From front to back: Kim Rancourt, Don Fleming, Steve Shelley, Joe Bouchard, and Gary Lucas
Interviewed by Harry Kaplan
Kim Rancourt may not be a household name, but he should be. Not only did he release one of the best albums of 2017 so far in Plum Plum, but Kim has always been in the right place at the right time. He grew up in Detroit and had the opportunity to see the MC5, The Stooges, and Sun Ra. He moved to New York and became a regular at CBGBs during the salad days in the mid to late 70s. Then Kim became hooked up with Sonic Youth and the 80s post punk bands of New York. Kim is also a tour guide at Lincoln Center and Coney Island. Most importantly, Kim is a super nice guy and incredibly humble. His stories are captivating and he gives a great interview.
KR = Kim Rancourt TL = TwangriLa
TL: First of all, I want to congratulate you on your solo album, Plum Plum, I absolutely love it.
KR: Thanks Harry. That’s so nice of you to say. We are really pleased with the outcome. Don (Fleming) did a great job producing it and Greg (Calbi) did a really great job mastering it. And Pete (Ciccone) did a really great job with the packaging. I leave it up to them and I always leave it up to Don. He is my driving force in everything that I do. Whether it be music, other producing that we do together, or archiving; we have been friends for a long time. I trust him explicitly.
TL: I said in my review that I think you captured that elusive New York sound. From The New York Dolls, Sonic Youth, Television, and of course The Velvets.
KR: (laughter) That’s very very nice of you to say. They are all certainly some of my favorite performers. I have known the Youth for a very long time. And to be on stage and play with Steve Shelly, a fellow Michigander, it’s just amazing. I think he does such a brilliant job on the record. The drumming is just fantastic. I really believe it is probably the best thing he has ever done. He was so intuitive and he was the driving force for us all, especially the rhythm section with Joe Bouchard (bass and keys). Both of them were thrilled to play with each other as well.
TL: Did you go in the studio with a certain expectation of what your sound should be or did everything happen organically?
KR: I gotta tell you Harry, Don’s vision of what the record should sound like was solid from the very beginning. My idea of what it might sound like is perhaps a little bit different. I know Don took my ideas and incorporated them with his to bring those ideas to life. But it is really Don that brought that sound together. It is a little bit of Detroit and a lot of New York as you mentioned. This is a very New York record for a lot of reasons. Don and I spent a good bit of time archiving the Lou Reed collection. It was inspirational both musically and spiritually.
I don’t think I would be in New York if there wasn’t a Lou Reed or David Bowie. They brought me here when glam and panic hit Detroit. Panic In Detroit really happened. When Bowie hit, I went from wearing flannel shirts…..no offense to Mike Watt who still flies the flannel (laughter)…..but I went from that to glitter and silver pants as soon as I hit New York. That was a credit to the great New York performers of the day. And punk rock hit as soon as I moved here, so it was perfect timing. We were ready for it and I couldn’t wait to embrace it with Richard Hell and Television and everyone else at CBGBs.
It wasn’t only them, it was Leonard Bernstein. I am a big fan of his. His grave is right around the corner from my house and I go to visit him regularly. I am a tour guide at Lincoln Center of the art and the architecture so he is with me every day. Of course Bob Dylan as well. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read his acceptance speech for the Nobel laureate, you should. It was absolutely so moving to me. He talked about his childhood and the books that he read and how they helped form the lyrics for his future recordings.
I will never hold a candle to the lyrics he wrote, but that was certainly something I considered when I wrote the lyrics on Plum Plum. I went back to I read as a kid, and what I read in high school. Reading is so important and I wish people would do more if it. It’ so sad with all the book stores closing. I would much rather hold a book in my hands. Don’t get me wrong, Kindles have their purpose. They are portable and travel easily, but it is not a substitute for holding a book in your hands. Right Harry?
TL: In my teen years and early twenties I spent a lot of time in book stores and record stores and both of those are really things of the past.
KR: Bob was talking about the books that I grew up with, The Odyssey, Red Badge Of Courage. The Red Badge Of Courage was such a shocking book to me at the time, with the Vietnam War going on. My number in the draft was number 4. Luckily, they ended the draft the year I would have gone. I probably wouldn’t have gone. I would have probably headed to Canada.
I remember when I was 14 or 15 when I first heard Rainy Day Woman. It just blew me away. It was a big hit in Detroit on AM radio. I realized then that I had to get to New York and see what was going on.
I live in Brooklyn and I am the official tour guide of Coney Island and never in a million years did I think I would be living in Brooklyn, New York. I just love it. I don’t know if I could live anywhere else to tell you the truth. I have lived here for 43 years now so I guess I am a New Yorker. There is still a big piece of me in Detroit as well. Detroit was a wonderful cultural city. It had plenty of great music, whether it be the MC5 or The Stooges. But even the Rationals and the whole Motown sound. I was very blessed to be around such great music. It was very viable. I saw Les McCann and Eddie Harris and Sun Ra all the time.
From the time I moved to New York in 1974, I think I saw every Sun Ra show. Mainly because if his love of Detroit and his love of music. I miss him every day. He changed music so considerably. Especially for me, I saw some of his first shows. The first time I saw him at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, he had these great fan dancers with him. He had this beautiful woman who would go through the crowd and dance with these big fans before he made his entry. Then he would come in with the band, full tilt. The first time I saw him, he came over to my table, looked at me and smiled, and put his hand on the top of my head. And I swear to God Harry, I felt a shock go right through my feet. I said to myself, this is for me.
