Interview

Q&A: Kid Sister On Her New Mixtape And Alter Ego, Battling Depression, And Her Flashy “Higher” Video (Stereogum Premiere)

Melisa Young, the performer known as Kid Sister, has been missing in action for a while. It’s been three years since the last Kid Sister mixtape, the electro-fied Nick Catchdubs collaboration Kiss Kiss Kiss, with not a peep of new music in the interim. So it was quite the shock when a new project called DUSK2DAWN: The Diary Of Jane Jupiter emerged last month, even more so when Young’s trademark club rap washed away halfway through the tracklist in favor of experimental R&B and futuristic funk. But the biggest surprise might have been when the song cycle’s autobiographical narrative was interrupted by what sounds like a suicide attempt. Young battled with depression and personal upheaval in the immediate aftermath of Kiss Kiss Kiss, and although she says she never went so far as to attempt suicide, she had to fight those kinds of thoughts for two difficult years before finding healing.

Young got the help she needed, and the result is a new, improved Kid Sister, one that arrives with a freshly minted alter ego and an evolved sound far from the persona behind “Pro Nails.” Her aesthetic transformation is perhaps best demonstrated by the Dam-Funk collab “Higher” and its eye-catching video, which debuts today. Young called from Los Angeles to discuss where she’s been and where she’s headed.

STEREOGUM: DUSK2DAWN is presented as a narrative. I understand the storyline is autobiographical?

KID SISTER: It chronicles my actual life and my actual story. And beyond that it also goes sonically from where I started, back when I started doing basically rapping over electronic music. It goes sonically from that style to the style I’m headed into, which is embodied in songs like “Higher.” And if you know “Higher,” you know it’s kind of a boogie, kind of a futuristic boogie song. I needed to provide some context for that. First of all, I think it’s pretty ambitious to be quiet for three years and then drop something. Like, I didn’t know for a really long time how I was going to bridge the gap between the kind of electronic sound I started out on and a song like “Higher,” which is really, really different. I though one of my challenges in the past had been, I guess, being a bit ADD with my sound and not being able to necessarily choose where I wanted to go, so sometimes ending up with projects that are not as sonically cohesive as I would have liked. So that was a challenge to me. I thought, “OK, I can’t start something totally different out of the blue, but then if I try to put all these songs on one project, do I then run the risk of facing criticism again?” And as much as people are like, “I give zero fucks!” — we are in the age of no fucks given — but those are the people that usually give the most fucks. To be honest, I don’t like to read critical things about my work. It’s hard to take that, especially if you’re — you know, in the past, I think I had this very tough-girl image that, lets be real, it comes with the territory of being a girl and being a rapper. Because you announce to the world, “I’m a girl rapper, I’m a female rapper,” and you get this badge that goes across your body that days “Don’t fuck with me.” And it’s like, for as much as that is a part of my personality, I am also very, very sensitive. I’m like the weird art girl who sat alone at lunch. You know, that is me too, and as much as I will talk tough, that’s not only who I am. So all this is to say I was trying to figure out how I put this thing together in not only a way that people would understand but also would enjoy. So that’s how DUSK2DAWN came together was trying to provide some sort of context sonically but also to tell the story. Because it is my real life, and it relates to the project, and it relates to, I think, the questions people have, mainly being, “Where the hell did you go?”

STEREOGUM: You said you were wary of incorporating a bunch of different sounds on one project, but it makes sense to me that a life story would have different phases to it and that it would entail different sounds.

KID SISTER: Right. And if you listen to it, it goes from kind of care-free to increasingly dark to noisier and more aggressive. And in the middle of it there is that big, dramatic event, and the whole thing changes course, and that’s how it happened in my life. When you hear about topics like suicide being covered on this project, it’s all real, it’s all true. And I think my challenge for a very long time was making music that was authentic to me. It was just really something that I didn’t have a hold on. I didn’t know how to articulate myself in a way that was authentic to my actual feelings and my thoughts. Like I said, I was just wearing my tough-girl face. You know, I was like, “Fuck y’all, I do what I want!” Just like, “Do you know what it actually is that you want to do or say?” And maybe the answer to that question was I don’t know. And I don’t mean to be harsh about my first push and my former style. It really was reflective of where I was and who I was, but I think it lacked a depth that I know have. But you know that’s not something that you go out to CVS and pick up on your way home, it’s something that you have to sacrifice and work really hard for that perspective and that depth of emotion. I had to go through some really, really hard life events and misfortunes to earn that.

