Kimm Rogers On Being In The Driver's Seat: Talking 'Lie' And Her Next EP

Kimm Rogers has been taking a new direction in her music ever since she started working with multi-instrumentalist Julian Coryell and the release of Where the Pavement Grows. Now, with the release of her single "Lie" we get a strong suggestion of what the next step may be for her new EP coming out in early 2021 as she continues to be "in the driver's seat".

"Lie" speaks directly toward our times, and with its very specific message needed to be released before the 2020 election. While there will be some songs on the upcoming EP that have a socio-political aspect, Kimm Rogers has also built in another much-needed ingredient: a path toward healing.

 Kimm Rogers recently appeared on our Tower Instagram Live show, which you can still catch right here, but she also joined Tower's PULSE! to talk about where her musical path has been heading, what developments she sees for women in the music industry, and how we can begin to look for healing for each other and for ourselves.

Hannah Means-Shannon: You’ve been involved in different collaborations and bands before now. What styles of music did you pursue then and how do you think those experiences have influenced you?

Kimm Rogers: Many moons ago, I sang backup in a band that was on an obscure label in Los Angeles. They were kind of a Funk band, believe it or not. There was Funk, with a little bit of R&B thrown in there, and maybe some 80s flair. People are surprised to find out that I adore R&B music. It was thrilling to do something like that.

I did a lot of solo playing out, and I met someone who knew of someone who owned a small label. And one of the bands on the label was The Rave-Ups. In my humble opinion, they were the beginning of Americana before anyone even labelled it that. They were so fantastic. Those guys would play The Palomino Club and it would be literally shut down by the Fire Marshal because it was so packed.

One of the things that blew my mind was that I met them, and I started playing with the drummer. We’d do shows where he would play just the Snare and I’d play acoustic. Then, the lead singer for the band, Jimmer Podrasky, heard one of the songs and The Rave-Ups suddenly started playing one of my songs. That really changed my life. All the sudden one of my songs was one of the highlights of their set. Then they started to back me live.

That era led up to the first record I made with Island Records. Back then they were calling it “Cow-Punk” and no one really had a definition of what we were doing. We knew it had a twang to it but wasn’t necessarily Country. Then I had a band with a songwriter from the Cleveland area, Mark Lee Shannon and we were doing similar stuff.

When I lost my record deal with Island, I ended up studying essay writing for a while and ended up working with folks with disabilities doing music. I did have a band with two women with pretty significant cognitive difficulties, but they were phenomenal musicians. I would call that an “art band” because I never knew where the music was going to go, but it always turned into something magical.

My most recent musical collaboration has been with someone who is pretty much a one-man band, Julian Coryell. I made my last record, and this EP that I’ve started working on with him. Watching him play every single instrument is jaw-dropping. I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve never worked with anyone like him, so that was a new dynamic since it was just he and I, rather than a whole group in a band. He’s pretty amazing!

HMS: So he builds up the song by tracking each instrument separately?

KR: Yes, and I have become the engineer. We kind of do things backward. When I was making records for Island, we would go into the studio, and play live. Now, with technology, how we generally work is that I play the guitar, and he’ll play along with me or record that. I play with a click track. A lot of times, he builds the song on how I sang it. So a lot of times I do the vocals first rather than last.

That’s a whole different way of recording. I would also engineer while he played drums. He’s remarkable. He would do drums in two takes, for bass just pretty much getting up there and doing it. Working with him is very intimate in a very different sort of way.

HMS: Do you ever change or adapt things you’re doing based on his feedback?

KR: It’s funny, but it’s actually the opposite. When I made records for the record company, I tended to be kind of a “Yes” person, wanting everyone to be happy. I tended to listen to whatever anyone suggested at that point. But when I started working with Julian, it was the opposite. We had talked about it because he himself had been a recording artist.

He’d actually make me give the feedback first, and express how I felt about things first, to make sure I wasn’t trying to please him. He said, “You’re on deck first. We work from you.” He pushed me into the driver’s seat. It was really scary for me, but it was also tremendously freeing, and a tremendous breakthrough for me, personally.

HMS: That’s so wonderful. I can really relate to that. I’d find it much easier to share my real feelings with one person rather than with a whole group of people. I guess this is a process of learning to listening to yourself in a different way.

KR: Back then, things were kind of crazy because the whole industry was shifting. I was with Island, and they got bought by Polygram, and they bought A&M Records. Then artists were being dropped all over the place. Everybody was nervous. All my friends lost our record deals around the same time. There was a massive dumping.

HMS: Around what year was this?

KR: That was around the mid-90s. The Rave-Ups were on Epic and the same thing happened to them. Back in the day, you would sign an artist because you wanted to give them time to develop. But in my case, it was, “Where’s the single?” I’m not driven by that, so it was difficult.

At the time, there were so many women singer/songwriters coming to the forefront all of the sudden, and it became competitive.

I will never forget being asked by an interviewer at that time, “How does it feel to be another female with a guitar?” And I said, “Probably the same as every guy with a guitar, but I wouldn’t know because I’m not a guy.”

HMS: Holy cow! Well, exactly. That question really sucks.

KR: Things have gotten better. There are women in control and owning their own power, but back then things were a little different.

