Kim Free produces spacious, dark pop marked by Free’s otherworldly voice, minimalist bass and keyboards, and her striking violin playing, for which she’s been employed on Zola Jesus’ recent tour. As a solo artist, she had a number of limited-run, lo-fi darkwave releases as Black Church before stepping out on her own this year with Angel Shadow, a more starkly naked collection of songs on which Free played every instrument, as she does live. Kim Free plays Amoeba Hollywood Wed. Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. I caught up with Free before the performance.
PST: The construction of your songs is really interesting. It feels very solitary, despite the presence of other instruments in the background. Did you want the songs and the record to have a sort of intimacy? Or is that just the way you play live, and you wanted to capture that on record?
Free: I didn’t really set out with any intentions for this record. I wrote all the songs in my bedroom, based on the instruments I happened to have at the time. When I wrote the record, I was living with a lot of people, and I would always retreat to my room to kill time between work and whatever else, and Angel Shadow is what came out.
PST: Do you think you’d every play with a full band and/or drums, or do you prefer to keep it solo?
Free: I’d love to play with other people, it’s just never come about in a natural way. Mainly because I’ve never had a practice space, and I do everything in my bedroom according to my own impulsive schedule. It’s scary being onstage by yourself, because when you make a mistake, there is nothing to fall back on. Everything has to be really perfect, and it never is! But, I do like playing solo, because it creates freedom to share a direct connection.
PST: Have you always written songs? Did playing for Zola Jesus help inspire you to make music as a solo artist?
Free: Playing with Zola Jesus has been awesome. I’d never been able to travel before these festival tours. I’d never even left L.A. for more than two weeks in my entire life! So to suddenly be playing festivals in Moscow and Lisbon has been incredible. It’s been a window into a world I never knew anything about because I’ve always been an obscure musician. I started making music in 2007 as Black Church and have been performing solo ever since. It’s been really difficult to establish a reputation as an artist, perhaps because there is something alienating about getting up on stage by yourself with a violin. Playing with Zola Jesus has been a chance to see what it’s like to be a touring musician, and it’s rad!
PST: Can you take me through your musical upbringing a bit? When did you start playing violin? Was it always your goal to make your own music?
Free: I started playing violin at age 5. Everyone on my Dad’s side of the family is a musician, so it runs in the family. I studied classical till I was 18, but broke away from it because the conservatories were too expensive. I played violin in friends’ bands for years, until I realized that if all my friends were writing their own music, why couldn’t I? That was when Black Church began.
PST: Can you talk a bit about the concept behind the “Guantanamo” video?
Free: The video for Guantanamo is about a ghost who comes back and kills her boyfriend so they can be together in the afterlife. Originally, the video was supposed to have a very clear narrative, and the plot was obvious. Unfortunately, the shoot fell apart in the pool scene. The pool wasn’t heated and we shot at Midnight around Halloween. It was excruciatingly cold, and we weren’t able to get the shots needed to create the story, so it ended up being more abstract. Personally, I think it’s about being murderously cold.
PST: After releasing your solo debut record this year, what’s next for you? Have you begun working on new material?
Free: I have a new full-length album ready to go! My friend Alex DeGroot, who does the percussion and electronics in Zola Jesus, is finishing up the mixing right now. Currently, I’m looking for a label to release it. I’m hoping someone will come along soon!