BlackBook Interview: ‘The Voice’ Finalist Kat Robichaud’s Guide to Outré San Francisco Nightlife

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Image by Mike Lloyd Photography

If you know her as the 2013 finalist on The Voice, you might have something of a different impression of Kat Robichaud. On the show, the Raleigh born singer exhibited glimmers of the flamboyant performer she would go on to become; but it was only after it was all over that the ringleader of her own “Misfit Cabaret” would fully emerge.

Misfit Cabaret is also the name of her fantastical new album, out this Friday, June 2, through RED. It is an unbridled, over-the-top riot of influences, from glam rock to classic Broadway. The grandiose”Bully” comes off like Sheer Heart Attack era Queen, while the Ziggy-esque “A Song for David Bowie” is perhaps the most dazzling posthumous tribute to the Thin White Duke yet (“You prettiest star / I’ll leave a light on for whenever you come home”). It’s surely the most the preposterously, wondrously extravagant music you’ll hear in 2017.

The equally extravagant show from which the album takes its title has been running for two years now at San Francisco’s historic Great Star Theater; though she has also recently taken it on the road to Seattle.

We chatted with the outlandishly glamorous Ms. Robichaud about The Voice, the misfit life, and the importance of being yourself at all costs. We also asked her to guide us through some of SF’s most dazzling and outré nightlife spots.

 

What exactly is “Misfit Cabaret”?

Misfit Cabaret is a splendiferous variety show centered around magical music with a rotating cast of eccentric performers. Each show is completely different– with changing themes such as the cult filmed Cinepheilia and the naughty nautical Whimsea. From burlesque to drag to circus to magic, you never know what you’re going to see.

The album pretty much shuns every current musical trend. Who are some of the specific influences? We can hear everything from opera to glam rock, Pulp to Dresden Dolls.

I’m definitely not trying to follow a trend. I just write what I love and what serves the specific theme of the show best. My four favorite artists are David Bowie, Queen, Marilyn Manson and Amanda Palmer in her various states. I’m also a huge fan of Broadway musicals, my dad introduced me to all the heavy hitters when I was a kid (The Sound of Music, Oliver, Cabaret, Rocky Horror…) and they definitely made their mark.

Especially with a song like “Artists” – it seems there is something of the defiant, “us against them” spirit about the record.

I grew up as an outcast and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling; which is where most of the songs on the album come from. “Artists” is actually about how we as a society need to do a better job as human beings and how we need to truly learn from the past. Photo journalists take pictures from war and they somehow become art in a really fucked up way. In the song, I’m pleading with these photo journalists (and artists and musicians and creators) to try and paint us in a more favorable light, so we’re not so horrifying in the future, but really it’s sarcasm. We need to stop whitewashing history.

 

Misfit Cabaret image by Zoart Photography

What was The Voice experience like?

It was wonderful and horrifying at the same time. You go from being a hometown artist to having 15 million people watching you with zero ramp-up time. All of a sudden everyone is judging you and loving you and hating you. You have to have rhino thick skin, which is why we have to take a psych test before auditioning. (My favorite question was “Do you like fire?” And it was a yes or no question. I mean, yes, I love fire, but no, I do not want to use it to burn a building down, if that’s what you’re getting at.) While you’re on the show, the producers and everyone that works on The Voice are trying their best to take care of you and to make sure you’re ok, but you are in a crazy bubble where it’s hard to think straight. The most important lesson I took from the show was to always be myself.

The attention was surely helpful. But did it affect you as an artist?

Yes. It forced me to repel every notion that I could ever be a pop artist and pushed me further to be myself and let the wonderful world of weird consume me. There was definitely a drop-off of fans who thought I was going to put out a pop album when I got off the show, and didn’t like the glam rock or unbridled theatricality. But I’ve slowly replaced the drop-off pop and country fans with the niche weirdos and lovely darling misfits that get what I’m doing.

Your live show is theatrical and visceral. Will you tour it?

We’re still only two years old in SF. But we did just take the show to Seattle for the first time and it was a huge success. We will definitely take it back to Seattle soon, and we’re looking to expand to LA, Vegas, Portland, Vancouver, and so on. I’m hoping the album gains enough traction to help us tour further, and I would love to see what Raleigh thinks of my new act. To be able to take my show and have a successful run in my hometown would feel pretty great.

 

Kat Robichaud’s Guide to San Francisco Nightlife 

The Great Star Theater

This historical diamond-in-the-rough has been around since 1925 and has been a home to Chinese opera, kung fu movies, and even boasts the celebrity resident of Bruce Lee ,who crashed on its couch back in the day. In recent years, local magician Paul Nathan took over as proprietor, spiffed the place up with a new movie screen, new projectors, new lighting and a new sound system. The theater now plays host to all kinds of off-kilter shows, including my show, Misfit Cabaret! I’m a sucker for old, worn-in and loved things, so the vintage red theater seats, the gorgeous blood red velvet curtains, and the kitschy rainbow bulb proscenium tugs on all my heart strings.

The Stud

Stud has been a San Francisco institution since 1966 and it’s my favorite dive drag bar in the city. Old mascot heads nest above the long wooden bar, along with a train set, a mixture of deco and 50s era lighting fixtures, and the occasional lava lamp. This is the place to see the nitty gritty avant-garde drag shows while showing off your new wig to the mirrored walls. There’s also a really great karaoke night, hosted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s Flora Goodthyme.

The Tonga Room

Where else are you going to dance to a cover band on a boat floating in a basement pool on a Wednesday night? This place is like Disneyland for adults, and my black heart laughs whenever I see children peering into the windows and being told they can’t go in. HA! They even have the ceiling rigged so that it rains into the pool every 30 minutes while the band plays CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”. It’s so delightfully cheesy in the best way possible. Get a fishbowl drink and split it with friends. Their rum pour will sneak up on you.

 

Hotel Utah

It’s a music venue! It’s a bar! It’s a pirate ship! Actually, it’s one of the oldest music venues in San Francisco and boasts the best local and touring up-and-coming bands. The drinks are cheap, the staff is friendly, there’s a pinball machine behind a stack of glasses, and the whole thing is literally a pieced-together pirate ship, complete with a mermaid figurehead that hovers over the stage. There’s even a cute balcony with seats. Famous people that have come out for this open mic include Robin Williams, John Mayer, Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Cho.

DNA Lounge

The melting pot of San Franciscans, DNA brings people together. The first time I went was to see Hubba Hubba Revue, the biggest burlesque show in SF. While I was there, I saw an ad for a Bowie drag show, which I promptly bought tickets to. During the Bowie show, I saw a performance from Bowie tribute band The First Church of The Sacred Silversexual, and was blown away. And that band introduced me to pretty much everyone I know in the Bay Area. So DNA is responsible for my success in the city, and I’m sure a lot of performers can say that. Besides bringing in some pretty big touring bands (I’m playing with Amanda Palmer on May 23rd), they also have Bootie Mashup parties every Saturday, Death Guild goth nights, and every weird themed party you could possibly dream up. It’s loud and industrial and messy and the drinks are really strong. And…they’re smart enough to own a 24 hour pizza joint right next door, because after a night of drinking and screaming your head off, greasy pizza is a necessity.