I first heard of and met Kim Boekbinder in 2008, when she and her sister Zoe appeared as the sister-cabaret duo Vermillion Lies, accompanying Amanda Palmer on her first solo US tour (That's also the year I first encountered The Builders and the Butchers, but that's another interview). Their songs were vibrant, funny, heart-wrenching, memorable, and very, very good. As I listened to all of their albums, I began to get a sense of each sister's lyrical voice and tone. Eventually, as the two moved on to their own solo careers, they developed and expanded those voices independently.
Just now, Kim has been working on a new album about space, collaborating with astronomers, physicists, and people who are just plain interested in the subject. She's been funding the project through Kickstarter, and has been providing regular updates to fans and supporters.
Recently, I got the opportunity to ask Ms. Boekbinder some questions about her work, the focus of her current project, and the shape of crowdfunding today.
Kim Boekbinder: In October 2005 I bought a guitar. I learned a few chords, wrote a few songs and then got my first gig on January 10th 2006. I was so nervous before the show that I felt nauseated for a week. But after I made it through that first show I knew that this was what I wanted to do forever. I loved performing. Still do. My music has grown a lot since then, but I'm just as excited about music now as I was then. Sometimes I get discouraged about the "career" part of it, but I'm still making a living and plugging along. Slow and steady. (It's only slow to me apparently, everyone else sees me moving at light speed.)
W: I know some artists tend to stay away from outside influences when they're in the middle of creating a new work. Do you stay away from listening to music while you work?
KB: When I can devote my full attention to something I will listen (and very much enjoy it) but music in the background = instant distraction.
W: What's some of the music you've been really into lately?
KB: I've been listening to a lot of African music lately. I'm so intrigued by that continent. We always hear about war and starvation and genocide from Africa, but it's a huge place with hundreds of cultures and so much creativity. One of my new favorites...
W: Who are some of your major influences?
W: Your last album and tour, The Impossible Girl, fully embraced the crowdfunding model, going so far as to pre-sell shows to guarantee that those cities where your fans were would be the ones who would get to see you. Earlier this year you launched "MISSION CONTROL," the website specifically built to let fans keep up with all things Kim Boekbinder, but, as the name suggests, most specifically tied to to your next album, The Sky is Calling. It seems to integrate the subscription and crowdfunding models to allow varying levels of access corresponding to different monthly subscription levels. What lessons did you learn from your previous Kickstarter process that are are you implementing in your latest fund raising efforts?
KB: Crowdfunding is both awesome and exhausting. On the one hand it's amazing to be able to make my own album on my own terms without a label. And honestly no label has ever even approached me, nor I them. But on the other hand it means CONSTANT promotion of the entire process of my life as a musician. Which is really not that awesome. MISSION CONTROL came about because I hit a wall last year where I just could not promote anything anymore. So I made this website, limited entry to 100 people, and said basically: I'm not going to talk about myself online for a while. If you want to support me while I write my next album and see what I do, then come on in. But otherwise I'm done shouting into the void.
The crazy thing is that it worked! I got MISSION CONTROL all filled up with people supporting me financially while I wrote my album. I got to share the process with them in a way that felt much more safe and special than blogging for the entire internet at large, and they got to watch an album be created from nothing. Now that I've had that time off from promoting I'm back into the game with my new single and Kickstarter launch. But I hope the Kickstarter will raise enough money to hire a PR team because I really can't sustain this level of self-promotion anymore.
The music part of my career is amazing. The promotion part is destroying my love for it. The Kickstarter for The Sky is Calling is going really well but I still need everyone's help to make this record.
KB: I think Hit RECord is interesting but I haven't been inspired to be involved. As a professional musician I'm too busy generating my own projects to start up an unknown collaborative one. But I'm all for the project and think some really good stuff has come out of it.
W: One of the things I've always loved about your work is the sheer amount of energy and depth of emotion you can feel resonating in it. From ecstatic to silly to mournful and heartbroken, there's a real sense of intricate lived experience there. How do you bring that kind of thing to an album about space?
