Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in the heavy music genres, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. Erickson is also a music artist herself, recently releasing the song “Eternal Way” under the moniker Upon Wings. This month’s piece features an interview with Kris Esfandiari of King Woman.
King Woman’s new album, Celestial Blues, delves into heavy themes of suffering, spirituality and, ultimately, triumph. The ethereal doom band, led by Kris Esfandiari, releases its sophomore set July 30th via Relapse Records, following up the 2017 debut, Created in the Image of Suffering.
Esfandiari grew up in a cult-like religious environment filled with stories of demons and exorcisms. King Woman, which she started in 2009, has been her outlet to make peace with that upbringing.
For Heavy Consequence‘s latest edition of “Beyond the Boys’ Club”, Esfandiari checked in to discuss the new LP, her childhood, her experience as a woman in music, and much more. Read the full interview below, and pre-order Celestial Blues via Relapse Records or Amazon.
On what makes Celestial Blues different from King Woman’s 2017 debut
I guess different life experiences between 2017 and now that I’ve been through. I’ve been through quite a few transformations, and I was raised in a pretty intense religious environment, and music was kind of my outlet to work through some of that stuff and use some of those themes, and this record was a continuation of that with a little bit of a different approach. I’m not as frustrated or angry. I kind of found my final peace with religion, and I kind of based it off the poem “Paradise Lost” (by John Milton). I feel like after this album is out, the following record will be a little bit different.
On the album’s dark debut single, “Morning Star”
It’s basically a song about Lucifer. It’s Lucifer telling their side of the story. I’ve had the idea for that song in my head for a few years, and it was haunting, and I was like, “I have to put this song on the record.” In church, we were told that Lucifer was so bad and evil, but I feel like often times the people who are portrayed as bad guys in different stories or the news are not what they’re perceived to be, so I wanted to flip it on its head and make it something interesting. So, it’s Lucifer’s way of defending himself.
On how being brought up in a cult-like setting influenced her music with King Woman
This project was my place to move away from that and heal from that and sing about it or talk about it. I could work through it with music, so it’s taken me a few albums to get to that point, basically. It’s been a long journey that I wasn’t trying to force myself out of very quickly, so with this album, it was naturally the last piece. I feel really good and peaceful now, like, “Okay, I can really move on from that,” because when you hear the same few stories repeated over and over and drilled into your brain — I wanted to take those and turn them into something different and tell the story in a creative and unconventional way. I don’t feel really angry anymore. I feel like I found some peace and closure with my upbringing.
On the psychology of getting sucked into a cult-like experience
It wasn’t a full-blown cult. It was a charismatic Christian church that did some scary, creepy things. They believed in exorcisms and demons and angels, and we’d have home church, and I had exorcisms performed on me as a child. So, I was bombarded with these stories, and they’re told to you as if they’re fact and truth, and it’s scary. It sounds silly for people not born into it, but it’s a real thing. When you’re young, you’re so impressionable, so getting out of that is really difficult. Most people I know who are raised in those kinds of environments, it takes a long time to regain their sense of self and get out of it.
On whether the new album was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
I wrote this record between projects and recorded it in December of 2019, so no. It’s been done for a while. I was taking my time with releasing, and I wasn’t in the mood to rush it. I took my time with the video and photos and just said, “I’m going to take my time.” I have different musical projects and alternate between the different personalities and sounds. Right now, I’m focusing on King Woman. When that’s done, I’ll move to something else. It keeps things interesting and life a little bit more interesting, too.
On how the music world has changed for women since she first started out
I feel like women have been in music for a long time, but I just feel like maybe their voices are being uplifted more, and they’re taking less shit and these things are being talked about more. But, they’ve always been in music. Now, they’re taking up more space. That’s great. It makes me happy to see that.
On the women who’ve inspired her musically over the years
I love Stevie Nicks, and I love Aretha Franklin. I like a lot of oldies stuff. Aretha Franklin is huge for me. Young, Gifted and Black is one of my favorite records of all time. I love her voice and her songwriting. She and Stevie Nicks are really big influences on me. With Aretha, I was raised on her music, and it really struck a chord with me. I love the tragedy in her songs, and her voice is so — she emotes in a way that’s separate from the rest.
On whether there’s pressure on women in music to look a certain way
If you let that be a thing, and if you care about that, sure. But, I don’t really subscribe to that. If you succumb to that kind of energy, like, “Oh, I need to look a certain way for men,” then that’s what it’s going to be for you. But, if you don’t, then that’s not going to be your reality. I just don’t give a f**k what anybody of any gender thinks of me, so that’s what it is for my reality. But, someone who might not be in that place and feels that way is going to experience that.
On what advice she has for women looking to get into heavy music
Just do it. You can do anything you want to do. Really the only thing that gets in the way of people doing something, in general, is their own insecurities and feeling like they’re not good enough and comparing themselves to other people and artists and saying, “Oh, I could never do this as well as that person.” So, a lot of people that have a hard time starting projects and things, that’s the only thing that’s really getting in their way: themselves and their own fears. You can blame it on, “Oh, someone said this to me.” I mean, I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me that I would never amount to anything in music and I can’t play guitar. I just didn’t listen. I was like, “No. You’re wrong. I’m going to do whatever I want.” So, I think it’s just about getting out of your own way and just doing it and not thinking to much about it. It doesn’t always work out immediately, but over time, you get better at your craft and get better at finding people to collaborate with that feel right for you. It’s just about doing it.
Celestial Blues Album Artwork: