Stone Pacific Zine: What inspires you to make music?
Kim Blythe: Trans women and femmes are a group of people that are still incredibly looked down upon today, and trans misogyny is a brutal social oppression that is still sadly normalized. We are not valued for our humanity, our life perspectives are ignored, we are fear mongered against, and we are hyper-fetishized by romantic partners.
While I do not want this to be the situation for trans women… I am inspired by reclaiming trans womanhood and femininity through music. I am inspired by being able to take control of a narrative that’s still so frequently erased and disregarded. At the end of the day, no matter what people try to throw at trans women, I still feel like I’ve won in being a creative and a trans woman that’s telling her own stories through music.
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SPZ: Tell us a bit about your journey as an artist: Where do you come from, where are you now, where are you going in the future?
KB: I was a musician that took several paths and opportunities, only to eventually settle on doing my own solo music project. I’m a formal, classically trained musician. I got a music education degree, and was geared to be a music teacher. I played in bands and wind instrument groups from elementary school to college. I played guitar, saxophone, and I sang.
After college, I tried to become a music teacher. It eventually didn’t work out and I left teaching altogether. There was a period of time where I had no idea what I was doing with my life, and was being stretched thin by several interests and passions. I was trying to be a daycare teacher, make it in the drag community, record an album with the rock band I was in at the time, and be an LGBTQ advocate through doing presentations about trans inclusion for music teachers.
2020 hit… and it hit me hard. A few weeks before the Covid shutdowns I started HRT. My social obligations got obscured and it got more difficult to commit to them. I got my priorities figured out during that isolated time, and 2020 is when I started writing my own music again. And I haven’t stopped since then.
Right now, I am writing, producing, and performing all my music. I do all the electronic instrumental arrangements on my laptop. I sing over almost all my tracks, and sometimes I will add guitar and saxophone. My current project is working on a debut mixtape. I have all the rough instrumental tracks written and arranged for my project… I am currently in the process of editing the arrangements of these tracks and rewriting. I will still have to record all the vocals, mix, master, and promote. I’m also currently trying to build a stable room to record my vocals and instruments in.
SPZ: Who are your biggest influences and how does this show up in your music?
KB: My two biggest influences are art pop and electronic music.
My biggest inspiration is Björk. She has meant so much to me over the passing years, and my love of her music just grows deeper and deeper. There are countless ways her influence shows up in my music. She taught me to be comfortable in being an intuitive singer… and while I am classically trained, vocals are the area I’ve had the least instruction around. Her music can hold both ethereal, otherworldly ambiance and aggressive, relentless industrial textures, and I’ve loved learning how to maintain both those musical sides in my project. She’s got a strange sense of humor in her music, and her sense of humor helped me feel comfortable with pushing some of my songs to a breaking point of absurdity. Two of her most critically acclaimed albums Homogenic and Vespertine have immaculate, flawless production that was far ahead of its time. And I aspire to someday have albums that sound that clear and direct in its mixing and mastering.
Other influential artists for me in the art pop/rock camp include Kate Bush, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, and FKA Twigs. Kate Bush used her wide vocal range theatrically especially in her early days, and she would sometimes jump several octaves in a song. Critics have looked back at her early work, and have pinned her vocal style of signifying a kind of feminine queerness. People that didn’t like her vocals would argue that she was shrieking, too shrill, counterintuitive in her phrasing, and too weird… and yet she still consistently followed her own unusual logic and passion through a vocal style others were deeming impossible.
Kate Bush’s vocal approach felt extremely close and resonant to me as a trans woman. I have a vocal range that extends the lower limit of a standard baritone up to the highest limit of a standard soprano, and I’ve always been proud of how this ability of mine is like a metaphor for how deeply I’ve had to engage with and challenge masculine and feminine constructs. People used to insult my singing voice, and what I found often annoyed people about it is that my so-called “gender dysphoria” carried into confusion about how my voice should properly be resonating. Vocal teachers can sometimes be strict and limiting when they narrow down your vocal classification, and very often “bari/tenor” is “male,” and “alto/soprano” is “female.” But given I physically could play around in all these registers and never felt comfortable identifying as “male,” it took me awhile to physically make sense of how each of my registers could get the best and most resonant sound. I practiced singing for a long time, before I eventually found my way into my singing style. I feel like if it wasn’t for artists like Kate Bush, I may have felt more limited in my freedom to explore my voice.
As for Fiona Apple and Tori Amos, they sang from the perspective of women that were trying to heal from the sexual assault and trauma they experienced. Their presence has been an incredibly healing one for me, and my music as of recently has become a better tool for me to heal from my sexual trauma and to fight against rape culture.
