ourtney "Greenbeans" Klein’s drive to leave her hometown of Temecula, California was almost as consuming as her obsession for all things percussion when the music school dropout got on the I-15 Freeway and headed for Hollywood 10 years ago. A self-professed nerd with a penchant for go-go dancing and welding, Klein is one of those rare American entertainers that defy any rational categorization. Among many things, she is the former host of Spike TV's short lived series Boom and the ex-drummer/electronic programmer for the British post-industrial group Nitzer Ebb. We recently talked to Kourtney about her work ethic, her love for ‘80s synth-pop, and her current musical project, Army on the Dance Floor.
"A lot of my friends make sure they have the right shoes to match their clothes. No, I wake up thinking, ‘If I don’t get what I need to get done I’m going to go to bed feeling like a chump.’ "
So, where does the Kourtney Klein saga begin?
Out in the middle of nowhere (laughs). Just me and my sister on a ranch in Temecula. I didn’t have much when I was growing up—just a bunch of dirt—and I just spent time building things and digging trenches. My sister and I were like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn chasing bugs, looking for diamonds in the hills, and coming home with cactus thorns stuck in us. I don’t think I’d ever been on an elevator until I came to Los Angeles.
And the music?
I started playing in a band in fifth grade and was a mallets player. I played the vibes, marimba, bells. I was obsessed with them and would play eight hours a day blindfolded to be ready for any piece of music that would get thrown at me. I still love the instrument and have a xylophone in my studio.
What kind of music were you listening to as a teen?
I listened to anything by Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo. I loved ‘80s synth-pop, I loved anything by Enigma, Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode.
Do you like the Human League?
I love the Human League. I used one of their synthesizers.
So, after high school what came next?
I was convinced the more I played, the better. And the more I’d get out into the world and see everything. Then I got into music school at 16, switched to playing drums, and eventually moved to Los Angeles. My “plan b” was to be a recording engineer, but I ended up as a go-go dancer.
What? How the hell did that happen?
(laughs) I was at this club called Club Ivar (it doesn’t exist anymore) and had never seen a go-go dancer. I happened to be sitting next to the owner and told him, “Hey, I can dance and I also need a job.” So, I auditioned and soon was dancing for all the big deejays in Hollywood.
What year is this all happening?
This was right out of the gate in 2004. I danced for Slick Rick, Digital Underground, Armin Van Buren, Teisto, Paul Oakenfold and pretty much every Triple Class A deejay (the world renowned deejays that play festivals for 100,000 people in Spain, London, Vegas, etc.) that came through town. I danced six years at Avalon and nearly every club in Hollywood. But I was practicing every day with bands and working in the recording studio. Dancing and drumming were my life.
So, you weren’t a casual, raver chick. You truly dug the club music?
I loved underground dance music. I still love underground dance music. It's in my soul.
Still, it seems like a far cry from reading notation and learning the rudiments of drumming.
Not really. Dancing and drumming is the same job. Drummers often say, ‘I can’t dance.’ In dance you’re still moving your body to the beat and if you fall off beat you’re fucked, so it’s the same thing. I feel terrible saying that, but in a way I liked dancing more than drumming.
How did you eventually get on TV as the host of Boom?
My friend who worked in the mailroom at Spike TV said, “They want someone who knows tools and is mechanical and cute, but they can’t find anyone.” I basically crashed the audition. I didn’t even have a headshot.
How would you describe the show?
The show was sort of a precursor to Myth Busters—like Monster Garage with explosives. The whole point of the show was to blow up shit on high def., like Jackass. It was a blast. I shot 50 caliber machine guns atop a WWII vintage Sherman tank.
Anyway, the show was ahead of its time, and as soon as I found out that the show wasn’t renewed for another season, I went on tour with the alternative group Combichrist as a drummer.
How did that come about?
The singer from Combichrist Andy LaPlegua saw me dance at Avalon. When the owner told him, "You’re not going to believe it, but she’s a rad drummer," he brought me in to audition. Then the local industrial club promoter told me Nitzer Ebb was getting back together and Combichrist was playing some festivals with them. Next thing I know, Nitzer Ebb called me to audition. So I went Combichrist, to Nitzer Ebb then back to Combichrist.
Did you like touring the world?
When I was drumming on tour I was really lonely, straight up, I was sad as hell. I started missing the old days of playing classical music which had nothing to do with the bands I was with and everything to do with the drums. I missed playing the marimba and always had one foot in production. I started doing white label remixes in 2000 with a shitty PC laptop. I wanted to write music, so I saved every single penny and started buying pieces of recording equipment one by one and had it shipped to this rehearsal room for about 2 years. After I officially retired as a drummer I opened up the boxes, got tutors, took singing lessons and piano lessons, and started to re-learn how to produce, program, and write dance music. While I was playing in cover bands I was working on the production jobs nobody wanted. I started from the bottom. I really love the way things work—taking things apart—and building stuff. Not IKEA stuff (laughs). I built an electronic drum set that I took out with DJs. I did re-mixes (most recently for Prong) and recreated a Giorgio Moroder track for a Russian film.
Tell me about the new band.
I started a band called Army on the Dance Floor, and we’ll be touring in the fall. Ok, well it’s another girl Thessa M'Loe and a dude, Jason Seger, and I. We’re going to be touring. We will be releasing a full length, hour-long record, and there is a 12-minute war anthem on the record. The record is self-produced and called Many Faces of War. We aren’t signed yet.
But you’re back to playing drums?
All three of us are going to play drums. Thessa and I will have little tribal stand-up kits. Jason will be playing full on. He’s pretty much the best drummer in the world if I do say so myself. We will have work stations... dark electro dance wave. I just made that up. We are taking this band very seriously. We have used a lot of cutting-edge synths and sound design. Ryan Greene, legendary punk rock producer will be mixing it. The record is brutal, dreamy, and somewhat classical. I don’t expect it to save the world or cure cancer, but I hope people like it.
When you look back on the last 10 years—working in night clubs at such a young age—do you ever think your life could have gone the other way?
I feel that I’m lucky because I met the right people who, because they knew I was in it for the right reasons, had my back from the beginning, almost like angels to guide me.
Still, you came with a strong work ethic.
It’s life or death for me, though. I wake up and I don’t have to pull myself away from trying outfits on in the mirror—like a lot of my friends making sure they have the right shoes to match their clothes. No, I wake up thinking, ‘If I don’t get what I need to get done I’m going to go to bed feeling like a chump.’ The only thing that makes me feel good is working.
That would make you a…
A workaholic. (laughs) I guess I’m a workaholic.
Last question, why “Greenbeans?”
Because meatloaf was already taken. Plus green beans are tasty.
Click here to learn more about Army on the Dancefloor.