I Am Strikes’ music exhibits a wide range of both musical and emotional depth. In one moment weaving themes of emotional strife and struggles with mental health over nimble acoustic guitar and in the next tackling those heavy issues with infectious optimism and wry wit over lush production.
In April, Modern Music Director Nick Brunner spoke with I Am Strikes (aka Kelly Rosenthal) to talk about her musical inclinations as a child learning songs on a one-string ukulele, and why being yourself as an artist and a person is so important.
When I think about your music, I think about these super well-mixed and well-produced pieces with lots of heavy production, but you seem just as comfortable on tracks like The Truth, which feels much more intimate or dare I say, small or vulnerable. I would love to hear you talk about that range and your approach to that range as a songwriter.
Yeah, that's something that I've grappled with truly, because to me, a great track is something that can really be boiled down to just good bones and a good lyric. And I'm most comfortable on my instruments organically. And yet I lust after just kind of a maximalist production on some of my tracks.
So I always write things just strictly with the bones, usually on acoustic guitar or acoustic piano and a vocal first. And then I kind of just allow the song to inform how the production should play out. So that is just kind of the scope of what I make. It's certainly not intentional. It kind of just plays out that way, if that makes sense. No restrictions, I guess.
How much are you planning around this year, being able to get back on stage and where do you want to play first?
To me, my favorite venues are generally intimate. I love a room where people are seated and quiet and you're looking into everybody's eyes as you're playing. Just as much as I love a really sweaty, gritty space where you're like, thrashing about and everyone's moving. And for me, like, I cannot wait to feel somebody else's sweat on me. I got to say.
You started playing guitar around 15? Did you feel the need to create music earlier than that?
Absolutely, I think about that a lot. I didn't come from a musical family. My parents were extremely loving and supportive, but didn't get music. It wasn't for them. It wasn't their thing. And I remember from like, toddler age, wanting to drum. I wanted to be a drummer. And for parents who don't really get the music thing, I don't think they're going to get an acoustic kit for a 4 year old, you know?
I actually convinced my parents to get me a guitar because a friend had left behind a ukulele. Like basically a toy with a single string on there. And I learned “Smoke on the Water”, “Iron Man”, like all [these] traditional beginner guitar songs on a single string ukulele. And my mom was just like, ‘This is just sad, you know?’ [Chuckles] ‘We gotta get her a real instrument.’
We gotta get her some more strings!
Exactly. Exactly. So that was really the start of the end for me, I guess you could say.
About you; you were telling me that you once had a manager suggest that being yourself might pigeonhole you.
Yes, some of the worst advice I had received was from an ex-manager who told me that presenting as too queer would pigeonhole me and that I found to be just horrific advice for a person and for an artist. I feel as people, our most valuable contributions to the world are our own perspective. And that comes through our own unique experience, right? And whenever you're modifying that, censoring that, embellishing that, changing that, it does a disservice to, I think, the spirit. And I certainly think that as an artist, your contributions to the world like, need to mirror your own unique experience.
And for me, the idea of exhibiting any behavior or any identity that doesn't fully align with who I am is a scary thought. I lived a lot of my life not being who I am, and those are the darkest, darkest moments of my life. And I will never go back to that, most certainly. So, yeah, that was horrible advice. [Laughs]
Tell me about your connection to the Sacramento music community and who should we be paying closer attention to? Who are your favorite collaborators?
Absolutely. I mean, it's essential for me to note. One of my closest friends and just somebody of whom I'm a huge fan is So Much Light. I love hanging out with him and just playing music, you know? There's no intention, rarely, and we so often just come up with something that's just fun and cool. In today's day and age, it kind of feels like you have fun when you're a kid and then you're supposed to like work, work, work and pay your bills. And then maybe when you retire, you can have fun again or something of that sort.
Yeah, like it almost seems irresponsible to allow yourself to give yourself permission to have fun.
Yeah, exactly. And for me, one of my greatest pillars, principally, around which I live my life, is just having fun, having a good time, having a blast. And working with So Much Light it doesn't feel like any semblance of work, you know? It's just an amazing time. So I can't speak highly enough about him.
So Much Light and I Am Strikes co-produced her song “Whatever Makes You Want To Die Less”. Acoustic version here.
Note: This song explores themes surrounding suicide.