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MELLENCAMP.COM ANNOUNCEMENTS => Blog => Topic started by: Thadrequet on September 30, 2010, 02:36:39 pm

Title: Band Member Spotlight - Courtney Kaiser 2001-2003
Post by: Thadrequet on September 30, 2010, 02:36:39 pm
By Thad Requet

Photo by Harry Sandler

John Mellencamp sets a very high standard for himself and everyone who works with him. To be in his band, you not only have to be an outstanding musician, you have to be someone who is dedicated to what you are doing and willing to put in long hard hours to make the music the best it can be.

Courtney Kaiser had the opportunity to be in Mellencamp's band for a few years as a backup singer, along with playing several miscellaneous instruments. Kaiser, who is currently in the duo Kaiser Cartel with Benjamin Cartel, talked about her time and experiences being involved with John Mellencamp and his music.

Courtney Kaiser is originally from Indianapolis, Ind. She grew up singing in children's choirs in church. Her parents had a record collection that included everything from the Beatles to Billie Holliday, which she grew up listening to.

She was studying music at Indiana University and ended up buying a house in Bloomington. Courtney was dating Paul Mahern at the time. Mahern has served as the engineer for many of Mellencamp's records through the years. "I met Elaine and John on numerous occasions, and I knew Mike Wanchic from doing sessions with him at Echo Park (Mike Wanchic's studio)," Kaiser explained.

She said that she was playing at a club called Second Story in Bloomington and she and Elaine had hit it off really well. "She (Elaine) took on the role as being the spokesperson for the Indy Racing League, so she was looking for someone who might be able to help her manage her role there. She hired me to work with her. So I got to working with her at the house and got to know John more," Kaiser said. Courtney said that when they were recording the Cuttin' Heads album the second time at John's Belmont Mall Studio, John randomly asked Paul Mahern if he could hear some of what Courtney was doing at the time. She said that Mahern had just finished mixing a demo of some new material that she was on. "So they popped it in and John loved my voice and was like 'lets get her in the studio tomorrow.'"

Kaiser said that she came into the studio the next day and that night John asked her how she would feel about singing in front of 26,000 people. "I said 'Oh that would be great.' I thought he was teasing me or whatever. I was also in grad school at the time and getting a masters degree in education. Everything had gone well in the studio and the following day I was in class at grad school at IU and John called me on my cell phone and asked 'where are you." I told him I was in class and he said 'you've got to be at the studio, you're in this band, you've got to be at the studio everyday,'" Courtney explained. She said that she finished that semester and didn't complete the masters, but instead left school, joined the band, stopped working for Elaine and started working for John.

Kaiser said her friends and family didn't find it too far fetched when she told them she was in John's band. "I had been singing in bands since I was 16, even though I was going the classical route in education. I think they thought 'ah thank God, finally the band thing has paid off,'" she said with a laugh. "They were really excited about it, and I was too."

Kaiser described her experience recording in the studio with John and the band. "It was really a blast. It was really kind of surreal at first. Here I am with these amazing musicians in John's band Miriam (Sturm), Pat Peterson, Andy (York) and Mike. So it was really cool. And at that time, we were also working with Jenn Cristy. So it was a lot of fun, a lot of group singing with these women and working on music with them," she explained.

Courtney said that John was open to everyone's viewpoints. "He wants to hear people do things, and you know, he's going to allow you to go with something...record it, and if you didn't like it, do it again. Also when we were rehearsing for the first tour that we did, he would like throw something at me and say 'play this'. I'd be like I've never played a washboard before, (laughing) and you have to kind of do it right there. You have to sort of learn quickly. He likes when people sort of take risks and just try to do something new. He's such a veteran songwriter and performer, he knows how to push people as far as he can, and get their musicianship in the most challenging place. I think he really brings out people's talents."

Courtney said she had sang and performed in bars and clubs many times, but never anything like where John and the band played. "Especially the second and third tours, he would just hand me the mic and go 'you sing,' you know "Hurts So Good" so I take the mic and I'd be in the front of the stage singing in front of thousands of people."

She talked about how this experience carried over into her solo career. "I would definitely say that I've always had bands where I was the lead singer and co-wrote with other people, but had never done something on my own. And, I think that him believing in me and taking an interest in my career and my own music really pushed me to put things out on my own. In 2005 I put out a solo record. I don't know if I wouldn't have done that, but, I think that he gave me the confidence that I could be in charge, you know...really the leader of something, by handing me the microphone and forcing me to take risks, getting me to try new things," Courtney explained.

Kaiser Cartel has a cover of John's "Worn Out Nervous Condition" that originally appeared on Mellencamp's Cuttin' Heads album. Their version appears on their latest album Secret Transit, which was released earlier this year. "When he did that song the first time in Florida, Paul came back from the studio one night and played it for me. We both thought it was one of the coolest songs he'd ever written. He's a powerhouse at writing hits and writing songs that people can really "get" instantaneously. That song in particular I felt like...wasn't a usual Mellencamp song. It's very different and I loved it and always wanted to play it, and he never played it. I think in his mind, he writes so many songs he's like...'ah you know, no need to play this one.' But when we were talking about songs for this record, I brought up this Mellencamp song. We tried it and played it live a couple of times and just really liked the song." They decided to record a version and put it on the record.

