Music Interview: The calm centre of Kinnie Starr

By Alan Cho

Change the world. Grab the microphone and ensure your guitar is plugged in. Don’t forget the lyrics, let the goddess of art guide your voice and hope the goddess of scotch smooths out the tangled nerves in your throat. The world’s listening and this might be your only chance to be heard.

It’s the internal monologue most young artists are familiar with, afraid somebody in a suit will declare playtime’s over and usher them off into a cubicle. Having just finished up a stint with Cirque De Soleil’s Las Vegas show, a tour in support of her last album Sun Again and heading into the studio to complete her fourth, Calgarian hip-hopper Kinnie Starr is just too old for that shit.

“I don’t mind the respect from people who know I’ve been doing music for eight years and that I’m not fucking 25 years old anymore,” proclaims Kinnie Starr with a defiant sniffle. She’s coming off a cold, and just got into New York for the CMJ Music Marathon

“I tend to be kind of sarcastic about industry festival,” Kinnie sighs. “I gotta go to that fucking boardroom where all the hopefuls are and I’ll probably get a big bag full of shit I don’t need, like wristbands, T-shirts in extra extra large and tons of magazine promoting bands I’ll never see or hear of. Like it’s their first marketing run the record labels do and then never do anything else for the band. See there, I’m sounding bitter and jaded. That’s all right, I have humor about it.”

Listening to Sun Again, with its irresistible beats and funky rhymes slipping from her lips like sunlight, it’s hard not to smile when Kinnie is on the mic. She wasn’t always making with the mad flow, despite a love of hip-hop fermenting since her days at Western Canada High School. Starting out as a punk rocker, she soon made a career of mixing hip-hop with a punk aesthetic. But, with Sun Again she immerses herself into the hip-hop side of things with a pop slant, the punk pushed to the back burner. The beats are sparse, but they hit hard and don’t think for a moment she’s a sucka emcee. Or an acoustic pop chanteuse.

“I’ll have much more in common with KRS-One than I will have with like Ani Difranco,” Kinnie explains. “But I get the Ani Difranco comparison a lot because I’m a woman speaking her mind.”

From gender issues to the race politics she feels deeply for due to the Native roots on her father’s side, she’s definitely a woman with strong political viewpoints. On Tidy and Tune-up, her first efforts, there’s a noticeable anger driving the music. This was a woman with an eye at changing the world, right the fuck now. Getting older, though, Kinnie’s become a bit wiser.

“I still believe in social change, it’s just that I’ve studied it more. Benjamin Mays was one of the forefathers of the whole black pride education movement,” she explains. “He schooled people like Martin Luther King and his premise was, to be a proud person you have to be dignified and promote love. I believe that a lot more firmly than I did before. Before I was angry and upset, and now I understand screaming at somebody has no impact.”

She’s taking these lessons on the road. With her friends Veda Hille and Oh Susanna, they’ve revived the Scrappy Bitches tour to hit Calgary with a blast of intelligent music. It’s not your usual show of a musician taking their turn while the others wait patiently in the wings. It’s a lively show of all three artists helping each other out, and promises to be a dynamic interactive evening. Of the show, Kinnie says, “It’s three challenging, out of the ordinary songwriters. Anytime a woman does something outspoken, she’s then seen as confrontational. We all write interesting music, maybe that’s confrontational ’cause we’re suppose to fucking sound like Sarah McLachlan.”

Not that she’s angry. Really. Kinnie’s in a good place now.

“I’m quite content,” reflects the more mature and wiser Kinnie Starr. “I know I’ve had a really lucky ride, I got a record deal before the industry collapsed, a lot of my friends didn’t get that foot in the door and I did. I’ve been really blessed. I don’t want to come off too jaded.”

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