Kenneth Cappello: Dreaming and Driving Interview
Sometimes it’s weird to think how far photography can take you.
Take Kenneth Cappello for instance.
When we got to his house tucked deep inside Laurel Canyon, we were instantly struck by how idyllic his personal atmosphere was. Cappello nonchalantly welcomed us into a front room decorated to his liking, with taxidermy rattlesnakes on the mantle and a stuffed deer’s head on the couch. We sat on chairs he had designed himself, visually striking pieces that were part Southwestern, part animal hide. It was clear that you could take Kenneth out of Texas, but you could never take Texas out of Kenneth. As the leaves fluttered through his windowpanes, we started talking about “Dream and Drive,” a new photo book documenting his time touring with The Kills.
Cappello spent most of the interview munching on a red bell pepper, but neither Kalvin nor I found it nearly as distracting as watching his pet Chihuahua simulate copulation with a stuffed animal on the floor. Cappello didn’t seem to mind the dog’s fixation too much—to him, that was just the way it went. Taking his cue, we sat back, relaxed, and listened about life on the road with The Kills.
Milk Made: So how long did you tour with The Kills?
Kenneth Cappello: I met them in ’03 and went on tour with them on and off from ’04 till now. I’d call Jamie and say send me your tour schedule, and if I wasn’t working, I’d just take time out and go.
MM: How did you meet them?
KC: Randomly at Surface to Air, a clothing store in Paris. My friend who owned the place was like, “Oh, The Kills are in the store," and I was like, “Who?”
“The Kills,” he said again, and I was like, “Oh yeah, the band.”
I went back there and they were both taking photos with their cameras, and I obviously had a camera, so we started talking about photos. I showed them one of my sketch books and they were all, “We’re gonna rehearse in this basement tonight, you should hang out.” So I took some photos and they invited me to another show in Paris the next night. I went to the show, exchanged numbers and that was it.
I was in New York a month later when Jamie called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to take their press photos. I said sure, got on a train, and we all went to Coney Island. After that, we kept in touch. I started touring with them when Glamour wanted me to do a fashion story with their clothes. I told them, “I sort of know this band The Kills, how bout we try to shoot a fashion story on the road with them?” I called Jamie up and asked if I could shoot them wearing a box of clothes on the road, and he said, “Sure, I guess.”
Next I flew to Switzerland. It was at this awkward point where I didn’t know them that well but would say, “Put this on!” and they’d be like, “Fuckkkk…” That’s how it started. I was on the road with them for 8 days. And obviously when you do a photo essay on someone and you’re in their face for a week, you become friends. They told me, “Hey, whenever you want to come on tour with us, the door’s always open.” I took advantage of that and started showing up. By the end of it, we were best friends.
MM: So it sounds like you weren’t really working for them, you were just doing your own thing.
KC: No one knew what I was doing. There were different tour managers over the year who’d be like, “Who the fuck is this dude?” It wasn’t like the label asked me to work on a book; they didn’t know anything about it. I just showed up and took photos because I liked the band. I thought they had a cool dynamic. It was weird—they were dating, they weren’t dating, the energy was crazy. I just wanted to take photos of that shit. In the back of mind, I thought one day, hopefully, the band will stick together and people would be interested enough to put a book out. Sure enough…
MM: Have you put many photos out before this or have you been saving them?
KC: I’ve release a couple here and there, but I’ve pretty much been holding onto them. The whole thing was organic. It wasn’t like, “Let’s make a Kills book,” it was more like the bus door was open. Whenever I wanted, I could just show up. When we started, we weren’t in busses, we were in vans, and the crew would be made up of two people. The tour manager was the guitar tech. By the end of it, we’re on a fucking bus with the lighting guy, sound guy, techs, etc. I watched it grow.
MM: How was tour life?
KC: I ain’t cut out for it, shit’s craze. I’d do two weeks with them and then have to go home, and they’d have two months left. I don’t know how they do it. I’d be ravaged, wrecked, drinking every night, hung over, sleeping in a shitty bunk. It’s tough, but that’s what they do. Every night makes it worth it, I’m sure, but as for me, I need a bed.
MM: So the book pretty much sums up going on tour with them for seven years then?