Listen to Kaiser Cartel's version of "Worn Out Nervous Condition" via the audio player on their website:

Courtney talked about her very first show with John and the band. "The very first show was in San Diego. We were doing a smaller place like a one-up show to get ready for the big shows. It was really surreal. I was meeting like all these crew guys for the first of which is now my fiancé'. We started with the Rolling Stones song "Gimmie Shelter" and he had me playing harmonica and the washboard. It was crazy. There was rose petals falling from the sky and it was really amazing...just the energy in the room exchanged from the audience, I couldn't believe it was happening," she explained.

Kaiser said they had worked so hard to prepare for that tour. "Jenn and I were new and John wanted us to be comfortable. I think we rehearsed for 10 hours a day for three weeks straight for that tour," she explained. "That was the most we had rehearsed for any tour while I was in the band. Everyone was really anxious about having it be just right and John being happy with everyone's performance."

Courtney explained that the band would rehearse for hours and John would check in now and then and see how things were going. "We would tape our rehearsals. Sometimes what you do live is a little bit different than what you do on the record. There were a couple of really great moments where John would show up and he would be in the mood where he just wanted to jam. We would just be improvising on stuff and it would be really cool," she explained.

She talked about the different arrangements of John's songs. One in particular is the slow mellow Eric Clapton-like version of "Small Town. "We would come to the front of the stage and it was just Dane (Clark) on a small kick, and us singing harmonies. I thought that was the coolest version. It's so powerful and moving. I think all of us were getting goosebumps every night singing together and playing the song together," she explained.

When asked about performing "Paper In Fire" live Courtney said it was one song that stuck out in her mind. "That was definitely one of my favorite songs to sing. Jenn and Pat both had double tambourines going. It was such a rocker, and so cool and moody and fun at the same time," she said.

Photo by Harry Sandler

Kaiser Cartel just finished up opening for Tracy Bonham and also playing in her band during her shows. "She is like a long lost sister. We just got in the car together and like just had a great time. Love playing music together. It was just a blast," Courtney explained. "Ben and I have had Kaiser Cartel since 2004." They were both teaching at the time they formed the band. Courtney was teaching music and Benjamin was teaching art. In June of 2008, Kaiser Cartel released the album March Forth. "At that point we left our day jobs and went for it. For the next year and a half after releasing that record, we were on the road, driving around the country, flying to Europe, really hitting it hard. Our second record, Secret Transit, just came out in June. We toured it in June, July and took August off. Did the tour with Tracy this past month, then head to the Netherlands, the U.K. and Sweden this October," she explained.  The new record is getting very good reviews. Courtney said that people are really digging the live versions of the songs as well. "People have been really great and very supportive," she said.

Kaiser talked about what it was like to work with John's longtime backup singer Pat Peterson. "It was amazing, when I first came in on that first tour, I went from being a lead singer to a backup singer. As a newcomer, she really took me under her wing and got us ready. Every night before we got on stage she'd get us together and say a prayer," Courtney explained.

"That woman has done more things. She's incredible. She sang all those great parts with Pink Floyd on Dark Side of the Moon when she was 16. She was with Ray Charles. She would tell us stories about that. She would say, like, there were eight girls in one hotel room. She has done it for years. Her energy level when she was on stage. Her high kicks...I mean, she just gave it her all every night. She was always there, very supportive and very present. She just gave herself as a friend and an influence to me in an amazing way. I just feel grateful to have had the opportunity to stand next to her and sing all those shows," she said.

Courtney said she still keeps in contact from time to time with Peterson and Mirium Sturm. "Jenn and I talk every now and then also. She's in Indianapolis, so we talk from time to time."

Courtney Kaiser is a busy person and is constantly creating and playing music. Not only did she make an impact in John Mellencamp's band, she is making an impact in her own career. For more information on Kaiser Cartel, check out

Title: Re: Band Member Spotlight - Courtney Kaiser 2001-2003
Post by: Thadrequet on September 30, 2010, 11:38:53 pm
The top picture of Courtney and the second one from the bottom of Courtney and Benjamin Cartell were both taken by Harry Sandler. Thanks to Mr. Sandler and Courtney Kaiser for the use of those pictures.

Thanks to TonyB and Sharon for providing the rest of the pictures for this story.

Title: Re: Band Member Spotlight - Courtney Kaiser 2001-2003
Post by: tattudemellenhead on November 14, 2010, 08:49:15 pm
I got to meet her and get my pic with her the night I got my leg signed in 2002, she was sooo sweet. I loved what she brought to the band.  :)