspected day-jobber morphs into a headline-grabbing, force-to-be-reckoned-with nightcrawler.
After 2002's South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, Time Out New York named KaitO "the band to watch in 2003." Rolling Stone was impressed enough to include the act in a "Four Bands That Took Austin's SXSW by Storm" feature alongside Pretty Girls Make Graves and Kinski.
Yet by day, the band is still under the gainful employ, if not the watchful eye, of The Man. Its members are a photographic assistant, a waitress, a structural engineer and a farmer. Yeah, no shit -- a farmer: When not slinging an ax on stage, guitarist Lake can be found flinging mud in a sty as he "looks over pigs," Colk says.
According to Cullingford, their employers are flexible and forgiving when it comes time for the group to hit the road for weeks at a time. Nevertheless, some co-workers and hometown folks just don't understand what it means to be in a band.
"They still don't [get it]. People in Norwich, you know -- apart from the really small underground things -- a lot of people, even other bands and stuff, haven't heard us," says Cullingford. "No one at my work has heard of us. Unless you've been on the local radio station -- you could be on Radio One, the big one in England -- but if you're not on the little local one, then they don't believe you. They think that if I'm in a band, doing all of these things that bands do, then why am I still a waitress?"
Why was Clark Kent still a reporter? He was fucking Superman, after all.
When asked if the players think about quitting their day jobs, Colk doesn't hesitate to respond: "Gosh yes! That's what we've got to be able to do. That's the part where we talked about getting successful. We want to be able to get to the level where we can just write really good records and tour. And now, suddenly, we've got all this attention, and it's really exciting."
Then again, she adds, "It's quite a lot of pressure. It's really good, because you think, we can go on to something better. We can be in a band full-time and keep touring. Because we really love touring."
KaitO first donned its cape in late 1996, when Colk and Lake met and discovered a mutual love for dissonant noisy pop music à la Sonic Youth. Colk met Cullingford when they were both working in a bar and, after trying out a bass player and drummer who didn't quite fit, asked her to join the band on the four-string. Cullingford brought along Quantrill, and the band was born.
The quartet built a name for itself in the underground by releasing a series of seven-inch singles and touring relentlessly, both at home and in the United States. By 2001, it had recorded and released its debut full-length, You've Seen Us...You Must Have Seen Us, on Devil in the Woods in the U.S. and Fierce Panda in the U.K. Because of the time the group has spent here (the North American tour kicked off this month is its fourth) and the bands it has previously gigged with -- Clinic, the Datsuns, Polyphonic Spree, Imperial Teen and, just last October, the Apples in Stereo - KaitO has developed quite a Stateside buzz.
In fact, it was the opening slot on the Apples in Stereo tour that brought the band to the attention of spinART Records. Specifically, the foursome caught the attention of the Apples' Robert Schneider, who thought it would be a good fit for the label, which the Denver expatriates currently call home.
"The singer from the Apples said, 'You've got to see these guys!" says Colk. "It's great, because people are able to buy our records now. People can find them." This clears the first major hurdle for an underground band trying to make it. Still, it's probably not a stretch to posit that KaitO won't remain in full underground mode much longer.
This time out, the act is touring in support of its newest collection of experimental noise pop, Band Red. Released by spinART this past May, the long-player blends melodic guitar dissonance, found sounds and Colk's warm but affected vocals into a concoction of post-punk that recalls Blonde Redhead and Deerhoof while traveling down the road paved by Sonic Youth over two decades ago.