By Thomas Conner
© TULSA WORLD
After their first or second album, U2 skipped across America
and performed a show in Oklahoma City. Halfway through the show,
Bono asked if anyone in the crowd would come up and sing a Neil
Young song while he took a breather.
A young Tyson Meade volunteered, jumped on stage and began
crooning for the crowd as U2 backed him half-heartedly. Meade,
however, didn't really know the words, and he sounded less than
honey-throated. His first taste of fame was cut short when Bono
planted his boot in Meade's backside and abruptly returned him to
the madding crowd.
But Meade has a knack of re-emerging from the crowd. A few
years later he was back onstage with his own band, Defenestration,
and when that minor local legend dissolved, he re-emerged in 1990
at the microphone with the Chainsaw Kittens. With the Kittens, he's
been beaten up and sneered at, but no one is kicking him off the
stage, and when the band's fourth album is released this fall, he's
likely to be kicking off the stage his own gaggle of groupies.
The whole reason Meade formed the Chainsaw Kittens was to
stand out, he said — not in the manner of whoring with the media,
more like rebelling against the troubling trend of being normal.
“I was sick of the Reviers and Guadalcanal Diary ... tired
of the T-shirt and jeans thing,'' Meade said in a recent interview.
“It seemed to me that rock should have some sort of face, not be
faceless and nameless. Hootie (and the Blowfish) is so homogenized
I just want to puke. We wanted to do something really raucous and a
Meade's conception of raucousness and danger was dead-on: A
cuddly longhair in Norman, Okla., he began wearing dresses and
makeup. This raised the ire of many of our less open-minded
brethren and resulted in a few skirmishes.
“I used to do all kinds of stuff to get a reaction from
people,'' Meade told us two years ago before a Tulsa gig. “I don't
do so much anymore. Now we're focusing on playing our music. That's
what we really want to try and do now.''
Those old Kittens shows at Norman's Hollywood Theater five or
six years ago were the real stuff of youth. Crowds packed that
dank, stained movie house and watched four hometown guys rip out
hard pop sounds that were almost as exciting as the sound was bad.
They jumped around, putting on an incredibly exciting live show,
and everyone left absolutely convinced that Norman would, in no
time, be the next Athens or the next Seattle.
Norman (sigh) has not become the next anything, but the same
cannot yet be said of the Kittens. They have, indeed, hung most of
the dresses back in the closet and lately focused solely on the
The upcoming Kittens record is one more step in the
transformation of the Kittens. OK, not a transformation — more a
refinement. The band members have spent the last several years
working on solo projects and honing a slightly more stripped-down,
focused sound for the band. In the last couple of years, Kittens
guitarist Trent Bell has concentrated on his own projects and
productions in his Norman studio, Bell Labs, while Meade has
crafted his own solo records. “Motorcycle Childhood,'' his solo
debut, was released in January on Seattle's Echostatic label, which
also will release Meade's ambient record in January 1997.
“I don't know that I was trying to prove anything to anyone
but myself with the solo stuff,'' Meade said. “I really wanted to
know that I could fly on my own and do it and put it out and take
the heat by myself.''
“Motorcycle Childhood'' was an easy-going labor of love for
Meade. The disc is extraordinarily simple, sweet and beautiful,
uncomplicated songs written from various vignettes in Meade's
pleasant existence and recorded in several living rooms. Meade said
he took his time and let the creativity grow naturally.
“I felt really good when I was doing it,'' he said.
“Something like (the song) `Off With You,' was as simple as
hearing a friend of mine playing this piano piece and thinking, `I
could put words to that.' She said that would be cool, her
boyfriend taped it, and it was completely spontaneous. Isn't that
After the majesty of that song, Meade made another
serendipitous song, the brief pivot point on the record, “Reverse
Nelson-Inside Crotch.'' He was at Bell's studio one day and heard a
riff that Bell had taped and set aside, thinking it awful. Meade
began clapping along and thought it held promise. He added some
“Valium guitar and crazy organ'' and — voila! One more track.
It's a much more accurate picture of Meade and his family
life, much of which hearkens back to these parts. The album's cover
photo shows a young, barefoot Tyson and his mother both on
motorcycles in the family's Osage County apple orchard.
