Hail to King Woman

King Woman’s new album Created in the Image of Suffering is mystical slow doom metal, some of the songs linger in your head till you listen to them again, and again.

I fell in love with their hypnotic track “Dove” a little while ago on Bandcamp and recently saw the band was back with this LP released on metal label Relapse (which I had discovered via SURVIVE, and I had discovered SURVIVE when streaming Stranger Things. Thank you, Internet).

I had a fan moment when meeting Kristina Esfandiari in Los Angeles backstage at The Echo in Silverlake before the gig. We talked about music, of course, being a reject, religion, sadness, and life. Here’s your wisdom pill of the day, courtesy of a strong-willed beautiful inside-out rock star.

So Kristina, King Woman, one day on Bandcamp I heard that song “Dove”.
Wow, long time ago.

For me, it was just two years ago and it was so special, and really long…
13 minutes to be exact.

Yeah, and I was like, what is this? How did you make this?
Um, I just wanted to make a 13-minute song, so I went in the studio with my friend Pat Hills who recorded our other King Woman record. There was this guitar idea that Colin, my guitarist, threw my way. I just looped it, and I just kind of wrote down some weird lyrics to it, and I just looped that guitar over and over again. It just kind of came out that way, I don’t know, it just ended up being a 13-minute song. So I added strings, let’s make it something big, you know?

So, you produced it?
Yeah, part of the guitar was a sample from something Colin did. Everything else was recorded. Pat played the strings at the end of it and I think I added some guitar layers on there as well as the vocals. It’s a very minimal, kind of eerie track.

And so once you’ve produced this song, or any song in general, how do you go about it? Do you talk to your label and see what they want to do?
No, I do everything the way I wanna do it. I mainly focus on the fans, I like to get them excited. I put a four-song EP for my other project, Miserable… I put it online for free for them, you know. At the end of the day, they’re all that matters. Critics can say what they want about you but my band has fucking amazing fans. They bring me gifts all the time. They love me, I love them, and to me, that’s what matters. And I think they appreciate that I don’t give a fuck and I do exactly what I want. I’m not gonna let anybody in the music industry bully me around, or tell me who to be as a person or as a woman. And I’m not gonna let the media control my next move because everything I do comes from within and it’s intuitive. Fuck everybody else, you know? As long as you’re a kind person and you’re doing shit your way and you’re doing authentically that’s what matters.

And actually I want to ask you, you have King Woman, you have Miserable, you had another project before….
I have a lot of projects.

So how does that work, multiple personalities?
I’d go insane if I don’t keep busy. So you know, yeah, everybody does. Everybody has multiple personalities or multiple creative avenues, you know what I mean? And I’ve found a way to kind of explore those avenues and I’m just getting started. It’s going to be constantly evolving, and it’s exciting. I really like to keep busy because for me, personally, mental health-wise it works better. Instead of thinking about bad things you can be like “Ok, I’m going to record this EP”, and I’ll be working on that and keep my mind busy on positive things, and not being idle because having too much idle time I don’t think is good for anyone.

And talking about these different projects, do you put labels on them? Do you think “Oh, this song is more this because it’s like this or…”
Yeah, it just comes from a different vein or realm within me and I can easily, because I know myself, say “This is for King Woman, this is for Miserable”, and I can go into that place and channel what I need to channel sound-wise for each project.

And how do you call the music you make as King Woman?
I don’t call it anything it’s universal; it’s beyond me, it’s mystical, it’s spiritual. We write songs sometimes and we’re like, “How did we even..?” I don’t know, I believe there’s so much more out there than us and I’ve found a way to connect to that through this music and I just kind of surrender to it. Everyone, since this record came out, keeps calling me a medium or a conduit. My psychic friend is like “When you play live you conjure the dead, you just connect with another world when you perform.” And I just like the idea of that. Crossing over to the other side when you play.

You have this song, I had to look the word up, hierophant… you interpret signs?
Yeah, it’s like tarot cards.

So, is that how you see yourself?
It’s a card that one of my best friends, MJ, who does tarot, always pulls for me, and I was raised religious. The hierophant is kind of a holy person, you know what I mean. It was more related to a love relationship I had and it just kind of tied into it at the time. It’s kind of about unrequited love. For a lot of people, that’s the song they like the most on the record. It’s a really sad song.

The song that caught my attention the most in the album was “Worn”. Is that how you feel?
Well, that song is about sexual abuse. It’s a heavy song. That song makes me cry the most when I perform it live. It hits me the hardest because I’ve been sexually abused growing up. A lot of people I love have been sexually abused, but I wrote this song for somebody else actually. A fan came up to me after one of my shows and was like, “Hey can I get coffee with you?” And I was like, “Sure, I’ll get coffee with you.” And she was like, “I know you sing about church and religion and all the abuse. When I was 12 years old I went to youth camp and they molested me and took advantage of me.” And we just had a moment for crying and stuff and I was like, “I’m gonna write a song for you”. And I wrote that song.

And you said you were brought up with religion, Christian as well?
Yeah. Charismatic. Very dark.  I don’t subscribe to any religion, though, why would I? I mean, I don’t know shit. It’s like the older I get, the less I feel that I know. You can gain knowledge and you can gain wisdom but at the end of the day, I’m just a spec in this universe. I’m not even a spec, I mean what the fuck could I possibly really know about what else is out there? I’m open. I’ve had crazy supernatural experiences, but I’m not gonna say this is this and that is that. I don’t call myself a Christian, I’m just open. Whatever happens, if you’re open to life and open to people there’s no telling what could happen. I don’t like to label anything; I’m a spiritual person. I’m a spirit, I’m a being. I’m open to mystical, supernatural, psychedelic experiences. And when you’re like that life’s really cool.

