Theo & the Skyscrapers: Reaching for new heights

You know Theo Kogan.

Whether it is through her acting – she played Theodora in Lloyd Kaufmann’s Troma classic “Terror Firmer” (“I did it because I loved the ‘Toxic Avenger’ film and it was a great thing, once,” says Kogan) – or through her high-fashion modeling gigs, you’ve seen the buxom blonde with the multihued tattoos before.

You’ve also heard her howl and grind as the frontwoman for the illustrious New York riot girl outfit Lunachicks. Their brand of madcap, high-energy punk rock has helped tile the floor for countless all-chick alternative acts blasting on the stereo today. So when someone, especially in the media, is unfamiliar with who she is or what she’s done, it comes as bit of a shock.

Case in point, an unflattering review of the 2006 self-titled debut from Kogan’s latest musical incarnation, Theo & the Skyscrapers, suggests she is no more than an replication of Karen O from the New York art-noise band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who has only shone brightly in recent years. “You can tell Kogan is shooting for that very kind of raw art-rock-punk aesthetic that the Yeahs seem to embody,” writes the critic. “Unfortunately, the fine art of imitation got lost along the way…” The reviewer does mention, quickly, Kogan’s stretch with Lunachicks but it doesn’t seem to give credit where credit’s due.

“What seems to happen throughout music history is that somebody is original and then somebody else takes it and bastardizes it and runs with it like a bandit and we see that over and over and over again,” Kogan says, who admits she’s a fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, even before they “blew up.”

Kogan gasps with a laugh when she hears the critic remarks that she resembles Miss O. “He probably means voice-wise, I guess,” she proposes, but her interpretation sounds loaded with cynicism. Nevertheless, his speculated accusatory stance raises one question: would Karen O exist if not for Kogan?

“I can’t be really that high on a horse about things. I think that guy probably doesn’t know where I came from,” says Kogan. “I can’t say there wouldn’t be no Karen O without me and I can’t say I didn’t help to basically move women along in music in my own way whether people know that or remember because I know I did. But that doesn’t say why Karen O’s here because it’s not.”

“It’s amazing because a lot of writers have no idea [who I am],” the 38-year-old Brooklyn native adds.

Musically, Brooklyn-based Theo & the Skyscrapers, who, formed in 2004, were originally a quartet but stripped down to a trio after parting ways with their bass player, are nothing like Lunachicks’ hard pounding ferociousness. Instead, their electronic sound is more rhythmic and keyboard-driven, leaning on new wave sensibilities and rock dynamics. Particularly, their second effort, So Many Ways to Die, which was released this past August, draws from the “sick, dark keyboard” effect of older artists like Gary Neumann, largely because, as Kogan puts it, without a bass player, their keyboard takes on its role.

The two bands also differ every other way, yet still maintain a similar “family” vibe, and for Kogan, it’s something that can never truly be explained. But she tries her best, offering that with Lunachicks, it was “almost another life” and now, her life is “incredibly different.” “It’s just part of growing up,” she says.

“Back then, when we had differences, there were moments where it was really not fun and there were moments playing with the boys that’s not fun but it’s usually because somebody’s in a bad mood,” says Kogan, who will be launching a new high-end make-up line this spring with partner Allison Burns called Armour. “I mean, a lot of it’s kind of the same but on stage, I think with both bands, you are always able to pull it together and have the show and suddenly you feel like everything’s fine.”

Not that her existence should rest solely on her work as a Lunachick. She is, in fact, human like the rest of us, subject to the irritating wait for the ambiguous cable guy. But it’s hard to deny that it’s a part of her and a major part of the music narrative. And now, with Theo & the Skyscrapers, whose DNA makeup also includes husband and Toilet Boys member Sean Pierce and drummer Chris Kling, she is already fashioning a similar dent, if not crater, in music today.

Just take a look at their supportive fan base and their busy schedule. First, the group has made it to the quarterfinals of this year’s Spin magazine/Music Nation Hot Pursuit contest, an online competition to discover the next big, breakout rock act. They were also voted as the challenge’s Geeks’ Choice for the week of October 1 (“I just thought it was some whatever section of people that decided they were geeks but then I heard it was the music geeks so I think it’s awesome,” says Kogan). And, on Wednesday, October 17, Theo & the Skyscrapers will be hitting the stage with Bloody Social, Excellent, Fresh Kills, and the Vandelles at Greenpoint’s Club Europa, 98 Meserole Ave, as part of the long-running CMJ (College Music Jamboree) Music Marathon 2007.

“I think it will be really fun,” says the charismatic Kogan. “I mean, [Europa is] a little out of the way but it’s a good room and I think the bill will be a fun bill for people to come see.”

“It’s amazing the amount of people that come to town to see bands during that festival,” she adds.

The Skyscrapers will also perform on Fearless TV, the 30 minute music block on the FOX channel that features up-and-coming musical acts. The air date for the performance has yet to be announced, but as Kogan assures, it will be sometime this month. And while she is glad to go against the grain, she’s not exactly thrilled with the channel on which the performance will be aired because, as Kogan puts it, FOX is the “right wing” and that’s something she’s not a part of.

For the most part, Theo & the Skyscrapers have received a tremendous amount of support from their fans, those familiar with Lunachicks and those discovering Kogan for the first time. She does confess, though, that she’s run into a few Lunachicks followers that aren’t necessarily encouraging of this new venture, but, for her, that doesn’t matter because why start a new band and do the same thing?

“If you’re going to have a new band that’s completely different with a different vibe and different people, why should it be the same,” Kogan asks.

Theo & the Skyscrapers perform Wednesday, October 17 at Club Europa, 98 Meserole Ave., (corner of Manhattan Ave.), Brooklyn, NY 11222, (718) 383-5723, http://www.europaclub.com

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