Soulful songstress Carly Barnette cosmic art-pop duo KiSMiT joins us at LGBTQ supporting cafe Cutie’s Coffee in West Hollywood, CA to discuss balancing art and romance, tip-toeing between single releases and the urge for a full-length album, and not being afraid to sparkle and shine in a drab world.
KiSMiT is comprised of:
Carly Barnette – vocals
Basti Reunert – vocals and guitar
To start us off, everybody loves a good ‘how we met’ story! How did you guys meet and what inspired you to start a musical partnership?
Carly: At one point we went crazy and jumped off the deep end. *laughs* It was a slow role, but it was super organic. Baz and I met at a songwriting class in Boston where all of the art schools connected, I went to Emerson College and he went to Berklee School of Music. He got on a cruise ship and was traveling solo for awhile, and I was living in New York auditioning for Broadway trying to pay rent and student debt. Then his mom was like, ‘Well, you sing and he plays guitar, why do you guys do this together?’ So long story short, it was 2014 when we got on our first cruise ship and we’ve been working together ever since!
Yeah! And it seems like it was very natural fit from the start with meeting in a musical environment.
Carly: Yeah it was! *laughs* I remember being really nervous to sing in front of him. I was used to performing in theatre or singing in a class setting with somebody at the piano or with a whole orchestra, you know, bigger things, but never with just a guitar and my voice. He was always this awesome singer with a guitar, and he would be serenading me and stuff. *laughs* I’ve never been in a relationship with somebody else who was musical, so it’s been a totally different experience for me.
And what are some pros and cons to working with someone who you are also in a relationship with?
Carly: We’ve gone through different incarnations of ourselves together. With working professionally, we’ve gone from the cruise ships and transitioned to cover gigs and so on. It’s really like being in a relationship, you know? He’s my best friend so it’s a lot of fun in that aspect, but then it’s like, ‘I don’t want to fight about which lane to be on the freeway right now.’ *both laugh* There are elements of control within any relationship, and we’ve had to learn that pretty quickly because suddenly we were working together. You have to find space that’s your own and you have to respect it as well. It’s very important to constantly remind each other of that before you’re stepping on each other’s toes creatively or romantically.
It sounds like finding a balance has been one of the most important things in your relationship.
Carly: You just don’t ever want to forget that it’s really special, you know? We have the lows and the highs of course.
I think any type of relationship, friendships included, go through that.
Carly: Oh totally! And I think with being young we’re always like, ‘I can do everything by myself!’ The older I get though, it’s become more like, ‘No, no, this all takes a village,’ you know what I mean? I’m so lucky that it’s always been easy with Baz. He’s just one of those people who makes me take a breath and also lights a fire for me. It’s just this good balance!
What we all need in life!
Carly: Oh gosh, yeah!
And how do you guys balance your personal lives with your professional lives?
Carly: My initial thought is, ‘what is balance?’
Let me see what Webster says the definition of ‘balance’ is. *both laugh*
Carly: I mean, when you have a dream, it’s very much an all-in kind of sensation. Balance is very important in every facet, and I think one of the things that makes it a little easier is to make space that’s like our own and nobody else. You physically cannot be everything to everybody. Baz and I, we write together and we go on dates, but I also lean heavily on being by myself. Like, if I want to have a drink with my girlfriends I’m going to do it. *both laugh* But again, spreading it all out is important because it can easily turn into ‘too much going on.’ There’s been a lot of times where there’s weeks that we work Thursday, Friday, Saturday, with zero breaks, and then it’s like, ‘Ok, I’m done. I’m going to Orange County to see my mom. Bye! *both laugh*
So as a woman in the music industry, do you feel that women have to portray themselves in some kind of ways in order to find success?
Carly: I really love a question that’s direct. *laughs*
Thank you! *laughs*
Carly: I think because I’m not a solo artist, people don’t always lead with female forward questions. We are in a partnership together, but I am very much all about ‘pussy power!’ I think we’re in a beautiful time that every day we’re starting to realize that what once was is no longer the norm. I think we’re living through such a beautiful time to just be a woman, like, we can choose to not wear a bra or not wear makeup, and really redefine the world we want to live in. I do think that it’s still a boys’ club, but I don’t think they want to acknowledge that it is a boys’ club. Sometimes I feel like in this industry, we’re so far behind that we’re not even able to admit that we need to fix it, but yet we’re still defensive that it’s still a boys’ club. In regards to how women need to be viewed as artists, I think there’s plenty of people where the sweatpants and no makeup thing is part of their look and what they’re going for. It’s awesome! I’m definitely what you would call a ‘girly girl,’ so I do makeup and the cute outfits, the whole thing, but that’s 1000% comes from a lot of conditioning, you know what I mean? I admit, I do feel naked if I don’t have makeup on, and I know that there’s so much more to focus on than how I look in a situation. I do have a lot of faith that it’s changing, but I also think that there’s so many ways that the conversation is still really sensitive.
