Catching up with Kaia Wilson

AE: How did you end up playing with Amy Ray? What was that experience like?
KW:
When Mr. Lady Records started up in 1997, Slim from Kill Rock Stars passed Amy Ray’s Daemon Records info onto us for networking purposes. So, I wrote Amy a letter and sent her a Mr. Lady care package with the Butchies, Kaia and Le Tigre records. She was a big fan of Team Dresch and was excited to make the connection.

We supported each other’s politically minded Southern based indie labels, and she became a fan of the Butchies, coming to see us play when we toured and hit Atlanta. She eventually just asked us to collaborate on some songs for her first solo record Stag. After that experience of practicing, collaborating and eventually touring on that record, we became super solid friends and comrades. For me, getting to collaborate with Amy, and doing several shows opening for Indigo Girls, was a huge deal and full circle experience. I had been a big fan of Indigo Girls since 1988, when I heard “Closer to Fine” on the radio. I started to see them in Eugene, OR all through my high school years. So I did, and continue to, feel honored and grateful to have established a working relationship and friendship with her.

Brandi Carlile, Kaia Wilson, Amy Ray

 

AE: Why did you and Tammy Rae Carland create Mr. Lady Records? What happened with that?
KW:
We created Mr. Lady for two main reasons: to release our own music/video projects and to provide an independent label that would promote queer/feminist visibility, release records by artists who promoted similar political convictions, and to include video art into a place where it would be more accessible and widely distributed. Tammy Rae and I were partners and when our personal relationship split up, the label pretty quickly ended after that.

AE: Your solo records don’t sound very much like your work with either of your bands. Is that something you do on purpose? Or is it just what happens when you pick up your guitar and start playing?
KW:
I think my solo work just represents a different side of my songwriting. I began writing songs on guitar when I was 15, and eventually gravitated towards loud, collaborative "punk" music too, but never lost my need to compose tender melodies. I write 99.9% of my songs first on acoustic guitar anyway.

AE:  Do you ever write songs knowing they were “band” or “solo” songs?
KW:
Generally it’s pretty obvious when I start writing a song if it will be better suited to be played with a band or more stripped down and acoustic.

AE: The back of your first solo album reads, “Finally a dyke album for the whole family.” Why did you use that? Was it a political statement or just meant to be funny?
KW:
It’s both — a political statement that’s meant to be funny! It was sorta meant to be sarcastic but playful.

AE: When you first started playing music, did you ever have any doubts about being as open about being a lesbian as you’ve been? Did you ever at any point think things might be easier if you didn’t? For instance, after what fans call “The Lesbionic Story” happened?
KW:
I never had any doubts about being out and visible as a queer musician. I think it very well could have been "easier" for me to be closeted. I probably could have had a wider appeal to more people, but I always felt that anyone who would feel excluded from any of the music I was part of was doing that to themselves. I made/make music for everyone.  I just happen to be a lesbian, who has seen and continues to see the need for positive queer visibility in music (and everywhere!).

AE: How have things changed since you started playing? Would you still go into music if you were coming to the age you were then now?
KW:
Ooooh, well, things have changed a lot since I started playing. Lots more girls and women are in bands, performing, and doing their thing. I have seen some resistance from people to wanting to be labeled a "feminist" or be out as queer, and there are rock and roll camps for girls popping up everywhere now, and Ladyfests. The list goes on. I think it’s getting better all in all. Yes, I would still go into music. I’m a lifer.

AE: And as far as change goes, how have things changed for the LGBT community, at least in your experience? I’m from a whole other generation, and there are times when I’m frustrated with what I see as a lack of progress, but that’s not necessarily the case is it?
KW:
I think it’s two steps forward, one step back, within any major political momentum moment, such as what happened in the early/mid 90′s with the Riot Grrrl and Queercore scenes. So I think we still have a long ways to go, and the more people who live their lives outspoken on behalf of resisting homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, etc. the better.  I would like to see a fresh new generation of people really come together to fight for revolution!

AE: Do you ever think you’ve had a hand in improving the world as far as awareness of LGBT issues goes?
KW:
Yes, I’ve been told this many times by people.

AE: Or just as far as individual lives goes?
KW:
The whole is only as great as the sum of its parts. I think the influence my music (and the artwork and live performance and communication beyond song, such as in interviews) has had on people starts at an individual level then extends into individual communities and eventually becomes part of the world spectrum around LGBT issues.

AE: For instance, I got into Team Dresch the summer before my junior year of high school and then got into The Butchies along with a whole list of other bands, and those were two of the bands that still stand out for me. I didn’t grow up in the kind of environment where it was okay to be gay or trans or anything out not perceived as “normal,” and one of things that helped me get through a lot was having bands like those I could hear. So, that might have seemed random, but the point I was hoping to make was there has been a definite positive influence for at least one person. I actually went out and found a copy of the book Rubyfruit Jungle because it was mentioned in a song.
KW:
Right. And I too grew up in Springfield, OR a rural and homophobic environment. I felt isolated and alone and struggled, especially in junior high and into the first year of high school  until I got my hands on alternative, underground music and zines. Basically, The Cure led me to The Smiths who led me to Phranc … and the list goes on. When you have no access to positive gay visibility and role models, once you find some, it’s like you were starving and you finally found delicious food. I love that you bought Rubyfruit Jungle!

AE: How did you get involved in the Gay Games?
KW:
Well I got into ping pong, like, heavily into it, competitively, and someone said I should compete at the Gay Games. I researched it and then decided to make it a goal.

AE: Is it something you’re going to do again?
KW:
I had an incredible time on so many levels. It was sweeeeet to go to Germany, and I did a solo tour before the Gay Games started, which was amazing. I loved meeting and competing with international queers! I loved the sense of community and the level of serious training people had done to prepare for their sport. The gay table tennis nerds are pretty much the same as any table tennis nerds anywhere! And I have a ping pong blog if you’d like to check it out: spinslayer.com

More information about Kaia’s albums, including her 2008 release Godmakesmonkeys, her ping pong career, and activism can be found at spinslayer.com or daemonrecords.com

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