Actually, I wanted to ask you about life. If you make music that’s dark or maybe sad or deep how does it affect your everyday life? Do you feel like you have to maintain this image, or?
Fuck no. I really love people. I’m happy, I’m a very happy person, I like to have fun. My band and I love each other very much. We’re very nice, kind, lighthearted people. I think people have a misconstrued idea about musicians being tortured artists; sometimes my influence comes from a deep place within me, sometimes it’s coming from this other source that’s like a bird swooping down on me, that’s like, “Oh where is this coming from?” It’s not always from within. Sometimes some crazy outside sources inspire me. Sometimes it’s a song I hear. You don’t have to be tortured to be smart, you don’t have to be tortured to be a genius. You don’t have to be tortured to be talented and you don’t have to abuse drugs, to do all that shit. I think people just have this rock star idea of what that all needs to look like. I’m a normal ass person. I’m a fucking nerd, I love people, I have a bunch of fun going on tour. I’m grateful to be alive. There are so many people that are… like in Flint, Michigan, the water is dirty. Children are becoming mentally impaired and it’s devastating. I have clean water, I wake up in the morning and I have a warm bed to sleep in, I get to travel and get paid to do music. What the fuck do I have to complain about? Days are not perfect for me, but there’s no room to complain about my life. I mean I’m living a dream that so many people don’t have. I have dark days just because I’m human. That’s not a bad thing, to make dark music. Dark music is part of who we are as humans. We have a dark and a light, and there’s no balance if we don’t have both. You can’t have light without dark. So for people to demonize darkness, which is what happened to me growing up, sadness is not bad, it’s a part of life. Embrace it, sing it when you need to. Grief is a part of life, joy is a part of life —it all balances out. Just because we go through these emotions doesn’t mean we have to sit on them permanently.

Going back to the labeling thing: you’re a woman, you make dark music, you’re a person of color… you told me you do whatever you like, but do you feel sometimes people put you in a box or label you?
They put anybody in a box. They’ll put a person of color in a box, they’ll put a woman in a box, they’ll put a man in a box… they’ll put anybody in a box. Because people aren’t comfortable not being able to label you. It’s like, “Oh I’m so uncomfortable, I don’t know what you are what kind of animal this is, I need to name you,” you know what I mean? Doesn’t matter what you are, they’re gonna label you: cute, woman, feminist, metal band, bitch… Like cool, have fun with that. You’re not gonna experience me and what I do if you just wanna immediately label me, you know? I don’t care, I’m gonna do what I do. My band and me love each other. We have the best time doing what we do.  We love playing music, we love making music, I love performing and I love meeting new people, you know? So, fuck it.

And for everything that’s for your promotional image, do you enjoy making videos being in photo-shoots?
Sometimes. It depends on whom I’m collaborating with. I like collaboration, for the most part. If it’s with a cool person, I like it. I’ve had to do a lot of interviews lately which is kinda hard for me. People ask me stupid questions.

Such as?
They wanna talk about my shitty old band I was in, they treat me like dirt… they should know better not to ask me about that. They ask me about my friends who died in a fire, just shit you don’t ask. Just really personal shit to just try and get that good article, you know what I mean? Not having respect for the artist.

What is your goal as an artist?
I wanna be an inspiration for all the losers and rejects and outcasts and all the women who were bullied and treated like shit. Music is for everybody. This is for the non-binaries, this is for the trans, this is for the women, this is for the men. There’s no “You can’t sit with us.” Everybody’s welcome. I want everybody to feel welcome to sit at the table. I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t hang with us. I hated feeling like… I used to eat lunch in the bathroom by myself at school cause I was picked on, I was raised by two immigrants, I didn’t know how to groom myself, I didn’t think I was good at anything, boys picked on me and called me ugly all the time, I was bullied. I had kind of an abusive childhood and home life, so there was nowhere for me. So to have miraculously found this place within myself and found my freaks that I could hang out with, I want everyone to feel welcome around us.

How did the transition happen, from not being happy to expressing yourself?
I don’t know, this thing was just tugging at me. I was in a four-year relationship with someone who had a substance abuse problem and every morning it was like this thing, this quiet voice like “Hey there’s something more for you. Get out of this relationship.” Every morning I heard it. And I just had no idea what I was gonna become but I was just like, “I need to just take a risk and follow this voice.” I lived two blocks from the beach, I had a dog, a really handsome boyfriend; my life looked perfect. But I was depressed. And I was complacent and I had nothing of my own, I just, I don’t know where I was. So I left them and it was a rough year. I did psychedelics for the first time and that’s when I heard my inner voice clearly for the first time, showing me who I was, showing me how fucked up my life had been. I had an out of body experience, and after that, I became King Woman. I woke up from it and was like, “I’m not Kris”. I was King Woman. And I was just like, I don’t know how to describe it to you, it was just different. I had this substance and confidence that I never had before. And I still feel like a total loser reject but I’m ok with that. It’s not a bad thing now. It’s a cool thing. I’m always gonna be a fucking weirdo outcast but it’s okay. I have all my other weirdos with me now, and we’re all welcome.

Check out King Woman on Bandcamp
Interview by Nadia Says