Meet the Mangfather!

We catch up with singer-songwriter and hip-hop artist Bob Katz!

Q: Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself.

I’m Bob Katz aka The Mangfather Bob Katz. I’m a singer-songwriter and a hip-hop artist. I live in Brooklyn, NYC. I spent almost 30 years working as a clinical psychologist in underserved community hospitals in Queens, mostly in Far Rockaway. Starting about 7 years ago, I became a full-time musician and I’ve been having a blast! I’m known for both delighting and horrifying music audiences with my honest, raw, and funny stories, most of which are autobiographical. I love it when young people come up to me after a show and go “you really tell it like it is”. And that happens a lot, I am blessed to say.

Q: What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about words. I’m passionate about honesty. I’m passionate about anti-censorship. I believe in writing the way real people speak. I believe in singing and rapping about the things that we all experience but maybe have a hard time talking about. So I use humor to help people think about these things without getting too upset. These are the things that got me into hip-hop and rap music. People telling it like it is and being real.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Since I started doing music professionally late in the game, I feel like I’m trying to catch up, so I don’t have a lot of spare time. Music is my joy and every day I’m learning new things. I also love to eat, sports, especially basketball and boxing, and movies, which I’m watching a lot of now on Amazon Prime, especially comedies.

Q: What is a typical day in the life?

I try to get up early, around 6 AM, and after breakfast and reading what we call the “horror news”, I’m gonna work out (e.g., lift weights, old cross country ski machine) or go race-walking in my neighborhood. You know, we gotta stay healthy and sane right now! Then I call my husband Conrad and we both plan what we need to get done for the day for our music careers. My husband writes operas and teaches composing at Juilliard in the city. We’ve been together for 21 years. My focus for the day depends on what I’m working on. Right now, I’m working on recording and producing my next The Mangfather Bob Katz album. Then after I make dinner, I’ll work a little more and then Conrad and I will watch a comedy movie or a show on the computer at the same time and we’ll text each other jokes and comments while the show is on.

Q: How has the Coronavirus Pandemic affected your creative process?

I knew that the only way that I’m going to get through this isolation and anxiety is to have a big project to get lost in. So I decided that I’m going to record and produce a new album and make the videos. “Six Cans of Olives” is the first single and the first video. And it’s also my way to help other people get through this crisis. I’m really good at getting people to laugh and to think.

Q: How did you get started in music?

I’ve been singing in choruses my whole life, but I didn’t start playing guitar till I was 41 years old. My big break happened when Pete Kennedy, from the great folk-rock duo The Kennedys, heard some of the songs that I had written and offered to produce my debut album, “When Good Mangos Go Bad”. That was in 2010, and it’s been a wild ride ever since!

Q: Did you always know you wanted to perform?

I never ever said this out loud, but when I heard the Carly Simon song “The Carter Family” when I was nine years old, something snapped in my head and I knew that’s what I wanted to do; write songs with deep meaning and feeling and sing them for other people.

Q: List some of your major inspirations. How have they affected your sound?

I’m a genre hopper, so my inspirations come from all over the place. In addition to hip-hop, I also record folk-rock and punk songs under the artist name Bob Katz, and I’ve even written and performed a successful Off-Off Broadway one-man musical called “Quasimango, The Lunchbox of Notre Dame”. So I really am all over the place. I told you, I’m making up for lost time! So I listen to everything.

The Rappers – Run DMC from Queens, Missy Elliott, Biggie from Brooklyn, Grandmaster Flash, MIA, Jay Z, Kate Tempest from England, Kendrick Lamar, Nikki Minaj, Junglepussy, Kanye West, Lily Allen, Eminem, Tank & the Bangas, NoName.

The Singer-Songwriters – Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell, Richard Shindell, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Dar Williams, Lucinda Willams, Fiona Apple, Patti Griffin, Nanci Griffin, Kathleen Edwards, Carly Simon, Carole King.

The punk rockers – Lou Reed, David Bowie (who everyone says I sound like when I sing), Patti Smith, X, Laurie Anderson.

I don’t know how all of these folks have affected my sound. OMG, I think it just all goes into a blender in my brain, and out comes this crazy mixture of stuff. I think the thing these artists have in common is that they all write great lyrics. They really pay attention to their words.

Q: How do your spiritual beliefs play into your musicianship?

For me, music is my spiritual thing. It’s my church. For many years, the chorus in the LGBTQ synagogue in Manhattan was very important to me, and I learned so much about how to use music to help raise people to their higher selves. Now I channel that spiritual energy into my own songwriting and performing, and I hope that I’m still helping people to reach a higher place; to find their best self.

Q: What is it you hope your music communicates to listeners?

That’s it’s OK and even healing to talk about upsetting and embarrassing things. That being honest, even about the things we’re ashamed of, can make us stronger, better people. That we’re all just big flawed screw-ups, trying to do the best we can. And that’s OK.

