The punk band Red Kate was started in 2007 by a trio of friends who’d been in several bands: lead singer L. Ron Drunkard, drummer Andrew Whelan and lead guitarist Scot Sperry. Rhythm guitarist Brad Huhmann joined the band a few months later, and in 2009 the band released “Little Red Songbook,” a demo EP.
“Scot and I grew up at (the Lawrence venue) the Outhouse and had been in Wayback Machine in Lawrence in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Drunkard said. “When I moved back to the area (from California), we decided to put a new project together
Sperry left the band in 2012, as Red Kate was working on “When the Troubles Come,” a full-length released on Replay Records. Desmond Poirier replaced Sperry; both appear on the recording.
In the meantime, the band has become a stalwart in the Kansas City punk scene, a status galvanized by “Unamerican Activities,” its latest full-length, released in April. It’s a dynamic collection of fierce but tuneful rock songs that evoke the sounds of punk rock from a few eras: ’70s groups like Radio Birdman and several ’80s punk and post-punk bands. The album was released on Black Site, a co-op label the band founded to focus on area punk and rock bands.
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Saturday night, Red Kate will perform as part of the fifth annual Center of the City Fest, a three-day music festival that will showcase more than four dozen punk bands in Kansas City and surrounding regions. This year’s festival takes place Thursday through Saturday at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club, 3402 Main St.
Monday, Drunkard, Whelan and Poirier answered questions about Red Kate’s influences and its evolving sound.
What are the band’s primary influences or favorite bands?
Drunkard: Our influences come from everywhere: ’70s rock, ’80s punk — because that’s just when we grew up — old country, soul, but mostly good songwriting and bands that do it their own way and don’t give a (bleep) about what anyone thinks or what is the hip, cool sound of the moment.
How does the songwriting go?
Whelan: The writing process with us is a bit piecemeal. L. Ron handles most of the lyrics, but the music comes about in different ways. Occasionally L. Ron or (Poirier) will come to practice with a completed song, and we’ll have it up and running in a practice or two.
For the most part though, a new song will start with someone screwing around with a riff between songs at practice. It’ll catch another person’s ear, and then we’ll start messing with it. At that point the song either writes itself or we’ll bang away at the same riff for months until we figure out how to fix what isn’t right about it. L. Ron is especially good at not letting us drop a riff.
Drunkard: (The song) “You Ought to Know” is a great example of that process. We had one riff, the pre-chorus, but we kept hammering at it for weeks until the parts came together. It might be my favorite song on the record.
How has the music changed since you started?
Drunkard: Over the years our sound has gotten harder, faster and more focused. Edit, edit, edit. Cut the crap, you know? And recently we’ve been veering into more angular, post-punk sounds. Sharks have to keep moving.
Whelan: I think the new album definitely has a bit more of an edge to it than the last full-length, and anyone who’s seen us in the past year or so would be expecting that. It’s not something that we made a conscious effort to do. We kind of got to the amount of songs that we wanted to release and realized that many of them were a bit harder and faster.
Do you tour outside Kansas City much?
Drunkard: We do get out of town. It’s not easy as we’re all 9-to-5ers and some of us are married and/or with kids. We stick to what we call the “long weekends” circuit and cities where we have local connections with bands. The rock star ship sailed for us long ago (if it ever came into port). I have no interest in playing a Tuesday night in a town where I know no one.
How are the punk scenes elsewhere?
Drunkard: I think punk scenes in other towns might be more unified and maybe more open to outsiders, but it’s so hard to tell when you’re only there for a night and on your way. People generally treat out-of-town bands well, even if they may turn a cold shoulder to those in their own town. It’s hard to get an unbiased read.
Who/what do you tell people you sound like? Who/what do people tell you you sound like?
Drunkard: That’s a difficult question and not really for us to answer. We’re just a rock ’n’ roll band. Every person who writes about us lists a different set of bands we remind them of. I like that. It means we don’t sound like anybody specifically. So, this one’s up to you.
If Red Kate had a motto or a mission or philosophy, what would it be?
Drunkard: Do it right or don’t do it at all.
Poirier: Be your own hero. Do what you want to do. Help other people do that, too.
Whelan: Keep on keepin’ on.
Center of the City Fest
The fifth annual Center of the City Fest starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club, 3402 Main St. More than four dozen punk bands will perform on two stages over three days. Friday’s sets start at 7 p.m. Saturday’s sets start at 5 p.m. Admission is $7 per night or $15 for a three-day pass. It’s a 21-and-older event.