Meet Kate Crowder by Stacey Greenberg

At 9:00pm on a Friday, I was busy trying to get my monkeys (Satchel, age 4 and Jiro, age 2) in bed so I could sneak out and interview Kate Crowder, the lead singer of my new favorite band, Two Way Radio (formerly known as Walkie Talkie and briefly as Side Walk Talk). At 9:25pm, I said goodbye to my husband and drove down the street to a local bar where Kate said she'd be hanging out until their 11:00pm show time. As I nervously walked into the nearly empty bar, I saw Kate and her husband/bandmate, Corey, slip out the back door. I picked up my pace and headed towards the door hoping she hadn't forgotten our interview.
 
"Kate!" I hollered out the back, trying not to sound too desperate.
 
"Oh hey Stacey," Kate said as she came walking over. "I was just checking on this sign we spray painted a few minutes ago."
 
I looked over her shoulder and saw a large piece of black fabric with a yellow walkie talkie (I assumed, even though it looked more like a cellphone) in the center.
 
"Instead of changing our name again, we're just going to be known by this symbol," she joked. "You know, kind of like Prince." "Cool, " I said laughing along. "Let's go inside and get a beer," she said. "Great idea," I said. We sat down, put in our order for two Miller Lites, and made small talk while I fiddled with the tape recorder my (real journalist) friend loaned me. "I feel so naked without my computer," I said. "I think you are the first person I've ever actually interviewed face to face."
 
"I'm sorry," she said. "Every time I sat down and tried to email you, Oliver would get in my lap and mess with the keys. I could never get enough time to answer all your questions the way I wanted to."
 
"Oh don't apologize," I said. "This is way better because now I get to hear y'all play." I got the tape recorder going and signaled that we were ready to start. "So," I said in my official reporter's voice, "Tell me how you got started singing."
 
Kate: I've been singing with my dad (and my little sisters) for as long as I can remember. When I was twelve people decided that I needed voice lessons like I was going to evolve into this really talented opera singer -- but that never happened. I'm lucky for the training though, because the classical foundation ended up paying for my college by way of choral and musical theater scholarships. As far as musical theater, I ended up playing the same roles over and over--like Lisel in the Sound of Music--and I just didn't feel like I was really great at it. I also didn't like going to auditions and being told that I was fat even when I weighed 135lbs. I like singing songs a lot more than I like the lifestyle and hanging out with the actors.
 
Stacey: How did you and Corey meet?
 
Kate: He told me not to go into a lot of detail. It's really awkward. Okay when I moved back to Memphis (after going to school in Oxford) I had a boyfriend for a really long time and Corey dated his sister. We both went on a lot of family vacations with them where they would be really inconsiderate and leave us out of what was going on. So we would be left talking and it was awkward for both of us. We all broke up around the same time. Then I ran into him a year later with Andrew (McColgin who plays guitar in the band) and the three of us started hanging out, but there was nothing romantic going on between any of us. I lived in Midtown by myself and I got robbed--like everything I owned. My dad wanted me to move to Collierville, he and Corey made some arcane deal and I ended up moving in with Corey and Andrew. Eventually I told Andrew that I had a crush on Corey and he said, "I think he might have a crush on you too." So we started dating seriously within a week and eight months later we were married--and still living with Andrew! A cell phone rings and Kate has a quick conversation about finding a laptop for their performance. "Are you like the mama of the band?" I ask. "Pretty much," she says. "I have my own kids and this group of 25-35 year-olds."
 
Stacey: So you started the band while you were all living together?
 
Kate: Corey and Andrew already had a "band," but the band had no name and no songs. The songs consisted of two notes that went on for ten to twenty minutes. Even though I'm not this great musician, I was like, we need to establish some structure here. You know, like a song should be verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge...and under three minutes and fifty seconds. Me joining the band definitely made it more of a band and less of a jamming session. Then we strategically tried to get Joey (Pegram, the band's drummer) to come over and play with us by offering him free food. It was like, Andrew, make some hot wings and call Joey! We didn't know if he'd want to play with us since none of us had been in a band before and he had been in several. The bass player from the Grifters would come over too and we'd all get nervous. My hands would shake when I played piano.
 
Stacey: I read in the Memphis Flyer that you got a book and taught yourself to play piano. Is that right?
 
Kate: I realized I was spending too much time thinking about what other musicians should be doing with their bands or songwriting so I went to the library and checked out a bunch of musical theater scores (for the piano) since I was familiar with how they were supposed to sound, and practiced the heck out of them for a few months. Corey talked me into using some of the songs I had written.
 
Stacey: So do you do most of the song writing?
 
Kate: On our first album, Residential Llama, I did about 80% and Andrew did about 20%. Corey and Joey each have one song. A lot of times Corey will say, "Your lyrics are awful," and change them. He's definitely the poet of the two of us. I'm a little too narrative and literal. Most of the songs are about things I go through at work or other things that really happened. On our next album, the song writing will be much more evenly distributed between all five of us.
 