KC: Yep, seven completely organic years of hanging out. I didn’t know them beforehand, I just took some photos and kept doing it. We became good friends, and it was cool, you know? You look at Jamie… he’s pretty fashiony, a proper Engligh dude, and I’m a dude from Texas into fighting and jock shit, so you’d think, like… it was cool to meet someone that you’re not… I mean, I don’t hang out with guys who dress up like pirates in New York. It’s cool to become really good friends with someone like that.
Of course, we all have the same kind of past. He comes from the punk scene, and so did Allison. Jamie was into crust, went to a few Napalm Death shows back in the day, and Allison was a Fugazi kid, into all that Dischord p.c. stuff. So it’s not like we can’t talk about music.
MM: So when you were on tour, I’m sure you saw a lot of things, certain situations, fights…
KC: Oh yeah, 100%…
MM: Did you ever back off or did you just shoot that shit?
KC: I was the weird middle person. If they were in a fight and both bitching about each other, I was the third wheel. They’re like anyone—of course they’re gonna fight. There’s parts in that Black Balloon video where I’d be back stage and they’d be bitching about shit and I was just shooting. But me, it never really got… well, sometimes… me and Jamie got into some good fights. Me and Allison, no, but me and Jamie got into it a few times.
MM: Have they seen the book?
KC: I think so. Honestly, I haven’t spoke to them about it. There was a lot of back and forth with the book cover, the type, the label and all this shit, but now that the book’s done we haven’t spoken about it. I guess I’m gonna see them on Friday. I know they’re playing at Milk, but yeah, we haven’t really spoken since I got the book done. I really just want to see them and not even talk about the book, just hang.
MM: Do you envision yourself taking more photos of them?
KC: Sure. I’ll still go on tour with them, cause if I don’t, I won’t get to see them that often. They’re busy and live in Europe, and I’m busy and live here, so yeah, now it’s like a way for me to hang. I still owe the label one more music video that I’m supposed to make in the next few months…
MM: Oh yeah, you shot two of their music videos.
KC: Yeah, and those were shot organically too. I was like, “I want to make a music video of you guys,” and they said okay. I’d just show up on tour with a video camera and shoot. For the second one, Black Balloon, we actually wrote a treatment. That was crazy, they were really team players on that one. We were on tour, hammered. and we’d shoot that shit at four in the morning after they got off stage. I remember Jamie would be like, “Fucking cunt!” I’d have to do the makeup on the bus, the t-shirt girls would help, and it was just one camera and one dude.
The label didn’t know about the video either. I was like, “Here’s a video,” and they were like, “Holy fuck.” None of the shit was commissioned. I had the access and took advantage of it. When you have that kind of access and are dealing with the artist, you can do so much more. In this line of work, there are managers and labels that always fuck everything up. When you can deal with the artist directly, you can get so much more done. We just became friends and that’s why we make good stuff. There’d be times when Jamie would be like, “Oh fuck off! Get the fuck away from me.” We were on that level.
MM: You’ve seen a lot of moments with The Kills. What’s the most memorable thing you witnessed?
KC: Obviously there were a lot of things. There’s been good times, there’s been bad times, but I think the coolest thing I saw with The Kills was probably the last time they played Coachella. It was the last tour that went in the book. I walked out on stage before they got on, looked at the crowd and was like, “Holy fuck…” It was pretty wild to think about their progression. I started when they were playing in front of 150-200 people, but I couldn’t even tell you how many people were at Coachella to watch them. I walked back down the stairs and told Jamie, “There’s a lot of fucking people out there,” and he was like, “Really?” After the show, he said it was probably the biggest show they’d ever played. Just to see that on the last leg of the tour was fucking sick, I was pretty into it.
MM: How did you decide that after nine years, this was the time to release the book?
KC: It’s just time. How long’s it been? People got married, moved to LA, the party started slowing… it’s just time to do it.
MM: The book’s titled “Dream and Drive.” Where does the name come from?
KC: I didn’t really want to name the book, it was up to them. It’s my book but it’s their band. We all threw our two cents in but Allison came up with the name of the book. It’s the road—you’re driving and you’re dreaming.