On The Line with Vic Victor of Koffin Kats

You know that band that you immediately fell in love with upon the first time you ever heard them and immediately needed to hear more? That’s what Koffin Kats was for me when they were playing over the speakers at Hot Topic. As the frontman and the one who handles the upright bass, Vic Victor is largely responsible for the addictive, signature sound that the punk/psychobilly trio delivers night in and night out. Before I finally see them live for the first time this summer, I spoke with Vic about a variety of hot topics. (See what I did there?)

Alex Obert: How was the band name, Koffin Kats, decided on?

Vic Victor: Well a good friend of mine and my main tattoo artist, his name is Sam Wolf, him and I were hanging out one day back in about 2002. We were watching horror movies and barbecuing up some burgers and stuff. We came up with a game of make up a psychobilly band name. I came up with something cliché and he came up with Koffin Kats. I thought it sounded pretty catchy. About two months later, I was in a pinch and I needed a name for a band, so I got his permission and I started using Koffin Kats. Though I’m the founding member, I have to give all the credit to the name to my good friend, Sam.

Alex Obert: When he originally came up with it, did he use Ks instead of Cs?

Vic Victor: Because he’s a tattoo artist, he already had a logo drawn up and everything with the Ks because that’s how he pictured it. Out of respect, I went with that. And that’s how the Ks ended up being used.

Alex Obert: What were other names that were pitched that could have been your band name?

Vic Victor: At the time, the band I had was called V8 Nightmare, which became a Koffin Kats song. But since I had a falling out, I think it was better not to use that name. So that was really the only other one proposed. But to save drama in the small rock n’ roll Detroit scene at the time, I just decided to shoot out a whole new name and start over. And that was what Koffin Kats was. I think that worked out okay. (laughs)

Alex Obert: You’ve said that Bad Religion was an early influence for you. How did you discover them?

Vic Victor: Growing up, I always listened to whatever my parents had on in the car. And one day, a music station had just changed formats. This was 1993 or 94. That’s when the alternative music tagline started happening and all the alternative music station started popping up. There was this station called The Planet 96.3 and they actually played NOFX, No Use for a Name and Bad Religion. I heard Infected by Bad Religion and that was the first time I’d heard anything like that with harmonies and a punk rock feel. It hit me so hard. And then that Christmas, I actually got my first CD player. One of my first CDs was Bad Religion’s Stranger than Fiction. To this day, I’ve listened to the album more than any other album on this planet. It was monumental for me and I always wanted to aspire to have a band that had such a full vocal sound and just good, rich melodies like that.

Alex Obert: Who would you say are your vocal influences?

Vic Victor: I’d have to say my biggest vocal influence is Dave Vanian of The Damned. I never set out to be a vocalist, I just wanted to be an upright bass player or a guitar player in a band and I’d do backup vocals. It got down to the point where if you want to do something, you might as well do it yourself, especially if you want it done right in your eyes. It turned out that with my vocal range, I could practice along with Damned albums. That was the first group of albums that I could practice along with and actually hit. I was able to figure out my own voice. So with vocal influences, that’s where it all started.

Alex Obert: What’s your go-to song for karaoke?

Vic Victor: Well if I’m drunk enough, it’s You Spin Me Right Round. (laughs)

Alex Obert: Since the band tours so often, where are your go-to places to eat on the road?

Vic Victor: We’ve just recently gotten really hooked on Chipotle. We get those burrito bowls. Oh man, those are really good! (laughs) It’s a tossup between going to Chipotle and if it’s been a good week and we can afford it, we’ll go and we’ll get some sushi. But if we’re in Waffle House territory, we’ll go there after a show.

Alex Obert: What about local spots where you can only go when you’re touring in that particular area?

