Katy Graves and son Nick in Spooky Partridge. Photo courtesy of Katy Graves.
By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor
With Mother’s Day approaching, ATLRetro wanted to find someone special who represents both the Atlanta music scene and makes motherhood look easy. Local musician Katy Graves is one of the most energetic, friendly and interesting people in town. She has been part of the rock & roll community for many years in such bands as Doll Squad and Catfight, and while she is currently working on her teaching degree, she is also in an amazing and entertaining band called Spooky Partridge, with HER 10-YEAR-OLD SON, Nick Christian!!! Those credentials and the fact that Spooky Partridge are rocking Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker this Saturday May 12 at 8 p.m. are more than sufficient for ATLRetro to make Katy Kool Kat of the Week just in time for Mother’s Day!
ATLRetro: How did you initially get involved with performing music in Atlanta? What was your first band experience?
Katy: I sang in a couple bands in high school starting in about the 9th grade, and by the 11th grade, our band, The Doughboys, was playing out at the infamous Margaritaville as well as The Dugout in Emory Village. We did mostly covers by bands like The Police, Squeeze, The Jam, Ramones, Echo and the Bunnymen and loads of REM. Our guitar player loved REM! Can you imagine me singing REM covers? We had some originals, but mostly covers. I played cello and and piano as a kid. Susanne Gibboney (who plays with Tiger! Tiger!, Lust and Catfight), and I started Doll Squad while I was in college. We both worked at Junkman’s Daughter at the time. We all loved The Runaways and ’60s girl groups, but also L7 and the Lunachicks so we wanted to be in an all-girl band. Doll Squad opened for Shonen Knife at the Masquerade, that was so fun!
Catfight was an incredibly popular band for several years. what do you think was the source of the appeal, and what was going on in Atlanta at that time to make the scene so open to the band? How was David T. Lindsay involved?
Ann Beaman and I had been in Doll Squad for a while, and that had kind of run its course. We ran an ad for a guitar player so we could start a new band, and Jennifer Leavey answered. She was the only person who answered that wasn’t nuts! Jennifer is just an incredible songwriter, and Catfight really took off. I think the reason we managed to do well was that we had songs with elements of a several kinds of genres and we could fit in on a lot of shows, appeal to a lot of people. We were a little garage, a little punk; we liked rockabilly; we did some girl group type songs; we also covered Van Halen, though!
David Lindsay put out a Doll Squad 7″, and he and I were friends. He had had a disagreement with someone in Doll Squad and wasn’t keen to put out any more of our records. I didn’t know if I would want to work with Catfight, but I brought a tape over of us and gave it to him. I told him I just wanted him to give me some feedback. He called me like an hour after I gave him the tape and told me he had to put out our stuff! David put out two singles and two CDs on his label, Worry Bird Records.
How did working in the music business affect your perception of playing music as a profession? Any good sleazy Green Room stories?
I remember when I got a job working for a record company, this boyfriend (a musician) said, “You are working for the enemy now!!!” I had a great run working in the music business for 15 years, but sometimes I was conflicted. It’s hard when you have to sell art like it is shoes or office supplies or something. Also, I figured out quite early on that I did not care about meeting a lot of famous people, which I thought initially would be really fun. Yawn! That being said two of the nicest people I met while working at a record company were Brittany Spears and Notorious B.I.G. Seriously! There were a few who were complete jerks – if you see me out sometime I’ll tell you who!! I can’t think of any super sleazy stories, but I do remember we took this guy from a New York band to the Clermont Lounge after his show one night. He has irritated all of us with this superior attitude, like he had seen it all/done it all in NYC. We introduced him to Blondie, she personalized a beer can for him as she does, and he just about lost it. He was completely freaked out by the whole Clermont scene! We couldn’t believe it – he was playing Mr. Badass rock guy but he got all nervous at the Clermont! Come on!
What must one do to reconcile motherhood with a rock & roll lifestyle?
Well, I began my rock’ & roll mom lifestyle when Nick was in utero – I kept playing shows with Catfight until I was more than eight months pregnant! I would have played up until I went into labor, but Jennifer but the kibosh on that. Probably the girls were sick of loading all the equipment without me at that point. Anyway, you have to rock & roll at home a lot more when you are a mom, because as you might guess it becomes difficult to be out at shows until 2 a.m. on a regular basis. The child watched THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT from an early age, which is a questionable decision when you think about how The Who treat equipment, but we escaped any serious damage around the house somehow. When I still worked for a record company I brought Nick to every daytime in-store appearance by a band that I was working. One year I took him to Ozzfest. I always tried to take him to any daytime shows I could find – he went to Warped Tour a few times. And yes – we made him wear earplugs to every show, of course! Finally I ended up being in a band WITH my son so I could still play but also keep kid-friendly hours!
Spooky Partridge's Nick poses with a pair of drumsticks.
Tell us about Nick. Do you think he will become a professional musician? Or a baseball player? He seems equally great at both…
Nick turned 10 in February. He has been in Montessori school since he was 3. He plays drums and guitar; he can play bass and fools around on piano as well. He is dyslexic, which I believe is why he is so good at music and art; I think that the things in his brain that often make reading hard make music easy. He loves to draw. And yes, he does love baseball and soccer. I am the only mom in Americawho actually asks her child to please use the Wii or the Nintendo DSI, because we have these expensive games and the kid never uses them! He loves Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who and The Cartoon Network. Nick cooks a lot – he puts red pepper flakes and/or Siracha in almost everything, however, so if you don’t like spicy food, you have to watch out. At different times he has told me that when he wants to grow up he wants to be a musician, a baseball player, a soccer player or a pathologist. Yes, a pathologist! Recently he has gotten way interested in bird-watching, of all things! He can identify lots of birds, and he draws them all the time.
