Saturday, Jun. 8, 8 p.m., $10–$20

NorthStar Church of the Arts, Durham

As the owner of The Pinhook, Kym Register has such a powerful voice in this community that you might be surprised to hear they ever questioned it as a musician.

But as Register tells it, the new Loamlands record is about them finding new vocal confidence—and a new perspective on playing music—on a pivotal tour with queer band Nana Grizol, which led to queer independent label Cruisin Records releasing the stunning Lez Dance. It features musicians such as Solar Halos’ Nora Rogers and Mourning Cloak’s Kris Hilbert, who recorded and coproduced, but it has the intimate, spare feel of a solo record, with no drums and minimal arrangements to buffer Register’s powerful voice as it wraps around genderqueer versions of classic country-rock tales.

“This project happened because very close friends were basically like, ‘I dare you,’” Register says. The result was not only personal growth for Register, but an album that is sure to inspire it in listeners. Hear for yourself at the NorthStar release show on Saturday, with openers Vaughn Aed and Brown Hound, the latter of which just might be the alias of a local musician you’ll be very excited to see. 

INDY: Lez Dance feels more like Kym Register than a band. Your voice is so powerful, it doesn’t need a lot of orchestral cladding. 

KYM REGISTER: I’m somebody who likes to be vulnerable and explore things, and I also feel the privilege of sharing information, so I’m sometimes scared of taking up that space. “I dare you to play without a bunch of boys” was the first thing that happened. Then, I made the record and felt the power of having a loud voice and being able to sit in it. That’s something I’m not good at, because I’m high-strung and wired. But something about singing and having it played back in the monitors is settling. It’s the opposite of disassociation. Which is association. Brilliant. [Laughs

But I feel very disassociated from my body and myself sometimes, because of gender and past, and I think it’s OK to feel self-important or like a human in a body. I’ve tried to be like, “What can I do for you?” for so long, very martyred. I don’t think that’s always OK. When you do it consciously, it’s powerful.  

What are you showing people with martyrdom, right? Is it more helpful to show them strength and believing yourself? 

I guess some people have this confidence that I’m not sure I’ve ever had, artistically. I’ve always worked with people who are amazing, crazy creatives or who know the music industry, and I’ve never taken full control. That doesn’t allow everyone to be at their peak creativeness. So now that I feel more confident in my storytelling and my voice, I’m going to take that excitement to the musicians I’m playing with, and hopefully, we’re all going to elevate each other. 

Is it just me or has your singing changed? I keep thinking of Stevie Nicks, who I haven’t thought of before.

Fuck yeah, that’s awesome. I saw this meme yesterday on The Hard Times, which was something like “Seventy-six-year-old lead singer finally lifted the level of their voice.” Also, Kris [Hilbert] was really important. I loved recording with Jon Ashley and Brad Cook, but for this record, my intent was to go more toward Scout Niblett—powerhouse female-fronted electric guitar style. With Kris, who also recorded Solar Halos, it was like, “Treat my voice not like a folk voice.” 

It’s almost like your voice structures the songs more than the instrumentation does. 

There’s no meter, no click track; they’re all recorded live. It’s the most fun way to tell a story. I’m glad we did it, because I couldn’t go back and change everything. 

Did you write these songs over a long or short period of time?

It’s important to carve out creative time, and I’m really bad at it. That’s another thing people were challenging me on. So I wrote them in a month or so, based on information I was receiving from world. I was reading a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin. And Soni Wolf, the Dykes on Bikes person, died, and I read an article and related it to my grandmother, how it’s possible she was homosexual, but no one will ever know because of the time she lived in.

Did you think a lot about the story you were telling or the energy you were putting out? 

Before I made this record, I went on tour with Nana Grizol, this queer punk band. I was a fan of the lead singer/songwriter, Theo [Hilton], who runs Cruisin with my friend Clyde [Petersen]. It was the queerest tour I’d been on, and all of the feelings of not wanting to tour because of how stressful it is and how unsupported I felt, financially and in my identity—all of that was washed away. Not to say the other people I’ve toured with aren’t supportive, because they’re amazing. But finding that community really changed the way I want to put music out. We played great venues and DIY spaces and came back with money and wanted to keep going, which never happens. It was like, “Oh, I want to write music with my community, for my community,” and that was energizing, not depleting. I was excited to be really vulnerable and confront some internalized homophobia, which is interesting to me, because I’m so queer. But when I went on this tour, I was like, Oh, queers! You know when you’re scared to realize what you want?

Yeah, because then you have to try to get it.

Right. Now I have these friends who are touring sustainably, and it’s not about the next big Pitchfork review—if that happens, awesome, but if it doesn’t, we’re working together as friends and living our queer lives.

This is a queer country record, but there are a lot of songs directed at a “she.” 

That’s so interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, because the “she” is these specific people in my life. “Wild Ones” is based on an Le Guin story called “Wild Girls.” I changed the gender pronouns because, if I want this to speak to me, then why this wild “girls” idea? I love the idea of a powerful woman, but I don’t think there are a lot of those songs about genderqueer people. Calling it Lez Dance has to do with being in community. After this tour, realizing I was confronting some past internalized homophobia, I’ve been really listening to my elders: Soni Wolf, or k.d. lang, or Melissa Ethridge. These people were not super accepted as elders because I’d been trying to define myself against them. Now, I’m like, well, I’m genderqueer, I am not a lesbian, but fuck yes, thank you so much, lesbians. Elder queers have done so much work and do get marginalized and compartmentalized. 


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