Kinnie Starr On Why From Far Away Isn’t Hip Hop Aggro Groove
Born in Calgary and based in Vancouver, B.C., Kinnie Starr star has made her mark in music with her unique approach to songwriting and personal themes. Her newest album, From Far Away, looks at everything from sexuality to saving the Earth’s water. While packing up for her 15-date tour, which includes a stop in Toronto on October 15, Starr spoke with Real Style about her new album and upcoming tour.
Real Style: What was your inspiration for From Far Away?
Kinnie Starr: Well, I’ve been writing music for 20 years. I generally tend to write about the same stuff, which is family, race, the environment, conflict resolution, identity, love, ethics. So it’s the same as that; it’s just what I write about and what interests me. In terms of getting my inspiration, I just get it from the world around me. How people are with each other, the way people operate. You know, I’ve observed people pay attention to what’s going on. I’m a thinker and I’m an introvert. I’m often kind of a fly on the wall.
Real Style: Your musical style has been described as “hip-hop aggro groove.”
Starr: Yeah, I don’t know why people still use that quote. That’s from 1999. I’ve made some metal, you know. I’ve recorded some metal and some punk, but somehow, that quote just stuck. It’s not really hip-hop aggro groove. It’s because when people see- at least at that time, obviously there are more female rappers visible now, but back in the late 1990s when I was signed to Island Def Jam, they didn’t know what to do with me. It was “Well, she seems aggro because she’s rapping, and she’s not being really pretty with a nice dress on. So it must be aggro.” It’s not punk, because there were a lot of punk acts like Riot Grrrls that were really punk in their approach. I kind of got tied in with that ethic, because I’m a feminist, but then the style is not really like that. There is some aggro stuff in my music, but I’d say there’s more loving than aggro. [I’d probably describe my musical style as] just hip-hop or art-hop, poetry hop, pop-hop! I don’t know really.
Real Style: So how do you know when a record is done, when it’s complete?
Starr: Well, for this record, I culled from a body of probably 30 or 40 songs that were finished. I started to pay attention to which ones seem like they’re the most complete, or which ones seem the most true. I don’t know, I just have an instinct and the songs that make it when I have a big body of work (which I usually do), the songs that make it are the ones I feel are the most relevant.
Real Style: How has the music world changed for you and how have you adapted?
Starr: Well, I try and work my social media. I was really against that for a long time, because when social media platforms first came out, I was like “How boring is that, promoting yourself all the time and telling people about yourself.” I didn’t understand it for the longest time and I really resisted it, but some friends of mine were like “Look at it as a way to express yourself outside of the press.” The press, generally when I see (not so much anymore, but a lot of the times I’ve seen) interviews, if I have the courage to look at an interview, it’s not really what I said. It’s just kind of pulled apart in a manner that promotes whatever novelty-ism that the reviewer wants to promote. It’s either that I’m bisexual or a feminist, or I’m part-native. Those are the things that people will kind of make into a novelty. The interesting thing about social media is that you can really say what you want. So that’s the peace that I’ve made with it.
Real Style: The environment is really important to you. How do you keep your life and touring in check with your principles?
Starr: You kind of have to accept that you’re the worst carbon footprint on the planet when you’re a working musician. I’ve had that ethical battle with myself so many times. It’s a hard feeling, and people too–the Internet is a mean place where people will constantly be like “Oh, I thought you were an environmentalist. Look at you flying to Spain!” It’s kind of like “Yeah, I suck too.” At least I’m trying to raise awareness about it, which is better than never talking about it or thinking about it.
Real Style: What else are you working on now?
Starr: Just working in media. I’m working on a television show and a documentary. I’m working on a TV show, a healthy media television show, and a documentary called Pop Porn, which looks at the analysis of pornography and how it’s entered mainstream culture – how it’s affected the way we think and the way we dress, how we do our nails, how we use our bodies, how we relate to each other. It’s pretty fascinating s***.
Real Style: What’s your favourite track on your new album?
Starr: I really just work. I just work, so I don’t really take …I guess I should probably take time, because I do get asked that question a lot and I never know how to answer it. I’m just working, trying to stay alive, trying to pay my bills, trying to be there for my family, and trying to make meaningful shit for the world so we don’t all just want to blow our heads off. I know too many depressed people that have no hope and I have seen too many people die…not like in front of my face…but like I know too many people that passed for no good reasons and that are incapacitated by their life’s situation and I just don’t find it encouraging so I just try and make beautiful things so that people feel better.
Real Style: What was special about this album?
Starr: I played every instrument on it, and sang everything and recorded it all at home by myself. It’s very uncommon for women to be their own engineers and producers – 3 to 5% is a generous estimate. It’s about 3% of women that are actually engineering and writing their stuff and playing their own instruments and tech-ing themselves and producing. So, that’s pretty interesting because what that results in is … not to say that if you’re a female and you’re doing it a different way that that’s not your vibe, but what happens when you put someone in the control seat and they are doing everything from the ground up you get a really raw product, because there are no outside ears refining anything. That’s pretty interesting to me. You’ll hear the real story of what’s going on in that room that day.
Real Style: Each song is really layered, not just musically but with everything.
Starr: That’s cool that you can hear that, I haven’t heard anyone else say that. But it’s definitely …like, those songs took days and days and days and days of reviewing and trying to get all the sonic palettes accurate for the vision. It’s a really fun task to try and make something true.
Photo: Robin Gartner
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