For musicians, there's no sense in trying to please everyone. But if you do something that pleases you, the audience will usually fill itself out. That seems to be especially true of any type of outsider art, which can often reside far from listeners' median tastes, but which can be offset by fierce originality and individualism. It's magnetic to see someone who knows exactly what they want, and while it's hard to fit Aron Kalaii and his band Vicious Kitties into any easy category, it's clear that he and his bandmates are forging their own path.
Originally formed in 2009 with Christopher Riggs, Vicious Kitties began as an instrumental group. Kalaii has since become more interested in performing as a guitarist and vocalist, and the band's style has shifted into a stripped-down presentation of fairly straightforward rock with frenetic hand percussion backing Kalaii's riffs with an Afrobeat flair. Kalaii's confident baritone vocals take charge somewhere between spoken word and more traditionally sung vocals.
"I grew up in the era where hip-hop and rock was coming out at the same time," Kalaii explains. "Aerosmith and Run-DMC's [collaboration of 'Walk This Way']; I must have watched that, like, a thousand times growing up when MTV was still playing music." Kalaii further cites Carlos Santana and jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt as influences, and while his own music strikes the ear as a bit odd at first, these disparate influences can all be picked out from the sound as it begins to make its own kind of sense.
The initial strangeness of the music is what placed Vicious Kitties into an "outsider artist" mold for me; through that lens, a more cohesive picture takes shape. Like the mysterious Houston-based Jandek or the late Wesley Willis, Kalaii's music strictly adheres to his particular vision, making the band's various sounds coalesce into something unlike any one other thing. This seems to have led to some difficulty in finding venues locally.
"If [bookers] have a punk night, they won't book my band because they think I'm being socially strange, or because they think people won't want to see this kind of punk," Kalaii says. Still, there's something to be said for sticking to the concept and for simply hitting the stage unafraid. This feels like a more over-arching guiding philosophy for Kalaii, who is also a painter and filmmaker; his visual art can be seen adorning the walls and ceiling at downtown dive bar The Matador and, thus far, he has one feature film under his belt, the guerrilla-style ultra-indie The Samurai, The Muslim, and the Thug.
"They resonate from the same source," he says about how his differing projects interface. "When I'm doing one, I'm thinking of the other."
Such volume is impressive, but even so, Kalaii doesn't have plans to record new Vicious Kitties material at the moment. 2017's Mr.Kat KingGypsy is still available on Bandcamp. He prefers to perform live as often as possible along with current drummer Kenneth Brito and bassist Finchi McQueen (substitute bassist Shontez "Taz" Morris occasionally joins the band onstage as well). The love of performing comes naturally for Kalaii, who claims it began when his mother made him read Bible verses aloud in front of their church congregation every week.
And though Kalaii says he may not feel particularly accepted by the local music scene, it's clear his output has intention, and that's something that people respond to. Besides, Kalaii's sense of humor and the upbeat nature of Vicious Kitties create a live vibe that outshines his recordings.
"People bring us out to open the party," Kalaii says. "Everybody's got their own flock, and I'm just sharing the sound of my flock."
Vicious Kitties with Trash Ritual, Billiam and Hypnagogia
7:30 pm Friday April 26. $5-$10.
Zephyr Community Art Studio,
1520 Center Drive, Ste. 2