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Culture Abuse’s David Kelling On How To Front A Punk Band With CP

August 29, 2017

People often assume that the lead singer of Culture Abuse is wasted. In fact he has cerebral palsy. “They think I’m fucked up no matter what,” says David Kelling, “so I’ll just act like I’m partying to make people more comfortable.”

Kelling’s disability affects his movement on the right side of his body – he walks with a limp and often finds it hard to get on and off stage. His five-piece band signed to Epitaph in June and have been in Europe since they supported Green Day in Hyde Park in July, at the personal request of lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong; this weekend they play the Reading and Leeds festivals.

We meet as they begin their UK tour – they are relying on friends for places to crash between shows. Lining up pints of Guinness, Kelling explains that cerebral palsy, a condition that reduces muscle strength and motor skills, “affects everything” in his life. People stare at him on the street, he learned to play the guitar with his fingers because he can’t hold a pick, and almost every venue he plays at has stairs that are difficult for him to navigate.

The band’s latest album, Peach, released last year, was about various issues in the band members’ lives. “Our rent kept going up, one of our friends died, there’s a drought in California, and my mum has a terminal heart condition. But our fans kept saying how positive it was,” says Kelling, smiling. Originally from San Francisco but now living in LA, he says it feels weird to be in Europe, “writing cute love songs” when the US is in political turmoil, but believes that as a band they offer hope. Last week’s tweet proclaiming “fuck Donald Trump” and “fuck racism” lays out their political stall.

So Busted, the band’s latest single, is seemingly about the pain of liking someone who doesn’t like you back, but Kelling, who says he’s still “getting over hating myself”, explains it’s also about his insecurities.

He wrote it when he started seeing his girlfriend. “She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, but I still question why she is with me, [because] I’ve never seen the kid with the disability get the girl,” he says. “I’d keep asking: ‘Are you sure? Is it just because the band’s doing good?’”

Kelling says he is happy to be an ambassador for disability. “There are female musicians, there are black musicians – almost everyone can find someone who is like them. But disabled people have no role models at all. There could be more, there should be more.”

While there are campaigns for gender-neutral public bathrooms, Kelling argues that there’s no equivalent for disabled facilities. “Five flights of stairs to get to a venue – how does someone in a wheelchair get up them? And who is talking about that?” he asks. “It never stopped me going to gigs when I was younger, but sometimes I’d trip and fall and feel like I didn’t want to be there anymore.”

Kelling writes all the band’s music, which he has previously described as “the Clash and the Ramones mixed with some Nirvana”, but says it took him until the age of 30 to be confident to go public with it. He now wants to fight the media narrative of “a normal human, then you have a disabled person” and show parents that “their kid can be a hero too”.

He is confident that he will be the only disabled frontman to perform at Reading and Leeds this weekend. “I was always afraid of singing,” he says. “But I feel like a freak anyway, so I may as well get up on stage in a dirty T-shirt, spit all over myself and just embrace it.”

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