By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
I sat down with Kaia Wilson last month to talk about her new solo album, TWO ADULT WOMEN IN LOVE, and her first ever Kickstarter campaign (which raised more than 200 percent of its $7,000 goal). Though Wilson said she wanted to keep things short so she could catch the end of the night’s Republican presidential candidate debate, the chatty musician talked for upwards of an hour about, well, just about everything.
You can read the print profile here, but if you want all the tangential details (including the prospects of a Team Dresch reunion and Kaia’s first celebrity crush), check out some outtakes from the interview after the jump. And if you haven’t seen it yet, the video Kaia made for her Kickstarter campaign is filled with adorable farm animals.
PQ Monthly: Tell me about this “best solo album ever.”
Kaia Wilson: It’s a marketing ploy. It’s not my best. It’s not my best by any means [laughing]. I think it’s the best. But that’s the artist. The artist always should be most excited about what they’re working on in the present moment. And I’m just living in the present moment. And I do feel like in terms of – there’s something to be said about the first record a human makes in music, and there’s something that can’t be recreated there. And that’s just how it is. My first solo record and my first record with Team Dresch, those were just, they had that thing that was just so fresh and new…. I don’t know what that is. There’s probably a theory about that and I don’t know what that’s called or anything. If there’s not maybe we should invent one, about the first thing you start to do.
But at this point in my career I feel like I’m at the other end of that, where I’ve reached a place where I’m much more actually in touch with the present experience of my life as it’s happening, so I think my lyricism is more interesting. And hopefully kind of pretty, like how poetry is pretty, like how the sounds of the consonants and the vowels together even sounds really good, an the imagery and the storytelling of it is I think, much more interesting. I’m just going to use the word interesting.
And I also think my songwriting has advanced a lot because I’ve learned a lot more. I also never used a capo before…every single fucking folk musician of all time probably started out using a capo, and I’ve been playing guitar for 23 years and I have just finally picked up the capo in the last two years. So that kind of profoundly changed some of my song writing. So this album has much more eclectic-ness built into, just dynamics and differences from song to song. I just think it’s much more advanced, skilled-sounding songwriting. But not in a way that sounds boring, to me… I just think it makes sense. I think the record really makes sense.
And I really wrote from a place of a lot of very serious and real grief. A lot of the songs, about half of them, are about really sad shit that happened to me. So, just loss and death and everybody has [these] experience[s] or will in their lives. That stuff is just raw and I think, in terms of why I write music or put it out publicly anyway, [I’m] trying to make a connection or relate to other humans through that particular medium of music. I think it has a lot of material that is very quickly and easily relatable…. Any songs that really affect me in my life are songs that I can connect to them somehow, in the lyrics, in the melody, in the whole package…the songs that have helped me through my life, make it through times that were hard.
PQ: What inspired you to put out the album after six years of writing?
Wilson: You know what happened, I guess, is I fell in love. And then I wrote some new songs and I was like, I like these news songs and I have all these old songs and I never put them out and I want to record these new songs. I might as well record them and then take all the other ones and spruce them up or whatever I’m going to do to them and put out a record. Why is it now? It’s cause I fell in love.
PQ: You mentioned that you recorded some of the songs outside the studio. Did you record any place out of the ordinary?
Wilson: I really wanted to record on a hike to Mt. Hood or the Gorge or some weird fuckin’ nature spot – not weird, but just [a] hard to get to nature spot. But I didn’t do that. Nope. It’s just all over the place, like in this house, in that house, in that bedroom, in that basement…. I moved around like eight times in the last six years or some shit. It’s a lot of movement; the record represents a lot of movement. Literally and figuratively. So nowhere weird and cool. I didn’t record in a silo like that guy everybody loves…. I didn’t record in some abandoned farmhouse or a haunted cabin.
PQ: But you did record your Kickstarter video on a farm.
Wilson: The song [in the video] is the most country song I have on the record…. I even sing about listening to country music and there’s a goddamn cow mooing.
PQ: It seems like a lot of queer folks are reclaiming their country roots lately. Where does that come from for you?
Wilson: I didn’t grow up on any country. It wasn’t until my 20s till I starting listening to country…. [But] I’m from the country country. Outside of Springfield – Jasper’s the town…. Springfield’s not rural but it’s rural-minded…. I am rural. You know how you get to talk shit about your mom but nobody else can? I can talk shit about rural but nobody else can. I had a pretty country upbringing. But not a farm. We had cows and horses, but we weren’t a proper farm. Fun farm!
PQ: Do you prefer recording and performing solo or in a band? Will we ever see another record from Team Dresch?
Wilson: We meet up and talk about it all the time; we just don’t really do it. But we would and we will still. I think Team Dresch should be playing when we’re in our fucking 80s. Reunions forever! The most active band I have right now is with Amy Ray as her lead guitarist.