STEREOGUM: Can you describe the life circumstances that inspired all this?

KID SISTER: Well it wasn’t one time. I guess I’ll explain it this way. I went through a really tough time because my first and only real, major relationship ended. It wasn’t just that I had a breakup. It was finding out that my ex-boyfriend cheated on me, and it was a stripper, I believe. When I say feeling like you were punched in the stomach, feeling like you have tears welling up in your eyes, every day for years. Thatís what can make you feel like that. Itís not simply like, ìoh something happened and things arenít the same way anymore.î I think major life transitions are difficult in any case and under any circumstance but when they are under circumstances such as those, itís just for someone who is as sensitive as I am they feel unsurvivable. I donít know if thatís a word but that how it felt. Itís like when everything you thought your life was turns out not to even resemble what your life it or what you thought the kind of person you were or what kind of person you though the person you were dating was like everything was turned on its head and yeah I just didnít know how I was going toóI didnít even know how to interpret. It’s just one of those things that you know you get to a certain age and you feel like you can kind of handle anything and life throws you something and you’re like, “Wait, I’m not equipped for this. And that’s what kind of started me down the path toward that kind of bleak time of personal difficulty.

STEREOGUM: There was some other stuff too, right?

KID SISTER: My grandmother died that same year. My childhood dog — my parents had gotten divorced, and I took my parents’ dog, and I had this dog since I was young, and she died. And I had a really good friend betray me. And an industry that I had help shape was changing, which is to be expected but I didn’t really feel like I had a place on that train or wanted to be on that train. All these things happened. And there was more, but I can’t remember. Really it was like anything that could go bad kind of went bad. The way I describe it is kind of like, do you know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you get really bad news? That feeling of being punched and getting nauseous and having tears well up all at the same time? I had that feeling about every day for about two years, and then I didn’t feel anything. I went numb so I didn’t feel anything so it would stop making me sick. As far as the dramatic event in the middle of the project, yeah, I felt suicidal all the time with idealizations, thinking about it in terms of real ways that it could happen. I was really, really, really sad. It’s kind of like when you feel like the one thing that you have that was reflective as your identity wasn’t as real as you thought to begin with. That’s like the numbness I described. I was like, wait a minute! The way I had to articulate myself I didn’t have anymore. I don’t feel like I can anymore. All of these friends that I thought were real — well, not all of them. I have good friends. But you know, it was like going through a real and intense existential crisis for an extended period of time and finally figuring out a way out of it. I think a lot of artists suffer silently through bouts of major depression and thoughts of suicide, probably more than we know. No one ever speaks up about it though because it’s deemed inappropriate or too heavy, but the reality is this business kills people. The ups and downs are constant and extreme, and that’s just the way it is. And for me personally they were very difficult waves to ride. I found myself watching the Joan [Rivers] episode of Louie and her documentary A Piece Of Work over and over again just to get through the day sometimes because she so eloquently breaks down what it takes to survive in this world. She said, “You do it because we love it more than anything else… I wanna tell you it gets better but it doesn’t get better, YOU get better.” And she was right.

STEREOGUM: So how did you get out of your tailspin?

KID SISTER: This is kind of a weird part of the story. I don’t know how I came across this, but I stumbled upon this blog called The Daily Love, and it’s run by a name Mastin Kipp. I looked at his website and it was articles about how to feel gratitude in your life even though things are maybe not the way you’d like them to. So I looked at his website, I really just poured through all the articles, I signed up for the newsletter. I was starting to feel a little bit better, and I got this email that was like, “Do you live in the L.A. area? Because we are having this week-long intensive seminar! You should come!” And I signed up for it and I went. And I was skeptical. I mean, I was still tough girl, so I was kind of like, “OK, I’m going to try this, but I don’t know.” But I thought, “Anything I could try to feel better than I do right now is probably smart and good.” The craziest thing happened. On the third day he hugged me, and he was like, “I Googled you.” And he was like, “I worked at the same management that you were repped by.” I mean how big is Los Angeles? 10 million people? I don’t know, many millions. And he is like, “I was the junior manager below your manager, and I left a month before you came on. And I left because that side of the business can be so harsh and can be so dark.” And he got wrapped up in all his own stuff. But you can Google it, he talks about them very candidly. He left the business for kind of the same reasons I took my break. You know, I just felt like it was very empty, and it wasn’t making me feel good, and I was very sad all the time. But anyway, that was kind of the first building block that kind of set me on the path to being, like — I guess it kind of pulled me out of the depression and the victim state of mind and led me down the path to be able to talk about things and perhaps even articulate them in an artistic way.

