The Mind of a Misfit in San Francisco
San Francisco has long been regarded a mecca of cutting edge artists, drawing mad geniuses and immensely talented misfits from across the country and around the globe to spread their wings and realize their full potential.
When Kat Robichaud, landed in San Francisco by way of the North Carolina, little did she know that she would find within herself the Darling Misfit that has blossomed into the most innovative and refreshing talent in the San Francisco underground.
Onstage she drips enormous natural talent wrapped in glitter. She has an easy yet booming voice that commands the attention of everyone in earshot, and an immense stage presence that dares an audience to try to look away.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to get a sense of the girl behind the glitter and wigs costumes. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain….ladies and gentlemen, introducing Ms. Kat Robichaud……
Where it All Began
SFSonic:You are from North Carolina….growing up what were your musical influences? What voices, bands, and people opened the door to music for you and how old were you when you started on your musical journey to becoming the version of Kat Robichaud that you bring to the stage now?
Kat Robichaud: I’m an 80s baby with two older brothers. While my dad was teaching me about Motown, classical music and musicals, my brothers were teaching me about hair metal. I think it’s the combination of those things that lend to my theatricality. My mom would flip the light switch while my brothers and I stomped around the bedroom to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” in acid wash jeans and bandanas tied around our heads.
SFSonic: What was your first musical purchase?
Robichaud: The first music that was my “own” was Paula Abdul and Debbie Gibson. That lent to a lot of dancing. As I got older, I gravitated towards the darker musicals like ‘Cabaret’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ and started listening to Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, and Queen. I’m not really sure how old I was.
For as long as I can remember, I would sit in my room and sing to myself, walk on the beach and sing to myself, take the dogs for a walk and sing to myself. It wasn’t until high school when I started waiting tables that I that I had any idea that I was remotely good at singing. I met local musicians performing at the restaurants who heard me sing and suggested that I join a band.One singer in particular, Kitty West from the Arlo Guthrie group, heard me sing “This Land is Your Land” at a kid’s art camp I was volunteering at, and she invited me to sit in at a gig she had at The Dock House (Beaufort, NC) on the weekends. That was the first time I sang out publicly apart from choirs. I got my first tip of $10 and it was the most exciting thing ever. Then I went to college and didn’t pursue it much until my senior year when I started singing with bands at Sushi Blues Cafe where I waited tables. I then joined a cover band that had an ad in the local paper. We toured for 8 years, broke up, and I went on The Voice (NBC vocal talent show). And so on.
SFSonic: Ah yes, The Voice, your foray into the void of the musical mainstream. You are definitely outside of the type of talent that they typically try to box and package. How did you come about going on ‘The Voice’ and what kind of experience was this for you? Did that experience have an impact on the music you are creating now?
Kat Robichaud: My band had just broken up. From touring up and down the east coast, I had met Adam Pollock and Vinny Rich with RED Distribution, who insisted that I try out for The Voice. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went for it.
I actually had a great time on the show, but that’s largely because I did well. I cannot even imagine how much it must suck to go through the hurdles of auditions and waiting for months to hear anything while your life is essentially on hold, and then to not have a chair turn.
A friend that I made had auditioned for the show twice and still hadn’t made it. He was exhausted and when I encouraged him to try out again, especially since he was only 18, he said he just couldn’t put himself through that again. I understand that. It’s hard enough going up in front of some of the most popular singers in the business, plus your extremely talented teammates, plus millions of audience members every single week, and risking the chance of elimination and minor/major humiliation for the chance of some good exposure. It would be really tough to go through all of that and to never even get a chance to show your talent on TV.
SFSonic: Was it hard for you to deal with all of the sideline static of having expectations and trying to advance?
Kat Robichaud: I definitely did not fit in on the show, but they loved me and tried to keep me going. America was confused by me, and also a little pissed off at me. Mothers didn’t like my legs showing and didn’t like my attitude. Some said I was obnoxious and boisterous. The latter made me laugh, because I could not have been more bewildered to be on a show like that. I definitely did not think I was hot shit.
Every week was a massive ego struggle of not curling up into a ball and hiding under the hotel sheets. There were some incredible singers on my season, and every day I wondered why I was there. I think a lot of the core audience mistook my confidence on stage as cockiness, when really I was just mimicking my male peers and getting shit for it because I’m a woman.
