APRIL 2006 Featured Player of the Month

folk artist ERIKA KULNYS

Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE

"Until next time, yours in REVOLUTION!" - Erika Kulnys is a Nova Scotian singer-songwriter, composer of contemporary music, poet, activist, and massage therapist. Her musical scope ranges from sultry love songs played on the guitar to rousing anti-war songs scored for chorus and strings. She sings in a fierce mezzo that is simultaneously lyrical and tough, and accompanies herself with guitar, piano, and percussion. Erika engages audiences through subtle craft, a wild sense of humour, the strength and conviction in her voice, and the poetry she performs between songs. Her songwriting tackles many political issues, ranging from homophobia to colonialism.

Erika's music mixes an original folk idiom with a background in traditional Celtic music, a growing interest in jazz and world folk musics, and a comprehensive education in contemporary classical music. Influences include Joni Mitchell, Bessie Smith, Brahms, Sinead O'Conner, Ligeti, the Beatles, Ani di Franco, Birtwhistle, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Tori Amos, Silvio Rodriquez, Ferron, Miles Davis, and Bob Dylan.

She has studied at the United World College (NM), Oberlin College and Conservatory (OH), and won a 2005-6 Watson Fellowship to tour and study in Ireland, England, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa and India. Erika has published poems and an original CD entitled, "Hurricane" (released on Ander Music 2005). She has toured Canada and the U.S., South Korea, Spain, Ireland and Latin America. Erika's most recent musical experience was jamming with homeless Costa Rican kids in the streets of San Jose. "You gotta love Bob Marley".

- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?

I play a beautiful old Ibanez acoustic I bought for three hundred dollars in a tiny music story in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I use Elixir strings and have a fancy schmancy Baggs pick-up. I love my guitar, though the love letter inside of it is rather outdated. I donīt let anyone play my guitar while drunk--this after touring in Ireland--but I do let babies play it once in a while.

- Any special/favorite instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?

I am a huge fan of harmonics. I love music that manages to be simultaneously dreamy and spunky. I think using the smallest amount of delay sounds really beautiful. Iīm also into improvising in the studio. I recently collaborated with a Venezuelan musician to make a feminist experimental electronica piece about Leda and the Swan. (I can send you the words if you want...)

- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?

Influences include Joni Mitchell, Bessie Smith, Brahms, Sinead O'Conner, Ligeti, the Beatles, Ani di Franco, Birtwhistle, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Tori Amos, Silvio Rodriquez, Ferron, Miles Davis, and Bob Dylan. I grew up listening to the Temptations a lot, and during my teenage years I basically subsisted on Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos. I love how Tori Amos stretches the boundaries of popular music while maintaining what I consider to be beauty and accessibility. I just love everything about Joni Mitchell, except the fact that she was a smoker. Although she does inspire me to quit.

- Tell fans about your luv for your particular style of music, as opposed to other styles - how it became your favorite style of rock, etc

Iīm interested in music that is simultaneously intelligent, accessible, and experimental in some respect. I like folk that pushes the boundaries of both traditional and popular folk traditions. I am particularly interested in folk that manages to be political while maintaining its aesthetic integrity. I grew up playing a lot of Celtic music, then studied classical, then studied Music Composition for Social Change at Oberlin College and Conservatory along with a Creative Writing degree. For me, folk needs to have substance--both lyrically and musically. I like folk that incporates mutiple traditions, and overlaps with contemporary music--like Veda Hille. I am currently in Venezuela studying folk music and social change in the Bolivarian Revolution. I am going to study with a group of young men employed by the ministry of culture who play salsa/hip-hop/singer/songwriter stuff. I love music that fuses cultures, and surprises. I also love overtly erotic lesbian music. My introduction to Ani was hearing Both Hands on a college radio station and calling in to find out who the singer was.

- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?

I compose and record almost exclusively original work. I also really love teaching music and have directed childrenīs choruses for low-income kids in New Mexico and taught voice and guitar in rural Ohio. I am currently doing a lot of collaborative work, and have realised that it is my favourite way of creating. I work well by bouncing of otherīs ideas and taking a theme and expanding it, both lyrically and musically. My first collaborative song is Red Moon, which I wrote with my girlfriend after we were spooked driving from Montreal to New York in the middle of the night. (I will send the lyrics on soon.) I have sung back-up on many cds, including Rose Vaughanīs Winter Rose and Guy Mendilowīs Fly Away Home. I like singing back-up but prefer when I have some artistic say in the arrangements. I am very open to criticism but am a bit of a control freak, and like to make the executive producing decisions in the studio. I prefer to work with people who are close friends and who are comfortable telling me what they think, and who I am comfortable telling what I think. My latest CD is called Hurricane and I released it on my dear friend Duncan MacMillanīs indie music label, Ander Music. Duncan co-produced it with me and played a lot of the instruments on it. To get a copy, email me at erikakb@gmail.com

- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?

I feel that my songs Thank You (on Hurricane) and the Kindness of Strangers are my best written songs, both lyrically and musically, but I think TravellinīLight and Hurricane (both on Hurricane) are my best produced songs, though they are relatively simple in their instrumentation. Sometimes simple is superior.


Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?

My instrument is my baby. I have carried it all around the world and let homeless kids play it in San Jose and learned Girl from Ipanema from an insane Brazilian on the streets of Dublin. I am not a materialistic person, but I am very attached to my guitar. Sometimes I even sleep with it. That said, I believe in the law of impermanence and know that someday my guitar will be taken away from, fall out of the sky or get smashed by a giant. When that day comes I will try to say goodbye gracefully and will buy a Louden. (sp?)

Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?

I intentionally wrote gender neutral pornouns in my songs for a long time, and then started writing things like--With her hands inside of me/stirring the earth silently/and I held onto you, my strong tree/by the full moon. I was discouraged to be out by family. When I got a job at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Youth Project in Halifax, Nova Scotia, my mom flipped out if I told people where I worked, because to her, that was invading their personal space by shoving my sexuality in their face. I actually believe in shoving sexuality in some peopleīs faces, because some people are so repressed they need a shove to wake them up to the plethora of opportunities for intimacy in this increasingly cold and corporate world, or they need the encouragement to come out of the closet themselves. My own aesthetic now has nothing to do proving myself, but everything to do with the power of the erotic, as a potent formula for social change as well as a means of personal empowerment.

- For a glbt player - how does the overall music scene differ today
from years ago?

Donīt know...But I think people are generally much more accepting and open to really listening to out GLBT players.

- Any advice for young glbt players?

At the risk of sounding like a trite corporate slogan, Just do it. Donīt listen to people who tell you your stuff is too out there or your lyrics are too obscene. Push the envelope, network, be gutsy and always maintain your personal integrity.

- What are your current and future musical projects?

My current musical projects are interning with a hip hop/trova/salsa band in Barquisimeto, singing in a bar called La Mama in Merida once a week, trying to find queer musicians in a sea of straight-looking singers, recording feminist experimental electronica with a Venezuelan recording artist, taking classical guitar and salsa piano. My furture projects include making an experimental CD of political folk music, and making a more conventional CD of songs I have written during my travels and traditional songs from various folk traditions.

More on Erika at: www.sonicbids.com/ErikaKulnys


Read more GGW's "GUITARIST OF THE MONTH" Interviews

Go to Urban Productions Music & Arts Reviews

Return to Robert Urban Homepage