Colleen Caffeine originates from a place that has given the world some of the most flamboyant characters in rock. Mention the city of Detroit to any discerning rock fan and names like the MC5, Iggy Pop, the White Stripes, even Kiss, will almost certainly litter the following conversation. Now the torch has been passed to another great band from Detroit punk rock city and their name is Choking Susan.
With a new CD, ‘Choking Susan Goes To Cuntopia’, about to be released imminently, and a place in the line-up for this year’s Rebellion Punk Festival, the band steadily continues to pick-up fans wherever and whenever they play. One of the main reasons for this is due to the band’s charismatic front-woman and general whirlwind, Colleen Caffeine. While it’s true that Colleen Caffeine isn’t probably a girl you’d take home to meet you’re mother, it also true that she’s a strong intelligent woman who is nothing less than a joy to talk to. I met Colleen after her band’s high octane set at the STP Records Punk Festival in Ashton Under Lyne @ The Witchwood, to ask her a few questions about insurrection, murder and the merits of second -hand clothing.
PHIL: How is the current tour going?
COLLEEN: We are touring all of England and we’re having the best time of our lives!
PHIL: What places have you visited so far?
COLLEEN: We’ve been to Stoke, Romford, Kenning Town, Glasgow and here.
PHIL: Are you excited to be playing Rebellion in Blackpool?
COLLEEN: Absolutely, every year. Rebellion is heaven on earth for punk.
PHIL: Have you played Rebellion before?
COLLEEN: Yes. This is our fifth time I believe; how lucky is that? I feel like a princess, I feel like Kate.
PHIL: You look like Kate.
COLLEEN: Do I?
PHIL: Only more beautiful
COLLEEN: Oh thank you. And younger?
COLLEEN: (Laughs) I was wondering if you were going to lie or not.
PHIL: Musically who would you say was your inspiration?
COLLEEN: The Ramones
PHIL: Which of the Ramones albums would you say was your favourite?
COLLEEN: I’m gonna go off on a limb and say ‘End of The Century’ I know it’s a little bit more polished, a little bit more produced, but it kind of captures everything that great about the Ramones.
PHIL: Were the Ramones the first music you listened to?
COLLEEN: No. I had a lot of friends who were into punk and I listened to tapes. People would bring over tapes with a whole bunch of music on them and it’s how I heard the UK Subs, GBH. And when I heard it thought ‘Oh my God, now I’ve found some place to be. After that I wanted more, I wanted as much as I could find.
PHIL: You’re famous for playing CBGBs
COLLEEN: We played it before it closed luckily It was the best because I felt it. I knew where we were and I felt everybody that had been through there in the past, and when we’d done playing I got down on my knees and licked the stage because I wanted to absorb, as gross as that sounds, I wanted to absorb it all.
PHIL: You come from Detroit. We hear that Detroit is collapsing.
Unfortunately it is. What you see on TV is the way it is; abandoned buildings, broken windows, nobody living there.
PHIL: Except for the ‘White Stripes’
COLLEEN: No, the White Stripes will not play Detroit. They were born in Detroit but they hate it. The lead singer Jack White was very vocal about not going back to Detroit because they hate it. Detroit’s funny, it births greatness then turns it’s back on them and goes ‘You’re a sell-out!’ So it’s like ‘Wait a minute, Detroit you bred me but now I’m a sell-out just because I became a little popular, now you want to kill me!’
PHIL: What would Colleen Caffeine consider success to be?
COLLEEN: Things like this today, playing Rebellion and being able to tour England is success to me. Not money. People talking to me about music, people coming to see me, people letting me write on their faces, that is success to me. Because places like this is where I feel okay.
PHIL: You have a very striking image.
COLLEEN: I’m a very big charity person; I go to thrift shops to buy my clothes, so everything I own is resale. I don’t buy anything new; somebody has lived in these clothes before I have. Isn’t that cool? I think that’s cool. Somebody walked in these shoes before I did.
PHIL: You’ve written the word cunt on your dress. It’s a strong statement.
COLLEEN: It really is, and that’s why I also have poser tattooed on me. You have to embrace the opposite and embrace the negative. It’s like a put-down; if you own the put-down what are they going to do? What are you going to call me? Cunt? That’s okay it’s on my dress. Poser? So what, I’ve got that tattooed on me. Now what’ve you got? Give it to me.
PHIL: So you’re trying to reclaim the word cunt?
COLLEEN: Yes why not. You can’t hurt me if I own it.
PHIL: But it’s all the (negative) connotations of the word cunt.
COLLEEN: But it’s the whole dichotomy, I’m not going to call myself a dick, I’ll say cunt. Also my friend killed himself after Rebellion and he had a shirt that said cunt all over it and I wanted to do this in memory of him, but it’s become more than that.
PHIL: I guess it also has shock value; much in the way when Siouxsie Sioux initially wore a Nazi armband, though at some point the question is asked does it a have meaning other than to shock?
COLLEEN: Okay I think if I say more that it’s awareness. If you bring ugly out to the surface and it’s exposed, then how ugly can it be anymore. I don’t know, I’m not trying to change the world.
PHIL: Why not, isn’t that the whole reason of punk?
COLLEEN: I don’t know if I can change the world. Maybe I’m wrong, how do I know. I just want to be what I am and I think that’s what everyone should want to do.
PHIL: But people come to see you play and say...
COLLEEN: What do they say? What do you say after you’ve seen me?
PHIL: Today, the whole thing?
PHIL: I went to a festival last week that was totally corporate. Today is completely different in that it’s a tight-knit community of people who are enjoying themselves doing what they want to do instead of what they’re expected to do.
COLLEEN: Okay. What did you think of me, what did I express to you?
PHIL: I saw someone from Detroit whose talent has brought her to England, and for anybody watching, it might inspire them to take up the guitar or singing so they can express themselves through music. I see someone who’s curious about the world and hopefully to some people that curiosity will be infectious.
COLLEEN: That’s why I love touring around because I get to see why things happen and why people think the things they do. If everybody thought instead of followed, how this world would be.
PHIL: What will happen to America after the 2nd of August if the government fail to raise the debt level?
COLLEEN: I don’t know we’ll have to see on the third. I honestly don’t think about politics because I think it’s all SHITE!
PHIL: So you’re an anarchist?
COLLEEN: I’m not really an anarchist because I’m a practising Christian.
PHIL: So you don’t think all religion is poison?
COLLEEN: No. I know it’s a very odd thought in punk but I can have my beliefs and you can have yours. I think you should have the right to believe in anything you want to, and to me that is anarchy. I believe in love, I believe in grace and I believe in acceptance. I believe in thinking for yourself and doing what you want, and, having the right to change your mind. I believe everybody should be encouraged to think as they wish.
PHIL: Do you believe everybody should take responsibility for their own actions?
COLLEEN: If you do what you want and respect others there shouldn’t be a problem. I shouldn’t have the right to kill you if I felt like it.
PHIL: How would you kill me?
COLLEEN: How would you want to be killed? (laughs)
PHIL: With pleasure.
COLLEEN: Is there any other way!
Choking Susan will be appearing at:
The Arena, Rebellion Festival, Blackpool – Fri, Aug 5, 2011
West Coast Rock Cafe, Blackpool - Sun, Aug 7, 2011
Interview & photos by Phil King 30/07/11