But the show was a fantastic experience and an educational one. I got back to taking care of my voice, I learned who I definitely was not, and it opened me up to a whole new national and international fan base. It also introduced me to Amanda Palmer (see Kat along with Amada Fucking Palmer at DNA on May 23), who told me the second I got off the show to launch a Kickstarter, which I did, and I put out my first solo album through that.
That album, Kat Robichaud and The Darling Misfits, dealt with a lot of anger I felt towards internet trolls who called me a skank for showing my legs. Overall, that first album dealt with everything I’d been through for the past 10 years and the growing pains of becoming a musician.
Going To California
SFSonic: What attracted you to San Francisco? What do you think about the music scene in the Bay Area…do you get out much to local clubs or to see local acts?
Robichaud: As a girl growing up in a non-digital age (Facebook didn’t exist until my junior year of college), I didn’t have access to a lot of underground or eccentric music in rural North Carolina. When my native San Franciscan friends tell me about all the concerts they went to growing up, I get extremely jealous. My entire musical upbringing was the TV, and 99% of that was MTV, back when it actually showed music videos.
In my suburban bubble, I heard about San Francisco being an influential art city, and I love Janis Joplin. After I got off The Voice, it was time to move. I had lived in Raleigh for 12 years at that point, and pushing my weird brand of rock persona up and down the east coast had been a bust. My husband had just finished his doctorate at NC State and was looking for a job. We picked several cities that we could both work in, and San Francisco worked out. I’m so thankful we ended up in this city. I’m not quite sure how I would have faired anywhere else.
SFSonic: What do you think about the music scene in the Bay Area…do you get out much to local clubs or to see local acts?
Robichaud: The music scene here is very diverse. But the art scene is taking a massive hit because of the tech boom and the outrageous rent prices. When I moved to the city, I was told I had missed the boat and things were dying and that made me mad. I thought “BUT I JUST GOT HERE!!!!”
So with Misfit Cabaret, we’re fighting to keep art in the city. We’re certainly not the only ones fighting. The music scene is awesome and for a while I had more local music on my iPhone than I did top 40 bands. Carletta Sue Kay, The Damn Fanatics, Gold Minor (who puts on their own river music festival every August), Midtown Social, Fantastic Negrito, Tuneyards, and on and on and on and on. You can go out in the city on any given night and see a handful of fantastic up and coming bands. You can also go and see some fantastic drag shows, too.
SFSonic: Do you go out to much theater in San Francisco? Are you a fan of Beach Blanket Babylon?
Robichaud: I see a ton of theater in SF. We splurged and got season tickets for SHN a couple years ago, mainly to secure Hamilton (Totally worth it. That show was fantastic.) I just saw Needles and Opium which was trippy and got me listening to more Miles Davis. There are some really fun shows at PianoFight. I haven’t seen BBB yet but it’s on my list.
SFSonic: There has been a renaissance for musicals lately particularly given the popularity of Hamilton…do you at all aspire to performing on Broadway or in those types of musicals?
Robichaud: I think that would be fun, but while I think I have a great voice for what I do, when I go and see musicals, I just sit in the audience in awe of the voices, which took years and years of training and discipline and studying – all of which I do not have.
I was in my first musical last year, playing Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz. It was fun and a good learning experience. With Misfit Cabaret, I get to take on the role of a zillion characters in one night while still playing myself, which is really just the persona that I’ve developed for the show. I would love to build up Misfit Cabaret to the point where it’s big enough to tour. It would be crazy to achieve the status of BBB where we’re performing a show every damn night of the week.
Performing Live and the new Album Misfit Cabaret
SFSonic: Your performances are very dramatic in both presentation and delivery…do you have any formal drama training in your background?
Robichaud: I’m not trained in the slightest. Most of what I’ve learned is from sitting in front of a TV and watching the same musicals over and over and over. I took dance and some voice lessons growing up and I was in a handful of school plays. Being a front person of a cover band for 8 years definitely taught me how to command an audience. When I moved to San Francisco, I joined the Beverly Hills Playhouse for 6 months and took acting lessons there, but I quickly ran out of time and money and had to quit.
