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INTERVIEW: Kristeen Young on why art is always political, 20 year-old keyboards and making her new album

Laura  Barnes
INTERVIEW: Kristeen Young on why art is always political, 20 year-old keyboards and making her new album

MI Pro editor Laura Barnes caught up with singer songwriter Kristeen Young to talk about working with some of the biggest names in music, Donald Trump, and making her new album Live! At The Witch’s Tit…

Kristeen Young is one of those all-too-rare artists that has managed to carve out a vast body of work that is unconventional and uncompromising, yet have collaborations with some of the biggest names in music from both sides of the pond under her belt, including musical heavy weights such as Morrissey, David Bowie and Dave Grohl.

Having toured extensively as a support band for Morrissey, here's what the lyrical legend had to say about her in his autobiography: “Everything about this singer is new. The solid fixity of her presentation is as striking as having a safe drop on your head from a tenth-floor window. She belongs to no other time or fad. She is Maria Callas, if not for the keyboard that she plays like a set of drums.”

More big names appear on Young’s latest album Live! At The Witch’s Tit. It is co-produced by Tony Visconti, who also produced a vast number of Bowie albums, including his final offering, 2016’s Blackstar. As well as this, Young and her band (collectively known as KRISTEENYOUNG) we joined by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitar maestro Nick Zinner for a handful of tracks.
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Despite the impressive collaborations and notable praise from such influential artists, she is incredibly humble about the topic. “I never really set out to work with people. It was never a goal, life just lead me in that direction,” she says, revealing: “I don’t have a lot of luck in many other areas of my life, but I’ve been lucky in that regard!”

Young explains that she likes being around people who are very good at what they do. “I always learn something. I feel like I learned a lot from being around those very accomplished people. It keeps me on my toes and stimulated. I get very bored if I’m not around people who are very inspiring,” she says.

“I love being a part of a circle of creative people or artists. I like being a part of a blackboard conversation about what we’re making. And I think that used to exist a lot more.”

When writing Live! At The Witch’s Tit, Young explains that she made a conscious effort to try to be as blunt as she could with the lyrics.

“People seem to talk a lot about how they feel about things but they don’t really put them in lyrics anymore. Yet, they seem to be very extreme on social media.

“I’m always trying to get more raw as to how I really feel about things, so that’s where I was coming from with these lyrics – things that I had seen in the world and in my life.”

Young reveals that the album covers themes about her journey as woman, having to fight for what she believes in and being treated like an outsider, which she admits ties in with some of the political and social issues that the US is facing right now.

One song off the album, NICE, touches on “mass hallucination surrounding, mostly male, celebrity”, with Young commenting in a press release about the new album that “this recent American election proves that people still want to worship someone, ignoring the facts”.

Delving deeper into how what’s going on in US politics is affecting women like herself, Young tells MI Pro: “As far as the Trump thing goes, I’ve always felt that I was fighting. From the very beginning I’ve always been a minority, I’ve always been treated like a weirdo and an outsider. Now there’s a lot of fighting back and forth with different groups and people with different political ideas.

“In a way if feels like progress because everybody is talking about certain things – I’m not talking about Trump being progress, but progressive people becoming more vocal.

“Some of the stuff that people are saying now are some of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. It feels the same to me, and my personal experience is that I’ve always been fighting.”

Talking about musical artists being political, Young says: “I don’t think you can help but get involved. If you’re going to call it ‘art’, ‘art’ has a message; it’s always a point of view. So I think you’re involved one way or anther. Maybe you’re not at the marches, or as involved physically, but I think artists are always involved.”

Moving away from the lyrical content of the new album and on to the music, Young says she wanted to get a ‘band sound’ as much as possible, and so a lot of the music was recorded live. “The basic tracks we did in two days. With vocals and mixing we took more time. We would go back and forth a bit and I would push more for things to be a little more extreme,” she explains.

The idea of returning to a live piece and playing around with it extends to Young’s live shows with her band. The group has just finished up a month-long residency at The Islington in London and Young tells MI Pro that returning to a familiar room gives her a “stable place to experiment and make each night different”.

“Every week is different – that’s what I like about residencies. They grow in attendance but each night also has a different personality to it,” says Young, although she admits that the first gig had a few blips: “The first night was pretty funny because I never really got through the set as the power kept going out. I never got through a complete song. We never really figured out why that happened…”

Thankfully, the rest of the shows went well, despite Young telling us that her beloved 20 year-old Roland XP-80 may be on the way out. “It’s really old and people laugh at me when they see it – until they hear me. I’ve tried to switch it but it’s got the best piano sound, even compared to new keyboards. So I keep trying to make it last.”

You can see Kristeen Young, her band, and her beloved, persevering keyboard at SXSW in March and at a residency in New York in April, as well as a string of mid-west shows in between.

Check out her live video for new song NICE below, and keep an eye out for details about the release date of Live! At The Witch’s Tit at https://kristeenyoung.com/

Tags: morrissey , Interviews , Tony Visconti , Trump , artist interviews , Kristeen Young

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