Oct. 20, 2004 - Issue #470: I Heart Huckabees
Kinnie Starr just won’t stop Bitching
Neo-folker leaves Cirque du Soleil gig behind for another Scrappy Bitches tour
Kinnie Starr plays little games to amuse herself on the road, a place she
has become achingly familiar with this year and shall remain in close contact
with next year. Rather than drift like a shiftless ghost through hotel
lobbies, diners, bars and airports, she likes to jar the strangers around her
out of their insular preoccupations. Well, she puts it more bluntly.
"The goal of my day is to make one fucker smile," she laughs over the phone from a hotel in New York City, where she’s about to play the annual College Music Journal (CMJ) music marathon. "It can be really hard sometimes, but on a good day it can be a rewarding way to walk through the day."
Having recently spent seven months in Las Vegas on an abbreviated gig with Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity (there were no hard feelings after she quit; she just didn’t dig being the scantily clad stage chanteuse), and having spent more time touring the U.S. lately, Starr has come to detest the way North Americans recoil from each other. "Kindness to strangers is considered insane," she observes. "If you smile at or help a stranger, you’re thought of as odd." It’s not so in other countries, Starr says—especially in South America, where, for example, it’s common to see a stranger helping a woman with children and groceries get on a bus.
According to Starr, human kindness and consideration have been forsaken in the midst of widespread public anger, fear and accelerated living, all of which are conveniently stoked by the media and Hollywood But, she’s fighting back: both on the road and on her records. "I hear more appreciation of love in my new music," she says. "Las Vegas and American culture in general is not based on the politics of love."
But that sentiment has peeved a few hardcore fans. Last year many in her cult following claimed their favourite underground Starr was losing her pointed edges. Her latest CD, Sun Again—a groovy electronic release shimmering with positive vibes—irritated some of her angry-young-woman fanbase but, as hoped, it also broadened her appeal to new audiences and demographics. A new CD, expected in the spring, will continue that evolution with the same cast of musicians and co-producers featured on Sun Again. "It’s a natural progression—it’s just better songs," Starr says of the disc. "My guitar playing is more featured on this record. That’s the major difference."
Starr will end the year with a revival of the Scrappy Bitches, a tour headlined by herself and two other Canadian anti-divas: Veda Hille and Suzie Ungerleider, a.k.a. Oh Susanna. This will be the fourth time in seven years that the ladies have forged a formidable trident, poking and prodding their way across the country with their mix of hip-hop, neo-folk and country. Having toured mostly solo for years, Starr now appreciates traveling with other people, especially gregarious mates like Ungerleider and Hille. She recalls one night, early on during the first tour, when she and Ungerleider got drunk on whiskey backstage while Hille was playing. Starr thought it would be hilarious to bring a phone book onstage, plop it down on Hille’s piano and order a pizza during her performance. "Suzie knew Veda better at that point and said, ‘Ah, no. I don’t think that would go over well,’" she laughs. Starr says playing with Hille and Ungerleider has also taught her endless lessons in songwriting and performing, and both women have remained enduring influences.
This Saturday’s performance will break from Scrappy’s usual format of three individual sets; instead, all three bitches will take the stage at the same time for a performance in the round. But until then, Starr says she will indulge her fascination with election mania in New York and perform at the CMJ’s acclaimed music festival, which features hundreds of different bands at 50 different venues across the city. Before she leaves the Big Apple, she’s also hoping to find a T-shirt with the best slogan she’s witnessed on a chest thus far in the campaign: "My Bush Is a Better President." That ought to make at least one person smile. V
With Veda Hille and Oh Susanna • Sidetrack Café • Sat, Oct 23
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