In Conversation with Kristeen Young

Kristeen Young is an operatic-punk singer-songwriter-pianist based in New York City. She’s just released the single “Nice” from her album Live at the Witch’s Tit, to be released later this year. In addition to having sung on David Bowie’s album, Heathen,and touring with Morrissey, Young has been on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and David Letterman and been lauded by high-ranking critics. Her St. Louis childhood in dysfunctional foster homes drove her to choose music as a way to transcend her pain, which may explain the intensity of her performances and the innovative quality of her compositions. She recently took the time to talk to us about her feelings surrounding music.

What were your early years like?

What role did music play in your childhood?
Music was everything. And it was monitored, so I had to sneak it. But it was my only escape.

What or who in your musical training had the most?and best?influence on you, as a musician, a composer, and a human being?
This is difficult. As a child I would say music teacher/jazz master, Aquilla Tinglin, who not only validated me as a musician, but rescued me in the physical sense by, many times, letting me stay at her apartment. She also taught me how to be a human being. since I was a wild animal. As an adult, Tony Visconti did much the same thing: plucked me out of the trench, told me I could be more, validated my feelings, and taught me how to be a human being on a deeper level.

What initially drew you to punk rock?
I was never in the punk rock “scene.” The later period never appealed to me; it was too narrow. I appreciated the earlier records, when a friend of mine played them for me. I identified with the freedom, of course. And the individuality of people in the genre. In the early-to-mid time-period of punk the scope was immense. Later it was a skeleton with osteoporosis. A white skeleton.

If you had to give your music a genre, what would you call it?
Do whatever the fuck you want-ville.

What’s the story behind the song “Nice?”
I’ve seen a lot of bullshit; let me give you some examples.

What advice do you have for other female musicians?
Try to forget you’re females.

Do you have any advice for adolescent girls that you wish had been given to you?
I think adolescent girls are much different today. I think they’re doing just fine.

What do you like best about Live at the Witch’s Tit so far?
What I like the best is what I like the worst. It’s been obstacle-laden, which means it’s its own thing, and I can’t do much to navigate the ride.

What conditions do you require in your life in order to go on being creative?
Thermostat at 68 degrees at all times, lots of water intake, consuming a different man every night, and an endless flow of cash.

Are there any books, films, or albums that have deeply influenced your development as an artist?
Controversy by Prince, Mozart’s Requiem Mass, and Urgh! A Music War will always reset the controls.

Are you happy with your life so far?
“You came a long way from St. Louis, but you still got a long long way to go.”

Do you feel any desire to straighten out the world a little with your music?
No. I feel a desire to straighten out myself and maybe someone else will relate. I think making music of any kind is a revolutionary act and it can’t help but affect other people. Making music (any kind) is in itself away of saying that life can be better.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.