EF Music Interview: Kiirstin Marilyn
An artist who found "Something to Die For".
Kiirstin Marilyn puts on a show. With a background in musical theater and a role in a Broadway revival of “Cabaret”, it’s no wonder she seemed right at home performing at a Raw Art exhibition, last month, in the heart of the theater district in Boston. The show may have been rife with wine-sipping, blazer-wearing, bohemians, but Kiirstin’s performance would have been just as appropriate and well received across the river at Cambridge’s flagship indie music hub, The Middle East.
Kiirstin wears her musical versatility on her sleeve, or rather, her head. With long, wavy locks parted above a shaved portion of her head, she’s part classic beauty, part nonconformist punk rocker. It’s a look that can’t be ignored on stage, as Kiirstin doesn’t just sing, she performs. It’s a performance that’s teeming with energy and balanced with sensuality. Kiirstin oftens walks off stage to look directly into the eyes of an audience in the middle of a song, as if she’s written the song specifically for them. The show and the music are intimate, big and captivating. It’s the kind of performance that one could watch on mute and still be enthralled with, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Kiirstin’s recording differ greatly from her live show. Her debut ep, Somthing to Die For, is a little less raucous than what I heard at Raw, but the sounds are produced incredibly well and offer a more profound examination of a fiery, impassioned talent. Live, Kiirstin is back by a bass and drum band that know how to make her recordings come to life with complex sounds so large that one forgets they’re listening to a two-piece.
I was able to speak with Kiirstin after her performance. We explored her musical background, influences, and writing process. I walked away from the confident, up and coming artist with the distinct impression that she was on the cusp of something grand and that she wouldn’t stop until she reached it and, well, even then, who knows.
Who are your influences?
I’m influenced by everything that I hear. My dad had us listening to doo wop when were growing up. I grew up on that. I grew up on the Beatles. Whoever was being played on the oldies station. My dad loves reggae so there’s that. anything I’ve ever heard is in me.
It’s interesting, though, because my live show has evolved so much from when I first put out my ep. I first put out that EP that we performed tonight in March of last year.
At the time I was listening to a lot of Lana Del Ray. That led me into listening to Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. I was thinking that those were going to be the things that were going to inspire me, but I’ve always had a rock background.
My first band was a progressive post-hardcore band. We were listening to Glassjaw and Coheed and Cambria and At the Drive In.
I tried to make a more mellow ep. When you listen to the EP you’ll hear the difference between the recording and the live show. It’s also different because I have these guys [motions to bandmates]. We have live drums, we have live bass. So I perform it a little heavier. That’s where my performance leads me to, I can’t help it. As far as performance goes, I grew up on Gwen Stefani. She, to me, is in the song, she’s performing the song. She’s a pop diva whatever but at the core she’s a performer. Since I was (that big) I’ve taken my cues from her. I also have a lot of male influences, Brandon Boyd from Incubus.
So, is it just you? You don’t always perform with a band?
Technically, it’s just me. These guys really help me out a lot. They were in my old band. They feel like bandmates because they were bandmates and we all left that band and I started this and they were kind of on board to join me.
Do you feel like your live show is at where you want it to be right now?
It’s always evolving. We’re getting there. We have a big show in NY opening for Charlie Red in September.
Do you the songwriting yourself? What’s the evolution of the songs?
The songs usually start with an idea of mine. The EP that I put out, I wrote all the songs fully and then I brought them to producers. Them they helped me build the track around it. So the lyrics and vocal melody and a little bit of the instrumentation. They helped me make it into the electronic thing that it is. I have a new song coming out. Now, rather than doing EPs or albums, I’m just trying to do singles. I have a single coming out probably mid to late september.
Do you play instruments yourself?
I should keep up with the instruments I play. But I’m trying to be a better writer. I write more than I practice my instruments. I played sax my whole life, but I’m not great at it. I always pick it up and put it down. I taught myself how to play the guitar. So I can play basic stuff on the guitar. I can pick out chords on the piano.
I almost heard some mathy metal influence. Is that you at all?
My producers are Todd Weinstock from Glassjaw and Brian Beneeve from From Autumn to Ashes, so it depends.
Where are hoping to go with all this?
All over the world.
I saw quite a performance on stage tonight. You would often go sing directly to men in the audience. I was wondering how your femininity and/or sexuality informs your songs and your performances.
What I do does come out of the songs. So it’s not necessarily like I’m trying to get the guys to pay attention; but, my songs are written about guys. So, I’m singing to the guys because, that’s what the songs are about. I have a song that’s about waking someone up. If you take it literally, it’s about me waking up my boyfriend in the middle of the night to have sex.
Then, my song “Grim”, saying, “You can’t go before I go” is about him again. I don’t know what I would do without him. So, he can’t die before I die. If he does die before I die, I’m going to kill myself.
So, I sing to the guys because the songs are about a guy. I realize if you’re hearing the songs for the first time that you’re probably not going to get everything that I’m saying. It’s more about what the songs are about. It’s not that I’m trying to sexy and grab this guy and make the guys pay attention. I want the girls to like it too. I get them in different ways. When I’m singing something that’s incredibly emotional to me, and it’s written about a guy, I’m going to sing it to the guys.
Visit Kiirstin Marilyn Online.
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