Thursday, March 14, 2013

Email Interview: Hey V Kay

It's the voice that stays with you.  Weary and vulnerable but still bearing a calm self-possession, Karen Havey's low, breathy moan is possibly the sharpest hook in her well-stocked arsenal.  It sounds heavy with the weight of desires, memories, secrets.

Sucker for the darkly romantic that I am, I've been smitten with Hey V Kay's music from the first time I heard it. I was curious to learn more about the person behind it, so I asked Ms. Havey if she'd like to do an interview.  Happily, she agreed.

The responses that she sent to my list of questions surprised me a little.  As it turns out, she wasn't keen on singing in front of people originally.  Not only that, this admitted introvert and self-proclaimed maker of "sad bastard music" revealed a downright ebullient personality: funny, ardent, down-to-earth.  (Actually, this last part didn't surprise me much.  Nor will it surprise anyone who heard that Goat Song cover.)

Anyway, here's the interview:

Tell me about your history (where you grew up, went to school, etc.).

Well, I grew up here in Boise and went to school at Amity Elementary, West Junior High, Borah High School, Boise State University and then the College of Western Idaho.  So far, there hasn't been a long period in my life where I haven't been in school of one sort or another.  I absolutely love learning, and I've managed to work at various places and live cheaply to support my addiction to learning.

After high school, I studied French and art and BSU, then finally saved up enough to send myself abroad to France for a semester, where I ended up living for a year and a half.  I came back to graduate with a degree in French, though really, it was just because I had so many credits in French from my study abroad experience that I thought it would be nice to have a degree.  Plus, it looked good on my resume when I applied to be an English assistant in a French high school.  I was accepted in that program and went back (again!) to France to teach English for a year, which taught me an incredible amount about myself... but mostly that I'm not meant to be a high school teacher (I realize now I should have studied up on my babysitting lessons before diving into that).

So back in Boise, I signed up for Auto Tech classes at CWI after buying a motorcycle during the summer and deciding I wanted to learn more about how it worked.  Now I'm working in a shop, nearly finished with my degree, then we'll see what comes after that.

What kind of stuff were you into when you were younger (music, books, hobbies)?

I was pretty shy when I was young and a huge tomboy, so my attire of choice was oversized men's "No Fear" t-shirts and JNCO jeans.  I grew up with most of the boy bands and girl bands of the 90's and plastered my room with posters of Hanson, but my first real love was Garbage.  I'd listen to the albums Garbage and Version 2.0 on repeat for weeks at a time.

As for hobbies, I'd always been involved in creating one thing or another, and as a kid, I started sewing clothes and hats, really haute couture stuff way ahead of its time... cow print pants and Dr. Seuss hats in orange and white (I'm pretty sure I wore the two together rather frequently).  I also sewed all my own book covers for my school textbooks, which included handles to bypass the "no backpack" rule enforced during junior high (a nerd achievement I was quite proud of, strutting though the hallways and flaunting them for all the suckers carrying their books without handles to see!!).

I started playing percussion in the school band to avoid joining choir, as singing in front of people was one of the worst things I could possibly imagine, and frankly, the drums were just kind of cool.

How did you start making electronic music?

After about five years of drum lessons, I eventually sold my drum set to buy a guitar and started taking lessons, but rewind!  Even before I even bought a guitar, my brother bought a keyboard.  But this was no ordinary keyboard!  It had a "RECORD" button on it with multiple tracks, which was AMAZING!...  (Minus the fun feature of wiping the memory every time it was unplugged without a proper power down)  It was my first introduction into recording music and being able to layer tracks together to create a full song without the need for a band.  The fact that I could do it all by myself was perfect.  I didn't have to embarrass myself by letting anyone hear my musical ideas until they were a complete song--really the perfect tool for an introvert.

Owen's friend then gave him a copy of an old Cakewalk recording program and it really exploded from there.  I recorded songs for school projects, making both an American Government and an Algebra song, but started making more serious songs just for fun.  The electronic music hasn't always been as pronounced as it is now, but it was just kind of a natural progression and not something I thought consciously about (though some of my first recordings sound more like a terrible version of Enya than anything else... I'm pretty sure "Only Time" was a big hit at the time).

How did you start making music with your brother Owen?

Owen has always made music on his own, mostly instrumental songs, and he is an amazing guitar player, but we rarely make music together.  The song "Hammerstrike" was the exception, and I really love that song, but we usually just kind of do our own thing.  He works with his friends in the Dedicated Servers to make a lot of their beats.  As for playing together live, he's been really nice to help me out playing gigs around town, as it's much harder to get up on that stage alone.  And I think it brings something special having him there, but I don't think it's something he's interested in doing on a long-term basis.  He has hopes and dreams of his own.  I'm just secretly hoping he'll change his mind and be my band-mate forever... or maybe I'll try drugging him.

Tell me a little about your creative process.  How do you start to work on a song?

