By day, Susan and Kevin Blue are a married couple who lead typical lives.
With a 14-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, the Blue family works diligently to make ends meet. Susan manages the paint department at a Lowe’s Home Improvement, while Kevin works the night shift at Ball State’s music library. They cook dinner, take the kids to school and exist in the life they’ve carved out for themselves.
But at night, all that changes.
Nametags and collared shirts are traded for tattoos and tank tops emblazoned with blood-soaked logos of death metal bands. Lunchboxes become amplifiers, tuned to 11. Two everyday individuals become leading members of the down and dirty punk rock band, Kris Karate.
“We were going to call ourselves Three Hot Chicks and Kevin,” founding guitarist Dawn “Key” Conn said. “Sue and Kevin and I reconnected after a few years of not seeing each other. I knew Susan played bass and I was trying to get something started. So I asked her if she wanted to play with us.”
The band’s name was decided after an opportune miscommunication. A friend enjoyed the music of a local death metal band name Discard the Body so much that his kindergarten-aged daughter was hooked on them. After the young girl – who has a speech impediment – began singing the lyrics to one song in class, a teacher asked a coworker: “Have you heard of this band called Kris Karate?”
Like any true punk act, the band plays an unfiltered mix of whatever comes to their mind.
“I guess as a youngster, I enjoyed types of music that were different from what everybody around me listened to,” Kevin said. “I was always searching for some new sound I hadn’t heard before.”
Their set list includes traditional punk and grunge rock, a folksy, bouncing anthem celebrating the power of whiskey and even a song from the 2008 indie horror film “Trailer Park of Terror.”
Though the band loves to perform live as often as possible, they all agree that practice sessions are a ton of fun because of their natural chemistry as friends.
“We start wrestling in the yard, the cops come up, they’re placing bets,” Conn said.
Both Kevin and Susan agree that a punk rock mentality has made a significant impact on the way they approach difficult situations, both in and out of the home.
“We’re not much different from other families,” Susan said. “Coming from that background, we’re a little more open-minded than most families. We don’t really hide life from our kids. A lot [of parents] want to monitor everything their kids do. They’re never going to see anything or get hurt. You have to let them live life.”
Both parents take an “old enough to ask, old enough to get an answer” approach to parenting their children.
Though society has defined punk rock as a “do-it-yourself” mentality, the Blue family has experienced an onslaught of support from fans of all shapes and sizes.
“They’re diverse, but the one thing they have in common is a love for music and a kind heart. You instantly want to be friends with all the fans,” said Randall Smith, a local music promoter and organizer of the “Funk It, Why Not” party.
Kevin and Susan happened to meet while Kevin was performing in a local “black label” band. Susan, who grew up on the east coast (known for its many punk rock scenes) began attending local shows with friends.
“It’s kind of weird, because we met and didn’t talk to each other for two years because I thought he was a jerk,” Susan said. “He wouldn’t let me touch his guitar.”
Over time, the two found more in common with each other, including their love of the scene’s music and horror films.
“It’s not so much about the music, but the mindset,” Kevin said. “It’s a straightforward ‘this is me, if you don’t like it, that’s your deal.’ Neither of us really cared what anybody thought about us. It’s a lot of the same mindset that we shared, so we kind of bonded over that.”
That mindset is even what saved Kevin from a dark period of his life.
“I came from a divorced family,” Kevin said. “I was the youngest son so I was sort of used as the pawn. I was taught at a very young age to hate certain kinds of people. I was very confused. I knew something wasn’t right with the people around me, but I found this community that was nice, open-minded. They were just themselves. That represented a stability I had never encountered before.”
Susan hopes to give that stability to their children.
“Our families each wanted us to live up to their expectations, worked so hard to change us,” she said. “Of course that didn’t work. We want our kids to be interested in what they want, explore what they want and love what they want.”
Even Kris Karate isn’t invincible to the sands of time. Conn, who has recently stepped down from the band to live on the East Coast, will join the band for a reunion show in December. Currently, Kevin and Susan are reorganizing for more potential shows with a shifted lineup, including a new drummer.
Though the world of punk and metal is one built on the idea of a controlled chaos, the family that both Susan and Kevin have come to know, on and off the stage, has provided them with a wealth of compassion and meaning.