I don’t have necessarily a strong preference for one or the other. I just love recording in any way shape or form. I miss being in bands, but I’m 38. You stop being to just be in any band and, let’s go on the road! I can’t afford it anymore.
PQ: And you must get tired of sleeping on floors.
Wilson: I still do that [sleep on floors]…. I still rough it…I kinda can’t afford not to [laughing]. But it’s my life choice. I mean, I complain about it cause I think, definitely, being an openly gay artist for my whole life, being really outspoken about it versus just kinda openly gay, I think I would have a wider appeal if I hadn’t have done that. I think, you know? I’m pretty sure. It’s my choice not to have secured a kind of job that would have afforded me a steady paycheck, but my real choice has been trying to make money off of music so I can just survive on that, which has hardly ever happened in my life.
PQ: Were there times when that did happen?
Wilson: Yes, but they were really short. Probably in my 20 years, maybe three or four of those years I could kind of survive on making music. Not even three or four. Like, probably two.
PQ: I feel like that’s something people don’t always realize.
Wilson: No, maybe some people don’t. I remember in my heyday when The Butchies were really strong and I was playing with Amy [Ray] too, that was the most money that I made but I still had to work at [Mr. Lady Records], for the record label that I ran. And I cleaned people’s houses, I fucking cleaned people’s houses, I landscaped, I walked people’s dogs.
PQ: Have you seen that “Portlandia” sketch with Aimee Mann and Sarah McLachlan?
Wilson: Yeah. It’s funny. So yeah, that’s real man, that’s me.
PQ: I think it’s easy for fans to forget that being a musician is still a job.
Wilson: For me it’s a job that doesn’t even pay my bills. It’s a love. But it also is a job. When I’m driving on the road, I certainly want to be doing it but it’s not always really that fun. You’re just like driving on the same stretch of goddamn highway. Sleeping on someone’s floor or maybe a hotel. But the hotel is really gnarly. Waiting around for sound check, eating weird food. Staying up late when you want to go to bed and you have to get up and play.
PQ: Last year you put together a cover band called Sinead O’Covers. Is there anyone else you’d like to cover?
Wilson: I would like to do her again. I would like to do another show of that. Everybody wants to cover The Smiths, but I wouldn’t mind doing The Smiths. An all woman version of The Smiths. They were just as influential on me in high school as Sinead O’Conner was.
PQ: Who else did you listen to when you were coming of age as a queer youth?
Wilson: Sinead was for sure because she was also so fucking fierce and shaved-headed [with] combat boots. She was great. She was a great influence on me. I went through so many little phases. I was really into The Cure when I was a little guy. ‘Cause I was country I didn’t have access to any real underground for a while. But then I had this fag friend who did, I don’t why or how he managed to figure it out but he did. He was a real smart guy, real resourceful. He figured out all this queer culture I had no idea existed, like Homocore zine, and this is in 1988, 1989. He was, for rural Oregon, really on it, finger on the pulse. The pulse that nobody else knew about really in the entire world.
I listened to all sorts of hippie shit then too. I was really into the [Grateful] Dead. All the music I ever liked as a kid I still like now. Janis Joplin, Zeppelin, all that ’60s, ’70s music. Tracy Chapman. Fucking loved the shit out of her starting in ’88. Indigo Girls. Anything kind of gay-ish, I had a special interest in. I came out around like 14.
PQ: What was that like [coming out] in Jasper?
Wilson: Sucky. I wrote the Team Dresch song “Growing Up in Springfield.” [Springfield] is a little more recognizable, people can place that easier than Jasper. And technically my address was Springfield so it’s not a total lie.
I was pretty fucking angsty. I was just a weirdo too, so I got harassed for being weird, for being a fucking hippie punk goth with hairy legs and fucking half a shaved head [and] combat boots. I was just the freak at my high school. It was a small high school, about 350 people total. And I was a fucking freak and I was gay. I was a vegetarian and I was anti-war…. Most kids didn’t like me, though I did have a solid group of friends, mostly girls who were fucking solid, rad. So I wasn’t super super loner isolated, but I was definitely, along with some nerds, the most made fun of. So I liked the nerds too. Nerd and freak solidarity for sure.
PQ: So when did you start playing music?
Wilson: I grew up on playing music, like piano. I was forced to take lessons and I didn’t really love that but I was forced to sort of. I started writing songs when I was 9. I wrote a song called “You make me cry that special way.” And I recorded it when I was 9 or 10, the whole song, and I put it out on one of my CDs. And then I wrote “Julie of the Wolves” about a fictional character [from the book “Julie of the Wolves”]. I had a kind of weird crush on her. I wrote that song when I was fucking 10. So I started writing really quite young, and then again when I was 13, I started doing piano and I started writing on piano kind of and then at 15 I started writing on guitar. And that was gonna be my instrument for the songwriting. And so I stated writing fuckloads of songs.
