Posted On 13 Sep 2018
Kinnie is a Juno Award-winning songwriter/recording artist/producer who has drawn her praise from Billboard, The New Yorker, The Globe and Mail, and more. She is releasing her 8th studio album, “Feed The Fire” this fall, through Aporia Records.
Kinnie also returns with her documentary “Play Your Gender”, which questions why only 5% of music producers are women even though many of the most bankable pop stars are female. “Play Your Gender” sees Kinnie interviewing Sara Quinn of Tegan & Sara, Melissa Auf der Maur of the Smashing Pumpkins, Patty Schemel of Hole, Chantal Kreviazuk, and many more of the music industry’s most talented women.
Kinnie Starr is a genre-defying artist blazing her own influential trail. Entirely self-trained, Starr moves from hip hop to art-pop, folk to spoken word with eclectic grace. Her music is fearless, intuitive, politically charged and melodic, challenging listeners while making them bounce and nod. In 2000, after leaving Def Jam, she was one of the first beat-makers to mix powwow and hip-hop/EDM on her underground classic Red%X which featured Ulali.
Starr’s career has taken her around the world — across Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia, but she is first and foremost an artist and activist. Her activism began before her career in music as a visual artist, and her current visual work continues to touch on her areas of interest: race, home, family and humanity. Most recently, she collaborated with director Stephanie Clattenburg on the 2016 documentary, Play Your Gender, which explores the realities of being a woman in the music industry, a business in which less than 5% of producers are women even though many of the most bankable stars are female.
Her upcoming 2018 album, Feed the Fire, comes out of much reflection done in the aftermath of a taxi cab collision that resulted in a brain injury. Her road to recovery deepened her interest in the nature of communication in an era where immediacy is king and anxiety disorders rise alongside extroversion and “urgent” digital chatter. Feed the Fire will be a critical look at where we are at in our relationships to the screen, to our faiths, and to each other: our devices allow us to stay up all night viewing porn, fighting for likes or hype on social media, tailoring our public personas as a means of delivering toxicity…or warmth. Feed the Fire is about hope and despair in perilous times and reconnecting with our truest selves.
Born in Calgary of French, German, Irish and Mohawk bloodlines, the trilingual (English, French and Spanish) Starr has a BA in Race and Gender Studies from Queen’s University, Ontario. Raised in Calgary and university educated in Ontario, she now calls Sechelt, BC home; and shares her life with partner, Gwaai Edenshaw, a renowned carver and the son of Guujaaw.
Connect With Kinnie Here:
Learn more about Kinnie in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you now? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
I just got back from Santa Fe, New Mexico where a group of indigenous lawyers and artists were doing a residency. It’s a collective called TESTIFY and I’m one of the fringe members. The group challenges mainstream colonial law and pairs artists with lawyers to look at law from an indigenous perspective. On my Dutch/German side, we settled in with the Mohawks in what is now New York. The community that sprung up was known as the New Netherlands, and there were 18 dialects that came into play during the first 150 years of admixture between the Iroquois nations, Dutch and Caribbean peoples. The relationships between the indigenous nations were solid, and rich, when Europeans arrived. As I understand it, the Iroquois Confederacy was used as an outline to create the new constitutions implemented by the colonists as they settled the Americas.
I’m very interested in history and in the breadth of indigenous contributions to culture, both because my whiteness and privilege make it my moral obligation to get educated, but also because my roots as a colonist are mixed with Mohawk culture. There needs to be greater recognition of these multi layered societies that were formed from cultures mixing. Canada is founded on the knowledge of bloodlines mixing. It wasn’t just these warmongering savages and these dignified whites. Indigenous cultures were and are just as dignified and intelligent as the newcomers who arrived. School curriculum and the media encourage the notion that indigenous people are relics of the past, or are ineffective or non-compliant. I disagree. Actually, native people shaped North America, and welcomed newcomers, and are very vital and resilient. So that’s what I’m tripping on today, as well as just resting up from travel.
All Access Music is currently compiling a list of our artist’s favorite songs this summer so what has been your song of the summer? (It can be one of your songs!)
I don’t listen to much music as I’m recovering from a head injury. But my song “I’m Ready” was the last thing my dear auntie who just died heard. So it’s a very special song to me now knowing it was the last thing she heard. She was very elegant and I feel like it’s a huge gift that she accepted me, cuz I’m not very elegant, or conventional. I’m so lucky she loved me. I loved her.
Overall, how do you think 2018 has been treating you and your career? What has been one goal that you have had this year and how close are you to reaching it? Or did you already reach it?
2018 has been a lot of work. I have to work very hard at things that used to be easier for me. I’m doing better but I’m tired of feeling like I can’t keep up. Brain injuries kind of put everything underwater, or slow them. So people are always expecting me to function really fast. I’m tired of it, all of it. My new goal now is to stop referring to myself as injured. It’s like a trap…. i just want out, and to feel like I’m strong again. I was in a car accident that required years of litigation and also major medical help, and it’s shaped the way I think about myself and affected my abilities. At the same time there are so many great things happening in my career and personal life, so I’m trying to shake off my injuries and re-train my brain. I don’t want to use my trauma as a crutch.