Where did the idea for “Spooky Partridge” come from, and what was the formation of the band like for everyone?
Nick’s dad is Shawn Christian from X-Impossibles and Rock City Dropouts. Shawn and I met because we were in bands that played shows together all the time, so it was only natural that we wanted our child to be a musician. Nick was almost named Marshall – after the amp, of course! Shawn and I made sure that Santa brought Nick a drum set when he was two years old. By the time he was seven, he was getting pretty good, and since I had a friend teaching at a rock band camp, we sent Nick there that summer. That is when we could see he was really progressing, when we saw him play with a band. So we sent him again two years ago. He wanted to play “No Action” by Elvis Costello, but the kids in the band couldn’t learn it fast enough to perform it, which bummed him out. There were so many songs Nick wanted to play and no one to play them with. I was like “Why am I paying for this rock band camp when we can just have rock band camp at home for free?” Those camps are crazy expensive, and we already had a practice room in our house. What was I thinking?
Shawn and I decided that we would have a family band. Shawn and I have not been a couple since Nick was two, but we get along extremely well, so the band was nothing but fun from the start. We started by learning songs that Nick wanted to do, we started writing originals. Nick has written some on guitar, and he writes words and works with his dad to write songs, like “I Hate Chores.”
Spooky Partridge performs at last year's Tunes From The Tombs.
Any plans to release a Spooky Partridge record anytime?
We have three songs recorded that we are really happy with, and we need to record some more! We recorded the songs with Jimmy Demer from The Accidents, and his two daughters sing back up on our song, “Robots Don’t Poop.” It’s me that is holding this record up, really – around the time we started the band I went back to school to become a Montessori teacher. I work full time, I am in school, I’m a single mom, and I’m in two bands since Catfight has been out playing again this year. I’m hoping after I finish my class at the end of the summer we can really focus on getting out a CD. Vinyl would be cool, too! Right now we have music up on our Facebook/ReverbNation page, so everyone go listen to that!
How do you go about booking a band in Atlanta, with a 10-year-old drummer?
Very carefully! We have been very lucky; Nick doesn’t even know how lucky he is, what great shows he has played! Before he turned 10, he got to play not only [Rock n Roll] Monster Bash and Drive Invasion, but he got to open for CJ Ramone at Masquerade! We started by playing in restaurants owned by friends, we got everyone we knew out to see us, and we were lucky that a lot of folks posted videos of us on youtube. We got a lot of good word of mouth, and that led to more shows. I have played some of the most interesting shows with this band. We have played at Atlanta Rocks rock climbing gym on top of a huge boulder! You have to get creative booking shows when you have a 10-year-old in the band, but really I would say it’s good to do that no matter what kind of band you have.
What’s coming up for the band in the near future?
Well, we are playing at Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker on Saturday, May 12. We have wanted to play Shorty’s because the food is great! This is a special show because it’s also an end-of-season party for Nick’s baseball team. The coach wanted Spooky Partridge for the party, and we were only too glad to oblige. There is one kid on Nick’s team who loves Led Zeppelin as much as Nick, so we are going to do an abbreviated “Moby Dick” for him. We are also playing an art opening at the Defoor Centre on June 10! That should be great.
Catfight is playing Tunes From the Tombs at Oakland Cemetery on Sat. May 19 at 3 p.m. in the Criminal Records tent. Also we are playing at the Plaza Theatre before the [Blast-off Burlesque Taboo-La-La] screening of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS June 2 – my dream show!
Spooky Partridge. Photo credit: Rose Riot.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring female musicians? Mothers?
I have a little anecdote about being a female musician in Atlanta 20 years ago for everyone, and I hope this is something that does not happen to women in bands anymore! Doll Squad was playing at Masquerade one night, and when we finished we got off stage and wandered around, as you do, waiting to see the next band. This guy came over and said, (imagine redneck kind of voice) “Y’all were pretty good. But you’d be better if you played naked.” We just had to laugh – what can you say?? That was not the only incident like that I experienced with Doll Squad or Catfight, but it’s been a long, long time since I heard any nonsense like that. I hope no women in bands have that experience these days, but unfortunately I bet they do . . . Just keep playing ladies! Ignore the crap and get out there and play.
Moms: Expose your child to music as soon as possible – in the womb! Play every kind of music for them. Let them explore what they like. Even if you can’t sing or play anything sing with your child anyway. Get silly, have fun! Nick and I will sing “Ma-na-ma-na” from The Muppets in the car, then we sing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s all music, it’s all good.
One more word of wisdom for mothers – no matter how much you want to absolutely do not watch THE STOOGES LIVE IN DETROIT DVD with your toddler thinking that he is too young to notice what obscenities Iggy Pop is yelling out. You could find yourself in the middle of Kroger with a child who yells “F****** dirt!” in the middle of the produce department. If this does happen, do what I do – pretend you are horrified and have no idea where the child could have learned this! If you are lucky, as I was, you ask him where he learned that word and he says, “From Daddy!”