I really do love that women, or just artists in general, tend to be more open as to what they want to be nowadays. Like, when Alicia Keys decided that she didn’t want to wear makeup, everybody made such a big deal about it, but I was like, ‘Why? It’s her choice and she looks gorgeous either way!
Carly: Exactly! Like, why should we try to keep telling people what they need to do. Time is moving so much faster with all this technology and all of this buzzing around, and our ideals are being switched in such a way the idea of not wearing makeup trickles down so fast. And I really do believe that we are more open to voicing our concerns and opinions. My cousins are younger and are so brave and so loud, I mean, I still feel like I’m very loud, but I have a lot of faith in the younger generation.
Absolutely! It’s so amazing how incredibly strong these kids are. They are our light into the future.
Carly: Absolutely! I think we’re living through a time where it’s safe to stand up for yourself. There’s been a lot of times where if you’re standing up for yourself then you’re classified as a bitch or being self-involved. Now, we’re changing the standard of what we think we deserve and it’s been amazing how many women have come forth to stand their ground.
Yeah! And kind of staying along the lines of women in the music industry, it’s actually very rare to see not only female fronted bands, co-female fronted groups and duos, or even girl groups. They’re so few numbers of them and it’s an absolute shame. Do you think that there’s a reason why women feel more comfortable in a solo setting for artistic project as opposed to being in a group or a duo?
Carly: This question is interesting, because I was recently reading at Amanda Palmer‘s book [The Art of Asking], and she talks about how women are more likely to stand up for themselves when they’re in a team than they would if they were alone. I thought that was really interesting to read. I think in today’s age there’s a lot more people are doing solo projects than being in bands. I think bands are a lot more unusual than just being a solo artist in general because there are so many facets to what you’re managing. For me personally, it has always felt easier in a team setting advocating for my band rather than just me, you know? It feels way less indulgent and becomes this thing that is bigger than me that I believe in, rather than ‘Hey! Listen to my stuff!’ It is a lot easier if you’re just going about it all by yourself and I totally understand why people would want to pursue that, but I also don’t think it’s out of nowhere that when you do see a woman in a band she’s usually the singer. She’s the one with all the makeup on and is smiling and taking on that role. Baz and I constantly talk about the roster in the bands that we see, like who’s in the band each time, and it’s rarely a female drummer and almost never a girl on bass or guitar, but the singer is almost always a girl. We try to keep our band as balanced as possible with our rotating players because we feel that it really changes the whole room when there’s an even amount of people.
And that’s so cool that you’re trying to give recognition to many different players and their talents! There’s just so many here!
Carly: Right! I have a couple girlfriends that play with us and everybody’s been super busy, which makes me super excited! I know when I go to see shows or when I see my favorite artist, it’s all men that are on stage, and I’m over here watching and being like, ‘Really? You can’t get like one fucking girl to stand up there with you?’
Going back to that ‘boy’s club’ mentality.
Carly: Yeah, but you can’t change everyone. You can only control what’s going on on your stage.
Now going into your guys’ music, you’ve released a few fun tracks this year! Which song was your favorite to write and record so far?
Carly: I think “No Turning Back” was one of the coolest writing processes ever. I was doing a silent meditation when that song came to me, but I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t write in a journal because I was there to be quiet and meditate. During that course I was just flooded with so much music, and that was really fun. I just had to remember that when I was a little babe, I actually had to remember songs. In general, I think that “No Turning Back” was so different of a song for us because we did it all at home in our studio with our friends. So that was like a page marker of it being a new chapter for us.
And how would you say the writing and recording processes have been similar or different from each of the songs? Apart from the exceptional experiences of course.
Carly: Oh they’re all different. Baz and I have days of the week that we dedicate to writing when we’re home and not traveling.Oftentimes songs, or a beat or something else like that, flows out in the car, or in the shower, or when our minds are distracted. But then there’s a lot of times where we’re just sitting around with the guitar and singing stuff over it. It’s different every time, but we always always take the time to meditate. We sit in our studio for like five minutes and then say a little prayer, or I guess a ‘blessing’ in a way.
It’s like your ritual before making the musical magic happen!
Carly: It really is! I do think it does come from way beyond my brain and his brain. We think it helps us with the process when we sit for a second to get our hearts in the right place.
Yeah. And what are your thoughts in regards to the music industry’s obvious preference for singles and shorter releases, like EPs, over full-length works like albums?
Carly: You know, I really think that we’ve been caught up in it. I was thinking about it recently, and right now we’re working towards a debut album, but we resisted it for so long because so much of the advice that we’ve gotten is to play the singles game and keep it going until you have people who would want your debut album. I completely understand that, but everyone’s in a different situation. We’re not signed to a major label and still fairly young to our artistry, so I think the single game has been good for us with trying to make a name for ourselves. I do think that if you’re working towards a whole album then you have much more of a completed chapter, but Baz and I agreed that everything we do is going to culminate into a bigger thing.
There’s always a means to an end.
Carly: Yeah, exactly. Plus, nobody knows how we’re digesting anything that’s being put in front of us, you know what I mean? I feel like it changes every week.
Right!?! And once you get used to something,a whole ‘nother thing comes around that’s supposed to make it ‘better.’
Carly: Right!?! And right when you’re like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this,’ like on Instagram and stuff, then something else changes. We’re living in such a fast way that it definitely makes me crave a full-length something as a declaration of ‘here is this chunk of time for you to enjoy.’
So as a pair that’s gotten to tour around the U.S. for the ‘No Turning Back’ tour, have you noticed any differences in regards to how audiences react to artists coming in, or crowd engagement, or even marketing, in the different areas that you’ve performed?
Carly: We played through some pretty big cities around the U.S., so in that sense with playing in America is the same. But it’s the little things about the city itself that I feel have some differences. Like New York for example, New York was a very loud and very unapologetic audience, which in a way feels like the city itself. Seattle was way more polite…and plaid. *both laugh* There’s also a difference in how apeshit people got. In L.A., we play to a crowd that we’re familiar with because it’s our home city, but there’s still an element of staying in check because you’re in L.A., whereas in New York it felt way more wild. I mean, we played in weird little parts of the country too and that was totally different for us, but I would definitely like to know a lot more about what other parts of the world are like. Sometimes I feel like I’m really sparkly and shiny in places where…
…Where they probably never have music come in…
Carly: Exactly! We played in a town that felt very conservative right outside of Seattle, and even though I’m in the same outfits that I wore when actually in Seattle, I felt completely different and a little more flashy than usual. I’m just being me and gave them the same energy for the show, but you do bounce off of how receptive people are depending on where you are. I think a lot of our set is conscious and tries to talk to the general state of the world.
And speaking of touring, if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Carly: This is such a fun question! Baz and I have a lot of the same tastes, but I’m thinking, mutually, we would both lose our fucking minds if we opened for Stevie Wonder. Lot of our KiSMiT themes are like ‘meant to be, so I thought it’d be cute to call the tour ‘Meant to Wonder!’
Oh my gosh! I love it!
Carly: That one was my favorite! *laughs* I’d also love to open for Allen Stone, and we could call it something referring to ‘cosmic stoners.’ *laughs*
That’s a great collaboration album name!
Carly: Right!?! *laughs*
Trademarked on this blog! *laughs*
Carly: I also love Kimbra, oh my God, she would be such a dream to open for! The tour name for that one is hard though because we both have ‘K’ names. It’s in development. One day I’ll figure it out! *laughs*
In an age where social media is pretty much reigning the marketing realm, do you feel that it’s made it easier or harder for artists to make a name for themselves?
Carly: I think it is an amazing tool that’s helped allow us to have the freedom to share whatever we want and build whatever business we want. But you can’t forget that whatever you choose to put out there comes a lot of other people who are also doing it and has made the market more saturated. My mom has her own business that she started when she was pregnant with me and single, and she was like, ‘I spent so much money on advertising, like, a grand a month, and now you just post a photo or something and you don’t even pay for it!’
Oh we definitely take the simplicity of social media advertising for granted.
Carly: We absolutely do. I try to think of it from the point of view of someone who actually worked hard to grow their brand. Also, social media can be so completely toxic and draining and depressing.
Such is life. Life drains us, and then we die.
Carly: Unfortunately it’s true.
You’ve gotta make the most of what you have.
And do you feel that social media also adds a pressure to almost portray yourself in a certain way to whoever is looking at your stuff? Maybe even sharing specific parts about you that you might not have done in a normal setting?
Carly: I definitely feel the pressure to share the highlights and the good stuff, which I think is another really cool thing about social media. Right now we’re living through a time where we’re pretty much demanding authenticity, so I do feel pressure to be ‘unique.’ But I think that there’s ways to make peace with it, like making a calendar or even just planning ahead.
If you could give your younger self some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far with music or just with life in general, what kind of advice would you give her?
Carly: I recently saw a shirt that I wish that I had bought when I was eighteen that said, “Doubt” but the ‘u,’ ‘b,’ and ‘t,’ were crossed out to say “Do,” and I was like, ‘Yeah! That’s so awesome!’ That would be what I would tell myself, to quiet the doubt and just got out there and do something.
It’s so easy to not do anything, but it takes ten times more effort to actually do something.
Carly: Right?!? And it eats away at your soul when you don’t do it, so it’s gonna nag at you either way. That’s what I would want myself to do, never give up on trying and don’t be afraid of failing.
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Carly: I just hope that when they listen to our music that they feel loved and that they can do anything they set their mind to. That’s what I’d like to leave for them.
And to end us off, what other big, exciting, things shall we be looking forward to from you guys, apart from new music and maybe an album soon?
Carly: Yeah! We’re going to release another single and a big music video, our biggest music video yet! We did an all-female creative team, Baz was a part of the process of course, and it was just a really fun experience for everyone involved. We can’t wait to show everyone!
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