Most of my songs begin with a beat or a synth/instrument line and me working alone in my room on my computer.  I build up as many layers of instruments and melodies on top of that original line as I possibly can until my computer explodes, then I'll listen to what I have so far, looping it and humming along until I find a vocal track that works.  I keep a little booklet with me at all times to jot down ideas, themes, little sayings or misheard phrases to reference when I'm trying to create the lyrics.  I'll often have a general idea, but lyrics are usually the last and hardest part for me to finish.  I've never been great with words, and I used to scrap an entire song just because of the lyrics not panning out.  I've relaxed a bit with that now, but I'm not sure you'll hear a Hey V Kay song with a reference to "raising hands in the air" or "getting out on the dance floor" any time soon.

I'm intrigued by the stories of your songs, especially "Can Be Wrong," "Catherine" and "Find Another Girl."  How did you get the ideas for them?

"Can Be Wrong" is a bit of an anthem song for me.  I'm sure a lot of us have had a time in our lives where we just feel like we're being told how to live, and it can be incredibly frustrating, especially when these people are in positions of power.  The holier-than-thou attitude can drive a person crazy, and this song was my reaction to this sort of feeling (I was probably listening to NPR or something on that day).  It's about that feeling of nothing, nothingness, living a life not being who you really are inside, and that it doesn't have to be ok, it can be wrong.  Be who you are.  You're beautiful, and don't let any crowd tell you otherwise.

"Catherine," on the other hand, is a song about getting caught up in a madness, named after the lead character in the 1960's French film Jules et Jim by Truffaut.  It's a beautiful story about a very dynamic woman and two men caught in a love triangle and the red hot spark of passion that can't be sustained.  The song is a mix of that story and my own.  A lot of this album [Gut Wrenching] was written after a rather harsh romantic fall of mine.  This song follows that feeling: to love someone so madly that all reason and logic are thrown away, then the loss and pain of trying (or having) to give that up.  Being burned up by the fire of another person and, in Catherine's case, squelching her own fire in the river.

"Find Another Girl" is one of the first couple of songs I finished for this album, and it's that age-old story of  watching someone love someone else who you think would be much better off loving you.  This girl who's obviously in love with someone who is using her, cheating on her, but still just wants to be loved by this person, forgiving him and lying to herself that it's ok.  I've seen this happen more than once, and I've been that person who drives themselves crazy thinking that they could swoop in and turn that person's life around, give them happiness, take them away from everything.  Generally things don't go so very well in such situations.

I noticed that you've played a couple of gay and lesbian benefits.  Is gay rights a cause that you're particularly passionate about?

Oh yes, absolutely!  Why anybody spends their time trying to define and restrict love is beyond me.  I wish they would realize how much pain and suffering they are causing.  There have been so many steps forward in this fight recently, though, that I know change will come.  And that's really exciting: to watch and to be a part of the generation that's pushing that forward.  Plus... I just can't pass up a show where I get to share the stage with drag queens.  Eleganza!

Out of what you've done with your music so far (both recorded and live), what are you proudest of?

I'd say playing the cover of Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble," the goat version, was my proudest moment.  Ha, no, but I think the most concrete thing I can think of where I thought, "Hey, that's pretty neat," is getting my finished album in the mail and then seeing them on the shelves at the Record Exchange.  I'm all about tangible accomplishments, something you can hold in your hand and remember all the hard work that went into it.  So for me, that was a really neat moment.

What kind of music are you listening to right now (inspiration, solace, guilty pleasures, etc.)?

I have a couple artists that I listen to on rotation between trying out new music.  I have a love/hate thing going on with Lana Del Rey right now.  Blonde Redhead, Stars, Metric, Bat for Lashes, the Cardigans, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ladytron and a few others are the ones I find myself listening to most, but I'm not a terribly music-savvy person.  I love getting really musically plugged-in people to make mix tapes.  There used to be a few guys in my photography classes that would play their mixes in the darkroom and it was great!  I'm not ashamed to not be familiar with the newest, hip bands, and I don't see the need to be snobby with music.  Music is there for enjoyment, and people should listen to whatever makes them happy!  As for guilty pleasures, I don't think that exists for me.  I'll listen to just about anything without shame!  I'll sing along to the super pop hits all day long if you don't stop me.  Shine bright like a diamond!

What are your plans for the future?  Do you plan to make another album?  Have you thought about touring?

Well, I'm really looking forward to playing in the Treefort Music Festival right now, so I've got that in my sights, but really, I just plan on continuing to make music.  It's one of my most enjoyable--and, at the same time, challenging--hobbies.  I have a few songs for the next album that I'm pretty excited about.  I'd also really like to keep improving and streamlining my live performance.  This is all pretty new for me, so I'm still learning the ins and outs of live sound.  As for touring, it's not really something I've thought too hard about, but it would be really fun to do one day when I get some free time.  There's just not enough time in the day for all the things I want to do!  I'm not one of those people who get bored, it just doesn't happen.

Is there anything you'd like to say to the readers out there?

Oh, I guess I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has been so kind and supportive, coming to our shows and helping with the promotion of the album.  I've met so many cool people through this process, and it's really exciting to watch the Boise music scene growing.  We have so many great artists in the Valley, and it's really neat to see what amazing things they're capable of.

You can find Hey V Kay on Facebook.  Her album Gut Wrenching is available now at the Record Exchange and on Bandcamp.

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