KB: The space album concept came the day after I released The Impossible Girl. I didn't let myself think about it much though because I needed to be excited and engaged in promoting the album I had just released. So I let the album write itself in my subconscious for a year before I really started to write the songs for it. At first the concept came as a way to keep my music more focused--since my genres tend to swing widely--and also to use space as a setting. Being a solo musician is really lonely. And I sort of saw this connection to being an astronaut on a solo mission, journeying out into the universe to discover things to bring back home. I think it's part of my job to journey far away from the safe places inside myself and discover amazing things and share those discoveries with the world.
As I was writing the songs and doing my research I started to get more excited about the tech aspects of space and space travel and that is now a bigger part of my writing process.
W: How much does your work as a whole stem from your personal beliefs and experiences?
KB: My music is my autobiography.
W: Throughout your career, you've shown an ability to create in a number of different forms, from traditional collaboration to song cue inspiration, and iPhone-specific production. On your 2009 album, 31, you showcased all of these methods, and you've only expanded your skillset since then. Do you have anything that you think of as "your creative process," or does each song and album demand its own method of engagement? Either way, can you tell us a little about how you do what you do?
KB: I think of myself as a sound sculptor, using tones and rhythms to create a sonic art work to communicate. I want my work to break people open, surprise them. Like all great artists what I want is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.
W: What does space mean to you, both as a general concept, and with regard to your album? What was your first encounter with space?
KB: I have always been interested in, fascinated by, and drawn to space. From watching the Challenger Shuttle explode in the sky on TV when I was a tiny little creature, to reading sci-fi all throughout my life, to following NASA and the Mars Rover on Twitter. Space exploration has always been a part of my life in some way.
W: The early 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley coined the term "Currents," which he used to indicate the strong pull of certain concepts to evoke a certain energizing principle some ideas seem to have, and to imply that those ideas are "About Now." Kind of a zeitgeist thing. Do you think that, with the recent downgrading of NASA's funding which roughly coincided with both the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars and SpaceX's successful display of their Dragon capsule, space has once again become part of the current current?
KB: Yes. Space is very current. I feel very fortunate to be launching a space album as space exploration is enjoying a new surge of public excitement.
W: Do you think it should?
KB: My hope is to inspire even more excitement for space and space travel with this album. We live in an amazing time. A time of discovery and excitement, but also perhaps the last era where we can be so naive. We're discovering more and more about how fucking lucky we are to have this amazing planet that we live on. That it was created at all, that it formed an atmosphere, that we evolved out the primordial soup, that we haven't been wiped out by disease or famine or a meteor or solar flares. That we haven't killed ourselves, or destroyed our atmosphere. Yet.
I believe the more we learn about the cosmos, the better we become. And every single human on this planet needs to be involved in the process of knowledge: learning, sharing, creating. Think of how amazing we would be if all seven billion of us was educated (and I don't mean school, I mean access to information.)
W: Shifting gears a bit, have you ever wanted to do the soundtrack or score for a film, TV show, teleplay, stage play, or other visual production?
KB: I'd love to do soundtrack work. I just wrote a song for the end of a computer game that will be launching later this year. The game is called Primorida, it looks great and I was really happy to be part of the project.
W: Other than getting to work on precisely what you want, forever, what would be the kind of offer you dream of getting?
KB: First concert on the moon!
W: What's your favourite colour?
KB: All of them.
W: Favourite baked good or confectionery?
W: Any particular kind of pie, or does it vary by the season?
KB: Today it was pecan pie. So good.
W: Place here in town makes a Chocolate Chunk & Pecan pie that is just a thing of beauty. If you're a fan of chocolate, I'll grab you one next time you're in town.
KB: Yes please!
W: Anything else you want to say, that I didn't get to, before we close this up?
KB: Pre-order my album!
Kim Boekbinder is The Impossible Girl; a musical warrior and iconoclast. She is writing a space album. Because, well: SPACE! The first single (and title track), "The Sky is Calling," already has its music video: