Boston’s Absinthe Rose are one of those bands that I desperately wish I had been turned on to well before their fourth full-length, Black Earth… which was released this past Friday, September 4th, via Screech Owl Records. The band is the brainchild of Kimbo Rose, who originally began as a solo project based out of Oregon, but who relocated to Boston around 2008 and transformed her vision into a full-fledged folk punk band. Although the band’s musicianship and instrumentation are mostly indebted to Americana (in all of its forms) and gypsy music, their attitude, execution, and delivery is pure punk and could easily land them on bills with any of and all of the Hall-of-Famers of Hellcat Records. In addition to a “kick your teeth down your throat” sonic sensibility, the band’s lyrical content deals almost exclusively in a poignant socio-political realm of righting all of the fucked up atrocities brought upon by the structural norms of our society. I recently had an extensive chat with Kimbo Rose about the history of Absinthe Rose and just what drives her as an artist.
Izzy Cihak: I’m curious, how is the Boston music scene at the moment? It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on it, although I got to be friends with Mean Creek a few years back.
Kimbo Rose: The Boston scene is thriving with a wide diversity of musicians and artists from all genres of music. When Absinthe Rose plays we get a wide variety of people at the shows, including our collection of friends from the punk scene and the political activist scene. Boston has so many great and influential local bands to name. For many, the scene allows musicians to come and be present in their own music and support others. I have lived here for over seven years and each year I feel even more involved and motivated by our music community.
Izzy: What have been some of the highlights of the band so far? You’ve been at this for a while now.
Kimbo: Absinthe Rose is having an amazing journey. We have no plans of stopping any time soon. This record is our 6th self-release and our second full-length on my label, Screech Owl Records. I started Absinthe Rose in Oregon as an acoustic project to speak my political views and personal truths. I have been on the road and performed all around the country. My favorite part of being out of the Boston area is being surrounded by like-minded artists and creating safe spaces as musicians. I value what Absinthe Rose brings to a town, a safe place for all genders and political subject matter for conversation and action. Meeting people and being inspired by people’s own journey and music. Seeing youth and our peers open their minds and hearts to a movement we are still encouraging. We are not just a folk band, we are here to cultivate real change and the truth in one’s heart and to raise awareness of the real cost of being here. Present.
Izzy: And your sound seems to be a really cool and crazy amalgam of genres, mostly of previous eras, from what I can tell, so I’m curious if there are any contemporary artists that are doing things that you think are especially interesting or inspiring, whether they’re at all similar to what you’re doing or not?
Kimbo: Our sound is a unique collection of music and thank you for recognizing that. We appreciate the question. There are far too many bands that we draw inspiration from. As an artist, I like to listen to my friends’ bands that I collect from around the country, watching their journeys and supporting their projects. My personal favorite artist is Bessie Smith. I love listening to her records. She was a front woman with an unapologetic influence in the music of that era. Her personality was electric. I like to imagine writing music that can be listened to many years from now and still be relevant. We have many friends in bands that are doing amazing things to inspire social justice and remain a staple in their community and continuing the political and collective awareness that is needed to contribute to this world. We are honored to be among them, fighting for justice. As artists, our sound and our musical influences come from our punk backgrounds. Styles of music that inspire us range from old folk, Americana, gypsy jazz, blues, singer-songwriters, hardcore punk, to the today’s acoustic folk punk bands playing in the streets. Similarities include our struggle to retain integrity, not willing to compromise and never giving up on our beliefs.
Izzy: You also seem to have a lot of non-musical influences, most of which could be considered socio-political. At this moment in 2015, what are the issues that you think people should, or need, to be most focused on? Feel free to rant at length; I’m a humanities professor, so this is what I talk about all day.
Kimbo: As you know the new record is called Black Earth. The title really emanates what the album is about. I believe it is our social responsibility to open dialogues about the truth and dismay of what is happening all around us. The record touches on the issues of the destruction to this planet as well as the naïve notion that we not have already done enough damage are prevalent in the lyrics. We won’t live long enough to see the consequences and the complexity of our actions as humans on this earth. I say we give it all we got. We must not give up or give in to all the habitual violence against animals and abuse against people. It is a real threat to our consciousness. I believe that the fight for and belief in all forms of equality is not necessarily a left wing or liberal view point. We should approach the way we treat each other and the environment with a common decency we sometimes lack as humans. We must educate and liberate. We must cultivate and regain our residence of resistance in our own lives. Real wealth is knowledge. I write from a political view point because it affects me on a personal level. For example, the prison industrial complex has affected my life since I was young. The feminist movement my mother was in while she and our family were physically abused had a great influence on me growing up. As a feminist, I believe that if we do not openly talk about these issues, it becomes a form of submission and silence. Healing is why I play music. I cannot not assume most musicians are creating to heal but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a mistake that I play to help heal myself and others. I want truth and I want justice. When you write from a deep connection with yourself, when you come from a place of personal truth and personal power of survival. To remain honest when writing and understanding where the pain and sorrow comes from. My mission in music is to spread awareness, regardless of your personal political stance. All we need to do is close our eyes to truly see ourselves and open our mouths to the injustice.
Izzy: How do you feel as though Black Earth compares to previous releases, whether in terms of sound or just the process of writing and recording it?
Kimbo: First off, I’d like to thank my band for contributing as much as they have and being present throughout the whole making of Black Earth. This record is unlike anything we have done before. The music styles are evolved and the lyric content has as well. I have had some time to really think about this record and what I wanted to get out of it on a personal level. What I wanted to give to others on a collective level. Before I started writing for this record I felt connected to the previous releases. Songs we tour with and introduce ourselves with in new towns. Black Earth has changed me and I feel honored to have gained that experience. I had a dream in which my ancestors came to me and told me that in order to inspire I must first tell your story. I had been on a journey myself. I didn’t want to open my life up for ridicule and judgments but at the end I’m so pleased I had the courage to allow real emotion and truth about my life and struggles. So I went with that. I went as far deep in my pain as I could to pull out lyrics and music. To say this record allowed liberation emotionally and physically is only powerful if I admit and accept the vulnerability of tears and falling apart at times it consisted of. When I couldn’t get through the songs because I was working through the lyrics and the pain being within the healing process. I threw shit, I allowed all emotions and I ultimately wanted this record to be my story and in turn many others story as well. I had a tough childhood and continued to have struggles, socially and internal. I know I’m not alone in my political and personal beliefs. That is comforting, to say the least. I’ve dug from a personal well of experience and worked through each song. The writing is meant to inspire and heal. For myself and for others who have had hardship, pain and have struggled in this world.
Izzy: And what’s next for Absinthe Rose? How do you hope and plan to spend the remainder of 2015 and the first part of 2016? Any chance we might get to see you on the road and catch a live gig?
Kimbo: Absolutely! We are preparing for tour and we have shows up and down the East Coast till the end of the year. We will also host a release show in November in Boston. Also going to Canada in October. Next year we will also be preparing for a tour across the country. Thank you for your time and questions. Solidarity- K.R. and A.R.