SFSonic: Your music is also very dramatic in arrangement and composition…how does your musical composition come together…do you write from a lyrical perspective and compose the music as a collaboration with your band? Do you play any instruments?
Kat Robichaud: I wrote my first two albums (under the band name The Design) on guitar and then I switched over to piano when it was suggested that it would be an easier writing tool. I start with a melody or a set of lyrics that give me some kind of rhythm.
Usually I’m out walking, so I’ll sing into my phone recorder quickly and then when I get home, I’ll try and lay it down on the keys to see if that idea still excites me. I write my songs from start to finish on the keys, record a demo, send it off to my keyboardist Brendan Getzell, then we get together and finesse the song…. he writes charts, and then the rest of the band figures out their parts with my suggestions and guidance.
SFSonic: Would you consider yourself an accomplished player?
Robichaud: I play well enough to write, but I’m not consistent enough to play out live. I used to be, but my life has been completely taken over by running and promoting Misfit Cabaret. I want to get back to that place where I can, but producing and starring in a show is all-consuming and there are not enough hours in the day.I actually had a nightmare last night where I had an opportunity to play in front of some record execs and Brendan wasn’t available and I knew that I hadn’t rehearsed enough to pull it off. I write two songs for each Misfit Cabaret and then I hand them off to Brendan to play, and then I forget how to play them. It drives me crazy.
SFSonic: You currently have two different acts actively performing, Darling Misfits and Misfit Cabaret. For the uninitiated what is the difference between the two and what can we expect when seeing these two live performances?
Robichaud: The Darling Misfits have essentially become Misfit Cabaret’s band and they drive the show. When I got off The Voice, I didn’t want to put out an album under my name because I didn’t want to be seen as a solo pop artist. So I created ‘Kat Robichaud and The Darling Misfits’ because I wanted to be seen as a rock band, kind of like how Marilyn Manson started off as Marilyn Manson and The Spooky Kids and then eventually dropped the Kids after he was established.
I put together a group of my Raleigh friends to play on the album, and then immediately moved to San Francisco, where I put an entirely new band together. We played out a handful of shows before I realized that I was going to be broke very soon, so I scaled back to playing lounge shows with just my keyboardist. Through that, I met Jordan Nathan, and she approached me to produce a show together, hence Misfit Cabaret. We started at a small venue where it was just me and Brendan, and then we grew into The Great Star Theater, at which time I was able to hire my entire band back.
SFSonic: You have an upcoming record about to drop in June, Misfit Cabaret….the songs are very diverse. Tell us about how the creative process for this record came together.
Robichaud: Each Misfit Cabaret is themed. Our first show consisted of songs from The Darling Misfits album, mixed with Broadway tunes. I got the idea during production of the second show, Wilde Women, to write two original songs for each show that coincided with the theme.
I think I realized that if I didn’t force myself to write music that I would start relying on cover music again, and with cover music comes complacency, and I didn’t want that. So for example, Wilde Women was an Oscar Wilde/ Moulin Rouge/ turn-of-the-century show, so I wrote a song about Harold Zidler told from the perspective of Satine, which was actually a disguise for my own personal experiences.
Basically all of the songs for Misfit Cabaret are masks that I wear to sing about my life. “Bully” is told from the perspective of Carrie White and I’m singing about being bullied in high school, which I very much was. “Divine Decadence” is sung from the perspective of Sally Bowles, but it’s really just me singing about my own insecurities and ever-consuming fear of rejection. When I was writing songs for Whimsea, our nautical themed show, David Bowie passed away. I had a deadline to write a nautical song, but I really wanted to write about Bowie, so I just made it take place on a beach, looking up at the stars.
If I hadn’t had those parameters, that song would never have taken place on the beach and wouldn’t sound remotely like it does. The opening melody came from me sitting at my keyboard and imagining what floating on a calm ocean would sound like if it were played on a piano.
SFSonic: Is ‘She Looked Like She Owed Death Money’ the first single and video off of Misfit Cabaret? What made this song the one that you chose as the single…is it your favorite? Do you have a favorite on the album?
Robichaud: It’s definitely one of my favorites, but I picked it as the first video because I had the video footage. (“Bully” is actually the first single and if you pre-order the album on iTunes or Amazon, you get an automatic download of the song.)
