Despite what she may say to the contrary, there’s something more to Kinnie Starr’s music than the indie/trip-hop/ jazz/whatever it’s often described as. A Calgary native who cites her brothers’ friends and her father’s clients as influences, whose lyrics are not only a mish-mash of themes but languages as well, Starr’s speech is about as hard to decrypt as her broad palette of inspiration would suggest.
“My music’s just for people to interpret,” says Starr, still a little out of breath after her set Tuesday night.
The raven-haired singer-poetess glances around, eager to return to the stage where she can catch Buck 65’s performance. It’s their first night of a seven-date tour together and her excitement is apparent. While notable, her fervour isn’t that of a wide-eyed, naÃ¯ve Albertan. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, as evidenced by her latest album Anything. On top of recording five albums, Starr has lived and worked everywhere from Vancouver to New York to Las Vegas.
“I’ve always traveled,” she explains. “I was living hand-to-mouth, traveling around selling stickers I silk-screened myself. I’d sell a stack of them to a bookstore for $40 and that would last me for ages, I was living really cheaply. I’d dumpster-dive and hitch-hike.”
In our era of high oil prices and over-consumption, more of us are settling down to a mediocre education at the U of C and a house in the suburbs. Long before Anything, her fourth release, Starr was taking the road less traveled. Sick and tired of Calgary, of boys, of the same, she became an activist.
“My cause was anger–just furiousness at the world,” she laughs as she sips her beer. “But I realized putting out art is more compelling than protesting. More people listen if you aren’t yelling.”
In 1993 she quieted down and started playing music to get her point across. Starr has since gained a reputation as a songstress in the same musical eschelon as Ani DiFranco, thanks to her powerful lyrics, impressive voice and–in part–her sexuality. She believes her music is a combination of everything and anything–specifically citing metal and old school hip-hop–but Starr’s style does more than combine genres, it transcends them. Her music is “soundy,” eschewing the pigeon-holing tendencies of today’s music scene, focusing instead on the sonic effect and idealistic significance of the lyrics. This defiance of classification makes the current tour with Buck 65 perfect.
“He made that happen,” she says. “We’ve known each other on and off for a while. And he’s been really good to us. The music industry is still such a boys club that it’s easier for a man. Buck 65 ushered us in, I wish he didn’t have to, but I’m grateful he did.”
Tuesday night the audience packed into The Grand, a venue which hadn’t hosted music in 60 years, to absorb Starr and Buck 65’s bass-thumping genre-bender. The audience varied from university students to age’d yuppies, however there was little variation in their reception of Starr. All were excited to hear her new material as well as their old favourites.
“I still find it hard to be on stage,” she admits, though she plucked up enough courage to play a couple of her songs in an acoustic encore. “I’ve always played acoustic, but I’m still really afraid to play that stuff. Hip-hop has more bravado I can stand behind.”
She claims her nerves aren’t the only thing which have stayed the same. As Starr tells it she’s just the same old Kinnie, rapping and rhyming about family, loss, honour and the like, still moving from city to city playing music and selling the t-shirts she silk-screened herself. But it appears there’s something different about her–this charming and easy-going woman is content.
“I’m happily in love,” she confides, a coy smile illuminating her face, admitting the evening’s songs of heartbreak and tears were not referencing her current situation. As she heads off to catch the rest of the show it becomes clear she’s not the same angry teenager who left Calgary, no matter the stylistic consistency of her music or the recurring themes, Starr has changed.