“In summer, I picked apples for people and charged $5 a
bushel. That was enough to buy a New York Dolls record,'' Meade
Meade acknowledges the curse Oklahoma residency can be on a
rock 'n' roll band, but he's not ashamed of his homeland. The new
Kittens record will be called “Speedway Oklahoma.''
“We never worry about that kind of thing,'' he said. “We've
never sold a lot of records, so maybe if we mention something
really taboo, like where we're from, that'll be controversial
enough to get people to buy it ... It definitely has a rural kind
of weirdness to it — a go out and drink by a bonfire kind of
thing. You can put it into a Trans Am and crank it up.''
The band easily could have moved to Los Angeles or New York
when they signed their first major-label contract with Mammoth
Records in 1990, but they chose to stay in Norman. Meade said it
keeps them grounded and free of the sometimes corrupting influence
of too much going on.
Being in Oklahoma also makes them hard to find, though some
rather big names have made the effort. When the Kittens' first
record, “Violent Religion,'' had been out a few months, Meade got
a call one day from a fellow aspiring rocker, Billy Corgan, who was
starting a little band called the Smashing Pumpkins. Corgan was
calling to gush over the Kittens' record and to voice his hope that
his band would be able to make a record half as cool.
Corgan now floats across MTV and cashes royalty checks from
his platinum-selling albums. Meade, meanwhile, still kills time
working at Shadowplay Records in Norman and grows peppers in his
garden. Both are happy, but local fans tend to wonder why the
deserving Chainsaw Kittens haven't become huge stars.
“Some people strive, like Billy Corgan wants to be a really
huge rock star. That's cool, but me — I want to strive to make
albums I'm going to be proud of when I'm 60. I've reached that
point, and I'm happy I did,'' Meade said. “Being famous seemed
really cool at one point. I'm doing lots of things I love to do,
Corgan himself wonders at the Kittens' lack of peer status.
Early this year, he told Out magazine that the Kittens were “a
quintessential pop-rock band'' and said, “There are certainly
songs that they wrote that could have been pop-rock hits. It's kind
of a mystery why they haven't.''
They've certainly got the names to drop. The Kittens are
friends with the Smashing Pumpkins, which led to the Kittens
signing to Scratchie Records (a Chicago label started by two
members of the Pumpkins), and they're also tight with the Counting
Crows. Butch Vig, of all people, produced the second Chainsaw
Kittens album, “Flipped Out in Singapore.''
The new record — at the risk of raising those hopes again --
may be a significant step up for the band. After leaving Mammoth
because the label didn't publicize the third record satisfactorily,
the Kittens landed on Scratchie, which recently was acquired by
Mercury Records. “Speedway Oklahoma'' was due for release in the
spring, but the new marketers at Mercury delayed it to Oct. 15 to
give them time to prepare a proper buzz.
The disc steps back from the metallic edge that got more
serrated as the Kittens progressed. Meade said every song uses
strings, and the arrangements loosened up as the songwriting got
“It's still really rockish, but it fills out a little more.
We didn't depend on the guitar standard to carry it as much,''
Meade said. “People who follow us will think its back to where we
were at 'Violent Religion' but more mature or something ... It's
kind of like my record, but definitely more rock 'n' roll. It just
doesn't sound like we're playing in a stadium.''
Also, watch for the Kittens' contribution to an upcoming
tribute album to Cheap Trick. They cover “Dream Police.''
Tyson Meade discography:
With Defenestration --
“Defenestration'' EP (Slow Iguana, 1986)
“Dali Does Windows'' (Relativity, 1987)
With the Chainsaw Kittens --
“Violent Religion'' (Mammoth, 1990)
“Flipped Out in Singapore'' (Mammoth, 1992)
“Angel on the Range'' EP (Mammoth, 1993)
“Pop Heiress'' (Mammoth-Atlantic, 1994)
“Candy for You'' EP (Scratchie, 1996)
“Speedway Oklahoma'' (Scratchie, due out Oct. 15)
“Motorcycle Childhood'' (Echostatic, 1996) If this isn't
around town, call Echostatic to order at (206) 322-7366.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.