But yes I’ve been playing music my whole life. I was born gay and I was born angsty. And sensitive. Everybody tells me that I would cry when insects would be peril. So I was incredibly sensitive right from my birth.
PQ: Have you used Kickstarter before?
Wilson: This is my first time. My friend Sini [Anderson] is making a documentary for Kathleen Hanna and I sort of saw her process going through that fundraising. That was some of my more early exposure to the website. And it seemed like, shit, I don’t have money and I don’t have anyone else to ask for money. What’s really cool about it is most of my backers so far, and probably the majority of my backers, will give me ten bucks and their gonna get a digital download, which is basically a pre-order of the record, so it’s kinda killing two birds with one stone. It’s getting my record done and people who actually give something do get something back. Even though the reward thing stresses me the fuck out. Cause I was like, what am I going to give for rewards? It totally stressed me out like, “What’s so special about me?” I got all weird about it like, “Oh, you get to have a Skype conversation with me, lucky you!”
How about a copy of my pubic hair? A menstrual print? Maybe I should add a reward. It’s $400. That’s totally gross. I have a weird thing about fame anyway – I think it’s silly. [But] I understand people wanting something special too cause I mean, I’m a fan. If Sinead O’Conner was going to give me one of her hairs – that she now has – I’d give a hundred bucks for that shit.
PQ: Have you met Sinead O’Conner?
Wilson: Huh uh. I wish I had…. I understand, I know how [fame’s] set up because I buy into it to some degree with like Sinead O’Conner but I also don’t buy into it on a bigger level. I just want to give something that’s authentically a nice gift I guess.
PQ: But it means you’re reaching people, right?
Wilson: It’s great. I’m a big fan of what Kickstarter’s function is.
That’s what I’m talking about – relating and connecting to as many people as I possibly can through music and having a positive influence. But it’s not the same as fame to me though. Fame is this other [thing], like, “I’m special.” I think I have a talent at doing something and I’m excited about sharing it. But a long with that talent is something that feels a little bigger. Which is a message. That I didn’t get as a kid and most people don’t get in their lives, or not enough. We still get all the other messages all the time.
I just feel lucky, I’ve felt very lucky in my life of music to be able to have that strong of a [influence] on some people.
PQ: Does that feel anymore poignant with all the recent attention to queer youth committing suicide?
Wilson: It’s the same rate of suicide it’s been since I came out. And I know that because when I came out I got really into gay shit. And that was in like 1989. It’s been the same rate of suicide, it’s just gets more media with the internet and YouTube and you know. People just have much more access and the dissemination of information is much huger than it was in 1989. But to me, it doesn’t feel more pressing it just feels like it’s more in people’s minds, so maybe it’s just a better opportunity to seize that, like “It Gets Better,” you know.
PQ: Do you have any plans to do an “It Gets Better” video?
Wilson: I want to do “It Gets Gayer.”
PQ: So what’s a day in the life of Kaia Wilson like?
Wilson: I am basically, and I have been for years, I’ve worked either in the service industry or doing some sort of weird lself-employed job in landscaping or cleaning people’s houses or walking people’s dogs, those have been my sort of my main jobs in life. Right now I’m a barista. I’ve been a barista for a long time in Portland. And I make minimum wage, tips. I’m pretty pretty poor. A day in the life of me is like hanging out with my girlfriend and my cats, you know, fucking not exciting at all. Playing music. She has a piano. I’m very excited she has a piano. I go to work. Right now I’m working on my record a lot. I’m like trying to work on editing for fucking videos and shit and working on my album art.
PQ: Are you doing the album art yourself?
Wilson: Working with Rob [Jones, of Jealous Butcher records], he’s an artist too, but I’ve got the ideas too. I do a lot of chore-like things throughout my day. I do a lot of dishes, I kind of clean up and hang out with the animals and I have social things in the evenings throughout the week. But I’m really a homebody in winter. Very much so. My moon’s in cancer and the winter here is just so goddamn gnarly I just want to curl up by the fire and cuddle with my woman. Pretty basic, pretty normal fucking goddamn day.
PQ: If you hadn’t become a musician, what kind of work could you see yourself doing?
Wilson: Working in science with animals, so biology, veterinarian stuff. If I really had my pick it’d be something like a marine biologist, working with sea turtles. If I could go back in time, that’s what I would do in my early 20s.
PQ: How gay is the new album? Or is it more general life themes?
Wilson: It’s a lot of general life themes. There’s love songs to my girlfriends, and to my mistresses, but don’t let people know that! I’m actually such a goddamn swan about that shit. I think they say swans are the classic mate-for-life species. Obviously I didn’t mate for life otherwise I’d be with my first girlfriend from when I was 17 years old, but I’m not with her. I really thrive in monogamy. I’m a Capricorn, I gotta have security.
