“I like hearing the sound of the rain on your roof.” I am speaking to Kye Plant, an indie rock musician based in Victoria, B.C., over Skype from my bedroom in Vancouver. Kye’s first release, Sober & Alone EP, came out just eight months ago, and they haven’t slowed since; they released their second EP, Thank You For Mental Illness, on September 20. As I speak with Kye, I am struck by their modesty; despite their creative activity, they tell me they aren’t used to talking about themself as a ‘real artist.’
Their music reflects the honesty and humility clearly present in their demeanor. Kye is remarkably open about their struggles with mental illness and their identity as a genderqueer person, both in their songs and elsewhere. “It’s very cathartic for me,” says Kye, “in the same way that going to a therapist is cathartic for me. It’s a way of expressing myself and touching on that energy inside of me that’s really overwhelming.”
Kye’s lyrics are intensely personal and often deal with loneliness, heartbreak, and depression. The song “Long Sleep,” for example, speaks to the exhaustion that comes with depression: “I need a long sleep / Just trying to keep my head above the water / But these god damn waves won’t let me be.” Kye’s lyrical introspectiveness by no means makes their music mellow or sleepy – Thank You For Mental Illness features driving guitar, bass and drums. Today’s recording technologies mean that Kye can get a full band effect, even while recording alone in their bedroom. “I’ve been kind of steering away from the singer-songwriter-person-with-a-guitar-in-front-of-a-mic thing,” Kye says. “I’ve thought about maybe taking it to a studio or something, but I don’t think I could – I just like the process by myself, and, yeah, I’m a control freak.”
While moving away from the singer-songwriter genre means adding more instrumentation during recording, for Kye it also means clearing instruments away for their live show. “I’ve always played with a guitar, and in the beginning I played with a band, and so I’ve slowly been stripping it all away. And now I’m just going to have a microphone and my iPod … I find that the guitar is a real crutch for me and I hide behind it, so I’m trying to gently force myself out of my comfort zone.” They intend to play a character; make the show more performance art-spectacle, less person-playing-songs – “a show where weird things happen … I wanna fuck with people – but not in a mean or non-consensual way.” They want people to question things, in the same way people question things when they see someone who does not conform to societal norms of gender. “I see people kind of looking at me weird, and I know it’s forcing them to question things inside of themselves. I want to extend that into the way that I express myself through my music.”
Of course, performing as a queer person is not always easy – Kye says it’s been a process of finding the right spaces, and avoiding the wrong ones. “I’ve learned the spaces I don’t want to be in because I don’t feel safe. I am more aware of that now, so I’m not going to play at a bar, and I’m not going to play at a place where people don’t know what the word ‘queer’ means, where I would feel like I had to censor myself … That being said, Victoria has a great queer scene, and it’s fairly inclusive.” Performing songs with such personal subject matter also takes courage, and can feel futile in the wrong environment. “It’s like you’re up in front of a crowd of people who aren’t really listening, and you’re reading from your journal,” Kye says.
In addition to music, Kye creates a podcast called Feelin Weird, where they interview people on topics that have been stigmatized by society. The podcast deals with heavy subjects – there are episodes on suicide, depression, anxiety, abuse, addiction, trauma and more – but listening to it gave me a feeling of relief and happiness. Kye has a song titled “The Gender Binary is a Jail Cell.” All stigma is a jail cell, and talking openly about stigmatized subjects is a way of being freed. Kye tells me that they got the idea for the podcast two and a half years ago, when they were recovering from a severe mental breakdown which left them in a psychiatric ward, and then living with their parents. Kye says that one of things that helped them recover was listening to podcasts. “It was really important in my recovery to hear people talking about things that were going on in my head. You know, I felt like, ‘Oh, I’m not crazy and I’m not alone.’”
When I ask Kye what they hope people will take away from their music, they are unsure, but eventually say that “maybe the best thing [for people to take away] would be that it’s ok to feel things.” Kye isn’t afraid to talk about their feelings and personal struggles. Or maybe they are afraid, but they’re doing it anyways, and that’s important. In our society, where mental illness and non-normative identities are still so stigmatized, we need artists like Kye Plant telling us that even though we may feel bad, we don’t have to feel bad about it, and that we’re not alone.