Taking the world into her own hands

The Baltimore Sun

Whether on stage or in the studio, Kristeen Young holds back nothing in her music.

But please understand: She isn't an untrained vessel through which music rushes like a wild river. In all the dissonance, brutally revealing lyrics and surreal vocals, Young has her finger on the trigger in full control.

Young, who opens for Morrissey at Rams Head Live on Tuesday, was hand-picked in April by the theatrical rock star as the supporting act for his worldwide tour. The St. Louis native - a singer-pianist who plays with drummer Jeff "Baby" White; the duo goes by KRISTEENYOUNG - replaced the Boyfriends, Morrissey's first opening act, during the European leg of the tour.

The exposure has certainly helped boost the profile of Young, an unsigned artist whose latest effort, The Orphans, is among the more creative and spirited indie-rock albums you probably won't hear.

"There are some nights when Morrissey's fans are whipped up in a frenzy over him, and that's different to deal with," says Young, 32, who last week was at home in New York City. "This has been the most people we've played in front of. I think it has made us stronger and ready for anything."

Perhaps all the buzz will ultimately lead to a contract and wider distribution of Young's music. The Orphans, available via digital music services such as iTunes, is the performer's third album and was produced by Tony Visconti, best known for his work with T.Rex, David Bowie and Morrissey.

Without the big-money resources of a major label, Young still has been able to produce her exciting music, releasing her 1997 debut Meet Miss Young and Her All Boy Band and 2004's Breasticles independently. On the latter album, which received glowing reviews from publications such as Rolling Stone, Young was even able to pull Bowie into the studio for a duet.

"A lot of people who were coming to my shows loved Bowie," Young says. "He's the reason I wanted to work with [Visconti] in the first place."

Since the last album, Young has refined her style more, tempering some of the noisier elements heard on her previous efforts. Recorded live, The Orphans is a visceral record from start to finish as White pummels the drums and Young matches him with rhythmic banging on the piano. Using effect pedals on the instrument, she achieves the sound of an electric guitar. Young says she wants to play the piano the hard percussive way it was used in the early days of rock 'n' roll.

"The piano used to be such a fiery instrument in the '50s the way Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard played," the artist says. "Somewhere, it became all pretty and about these pretty, tinkling arpeggios. I wanted to get back to the fiery sound."

But Young is not necessarily reviving the way those rock legends banged the keys. She pushes the sound in more dissonant territory. With the new album's first track, the urgently grooving "Kill the Father," Young addresses her artistic need to free herself of the towering accomplishments of her musical heroes and establish a sound that best represents her.

"A lot of people think it's a mean and hateful song," Young says. "I don't hate the past. I just want to say find your own way."

That's something she started doing long ago. Young, an attractive woman of Apache and German descent, was adopted at an early age by a couple who embraced Christian fundamentalism. Young's childhood was full of don'ts. She wasn't even allowed to join the neighborhood Brownie troop. Her mother thought it was too worldly. For Young, music was a refuge. Her singing talent and skills on the piano eventually led to a scholarship at Webster University in St. Louis, where she studied piano and opera.

After graduation, Young performed in art-rock bands but made ends meet as a waitress. It was while working at a faux-French cafe in Columbia, Mo., that she met drummer White, a dishwasher at the restaurant. Soon after the two hooked up and recorded the 1997 debut, they left for New York City, where the indie album had generated the most buzz.

But after a decade of performing and making albums on her own terms, Young says she isn't fazed by not having a label contract. With the industry's current turbulent climate, it may be a good idea that she keep doing it on her own. "I've come to peace with not finding a label home," the artist says. "Now with The Orphans, I've come to a place that a deal might not happen. It's fine. It's liberating."


See KRISTEENYOUNG open for Morrissey at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place, on Tuesday. The show is sold out.

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