The West Coast is an indomitable landmark when it comes to the intersection of rock and roll and feminist history, where the resounding echoes of the ’90s riot grrrl movement reverberate through hallowed corridors of college campuses in Olympia, Washington, and the pheromones of glitter, sweat, and drops of blood belonging to The Runaways adorn the walls of The Whiskey A Go Go and The Rainbow Bar and Grill on the Sunset Strip.
Rooted in the weeds of Portland, Oregon, singer-songwriter Billy Titko never cared much for the litany of indie rock dudes who dominated the Portland music scene in their plain white T-shirts and Nikes. She started her current project, Billy & The Kidz, as an attempt to fill the Joan Jett-shaped void in her heart, embracing the theatrical gaudiness of glam rock and hair metal with punchy major chords, noodly guitar solos, and cheeky lyrical zingers about her personal experiences dropping out of high school and navigating hookup culture as a queer femme person in the modern hyper-digital world.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Billy & The Kidz to discuss her musical theater background, dropping out of high school to carve out her own path and the band’s cheeky homage to Def Leppard on their new single, “Hit and Run.”
Welcome to A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents! Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Billy and I play in a band called Billy and the Kidz. We’re from Portland, Oregon and we’ve been together for around a year and a half. I’ve always been in love with rock stars from the ’70s and ’80s who blurred gender lines. That theatrical grandeur that I love so much about rock and roll was completely missing from the local music scene. I wanted more glam, more glitter, more theatrics. I think the only place left to do that is in pop music, so I wanted to go the theatrical route but also keep it dirty and grimy.
You’re absolutely right. I miss the bombastic, showy peacocking that made glam rock so appealing.
Exactly. That type of thing is only allowed in pop music, at least from a mainstream perspective. And this isn’t a dig at the pop girlies, more power to ’em, but that’s just not me, and that was never the direction I wanted to go in creatively.
How and when did you start creating music?
I started making music a year before I started the band. I actually started out singing backup vocals for local rappers in Phoenix, Arizona. Then I made an R&B album that I took down a while ago, not necessarily because I was embarrassed (well, maybe a little), but because that wasn’t really where I wanted to go creatively. But I did learn a lot about making music through that experience, because I self-produced the album.
What I love about your sound is that it’s a really nice homage to glam rock and hair metal. What gravitates you to that specific sound?
The reason why I sound the way I do is because of Joan Jett. I loved how she was an openly queer rock and roller who did exactly what the men did and was praised for it. And I think a big part of that was that she never questioned whether or not she belonged in a room with the men. She owned the room and she knew it. That led me to question: where are the others? I think there’s a major underrepresentation of women in that context of rock and roll, the ones who are larger than life and still respected on a wide global scale.
Women are often told that to be successful that we have to make compromises or act and dress a certain way if we want to be taken seriously, but the success of someone like Joan Jett [proves that it’s actually quite the contrary]. Here’s this woman who’s confident, messy, gnarly, and unapologetically owns who she is and that’s why people love her. That’s what makes this style and sound so special to me.
How did the song “Hit and Run” come about?
That’s a shower song, man. I wrote it in the shower after coming home from a Def Leppard concert. I just love how so many of their songs mean nothing. Same with Poison. All these ’80s hair metal hits were never about anything serious or deep. It’s just pure fun. I had the chorus knocking around in my head in the shower, and the song kind of wrote itself from there. A lot of people think it’s about a one-night-stand, and that reading definitely works, but that never occurred to me when I wrote it. It’s just my fun little homage to Def Leppard that doesn’t mean anything.
What’s really funny too is that this song follows our last single “Fool’s Gold,” which was a very emotional song about a shitty situation I went through. What’s funnier is the fact that that song was so much easier to advertise, because it had a story and it was relatable, even though it wasn’t a song I was super keen on or excited about. It’s a little more difficult to pitch a song about nothing to writers and bloggers in a press release [laughs].
What type of music were you listening to growing up?
When I was in third grade, Paramore released their Riot! album and they were my favorite band at the time. I grew up in musical theater, so I listened to show tunes a lot. After high school – I dropped out of high school, so I’m referring to when I was around sixteen years old – I got really into Prince, and I feel like that just snowballed into my funk phase, my soft rock phase, my dad rock phase, etc. And I’m in love with Paramore again now, so that eventually came full circle. I’m a massive fan of Freddie Mercury as well. I have a tattoo that says “An invitation you can’t decline,” which is a lyric from “Killer Queen.”
What does the rest of the year have in store for Billy & The Kidz?
We have more music in the works, and then we’re going on a temporary hiatus from performing so we can hibernate and work on our new record, which we’ll be releasing next fall. We’ve been sitting on seven or eight of these songs for a while now, so I’m excited for people to hear them, and hopefully go on tour soon. Thanks for having me!
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