Out singer-songwriter Katharine Chase’s alter ego, country singer Kitty Rose, is back with her second album, the ingeniously named Live at the Ryman, which references Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium and home of the Grand Ole Opry. Her debut CD, cleverly titled Greatest Hits, took home an Outmusic Award in 2005. Chase, who is "proud to be hitting the big 5-0 this year," has been a performer, as she puts it, for "25ish years." AfterEllen.com talked with her earlier this year about the inspiration for her music, visiting the Grand Ole Opry, her ranch and being out in Nashville.
AfterEllen.com: In 2005, you received the Outmusic Award in the "Outstanding Debut Recording, Female" category. What did that kind of recognition mean to you?
Kitty Rose: I hadn’t had a lot of experience with Outmusic until I contacted a [radio] programmer in Houston, J.D. Doyle. I had no background with the organization before that, so when I found out I was being considered for the award, I really had no idea what it was going to mean at that time. I went to the awards show, and when I won it, I was kind of in shock [laughs] for the entire day, at least.
It wasn’t until … a week later that I realized that what it did for me was put me on the map for [the] GLBT community. Even though I’d been performing for years, it gave me a kind of street cred … and exposed me to so many people that probably would have had no idea. What it did was took me out of the local scene and gave me national exposure.
AE: The album for which you received the award is your Greatest Hits disc, which bring us to the subject of the tongue-in-cheek themes and titles of your albums, including your latest, Live at the Ryman.
KR: What happens when you’re in the music business for as long as I’ve been [is] you keep looking at ways to make it fun, to make it new and exciting for the people you work with. When we started Kitty Rose, I was impersonating a country-western star from the late ’60–’70s. To release a [debut] CD [called Greatest Hits]. … it automatically puts your audience in on the in-joke.
When we were putting together the second CD … I kept struggling with what kind of theme [are we going to use]? We were totally going with the Greatest Hits, Volume 2 [laughs] for the longest time. Then I realized, once I put the songs together and we had started recording, I really had a Grand Ole Opry-style show, almost exactly like the ’70s.
I have the George Jones/Tammy Wynette duet. "Pretty Little Thing" was added to be a Minnie Pearl number. We had 13 songs, and I wound up with a great April Fools’ Day Ryman Auditorium show. We had a blast doing it, and I think the fans are going to be smiling all the way through.
AE: What would it mean to you to play at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville?
KR: It would be incredible. I’ve gone to the Ryman several times since the Greatest Hits CD was released. It would be a dream come true. In fact, when you tour the Ryman — it’s open during the day — they have a mic stand set up right in front of the stage. You’re not even allowed to walk on the Ryman stage unless you’re invited as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The mic stand is set up so that you can take one of those tourist pictures. I thought about it — I thought, "That would be really fun." And then I thought, "I have so much respect for it, I think I’ll hold out for it until I actually can do it myself." [Laughs.]
AE: You don’t want to jinx it by posing for the tourist picture.
KR: Exactly! You’ll notice the artwork on the CD has a picture of me in front of a mic stand, but of course … the real Ryman stand says "Grand Ole Opry," and that’s a trademarked name. That’s how we came up with the Ryman Auditorium name, so everything says "Ryman." The radio program for the Grand Ole Opry is WSM Nashville, so we thought we’d change it to WFM: W Femme. …There are several April Fools’ jokes included in the descriptions, the credits, all over it. And we’re going to be holding a contest throughout the year for the people who find the most of them.
AE: That sounds like a lot of fun. Was country music always your primary musical focus or were you a disco diva or a punk rocker in a previous incarnation?
KR: [Laughs.] I was never a hardcore punker, but I always thought I was. I was in San Francisco from ’80 to ’84, which was one of the peak times for punk rock. At the time I was in a lesbian band called Dogtown, and we played some of the events around [town].
Then I went to Hollywood and ended up on the outskirts of the whole Guns N’ Roses scene. I did the singer-songwriter thing and all that stuff. Also, at the time I was playing bass. You could probably find some really cheesy photos of me online with big hair [laughs] from that era.
I was born and raised just outside of Houston, Texas, so the country thing was always something that I played for myself. The Knitters [Exene Cervenka, John Doe, and others] — [I] admired the old-time country stuff, and I was lucky enough to count them as friends through the early ’90s. That was what gave me the go-ahead to go, "I could play this stuff live, and I think people would really like it." It’s just gone from there.