I had the pleasure of working with Fou Fou Ha at The Edwardian Ball and they choreographed this insane dance number for “Death Money.” I saw the opportunity for a very cheap and fun video, and got two videographers to shoot our performance. Plus, when a fantastic clown dance troupe goes to the trouble to choreograph a dance to your song, you better film it.
Getting into the head of Kat Robichaud
SFSonic: What are your musical guilty pleasures……past and present?
Robichaud: ABBA??? For some reason, people don’t like them. You cannot shit on those harmonies and catchy tunes. Presently I’m into Kero Kero Bonito because their songs are so freaking catchy and optimistic, yet at the same time vapid and poppy enough so that you can just bounce around in an animal onesie on a Tuesday night without worrying about your own existence. At least that’s my reasoning for all the bros that showed up in onesies at DNA on a Tuesday night to see Kero Kero Bonito.
SFSonic: Where do you see yourself and your music in 5 years? Is there a roadmap you are on, or does inspiration spontaneously evolve what you look to do?
Robichaud: I would love to build Misfit Cabaret up so that we can comfortably tour the US and possibly internationally with the show. The album will hopefully spread the word. I would like to be able to make a comfortable living off of it, which we’re not currently. And I want to be able to continue to employ local artists and help keep art in the city. I’m very proud to be a part of a show that makes both the audience and artists happy. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Eating comes later.
SFSonic: Lightning round – ‘Fuck Yeah,’ ‘no way,’ ‘What the Fuck?!!’, ‘Who Dat?’ or ‘Next.’ I’ll give you a topic and you answer with what immediately comes to mind. Ready….go!
- Family– um, yeah. love my family. what was the question?
- Artificially muddied jeans– that’s going to be a nope for me.
- Mayor Ed Lee– honestly don’t know enough about that to comment, but I really wish the city hadn’t spent money on the stupid Superb Owl and instead spent money on helping the homeless. Some more public bathrooms maybe? Maybe don’t hose down tents? I wish there were more programs like Lava Mae. There’s so much money in this city. Why can’t we put some of it or a lot more of it towards the homeless?
- Stephen Curry– Umm, sports?
- Jobriath– I just looked him up and now I’m excited and I have some reading to do. Looks like he died literally a month before I was born.
- Marriage– I am, so yay!, but to each their own.
- Twitter- I never really got it, but it’s good. I had about 30k followers from The Voice and the number has slowly trickled down as people who liked me on The Voice have moved on to the next reality competition star after they realized how weird and non-mainstream-y I am. My main focus is on Facebook and Instagram. I also have an elist that I share a lot more personal stuff on- here http://www.katrobichaud.com/elist/
- Bette Midler– yes queen
- Keeping the DNA Lounge open– yes please. I’ve performed there lots and I’m getting ready to open for Amanda Palmer at DNA on May 23rd. DNA is how I met most of my friends in SF. It’s an institution. Keep all of the venues open, dammit.
- Making out with the lights on– Guillaume (husband) has a weird thing about overhead lights and prefers to hang out in semi-dark lamplight, which according to my dad is going to make us go blind, but I have my ticks, too, so…
- Alternative facts– fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy how is this a reality?
- Disney– hooray. I was a kid once. I really don’t get why Frozen was such a big success, but it makes a lot of people happy, and that’s all that matters. The Little Mermaid was the first film I saw in the theaters. I know all the lyrics to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.
- Justin Bieber– My opinion might be different if I were 20 years younger, but I doubt it. You don’t get that far for no reason. It’s definitely not my thing. I think it would also be incredibly difficult to grow up and go through puberty when the entire world is watching you, where every thing you do is picked apart. It would drive me crazy. I value my privacy. I get a kick from people not recognizing me out of my wigs.
OK, lightning round over, so now an assignment for you….no, not for Kat, for you reading this. Do yourself a favor and go see Kat Robichaud at DNA Lounge on May 23 with Amanda Fucking Palmer…..and check out Misfit Cabaret, you’ll be glad you did.
Buy tickets for Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret at The Great Star Theater on June 2 and June 3, 2017 here.
To purchase the album Misfit Cabaret:
All photos by Jeff Spirer.