Oh, Thank Heaven…
You’ve probably already seen Kari Wuhrer.
She’s been in over a dozen movies, including Anaconda , Thinner , and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane . She was a self-proclaimed MTV vixen on Remote Control , back when game shows were sandwiched between music videos (and not vice versa). She has a recurring role on the series Sliders on the Sci-Fi Channel, and has also appeared on Married… With Children and Beverly Hills, 90210 .
It’s unlikely that you’ve heard her yet, though, but you probably will — and soon. Kari’s (her name is pronounced “starry stirrer”) first CD, Shiny , was released June 22 on Del-Fi Records. It’s a slickly-produced and well-named collection of bright and shiny pop songs, but with a hint of a dark side. Many of the songs were co-written with her ex-husband Dan Salin; their breakup came during the recording of this record. Also on the disc are several excellent studio musicians, including Michael Landau, regarded by some as one of the best session guitarists in the world.
Before you write her off as an actress with a hankering to sing, you’d better at least give the disk a listen — you might be surprised. The record brings to mind high-tech pop bands like Poe, talented vocalists like Edie Brickell, with traces of rawer energy. Kari’s voice is strong and lovely, and the songs range from catchy fluff to soul-baring introspection. “Better Off,” the last song on the disk, relates directly to her ex-husband and their ending relationship. “Normal” would be my choice for a single; if the quirky chorus gets its hooks in your brain, it won’t let go.
Kari spoke with Ink Nineteen in Atlanta, in the midst of a busy press tour for the record. She was funny and energetic, though more subdued here than on a stunningly erratic appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien a few nights later. You’ll be seeing even more of Kari — she’ll be appearing in commercials for 7-Eleven stores, and an upcoming issue of Playboy . For now, enjoy this interview or pick up the record through CDNow, Amazon.com, or a discerning music store near you…
I’ll apologize in advance for any questions you’ve already heard — it must be very annoying to have people ask you the same things over and over.
Kari Wuhrer : That’s alright. I lie anyway, and I never remember what I said the last time!
It’s kind of amazing everything that you’ve done — TV, movies, now music…
Well, when you’re really good at everything, it’s really hard to choose! No, the thing is, I’m not really good at any one thing, I’m like OK at a bunch of things, so I like to spread myself around and experiment.
But you’ve been successful at all those things, and a lot of people aren’t successful at anything.
Music was always the number one thing in my life. When I was an MTV girl, I was really excited because I thought, “Wow, this is a really great way for them to listen to my band,” but they didn’t want to have anything to do with my music.
After that, I came to LA — I followed Rick Rubin out. He had Def American records, and I had to do a part in Ford Fairlane , because Andrew Dice Clay was signed to Def American and I knew that’s how I would meet Rick Rubin. So, I schmoozed my way into that film. Joel Silver called me at home and he said, “well, you can’t really play the lead, but you can do this small part if you fly yourself out and put yourself up.” I said alright, so I flew out to LA and I stayed at the Chateau Marmont for a couple months — I lived there and did this movie, this really small little part. He made all the girls stuff their bras. It was a really amazing piece of art.
How was it living at the Chateau?
I love that hotel, I party there a lot — or I used to. It’s a cool place. No ghosts.
It seems that everybody has periods of indulgence, I guess it’s nice to have gone through it…
To be going through it and still be alive. Last summer, I hung out there again a lot, and it’s the same. It really is. It’s what everybody thinks it is and more.
A nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to die there.
Exactly. Actually, it’s kind of a nice place to die, too! You’ve gotta die somewhere, why not go out at the Chateau Marmont?
So anyway, I met Rick and I gave him my demo, which at the time was this Gothic Metal band — this was like ’88 or something, I think. We went down to his yellow Stingray Corvette, which was this banana peel with an amazing stereo, and he popped in this cassette, and he goes, “well, the music is really bad, but I suppose you can sing. Would you meet me in my office tomorrow at nine in the morning?” And I proceeded to sign the worst deal known to man.