HMS: I wanted to ask you about whether you do think things have improved for women in music over time. For instance, in the last 10 or 15 years.

KR: I think so. You see women playing on bills together, which was unheard.

HMS: Yes! I went to a concert last year where it was four female-led bands, one after the other, and it was this amazing experience because I had simply never been in a room where that happened before. It had a huge effect on me.

KR: I think it’s a shift. The fact that so many people can make a record in your house now, if you’re so inclined, is a big deal. That really empowers people. My friend Kelley Ryan, who is my collaborator, is remarkable in what she puts together, on her own, in her house. There are more women engineers and more women who are kick-ass guitar players.

HMS: I think it’s so relevant that being able to use ProTools or other software on your computer means that you are able to work on music any hour of the day or night when you are able to do it. A lot of women have responsibilities to families, whether it’s elder care or children. Being able to do it within their own time constraints opens things up a lot more.

KR: That is so true. When I was working on Where The Pavement Grows, I was a caregiver. My husband and I were taking care of my father-in-law, who was in his 90s. Unfortunately, he died the year the album was released. I was working and doing some things outside the home, then I was helping him at home. But then I could go in my room, close the door, and put on headphones and go into a whole other world to work on songs and make demos for the record. It is really freeing.

HMS: I’m so glad that worked for you. We may see an even bigger rise of female artists who have mastered these engineering skills and songwriting at home and we’ll see an even bigger variety I the kinds of music being released.

KR: It’s so true and it’s so much fun! Back in the day, when you walked into a studio, it was so mysterious with the big control boards. But if I can do it, anyone can.

HMS: The more women get those skills, the more they are in control of their own fate.

KR: That’s so important. Back then in the 90s, it was a male-run business, pretty much. There were a few amazing women who I got to work with, but there weren’t many.

HMS: You mentioned “Americana” as a genre, and I wanted to ask you about that term, too. How do you feel about it and what do you think it means to you?

KR: A lot of people want to put me into that box. I think it’s become a really wide umbrella. I have a hard time understanding what that is. You have the Blues. Is that Americana? Does Patsy Cline fit? Where the Pavement Grows is a really good example of me, more so than my other records. We didn’t look at one particular genre as the feel of the record. It defies that. One song on there has a Country tinge to it, so maybe it’s Americana. But one’s a rocker. One’s a little bit Bossa Nova.

I wanted a cohesive album, but I didn’t want one particular genre, per se. I wanted the song to speak for itself and let the song lead us in how it should be arranged. I think the album works beautifully, but there’s a different sound to each of the songs. I don’t know if I’m Americana or not. I don’t know if there’s a purity test!

HMS: [Laughs]

KR: I think of myself as a songwriter first. But let the people define it.

HMS: That answer is not at all surprising. I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone yet who says, “I am Americana!” A lot of people say, “I’m not really sure what it means, but it’s okay with me.” I think it’s a term that’s still evolving and can be a little confusing. Thank you for your very honest answer, because it fits with my impression of your music.

KR: With this EP that I’m working on, it’s totally different. It’s very topical. We put out, “Lie”, which is from that, already, because it needed to come out now with everything going on.

HMS: I was going to ask you if there’s more in that vein of “Lie” that’s likely to come out.

KR: I have several political or socio-political commentary type songs. There is some of that on the second album I did. With this EP, there are a couple of very topical songs on it, but there are some healing songs, too. I felt like I was trying to capture the moment.

HMS: Those two moods are both very relevant!

KR: With this EP, I don’t want to sit on it too long because I don’t want them to lose their relevancy. I am going to release one more single from that group. It fits with “Lie” but it’s a totally different thing. It’s a song about healing and I felt that I wanted to have this balance on the EP of complaining and venting about all the bullshit going on, but also talking about what’s blown my mind during this Covid situation, which is the people that I love. A video was also made for the song by an independent filmmaker, so I’m looking forward to releasing it. It will probably be early in the new year. It’s a very winter album.

HMS: Do you have any thoughts on how people can move toward healing now?

KR: This song I’m talking about, “The World Turns You Around”, is trying to comfort somebody when it looks like everything is so messed up. I wrote it for a dear friend who was really struggling and a lot of folks, I think, are feeling alone right now. It kind of reaches out to that. I actually wrote the song before Covid, because my friend was really at the bottom of the barrel.

But when you get to that point,  there’s only one direction you can go, and that’s back up. It’s so hard, though, when someone is in a down place, to know how to encourage them. Especially when you’re not in that space. Nobody wants advice or to be told, “I told you so.” I was trying to write a song that would be uplifting to somebody while avoiding being sappy. I hope people will like it and I’m excited to release it.

HMS: Thank you for sharing that. I agree that sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when other people are struggling without it being the wrong thing, but sometimes just having empathy and making even small efforts can make a big difference.

KR: We need more empathy. I feel like this last administration has put a real dagger into that. I hope we, as humans, as a country, as a world, can see that we’re all suffering right now. I’m not personally suffering, I’m safe. But so many people are suffering. It’s a very different time and I’m hoping we can all become better humans because of it and we can start caring more about each other again instead of fighting so much.

HMS: That’s a wonderful message.

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