STEREOGUM: How does having the new Jane Jupiter alter ego play into all that?

KID SISTER: Well, I think that what it means for me personally is basically that I have to save myself. It think a lot of times we want our friends to save us. We want some force of nature to swoop in and save us. But I found that that person is me, that force is me. And I just so happen to be very fascinated by cosmology and astronomy, and I find space aesthetically pleasing, and it just seemed to really speak to what I wanted to get across sonically and spiritually and aesthetically. I feel like Jane Jupiter is perhaps me but in an exalted form. Before I just really felt, everything I said in that Facebook post is really true. I just felt I needed people’s permission before I could make any decision, and now I just feel very strong and sure of myself, and I think that’s what the concept of Jane Jupiter embodies for me.

STEREOGUM: Are your releases still going to be under the name Kid Sister? Is Jane Jupiter like a Ziggy Stardust thing, or are you actually going to release records under the name Jane Jupiter?

KID SISTER: I’m not decided yet. I don’t feel like Kid Sister anymore, I’ll say that. I mean I’m not a baby anymore, emotionally, literally. I mean, I wasn’t even like a super young kid when I started, but you know, that was a long time ago.

STEREOGUM: DUSK2DAWN is intended as this grand statement, but it’s also supposed to be a precursor to more music. What’s the plan for moving forward?

KID SISTER: The day I released DUSK2DAWN, one hour after the mixtape dropped I went into my first session for the album, and that just felt so good. When you don’t know what you want to say and you don’t have a strong sense of your identity and your place in music, I mean just speaking from my own perspective, I found it really difficult to want to get motivated to write. Writing was a very harrowing and kind of nail-biting process, like, “Will it come together, will it not?” So I didn’t find it enjoyable I found it actually very difficult. I didn’t look forward to writing. But within the past year and a half or two years, all it’s been is intensive writing. When I started working on new music I was writing songs just to write them, knowing that they probably wouldn’t become anything, but just trying to get myself more comfortable writing quickly. And now I look forward to writing. So to go into the first session for the album the day the mixtape comes out felt so amazing, and I just felt really fortunate and grateful and excited. So yeah, the gears are already in motion.

STEREOGUM: You mentioned like having a clearer sense of what you wanted to say, and obviously like you have a whole mixtape’s worth of thoughts on that. But is it possible to distill where you’re coming from and what you wanted to get across into a few sentences?

KID SISTER: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think about this all the time because I think to have to describe what you do as a musician, and a musician who is speaking from the heart and being vulnerable, that is almost like asking someone to describe themselves. It’s a difficult question to answer. So I don’t know if I can answer that question. But I think this project is actually about fearlessness, about being fearless and about showing that there is strength in vulnerability.

STEREOGUM: Tell me about your “Higher” video. The mirror suit is quite striking.

KID SISTER: Thank you! We made it — we being me, my friends, and a costume designer. The story of the music video is an interesting one. I guess it was probably February or March of 2013, this kid reached out to me. It was a friend of a friend, just through social media. We had several mutual friends. And so I kind of asked my friends if this was legit and they were like, “Yeah, he is super nice.” He was like, “Well, my roommate is a director, and he wants to do a video for you.” I was still in a period of inactivity so I wasn’t really doing videos, but then I was like, “You know, just try to give this thing a push.” DUSK2DAWN was not even a thought yet, like it was kind of nothing but one song, “Higher,” which I’ve had for a really long time. So I was like, “Whatever, yeah, let’s get together and talk and see what his ideas for it are.” So we got together and started planning the video, and we even shot a video. It was a very involved shoot where I want to say it took two days, but it might have been three. They built the suit on my body. It took two people to build it on me, it took five days. And it was spring time, which gets pretty warm in L.A. It took people four hairdryers, gluing things to a body suit on my body. It was pretty intense. But anyway, we got together with the director. We shot this video in Palm Springs. It was so hot, it was in May. And I was excited about it! We shot half of it in Palm Springs and the other half in L.A. We are in the desert, and I’m wearing this suit, and kind of in this dystopian existence, this alien thing. Not super dialed-in, but it looked really visually striking.