Growing up, was music always a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience? Can you see yourself ever doing anything else?
I was a music listener but I didn’t play music growing up, so yes, I can definitely imagine doing other things for work. I’m not one of those people who grew up wanting to be on stage. Not at all. My brother had a drum kit that I smashed around on here and there but I am not trained. I never imagined being a musician and when I entered the music industry it made me very sick physically to be looked at all the time. I got used to it over time (being on stage) but again now with a head injury it’s a pretty big challenge to do things like be on stage as the nervous system doesn’t do well with adrenaline, and with noise, and stimulation. I loved listening to music when I was growing up – punk, metal and hip hop – but I never wanted to be a musician.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
The biggest surprise is that I’m still working!!! I am grateful every day for all the support I’ve received and thankful to be still writing.
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live today?
Calgary was a hilly, rugged town when I was growing up. We spent a lot of time just driving in the mountains listening to music. The prairies are big sky country. It made me feel alive. I’m heavily influenced by being outside.
How would you say that you have grown as an artist since you first starting making music? What has remained the same?
I hope so lol. But as far as continuity, I’m a wordsmith and experimental. That’s always my foundation.
This fall you will be releasing your 8th studio album, “Feed The Fire,” through Aporia Records. What was it like making this forthcoming collection? What was the inspiration for these songs? How are they different than anything else that you have released?
I was badly injured in 2015 and not at my best while making this record. I had limited ability to work so the songs are very focused. My label hired a collaborator who was my rock during this time and has grown to be a true friend, Douglas Romanow. My left arm wasn’t working and my brain was on fire. The songs are all about disconnection in a digital era. When I got hurt, I realized who had my back. It was a hard time to come face to face with the fact that some people I had thought were there for me were not. FEED THE FIRE, the title track, is a song from before the accident, but strengthened by my co-writer Douglas Romanow. This song is the guide track for all the other content, and is about many things but mostly about my connection to the natural world, and to my ancestors. The refrain, “she knows my name” is a reference to how when I was little, when storms were coming, I would go outside into the storm to find this one spot where the winds meet. I was never afraid in nature or in storms. In nature, I feel known. I was given a teaching too, a couple of decades ago, that before our name/race/gender is our spirit. I feel that way in nature – like my name is known by me being nameless. Among people, I feel less sure of myself and more bound to gender and race and identity conceptions. Specifically, in a digital era, I feel that people can be very bound by the ability to be cruel with the freedom of the Internet and texting etc. It seems to unleash the worst in us. Feed The Fire is all about this tension – the digital world offers many ways to put others down, but also to uplift others, depending I suppose on the strength and direction of our spirits.
I am curious to know how your car accident in a taxi truly shaped the songs on “Feed The Fire”? How did the accident change the kind of musician that you are today?
I still can’t play instruments. They make me feel nauseous, or like there is a misfire happening in my nervous system. I’m told I may be able to play again. I don’t know… I hope so, but I’m also just trying to be me, as I am today, rather than resenting my inabilities.
Can you talk about your documentary, “Play Your Gender”? Where did the idea for this come from and what has the response been like to it so far? What was it like getting to interview all those incredible performers about these important and relevant issues?
This film started as a request from a film board who wanted to make a Kinnie Starr documentary. I’m not interested in myself though. The problem with the entertainment industry is it is very geared at the SELF, and it’s boring. I suggested instead that gender inequity in the industry is a more pressing issue. I started the film in 2011/2012. The team changed throughout development. The research and interview processes were amazing. My collaborators Stephanie Clattenburg and Sahar Yousefi and I had no idea the #metoo movement would help us mobilize the film, but it has. I’m glad to be a small part of a big conversation. Women aren’t taken seriously. It’s a problem. Less than 5% of producers worldwide are female. There are lots of grassroots women doing cool work but too many get squeezed out of the industry before they can take a foothold in the boys club. It’s bullshit.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for you? What has been a favorite performance of yours so far? Do you have any upcoming shows the rest of this summer and into the fall? What’s next up for you musically?
I am not sure. I have a TIFF screening of a film I scored (Edge of the KNife) coming up in September. I’m also being brought to Reeperbahn with the film I created on the gender gap. It’s going to be a busy fall.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period or is your music an escape from all that? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate?
I’m not sure, but my whole record FEED THE FIRE is about the gap between our best selves and our worst selves, which I think is an ethical challenge many of us grapple with. Social media allows us to shape our public selves but the rise of anxiety and depression disorders indicates that consuming too much of this crap is making people lonely and ill. That plus we don’t look up from our phones ever, so how are we supposed to feel beautiful or part of a community even in urban centers that are super populated?
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
I left Facebook about 6 months ago and my PR manages my artist page there now. I post with some help on the other platforms. To be honest I try to stay offline so I can get real living done. But if I am posting, I have the mandate to post positively. I think it helps me be stronger to put good news forward, and I try to uplift people. I know controversial content sells and gathers more attention but I try to have fun with my posts and leave the arguments to those who love to argue lol.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
De La Soul. Imani Coppola. Metallica.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you and why?
A drum, in hopes I could play again.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I hope my music makes people feel capable, beautiful and powerful.
(all photography provided by Effective Immediately PR)