TL: You mentioned The Stooges and MC5 being influences and I hear them both in your music.
KR: Really? That’s very nice of you to say. I got to see the 5 a few times and I got to see the Stooges all the time. I was from Royal Oak and they constantly played Royal Oak. Total life changers. Don and Thurston’s relationship with the Asheton brothers gave me the opportunity to hang out with Ron and it meant a lot to me. And I think it meant a lot to him, actually. I’ve mentioned this in other interviews but I will mention it to you. The first time I saw the Stooges was at the Royal Oak farmer’s market and I actually stole a dog collar from Kroger’s and wore it. I felt like I was pretty punk and revolutionary at the time (laughter). Everybody was looking at me like I was insane.
TL: It’s funny you tell that story about the dog collar because Iggy Pop mentions a story about wearing a dog collar in the Jim Jarmusch documentary.
KR: Really? I don’t remember that.
TL: You have been involved with music for a very long time. Why did you wait so long to do your own music?
KR: I was working in a law firm for a long time. I designed album covers and coordinated the printing of probably every album cover you own. I decided to form a rock and roll band at 29 years old. We decided we would record covers. We didn’t really want to play live and we wanted to only do covers. We wanted to make a statement about what was going on in New York in the late 80s.
TL: I think the writing on Plum Plum is pretty powerful. You wrote all the songs yourself, correct?
KR: I wrote the lyrics. I am a lyricist and probably the most unmusical person you have ever met. I have had the opportunity to meet so many great people over the years in all walks of life. I have been able to put together musicians that have never played together before and come up with a pretty positive result. On this record, Don put the vision together. His vision of who he wanted to work on this album. We kicked around a lot of names. I think he really came up, once again, with the best bunch of musicians.
TL: It is a pretty eclectic mix of musicians.
KR: And we love each other. Can I say that?
KR: That’s stupid to say, but we do. We played our first show a couple of weeks ago at the Bowery Electric and we had so much fun. People came up afterwards and told me that they liked it. And it was a pretty good show, if I say so myself. But more importantly everyone said that we looked like we were having so much fun on stage. And that’s the thing and that’s what I am all about. Having fun, getting out there and doing something in music that people aren’t doing now.
I feel music at this point, commercially, is a bit boring and derivative. I shouldn’t say that because I know there are a million bands out there I know I haven’t heard. The problem is as you said before, I spent my whole life going to record stores. Every weekend I would go and buy tons of records. Especially doing the album covers. I coordinated the printing from everyone on Columbia, SST, to Touch And Go, and on and on and on. Every single major underground record label. Back then, being able to get so much music for free was amazing. There are very few record stores left in New York and I miss that.
TL: Can you talk a little bit more about the band you assembled? It is quite a line up.
KR: I have known Gary Lucas for a long time (electric and acoustic guitars). Gary played with Captain Beefheart and I am a major Beefheart fan. I just marvel at Gary’s technique. Don, being so smart, and being a different kind of rock and roller, worked really well with Gary. The two of them putting their heads together and putting their ideas together was just the perfect mix.
And let’s not forget Joe Bouchard (bass and keys). A friend of mine in college was one of the original punk rockers. He had a leopard guitar and he called himself tiger. He was from New York and he came back with three things: Screw Magazine, bagels, and the first Blue Oyster Cult record. I said, “Wow, this is different, this is amazing.” And then having the chance to meet Joe and his brother Albert. He was at the show and said so many nice things. Both of them are gems of human beings.
I told this story before……we needed a keyboard part for the album and we needed a keyboard player. We recorded some of it at Sonic Youth studio in Hoboken. We recorded all the music there. And Joe said no problem. He plugged his bass into his laptop and played the piano parts on his bass. That’s how cool he is.
I love all these guys. And when we played live, we all looked at each other after ward and said, “WOW! We have to do this again!” It’s just hard because we are all older and have a lot of different projects going on. Gary’s all over the world every week. Steve is touring with Thurston. Thurston came to the show. It was so amazing to see him there. Also there was Mark C. of Live Skull and Bob Bert, the original drummer from Sonic Youth.
KR: What’s your favorite song on Plum Plum?
KR: There you go! Very good. Arkansas Is Burning is my favorite song on the record. A real protest song. It documents what’s happening right now in America even though I wrote it two years ago. I also like Leave Your Light On For Me In Heaven that I wrote for Dolly Parton that I hope she will record. That’ a possibility. That I wrote with Andrew W K for a Broadway musical.
TL: Are there any plans to do a tour, even a mini one?
KR: I doubt it. Unless we can do a few dates in Europe opening for someone. I would love to play London with Thurston over there. I would love to play Amsterdam and Hanover, Germany. I would like to play all those places. Our scheduling would be a serious issue. These are all professional musicians who make money at their craft. That’s what they do. I am a tour guide and they are professional musicians. It’s hard to get them all in one room at the same time because they are all sought after and in such high demand.
TL: So before we wrap it up, tell people how they can get your fine album Plum Plum and find out about you.
KR: You can buy the album at all the outlets: Apple, Amazon, Bandcamp, etc. I am still in the process of putting my website together.
TL: Kim, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me and I wish you nothing but success in your future projects.