Vic Victor: When we get in town, we’re usually getting there right in time to load in and do sound check. We don’t get too much of an opportunity to go to this diner that someone recommended or this restaurant. We don’t have time for that. So usually after the show, if there’s some fans hanging around, we’ll hit people up to say, “Hey, what greasy spoon diners are the best to go to at this hour?” There’s usually one that’s open for everyone getting out of the bar. But we really like to single out barbecue joints, especially if we’re somewhere like Kansas City or South Carolina or Georgia. We’ll usually find out from a local friend what the best barbecue joint is to go to and we’ll try to make time to go there. I’d have to say out of barbecue, I think Kansas City barbecue is my favorite right now. They’re different in every region.

Alex Obert: How do you guys determine where you stay? Any favorite hotel chains?

Vic Victor: Our favorite place to stay is wherever is free. We very seldom get motels because if you’re trying to factor that into your contract, it’s just coming out of your pay. We would rather just take the pay. Most times, we find ourselves either parked at a Flying J Truck Stop or we’ll hit up a Wal Mart parking lot. Wal Mart allows you to camp there up to at least three weeks before they harass you or something like that. They’re different in every state. It’s usually twenty four hours and they don’t mess with you in the parking lot. So that’s what we do. We also have Planet Fitness memberships and you can usually find a location in most US cities. Most of the time on tour, our routine is to play the show and if it’s not like an eight hour drive, we’ll usually just go find a Wal Mart near the club, camp out there, then get up and make the drive and go shower at a Planet Fitness, then we head to the club.

Alex Obert: What are some of your favorite clubs that shut down?

Vic Victor: I’ll definitely say one of the standout ones that we always miss when we’re in the region is the Showcase Theater in Corona, California. It was great hub, all-ages venue. Some of our very first shows out West were awesome there. And on that same region, the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. That’s where we really started to establish ourselves in the LA area. Great, great shows there.

Alex Obert: If a fan wants to buy you a drink after the show, what is a no-fail every time?

Vic Victor: We’re always accepting of drinks. We really appreciate that. My go-to is usually a gin and tonic.

Alex Obert: What was it like for you when first started drinking? Were you responsible? Did you hold your liquor well?

Vic Victor: Not at all. (laughs) I look back and it wasn’t really in the beginning, it was more in the middle when I didn’t have so much responsibility. With the early Koffin Kat tours, probably the first three years of the band, I was probably the most responsible one because I always did the driving. Hell, I remember being one had to unload all the equipment and everything at numerous local shows. Slowly as the lineup changed and we brought friends out with us that could drive, I started to relax some of my responsibility and indulged more in different things. (laughs) It made me not able to drive after the show and sometimes not drive during the next day.

Alex Obert: Aside from the parts at the club, how were the scenes for the Giving Blood music video pitched and set up?

Vic Victor: We did that whole video basically in somebody’s living room on a green screen. That was when we had Ian in the band. He lived in Albuquerque and had some friends there. We were playing in Albuquerque at a club called Low Spirits and we got footage there. The guy that took all the footage, he’s awesome with editing and doing effects and all that stuff. He was like, “Let’s shoot some other footage, we’ll set up at the house.” When it comes to music videos, we barely ever know what to do. That’s why we’ve only done two of them so far. (laughs) We went to the store and just grabbed random things that we could find and just come up with whatever was off the top of our heads. And we relayed it back to Mario, the fellow that shot the video. Somehow, it all came together to be a wacky little video. (laughs)

Alex Obert: The way I discovered the band is that I was in Hot Topic and this music was playing, I never heard anything like it before. I immediately Song ID’d it and it was the Our Way & the Highway album. I loved it so much that I purchased it shortly thereafter. Since that particular album has a lot of significance to me, where do you rank it in your body of work?

Vic Victor: I’d definitely put that one right up with the first one. I like the first one because it set the pace in regards to the influence for writing the rest of the material to come. I liked Our Way because it was our first time that we got a sound that we really wanted. It’s the sound that we always strived for in previous recordings, but were never able to attain, whether it be from the budget or the lack of talent behind the controls. But it was the first time that we ever obtained the sound that we wanted. And now Our Way is the record that set the tone for what we want records to sound like, as far as quality.

Alex Obert: Of the tracks on the album, which ones are currently staples to play live?