Q: Tell us about your recent project

Well as I said, I’m working on recording and producing my new “The Mangfather Bob Katz” album. "Six Cans of Olives” is the first single. It comes straight from my experience of visiting the grocery store here in Brooklyn during the pandemic and finding the shelves almost empty except for a lot of crap nobody wants to eat, like olives and pickled garlic. In the video, I’m wearing crazier and crazier masks (including a jockstrap at one point) cause I’m also making fun of the fact that we keep being told we’re supposed to wear masks, wear gloves, use wipes, Purell, and all this sanitizing equipment and meanwhile most of this stuff is completely unavailable except for the millionaires who can afford to pay the crazy prices they’re being allowed to charge for this stuff. I also use humor cause if we don’t laugh we’re all gonna lose our minds! 

Q: Was being an independent artist a conscious decision?

I don’t really have a choice. My stuff is too raw and too all-over-the-place genre-wise for any label to want to touch me. I’m also probably too old for most labels.

Q: Being an independent artist is no easy journey. Are you involved in other ventures to supplement your income while pursuing a career in music?

I’m very lucky cause if I stay on a tight budget, I can live on my pension from my years of working as a psychologist in addition to supplementing with some part-time work. I guess that’s the blessing of starting late! That’s what my upcoming single, “Off the Grid” is partly about.

Q: What are your thoughts on signing to a label and would you ever do it?

As I said, no label is gonna touch me. But even if they wanted to sign me, I’m not even sure how it would benefit me at this point. I’ve gotten so used to doing everything myself. A label would really have to prove to me that they could do something for me that I can’t do for myself and without ripping me off.

Q: What were some of the struggles or challenges that you’ve faced while trying to break into the industry?

Oh, there are many! I’m too edgy and too all-over-the-place genre-wise for a lot of mainstream venues, radio stations, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been offered gigs and then later got calls rescinding the offer because they heard me curse or sing/rap about a rough subject on the internet. I think my age freaks some people out too. Let’s face it. The music industry is a youth industry. When you reach a certain age as a musician, you’re supposed to be singing/rapping warm fuzzy songs about the ‘good old days’ and all the wisdom you’ve developed over the years.

You’re not supposed to be cursing and disturbing the shit and rapping about what a screw-up you are! I also think race is a challenge for me. If one more hip-hop station asks me if I’m trying to be like Lil Dicky, I’m gonna scream! Not that I don’t think Lil Dicky is great, but I never even heard of him until recently and I’m certainly not trying to be like him. The only thing I think we have in common is that we’re white rappers. Well, at least no one’s asked me about Vanilla Ice although I did get a few questions about Weird Al Yankovic that made my blood boil! I’m also sure the fact that I’m openly gay is an issue for some people. But none of this stuff is gonna stop me, people! My dad is a Holocaust concentration camp survivor and now he’s 95 years old. Nothing stops us!

Q: If you could collaborate with anyone (dead or alive), what would be your dream collaboration?

I have learned that I am the world’s worst collaborator. I have very strong ideas about what I’m trying to accomplish, so it’s ‘my way or the highway’! Therefore, my hero would soon hate me if they had to work with me, so I will stay away from collaborations with my heroes.

Q: With the digital age of delivering music straight to consumer, and ease of ability to make and put out records; how did you go about carving out your own lane and standing out in what many consider to be an oversaturated industry?

Wow, that is a great question. I think I’m still figuring it out myself. But I guess what I’ve found works for me is to embrace my freedom and originality, refuse to be constrained by genre or the expectations of others, and just be myself and have fun. If I’m excited about my work and having fun then usually other people are having fun too.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of music today?

I think the music industry is broken. Consumers no longer feel that they should have to pay for music and the only money that’s coming in is from streaming, which is going to the big corporations like Spotify and not to the artists who do the work. And nostalgia rules because the record labels don’t want to pay to help artists make new music. So the labels are pushing their back catalogue of old music and acting like it’s new, cause that’s just free money for them. That’s why the Beatles, Motown, etc. are everywhere. Not that’s it’s not great music but there’s really great music today also that nobody knows about because it’s getting no support. We gotta be wacky to be doing this shit!

Q: Where do you do your best creative work?

I work best in my quiet little apartment in front of my computer, with either a guitar or a midi keyboard in my hands. When I work in my husband’s tiny studio apartment in Manhattan though, he makes me work in the bathroom when he’s working on an opera and he needs the piano. I wrote a song where the chorus goes, “I hope this doesn’t spoil it, I wrote this on the toilet”.

Q: How does your environment impact or hinder your creative ability?

I need peace to work and I usually need to be by myself so I can just let my crazy imagination flow.

Q: What is your experience in social justice and activism?

I ran Christopher Street Coffeehouse, a venerable singer-songwriter venue at St. John’s Lutheran Church in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan, for many years. Our goal is to raise money for the Church’s social service programs for transgendered, gay, lesbian, and bisexual homeless young people.

Q: Are you a part of any groups or communities you’d like to mention?

Well, as I mentioned above, Christopher Street Coffeehouse at St. John’s Lutheran Church is a very supportive place in NYC for singer-songwriters of all genres. They’re even doing online open mics now during the pandemic, which is a great way to stay motivated to write and create music.

Q: What’s next for you? Any new projects?

I’m really working hard to get this album done and to do the videos and the PR for it. It is hard work!

You can keep up with Bob by visiting his website here!