Interview: The Rebellion Tapes – Kelly Chelston (Tiger Sex)

You want to see a show when you go to watch a band. You want to be entertained. It’s in our nature to love the unexpected too, and we all love a bit of danger, at least as voyeurs. So it’s no real surprise how well regarded Tiger Sex are and in particular their very unpredictable singer Kelly Chelston. It turns out Kelly is rather quiet and softly spoken when she’s not breaking bones on stage. She took some time out to chat to Gary Trueman about the Tiger Sex writing process, being an injury magnet and about her passion for food.

You last played Rebellion in 2017 and then were going to come back the following year but couldn’t. Then things just snowballed with the pandemic getting in the way. What happened?

“In 2018 I had a lot of stuff health wise I had to take care of. Then in 2019 I don’t really know what happened about coming here(Rebellion) but maybe we just didn’t communicate because of the year before. Then we were scheduled to play 2020 and Covid hit. Then it just dragged on until now.”

It’s been five years and yet when you played people definitely remembered you. How did that feel, to see that crowd out there?

“It was awesome! It doesn’t get any better than that. I was in shock but at the same time comfortable and felt at home.”

Is that how it felt, that you’d come home?

“Oh yes. It’s like I never left.”

You’ve had five years to write and you’ve been doing stuff with the band in the states. How do you feel you’ve developed in that time? You’ve obviously matured as a performer and as a person

“Our band continues to mature and climb to new levels. For a time we were at a standstill because of drummer issues, going through them and people moving away. But over the years we’ve also been finding our sound and have evolved into something a little more. It all just started to click.”

Obviously people know your music and your style of music, but you have new songs you play now that have progressed you. Sometimes people will react badly to new songs but everyone loves yours. Is it heartening that you’re carrying people along with you.?

“It’s awesome. We used to involve a few covers in our set to try to get people involved but now I guess our own songs catch people in a different way. Maybe between the performance and the songs it brings them in really easily. So we don’t have to do covers any more to get their attention.”

You are an originals band fully now but you do still do the one cover to finish your set, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ which has become your signature and you’ve made it your own. Is that fair to say?

“Yes, we’ve been doing that from the very beginning. It just seems to be one of those songs that really makes people go crazy and that’s why we continue to do it.”

Speaking of going crazy. There’s a different persona of you talking here now very eloquently to the one that you see on the stage. It’s like there are two of you. Is the way you behave and perform on stage just a release of energy and a way to get stuff out?

“I am Batman, haha -no – but I am day and night as a person. I guess when I’m on stage it’s like a beast comes out, a whole life of energy and shit comes out. Being in front of people is what really turns me on and makes me feel more alive.”

Your lyrics are another way of getting things out too. And you reach out to other people with them as well. It must be cathartic for you to do that?

“Some songs are written about every day life and things that people can relate to. Then others I like to leave it to people’s imagination so they can make any story they want out of it. I feel that we can connect better that way.”

You’ve got a way of getting your music out there now with videos etc. Initially Tiger Sex didn’t put a lot of material out. You took a long time to do that. Was there a particular reason other than money for that, for not recording songs?

“We are such a live band and we were performing so much for long that we didn’t have time to go to a studio to record, and work on it, and edit it. Because of Covid we actually had some time to shoot some videos. We DIY recorded a lot ourselves and made the videos. Now more recently we’re starting to get our songs recorded because we have a little more time, and money. Everything is DIY though.”

You obviously write all the lyrics but who writes the music? Do you have a hand in that as well?

“Yes. Me and Kei (Tiger Sex guitarist) both write the songs. I play a little guitar so I can meow out a song if I have to. We write the songs either separate or together and yes I write all the lyrics.”

Do either of you ever veto anything and say this isn’t going to work?

“Oh Yeah, I’m very imaginative and if I can’t feel or hear or fit in what I want to what he comes up with then we have to ask how we can make it work and sometimes we drop them. If they end up not working with my voice or my tone or lyrics, stuff like that.”

There’s a lot of ways you can try to make a vocal fir too which some people may not be aware of. Stuff like vowel modification and adding or losing fry (rasp). Presumably you go right through that range of trying to make something work if you feel it’s worth it because you have a base that you like?

“We just wrote a song called ‘Trouble’ and when we recorded it, when I’m singing it I can fit the lyrics correctly. It’s a little slower than what we would like. But when we play it live I have to shorten the lyrics to fit.”

Is that a common thing, the excitement of playing live means you naturally up the tempo?

“Oh man yes! Some of our songs are way too fast live. They sound better at a mid-tempo. We tend to get very aggressive live and energetic. The adrenaline kicks in and that’s it.”

Is that why all that crazy shit happens to you on stage – adrenaline? You’ve broken ribs before haven’t you? Is there a catalogue of injuries we could go through?

“There are many years of them. I’ve broken at least seven or eight bones in this band and had many concussions. My legs right now are insanely covered in bruises. The adrenaline, that’s what does it. I’m like a shark when their eyes go black.”

We ought to touch on your performance at Rebellion and climbing up one of the lighting rig towers. Everyone was really impressed by that, probably except for the stage manager and security guys wondering if they were going to have to catch you if you fell off. What drove you to do that? Was it a spur of the moment decision?

“Oh that was definitely spur of the moment. I want to be with the people instead of separated so I like being on the barriers too. It was very spontaneous.”

Have you ever got yourself into trouble for doing spontaneous stuff on stage?

“Yes. One time I climbed the speakers and they weren’t bolted down and they came down right on me. It’s that kind of spontaneous where I’m not thinking. I’ve walked into ceiling fans not knowing they’re there. Getting up on the bar and getting hit in the eye. Countless visits to hospital.”

And yet there’s a completely different side to you as well. Tiger Bites which is a cooking video series that you do. Are you someone that likes to cook and experiments in the kitchen?

“I feel that food is another thing besides music that makes everybody happy. It makes me very happy. I grew up with a big Italian family and with Italian food. To learn new recipes and to put something together myself is very rewarding and of course it tastes good.”

Presumably during lockdown it was good to be able to do those videos too? That must have been a good creative outlet for you to express yourself through food?

“Just like music. It’s the same thing. You need the ingredients. You need the beginning the middle and the end. You have to put it together and make it fit. And then it better taste good.”

You say you’re from an Italian family. Is it a close knit family?

“Yes it’s a close family and I have a very big mother’s and father’s side.”

Italian food is legendary. So is there like a family recipe for a sauce or something that gets handed down?

“There are a few but I feel like mine are better haha! My mum has given me recipes and my dad has helped me out with recipes, and he’s a chef. But I feel like my sauce is better. Sorry dad.”

If you could pick any musician alive or dead to cook a meal for who would it be, why and what would you cook them?

“It would have to be Lux Interior from The Cramps because he was very intelligent and he and his wife were an amazing couple. He knew so much about music and I’d want to sit down and eat and talk about all the 50s rock and blues. What would I cook? Probably vegetarian and a home made mac and cheese sauce.”

Tiger Sex – Facebook

Interview and photos by Gary Trueman