Vic Victor: We always do The Way of the Road, that’s a staple track. When it comes to playing live, we do a lot of the early material. When it comes to the new stuff, we filter it in here and there. We just recently brought Severing Ties into the setlist.

Alex Obert: How is the setlist determined for each tour? How is it mutually agreed upon?

Vic Victor: We do social media tallies. On Facebook and Instagram, we’ll say that we’re writing the new setlist for the upcoming six months of touring. We’ll tell people to pick the top five songs and we’ll let that run for a week, then we’ll go through all the posts and collect all of that data. Then we tally it all up and that’s how it usually pick the setlist, from the top twenty five songs that are suggested. We really try to stay connected as possible and keep our finger on the pulse of the people that are paying money to see us and what they want.

Alex Obert: So I understand you have a merchandising company. Can you go into detail on that?

Vic Victor: Certainly. For the last couple years, it’s been a dream of mine and Eric, he’s the drummer. We’re the longest remaining members of Koffin Kats, therefore we view Koffin Kats as our baby. But it’s something where Koffin Kats can only pay the bills so much. And we can only be on the road so much. It gets to a point where you’re spending more money to be out on tour than you’re actually making. We needed to come up with a plan where we could be at home and still be able to pay the bills. We were thinking what we could do to utilize all the contacts that we made over the years, something that can also help out our friends that are in bands. So we just thought to start making t-shirts and patches and stuff like that. That’s really what we do. We started a company called Industrious Dudes Merchandising. We screenprint and we do embroidery. A lot of it is because we really wanted to get a hold on our own merchandising and start printing it ourselves. That’s the main bulk of business, printing Koffin Kats merchandise. We just did a really big shirt run for this band out of Southern California called Wreckin’ Katz. Before we opened the doors of the place, we were telling people about it. “Hey, if you need shirts or whatever, we’ve got a shirt press. We’re gonna be manufacturing soon.”It’s worked out really well. And it’s been nice because we were worried about having so much time off this year and being able to make the ends meet. Fortunately we’ve gotten enough orders and been able to make enough money off of printing Koffin Kats shirts and putting them up online, we’ve been able to make the ends meet. We don’t see royalty checks for anything and we never really made any substantial amount of money off of the music that we’ve made. For us, or income comes through merchandising.

Alex Obert: I noticed on the band’s Facebook that you guys are featured online recently because of the pileup on the Missouri Freeway.

Vic Victor: That was a weird thing. The only involvement in it was that we sat in a traffic jam for about four hours, parked on the 44. And then once we got moving, we started seeing all these tipped over semis. Our guitar player, John, was sitting behind us and he just started filming it. As we were driving by, Eric was counting all the semis. John had posted the video he shot to Twitter. At the same time, we were running late for show in St. Louis. So with the power of social media, we were able to stay in touch with people and let them know that we were stuck at the moment, but that we would be there. That’s one really great thing about being able to be so in touch with people, we have the power to let them know that the show isn’t canceled and that we’re coming. So while doing that, the video went out Twitter and then we were contacted by a company that goes and finds happening news stories or viral videos or whatever. And they were contacting us for the Weather Channel. Then the Weather Channel used the video and then NBC News used the video from the Weather Channel. It had our little Twitter handle up there in the corner. After that aired, my phone started blowing up from people writing me and texting me about how they just saw us on the news. What amazed me more than the fact that we were on the news was how many people actually watched the news. (laughs)

Alex Obert: In closing, you have some dates coming up, including with Reverend Horton Heat. After that run, what’s next for you?

Vic Victor: We’re going to be heading over to Europe and will be doing a tour of Finland for two and a half weeks. Then we’ll hit some spots through Central Europe. We’ll be over there for a solid month. Then we’ll just be jumping around the Midwest for the summertime. Our next really big show after the European tour is Ink-N-Iron Fest in Nashville, it’s the weekend of August 6th, 7th and 8th.

Alex Obert: Sounds like it’s going to be an eventful year and a fun one! I’d love to thank you so much for your time and a great interview.

Vic Victor: Hey man, I really appreciate it!

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Photo Credit: Marc Nader for MG Nader Photography

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