I waited two years for him to start working with me. He got me a four-track and I’d be writing songs, and I’d give him the songs and he’d give me beats, and he wanted me to be this hip hop star. I was into Guns and Roses and Ronnie James Dio and stuff, and I was like, “I can’t do this, man — I have to maintain my integrity!”
So I left, but Ford Fairlane was a hit, and I just started getting work in these movies as I was putting together other bands. For a while, I had a funky band, the Gardeners — it was all black guys and me, and we called ourselves the Gardeners ’cause we were three spades and a ho’! We had this RCA thing going, and then that didn’t work, and then I had this publishing deal, and I went down to San Diego and recorded with this country dude named Robert Vaughn. Yee-hew! I had an accordion and violin and never quite knew where I belonged. I just started doing lots of films and supporting myself and cheesy TV, and just kept going like that.
So you’ve been doing the music stuff all along…
Yeah, I went out and got myself a couple of ADATs and a nice little 16-track setup for a little while, and then I had to sell that because I was broke. I used to play and punch myself in with my toes and use jars of jellybeans for percussion, and use lots of reverb, and never really had the talent or the discipline to do it all by myself. I’d always recruit cute guys to help me, and actually married one of the bastards, and then he left with all my equipment, so now I have nothing. But at least I know what I want to do and where I’m going, and I have this nice little record!
What was your first band like?
My first band was real punk, when I was 14. I’d wear the catholic school girl uniform and play CBGB and the Mudd Club and places like that in New York, with these guys that were a lot older. I guess they were like 20, 21, or whatever… I lived in Connecticut and they lived in New York, so they would just pump vodka into me and I would get up there and make up words and just scream and show my underwear.
Sometimes that’s enough. What other music have you been into along the way?
Well my ultimate idol is… Cat Stevens. Woo! If I could be a Cat Stevens groupie, I’d do anything except convert to Islam. Although I am thinking about it. I’d love to be able to say “blah blah blah should die!” That would be the coolest thing about it. I’ve got a list.
I love pop schmaltz, though. I love Weezer, but I guess that’s not really pop schmaltz. “If you want to destroy my sweater!” I like Pavement a lot. I love bands that have a sense of humor — Cake is one of our favorites. You gotta have a sense of humor nowadays, I think.
Cat Stevens is very personal for me, he gives me complete spiritual levity. I’ve loved him ever since I was 12 years old, for reasons other than his music. But now that I’ve got a mature ear, the guy can play guitar, he can write songs, he’s incredible!
Some of the songs on the record are yours, and a few from the people you were working with. Are you just starting to write, or is it something you’ve been doing forever?
I’ve been writing songs since I was eleven. I just got an e-mail from my music teacher from when I was in grade school, up until junior high. It said how she’s been following my career and how she got the record and how she really loved it. “Remember when you wrote that song “Spinning” and performed it for the school?” She has a tape of these songs that I did — I want to hear it. I can’t believe she still remembered the song. She was like the one person who was really supportive growing up, because my grandmother was a singer, my grandfather was a concert pianist, but my father didn’t have the best childhood, and was always very hard on me growing up. He never really gave me the opportunity to learn. I don’t know why, but he made me feel very insecure about myself, musically, and she was the one person who was very supportive.
You’ve been promoting the record through your web site by making it available to your fans since February, even though it isn’t being released for another month or so.
June 22. CDNow bought a bunch of copies, and Amazon.com, but we really haven’t promoted it a lot. It’s been kind of word-of-mouth, a way to build a little credibility. The last thing I want to do is throw it out there like Jennifer Love Hewitt or something. God bless her, I love her, but people have a tendency to consider me and other actors… – I mean, did you see the VH1 special on Rick Springfield? That guy was a musician for a long time, and just happened to get work as an actor, next thing you know he’s like “cheeseball,” but he’s actually really talented. That guy can write some songs, man. Come on, I bet you can think of three of them off the top of your head, right now.
Alright, I bet you can think of one of them off the top of your head!
