Words by David C. Obenour
The culture that most of us have been exposed to is limited. Limited by so many factors. Limited by what is thought of as safe or known. Limited by race, sexuality, gender. Limited by privilege. But those limitations have been set in place by gatekeepers, not from any deficit in where culture is created. There’s so much more for us to experience as those systems become dismantled. And in some ways they have at last started to come down.
With a singular voice that comes from a rainbow of perspectives, Kyle Kidd demands your attention. Not with aggression but with assertion. Soothsayer is an album that spans influences and eras, bringing a fascinating translation with a fresh language to music, fashion, art, and culture.
Off Shelf: Soothsayer has a real timelessness to its sound – feeling modern and yet rooted in a deep understanding of pop, r&b, and experimentalism. Looking at the later – apologies, I know it can feel like a played out question – but what musicians do you feel informed or inspired by?
Kyle Kidd: Sylvester, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Chaka Kahn, Aretha Franklin, and of course the great Whitney Houston. I mean, come on.
OS: Considering the perspective that comes from being a part of long-fought generational struggles, do you think your race, gender, and sexuality play a role in how you are inspired from other artists like you that came before?
KK: Of course. All of those pieces of my identity make up the wholeness of who I am and are what have drawn me to feel close to many artists I’m inspired by. Each of these identity markers, whether it be my race, gender, or even alignment with my world views is a point of connection, which for me is the root of inspiration.
OS: Now as for the modern aspect of your sound, what excites you about creating music? What is the unique and singular aspect of your voice and vision that excites you to create?
KK: What’s exciting to me about creating music is being able to listen to many genres and time periods, take inspiration from all of them, then meld and shift to establish and develop my own sound. My voice and vision have been omitted in many spaces. So, true representation, for not only myself but my community and our legacy, is a driving force of my creative spirit. I feel excited by the opportunity to contribute to liberation.
OS: The album came out of the pandemic, seemingly naturally inspired from isolation and a deep need to create again. In that way, does it feel like an artifact from that time in your life? Or are the emotions deeper down than that?
KK: Both. Soothsayer is absolutely an artifact of a time that for many felt difficult; it is created in isolation and inspired by it. However, like many of us discovered during the pandemic, hard truths that were arising had often already occupied space just below the surface, easily ignored by our busy lives.
Post lockdown, I’m being called in to figure out what is next. Separating from things that I had once known to be true for me, engaging with fear in new ways. I find myself looking to the themes of Soothsayer, course-correction, self-reflection, wholeness. I listen to Soothsayer now, as an emblem, a reminder, and a story of realignment.
OS: Lyrically, Soothsayer explores a longing that ultimately is realized through complete self-acceptance and genuine self-love. Is this a struggle that you still feel?
KK: Absolutely. Every day, multiple times a day. As we grow and it is revealed more and more who we are and who we are not, we question ourselves. The parts we don’t like, we struggle to accept. Self-love is submitting, it’s falling in love with the ugliest parts, it’s constant adaptation, and it’s my foundation of happiness.
OS: It’s also a very beautiful record – simultaneously strong and delicate – a pointed contrast to the far less nuanced feeling, angry and uncertain times we’re living through here in the United States. Do you feel a distance between the two?
KK: I have traditionally kept my feelings and emotions sacred and separate. Releasing Soothsayer was the vessel to connect the two worlds. Honestly, we are constantly in a place of uncertainty. I want to take in whatever the next moment offers, as it comes. Anger is a typical emotion we experience when faced with the unknown. I want to live in the volley between the two extremes. My life can be beautiful and abundant, but also scarce and dystopic.
OS: Fashion and presentation are a purposeful aspect to your art and I was hoping you’d indulge me in exploring that further. As with your sound – I’d also classify the way you present yourself as feeling somewhat timeless – where do you find your inspiration?
KK: First and foremost, thank you so much. My inspiration first comes from my mother and my grandmothers. Their attention to detail and presentation, it was not an effort to conform, but to provoke and refine their sense of self. The men in my family were also very meticulous in this way. My father took time to help me and my brother define our style by taking us to tailors and getting clothes made for our bodies.
I am also deeply inspired by theatre and drama. The golden era of Hollywood, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, is a place I return too often when curating a look.
OS: How do you think adding this thoughtfulness to presentation resonates in the experience of your music?
KK: Fashion is integral to any sounds I share because it is an equal component of my art. Fashion is creation and expression. Multimedia and dimensional offerings are what I feel most connected to artistically. I envision the release of music with visuals that are deeply connected and intentional.
OS: Saying this as a fellow Ohian, I was still curious – based out of the midwest, do you feel at all out-of-step with the surrounding culture? I’m sure there can be ugly elements to that but are there others that you find you value in wanting to stay based here?
KK: I definitely feel out of step sometimes in Ohio. It’s hard to envision the way that I do here, whether it be sonic experimentation, expression of fashion, or photographic/video-based components.
Often, when I work on manifesting my ideas they fall on deaf ears because people can’t relate to the expansiveness I have. There are many artists I am in direct relationship with who also express themselves out of the norm of our environment. The way that we balance that has been having our own individual practices in other spaces in the world and then coming back together to do the work of culture-shifting here in the midwest. It is a life-giving priority to create these pockets of space for creatives who might feel out of step or don’t feel like they can truly “go there” – the most outrageous, the most far-reaching places, within their artistry.
OS: Coming with a candle, palo santo wood, citrine crystal, oil, and matches, could you walk me through the intention of the elements of the Divination Bundle for Soothsayer?
KK: The intention of this bundle is – all the tools to manifest what one desires. All of the components stand as a reminder to create space and intention around the things we need.
The palo santo is used to clear space and remove things that no longer serve us. The citrine is an anchor for abundance, it magnifies and amplifies our intentions, whether that be financial wealth, social wealth, or whatever we can imagine ourselves pursuing to offer affirmation and expansion to our experience. The oil is for adorning the body, our temple. It also activates the sense of smell; when we smell something soothing it helps to shift our mindset to a place of relaxation and calmness. For the matches/candle, they are representing the possibility, we can strike just a match, a tiny spark, to light our candle, and lead the way through this process of manifestation. As we continue to manifest our lives, the candle can be inspiration to reference back to while we are doing the work of both shedding and gaining.
Soothsayer is the sonic component that pairs with this bundle. The music further drives you into the meditative state that will initiate the creation of what you set forth. The divination bundle sets the spiritual stage, and the music of Sooothsayer is the amplifier.