All these art pop musicians I mentioned were also bold in asserting their sexuality in ways that helped me come into my womanhood. They didn’t shy away from singing about their sexuality in bold and realistic ways, touching upon subjects like masturbation, kink, periods, sexual fantasies, and all around big femme horniness vibes. Before I understood what was going on inside my body and how I wanted to be in the world, I learned about my sense of sexuality through these musicians. Channeling my sexuality through my music is still a challenge for me, but I feel I’m moving closer and closer to being able to do that.
There are several electronic music artists that have been of huge influence to me: Kelela, Shygirl, Róisín Murphy, Anohni, Fever Ray, and Cecile Believe. A couple that left a huge impact on me were Sophie and Arca. There is an interview in which Sophie talked about soundscaping synths to construct her hyper futuristic sounds and how she doesn’t use samples that much at all, and when I heard that interview I knew I had to use this as a production tool. Arca has also been well known for her incredibly original soundscapes. These forward-thinking production approaches have meant a great deal to me, and Sophie and Arca have continued on this legacy of trans women being very pioneering in electronic music. Their soundscaping ability has been very emotional for me to listen to and learn about. The process of choosing, playing, and “modulating” the core parts of sound has felt therapeutic, and for me parallel to the process of choosing which gendered rules and archetypes are freeing and liberating, which ones should be subverted and played around with, and which ones should be ignored and left behind.
SPZ: Who do you imagine as your ideal listener?
KB: My music is for anyone, but I create it in mind to be specifically for trans and queer people, and especially trans women and femmes. In the future, I do not plan on making every song about my medical transition. However, my gender transition has been a huge lyrical focus for the mixtape I’m working on. My lyrics have huge nods to the difficulties of transition, trans culture, and the way trans bodies work.
My music is also for people that are survivors of sexual assault, people that are estranged from their biological family, people that grew up traumatized from religion, and people that felt suffocated from growing up in a small conservative hometown. I have been estranged from my family for more than five years. My parents raised me Catholic, and they tried to ingrain in me conservative, white supremacist, theocratic fascist world views. My mom was involved in the anti-abortion movement, and she was vocal about her hatred for queer people. All of these parts of how I was raised made growing up for me difficult at points, and I spent a lot of my 20s trying to uncover the guilt, shame, and trauma from being raised with these world views. It took me a long time, and I’m still unpacking this trauma, but my music is dedicated to my process of me unlearning these harmful, oppressive systems I was taught. And I put it out here in the world to help with anyone going through something similar.
SPZ: Where are some of your favorite places to perform? Who are some artists in the community that you admire?
KB: I still haven’t performed at too many venues for my solo music project. However, my debut music gig was at Underbelly in Seattle. I absolutely love this bar… and it was the perfect location for a debut. The atmosphere in the bar is very gothic and moody. They get a variety of all kinds of performers at this bar, including burlesque, comedy, and poetry. The bartenders are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and they were also very kind and encouraging of me after I finished performing my debut. Their drinks will also fuck you up bad if you’re not careful. One time, I was shit-faced after three drinks!
My other favorite is Karate Church in Bellingham. I jokingly refer to them as my “cult following.” In 2019, I got a message from the owner of Karate Church who offered me a gig, because he and his friend found a demo album of mine that I amateurishly recorded in high school abandoned in an alleyway in Bellingham. They listened to it, and enjoyed the music from the brain of my high school self. (The album was called “How High School Drove Me To Insanity.” No, it will not be re-released.) My last performance with them was in November, and that one was emotional for us because they got to see and hear all the growth I made from that embarrassing album, and how I really finally came into my own as a person. It’s a beautiful, unique venue, and is also a venue that usually gets an audience of college kids.
A couple of my favorite artists in the community are Sean Downey of The Fabulous Downey Brothers and CarLarans. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve yet to see Sean Downey perform… but I love his music and I’m seriously impressed by how prolific he is and the zaniness in his visuals and videography. CarLarans was one of the first queer musicians I remember meeting first when I moved to Seattle 2019. I was super honored he performed at an Underbelly gig with me recently. He is a sweetheart, incredible vocal and musical talent, and getting to chat with him put me on Cloud 9!
SPZ: Where can people find more of you?
KB: You can follow me on Instagram @kim.blythe__
I also have some tracks on SoundCloud, which can be found under “Kim Blythe.” Or you can use this link to find me — https://on.soundcloud.com/Q64SS1cHs9CsNUTr8
If you’d like to hear the instrumentals to a couple of my unreleased tracks, I have some private SoundClouds links that will give you access to that!
This is the link for my song “Squirt” — https://on.soundcloud.com/kEtq9Pa2gMhiZNW96
This is the link for my song “Jawbreak” — https://on.soundcloud.com/EnjdSMzsv7JKFQ8J8
No releases on streaming platforms yet, but when it’s ready I will probably release on Bandcamp, Spotify, and Apple Music under "Kim Blythe."