Have you gotten a lot of feedback from the web site?
We’ve been getting some really good reviews, people are really surprised! Which is fine with me, but the best thing in the world is when someone goes, “Hey, Kari, I think you’re bitchin’ man, love you. Got your CD — not my kind of music, but I think it’s really good.” It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but if they can respect it for what it is, that’s good enough for me.
And then there’s a lot of feedback on how it’s really honest, and that’s important to me. That was the biggest struggle, I think. Both in production and content. Because it’s not the most lyrically profound record, but I don’t know how many people really think in metaphors anyway.
You were breaking up with your husband toward the end of making Shiny . Did that influence the music that ended up on the record?
I think indirectly. Most of the stuff was written before the process began, but I wrote “Normal” during the course of making the record, and “Better Off” was kind of revamped during the course of making the record, after he had left. It’s just that throughout the process, he wasn’t very supportive. There was a lot of really weird jealousy and tension — I don’t know what was going on. It was the beginning of the end, at any rate. And so the process was an emotional one, because it was sort of my breaking away point, and even though a few of the songs on the record are his, a few of the songs on the record were “ours” that are “his,” if you know what I mean. It was tough, giving to him and trying to help him when I should really have been helping me and doing for me, and it was a real awakening for me to realize that there are some things in life that its OK to do for yourself, and music is one of them.
So, with “Better Off” being the last song on the record, is it meant to be a statement?
It is. Everyone says, “why isn’t it more produced?” or “where are the dynamics?”, but I just wanted it to be a letter almost — personal and raw, sort of like a country song. Alright, so my dog got hit by a truck, and my lover left, and I lost the lease on my van, there goes my house, but…
You said the lyrics weren’t so profound — in my opinion there are a few songs that aren’t that deep, but there are some that are. Like, “Little Birds,” to me, seems to have a lot going on.
It’s interesting that you pick that song. I think women are amazing, and especially as artists, they’ve influenced me a lot. “Little Birds” is basically a song written about the Zelda Fitzgeralds of the early part of the century. Women like Zelda Fitzgerald were put in insane asylums because they had bad menstrual periods, and were forced into a state of insanity. Like T. S. Eliot’s wife, and women who actually had creative power and energy and personalities. If I lived back then, I would definitely be put into a loony bin.
So, “Little Birds” is sort of about the Zelda Fitzgeralds and the Anais Nins — she has a book of erotica called Little Birds . It’s about expressing yourself as a woman and being considered insane for it, basically. It’s just a little story, a fictitious woman who lives in her own world and her own state of being, which could be happiness, but construed by other people as coo coo.
Like being burned as a witch when you’re just manic depressive?
Which I’ve been through quite often — my whole life, actually. Right now, my energy level is so high, and I’m so erratic in my emotional outbursts that people have accused me of being on drugs, and I’m just tired of it. No, I’m not doing drugs, and no, I’m not insane.
So everyone thinks you’re crazy?
My whole life, pretty much. Even “Normal” — I read an article in New York Times magazine about kids that cut themselves and bleed in order to feel better and purge themselves, and it’s like an addiction. So I wrote this song “Normal,” but it always seems to come back to myself. So people think that it’s a song about me, which I guess if you peel all the layers off, I guess it is, in a way. I’ve never had the experience of relationships with people outside of the unusual or the intense. I’ve never just had normal, everyday social experiences. I don’t think I really want it to be like that, but everybody around me has always wanted me to have that. So that song “Normal,” even though it started out being influenced by those poor kids that go through all this pain and struggle of just wanting to be normal, I guess it just kind of comes back to me. I don’t know. I don’t think you can really write something from somebody else’s perspective, it all becomes very personal.
OK, are there any questions that no one’s ever asked you, any dark confessions? Made-up stories?
Made-up stories? Well, sometimes, when a song is really personal, I like to be in the booth when I’m doing vocals, by myself, with candles, completely naked, then I have the boys come in and spray my body with Pam…