Stacey: So you're pretty young--25--when did you get married and start your family?
 
Kate: Between being 21 and 22 I got married, graduated from college, had a baby that summer, got my first job, and bought a house. So I was 18 one minute and then I was 35. I was like, "Wait a minute, how did all that happen?" It happened really fast.
 
Stacey: So were y'all planning on having kids right away or...
 
Kate: Corey was! We were at El Porton one night--we had been dating for like three weeks--and it was really informal and he just looked at me and said, "Let's have a baby right now." I was like, "Wait a minute, we're not even married yet. Give me two years." Then eight months later I was pregnant. It wasn't planned, but it was good!
 
Stacey: Did Corey always envision himself as a stay-at-home-dad?
 
Kate: Yeah. His dad was home a lot--he was a painter too. He sort of shies away from any kind of 9 to 5 job. Which is good, because I really wanted to work. Corey is an architect, a painter, and a sculptor all rolled up into one. He's a really great artist.
 
Stacey: So how do the two of you balance two kids (Oliver 2, and Polly, eight months), a band, your career, Corey's art...
 
Kate: It doesn't leave a lot of "me time." I generally wake up at 4:30am and go to work. I usually get home by 3:00pm, which is good. I give Corey an hour to relax when I get home. I know my job (as a World History teacher at a middle school) is stressful, but I know it's stressful for him too. We switch roles in the summer so I have a really good feel for what it is like to be home with the kids all day. Corey paints at night, or sometimes he works at Huey's. I never do work at home. I try to spend all my time with the kids. I have a system at work like you wouldn't believe to get my papers graded. I'm a great teacher. I teach World History but we have fun. I incorporate music and dancing and art and different activities.
 
Stacey: So is being in Two Way Radio the only thing you and Corey get to do together?
 
Kate: Um...yes. Corey and I really enjoy playing music together. When we play a show we get a babysitter. We practice once a week--during the day, for babysitting purposes--on Sunday for about 4 hours. The band members' wives and girlfriends are like an extension of our family. They really help out with the kids. We try and only do gigs once every two weeks--everyone in the band is pretty busy. When the children go to bed, Corey and I practice together. Even when the kids are there, we play music together and write songs. The kids each have a piano and they play along. Oliver loves the drums, and the keyboards, and even the guitar. Polly is the one who likes the piano. She crawls over to it, pull herself up and plays for like ten minutes at a time.
 
Stacey: Other than playing at Shangri-La and at the Rock-n-Romp, have the kids gotten to see you play?
 
Kate: I try to book as many daytime shows as possible.
 
Stacey: I wish there was a Rock-n-Romp every week.
 
Kate: I do too! Stacey: How does being a parent help you with the band? Does it ever get in the way?
 
Kate: The biggest way that parenting helps the band definitely manifests itself in the song writing. As trite as it sounds, that there is nothing more inspirational or gut rippingly emotional than learning how to be a parent. I've got a lot of emotions to write about now. Another way that being a mom helps... it puts things into perspective. I don't walk around thinking that I have to do all these things before "I settle down and have kids." Now, I really feel like I have all the time in the world to make and enjoy music. It put a stop to that feeling of deadline for all things artistic and youthful. I'm glad to feel responsible and needed, while maintaining a slightly subdued wild side. It also helps me to prioritize time. Being so busy (parenting, working, marriaging, socializing) makes me really appreciate and want to create time in which I can play or write music. Of course, though, it definitely gets in the way of scheduling and running the business aspect of the band. That part I definitely hate. People in bands know it's hard to get four or five people together to tour, to play shows, or to even practice--because everybody has jobs and girlfriends. BUT throw the coordination of two babysitters, wives/in-laws, and the situation only worsens. Corey and I have been so lucky to have family that really want us to play music, and are so helpful with the kids while we are doing it. It would also make touring really, really difficult. I would have a hard time being away from my kids for more than a couple of days. AND, babies really weren't made for a pauper's road trip. So the verdict is still kind of out on touring.
 
Stacey: Where do you see yourself/the band in 5 years? Ten?
 
Kate: In five years, I hope that we will still be playing, and that I will still be writing songs. It's hard to have more ambitions than that because if you can't tour, you will eventually meet a brick wall here in Memphis. In ten years, I always have this rule of averages in my head about the band (i.e. "the average time it takes a band to..."). According to my perceptions, if we've been in the band for ten years, and nothing has come of it--then it might be time to move on--but other than that I really have no idea.
 
Stacey: What advice would you give other women who are mothers and musicians?
 
Kate: I would advise them to live close to their families. Oh, and it doesn't hurt to be married to the bass player.
 
Two Way Radio's latest CD is called Residential Llama. Stacey Greenberg is the creator of the zine, Fertile Ground. She lives in Memphis with her husband and two sons.