As a songwriter, my gay content has been mostly brought by way of a love song to a girl as opposed to like [singing] “I’m gaaaay! I’m singing about how gay I am!” which, you know, is a good song. I should write that. I mostly just sing about how much I’m into my girlfriend. Oh, poor girls who’ve dated me. So in terms of the gay content it’s just love songs about my current – and hopefully forever – girlfriend.
PQ: So, did you do the whole U-Haul thing?
Wilson: Shit yeah. I’m 38 too. I’m not messing around anymore. Have I said that three times in this interview? I just turned 38 [on January 7], so I’m flaunting it. I hate birthdays actually, I hate getting old. In the album artwork, it’s gonna be gay. It’s gonna be a gay love story between me and my girlfriend whether she agrees to it or not. No I think she’s going to agree to it. I think she’s gonna lock in. Everything’s temporary right? I think we’re going to stay together, I’m just saying that if, for some goddess-forbidding reason we break up and there’s album art with her and me as lovers on the front, I don’t think that’s a big deal. We’re not going to be making love on the cover or anything – you don’t have to print that. It’s not super super super gay. It’s not as gay as say a lot of the Team Dresch and The Butchies stuff.
I think it’s important to talk about it. I say it a lot in the Kickstarter video. It’s not like I’m trying to downplay it or pretend like it’s not an important part of my life…. It’s an important part of your life because everyday somewhere or other there’s someone saying you’re gnarly because you’re gay. That’s pretty huge. That’s a huge fucking deal to contend with. Even if it’s better than it used to be. Even if there’s been a lot of progress and there will continue to be. It’s not cool yet. It’s not okay yet. It sucks for a lot of people. It even sucks for people like me who live in a gay bubble. I struggle with a lot of the gnarly internalized messages. You get uplifted by having a sense of community and validation. The realization that gay people are actually cooler than straight people, duh. I’m just kidding. People just normally naturally gravitate toward people who are more like them. It’s a pretty studied and okay thing. It’s just how it is, it’s not a bad thing.
PQ: Are you going to go on tour to promote the new album?
Wilson: I’m gonna tour with Amy [Ray] and I’m gonna open some of those shows and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna end up using some of her band as my band. But I’m gonna do a little west coast thing and I’d like to get together a little band for that. And I don’t know who that’s gonna be exactly yet.
PQ: When is the album release date?
Wilson: It’s still March/April and not a definitive. You asked about cover bands – I’m actually in a never-to-die cover band called Feelin’ All Right. We’re gonna play shows hopefully for the rest of our lives. So it’s me, Katie Davidson, who is local – you can google her – and Jenny Hoyston. These two are some of the best musicians I’ve ever met. The three of us play ’70s bullshit cover songs that we love like crazy and everybody else loves them like crazy…. We just pick all our favorite songs that we grew up with a cover them.
PQ: You’ve said that you live in the ’90s.
Wilson: What, me? Never left the ’90s? This was a running joke for me a long time before “Portlandia” came up with the dream of the ’90s, for real. A joke that I didn’t even start because I didn’t realize I lived in the ’90s. My friends had to tell me I lived in the ’90s like solidly into 2008 and I’m like, “Really? I do, don’t I.” What I do is I don’t buy new clothes really. I buy new Vans and I buy a couple pairs of new Levis, ‘cause I will wear them out. But I recycle through my clothes. I put them in tubs and then don’t look in that tub for like two or three years and then just grab it out and see what I want to wear in my fall wardrobe fashion line-up, which is just, like, other band T-shirts instead of the other ones.
PQ: I see you’re rocking the fanny pack.
Wilson: I got into the fanny pack because I carry an epi-pen. I don’t really need it in the winter, it’s the kind you need for summer, for bees and yellow jackets. So that’s why I started rocking it to be honest. It’s a practical item.
PQ: Are you still playing ping pong?
Wilson: Not very much to be honest. But I want to be. What is that? It’s like, it’s not even going to the gym, because I actually want to be doing it. Maybe I’m stuck about it. Like feeling like it’s far away where I go to play. And I’m a) lazy and b) it’s so nice to cuddle with my gf and c)…nesting and it’s winter….it’s probably true if I didn’t have a girlfriend and a fireplace with cats around me and the girl, that whole situation, I’d probably be playing ping pong at night until 11 or 12. I want to get back into it, I fucking love that sport, I haven’t lost the love for it I just haven’t been doing it.
PQ: Who was your first celebrity crush?
Wilson: Olivia Newton john was my very first. I was very young… I was 4 or 5 years old and I was motherfucking crushed out on her…. She’s just pretty to me, she sang and she’s pretty.