STEREOGUM: So why’d you sit on the video for so long? Were you waiting to finish a whole project first?

KID SISTER: I wanted to have it out like June or July of last year, but basically what happened was several months came and went and there was this other video that came out that looked a lot like this video, and I was like, “Oh my god, no! We can’t!” And as much as I think I am a lot more confident in this reincarnation of myself, I’m a lot less insecure, I’m still very much aware of wanting to respect other artists by not doing things that are too similar. But I think more artists want to differentiate themselves and not put out things that look derivative. I think I said OK, obviously we can’t go forward with this thing. So we shelved it. And then I started working on the mixtape. I didn’t know what it was going to be. I just started on “Bed Breaker,” I had no idea I wanted to do anything deeper than that, really. But I knew I wanted to bridge the gap between songs like “Higher” and songs like “Bed Breaker” and “Bubwagi.” So a few months went by, a few more months went by, the mixtape is starting to take shape, it is starting to become real and make more sense. And at the same time I had a friend contact me and say, “Hey, if you ever want me to do a video…” And it’s a friend who works for a big corporation, and I think he wanted to do something a little bit weirder, a little bit perhaps different than what he does on a daily basis. So we got together and talked about the concepts and got an art director, and very quickly there was a huge team involved.

STEREOGUM: And you carried over the mirror suit idea from the previous video?

KID SISTER: I actually had a dream when I was in Berlin that I wanted to create this mirror suit, maybe it was actually like a tailored suit. And everybody I told about it was like, “How the hell are you going to wear glass? I’m sure you can do it, it sounds really cool, but like, what?” And I’m like, “No, no, no, I want to do it!” And they were like, OK. You know, it was even tough to persuade the first director to do it. He kept saying, “Oh, I don’t think it will work. No, I don’t think it will work.” And I was like, “Just try it!” So anyway, all this to say, when I told the second director about it, Ryan Zunkley — who is so amazing and played such a big role in things moving forward and things moving forward quickly and tastefully — he was like, “Yeah!” I have a friend who is a costume designer, and she is sick. She does work with Minimale Animale. Her name is Erin Seelert, and she is amazing. And so we got together, and I told her what I saw for myself, what I saw for the mirror suit and what I saw for the dancers’ costumes, and within two weeks we had everything made. I remember one afternoon when no one else could help I had the suit on me and it got glued to my leg, and I had to call the fire department. I was like, “What do I do?” I started panicking! I felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story’s little brother Randy when he couldn’t put his arms down. I was just like, “I can’t move my arms!” I panicked. But anyway, yeah. It is the video I am most proud of out of all my videos.

STEREOGUM: Is there some kind of meaning behind wearing this glassy, reflective thing? Or is it just that it looks awesome?

KID SISTER: I obviously think it looks awesome, but I just felt like aesthetically I hadn’t seen anything that makes me feel the way good boogie music sounds, if that makes any sense. Like I wanted to communicate something aesthetically that is reflective of how a song like “Higher” makes me feel. And when I had that, it was kind of like a waking dream. It was very early in the morning, like 4 or 5 in the morning, and I’m like lying on the bed kind of half awake, half dreaming, and half just lying down thinking. And yeah it just seemedóI was listening to the song in my head. Iím sorry, I was hearing, I was hearing the song in my head. And my eyes were kind of fluttering back. And I was seeing this amazing, visually brilliant sparking. So I see these kind of glittering shapes and I’m seeing it in terms of a music video in my head and I’m like, “Yup! That seems right.” That visual is how I feel when I hear the song.