The Detroit Cobras light our fire

By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 27, 2005

Usually, when you read an interview in the Arizona Daily Wildcat in question-and-answer format, it's because the artist/musician/actor was interviewed too close to deadline to craft it into delicate prose. This was not the case with my interview with The Detroit Cobras' guitarist Mary Ramirez, but I could never do her quotes the justice they'll do all on their own.

The Detroit Cobras are a female-fronted blues/R&B cover band from (if you don't know, I'm not telling) that make some of the rawest, most exciting music around. Their third album, Baby, has 19 covers of the greats (like Otis Redding and Bobby Womack) and includes an original, "Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat)." Coming from the garage/blues Detroit scene, but sounding completely unlike any of their competition/allies, The Detroit Cobras will rock Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Halloween. The Sweat Band and The Reigning Sound open the 21-plus show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10.

As an aside, Ramirez has the coolest, gnarliest female voice ever (imagine a sultry whiskey and nicotine rasp). Plus, she laughs a lot.

Wildcat: So, how was the recording of Baby compared to past recordings?

Ramirez: When we recorded Baby it was in downtown Detroit. We record basically the same way we perform, so we try to get everything live, including the vocals. Like on "It's Raining;" on Baby that's live. That's Rachel's first try. We tried to record it again, but it never quite caught the same emotion, you know.

Wildcat: So, how do you select the songs you cover?

Ramirez: The same way you'd select songs to make a mix tape for a girl. There's all these songs that we like, and there's this stuff that Rachel doesn't know whether or not she can do it, as far as singing goes. And it comes down to the band getting it. If we can't produce the feel that the original has, then we're not gaining everything. It's easy (for bands) to say, "Oh we don't want to play like the record." Try playing like the record once. Because I don't play like a 60-year-old great, fucking blues guy from New Orleans, you know. I wish I did, but I don't. So, we actually tried to do the record, but you are what you are. All of us are into heavy metal, all of us were into punk; you know what I'm saying? And that shit just comes out of you.

Wildcat: So, is Greg (Cartwright from The Reigning Sound) a permanent member?

Ramirez: Yeah, he's touring and he's recording with us, so as permanent as anyone else is.

Wildcat: Is that why you're having The Reigning Sound open?

Ramirez: Yeah that was the booking agent's idea, but (Craig) was going to do it anyway. He said, 'Yeah, I'll be in the band.' For me, I have the highest respect for him. He's a great guitar player and he's one of the few good songwriters I've seen lately as far as the rock scene goes. And it's also really nice having The Reigning Sound in front of us because you get to share the equipment, so you don't have to carry a full load. Also when they finish playing we look forward to playing. You know, you don't have to pretend you like the band. It just feels more exciting to play behind them.

Wildcat: So have you guys found it hard to break free from The White Stripes and other Detroit bluesy-garage acts?

Ramirez: You know, I don't think there's that much lumping. I think there's more lumping when we did interviews in Europe because they were like, 'Oh, Detroit, blah, blah.' But you know I think the whole White Stripes thing and our association with it is like over. I mean maybe like two or three years ago it was always like, 'What's going on with you and The White Stripes, what's going on?' But I have no problem with that either, because in Detroit you know everybody. There's no hope for you to get away from it. No matter how much money Jack makes, if he wants to go to a bar, he's gonna have to go to the same fucking bar he went to. There's no other bars. There's the techno guys, they hang out in another bar; there's the rap-rock guys, they hang out in another bar, but it's not like there's a bar for the people that made it. That doesn't exist around here. Besides, it's all fun. It's all your friends. It's all pretty funny for us. I used to be, "What! You guys are gonna open up for the Stones, no shit? Fuckin'-A, man." So, it's all pretty fun and good.

Wildcat: So, which do you enjoy more: playing live or recording?

Ramirez: I think when you play live you tend to get pumped up. I think depending on the mood of the band and the level of intoxication in the past days will determine how you're going to play it. The audience and the mood goes hand in hand. I really, really enjoy playing the venues of hundreds. Like 300 or 500, you know. I know that's not what record companies want to hear, but we really don't want to get any bigger. Not that we're big or anything, but that is a good feel, to play that size.

Wildcat: Are you guys excited to be playing here on Halloween?

Ramirez: In Detroit, Halloween is a big fucking deal. I don't know about you guys, but we have Devil's Night where we burn our own city. They launched a campaign and now they call it Angel's Night, so like, "No, don't burn your city." But we pretty much burn everything, OK? They'll have 40,000 volunteers from the suburbs and they'll drive around in little cars looking for fires and they put like these two huge eyes on all these buildings downtown and it says, "This building is being watched." But it doesn't matter to us. So anyways, Halloween's like a big deal for us.

Wildcat: What about your future plans?

Ramirez: I want to - right after we get back - rehearse for a week, and then a week after that record another album. Because the band would've been at the most played at, together, at that time, so why not take advantage of that.