Q&A with New York City based singer songwriter Kirsten Thien, moves easily from rock to blues, gospel to soul

"Music amplifies the emotion and connection to each other at a level that is non-verbal. Going back to intention, the recorded song taps into the intention of the artist. This is why, when people hear music in a language that is not their own, it can still connect and inspire."

Kirsten Thien: Between Music & Life

Kirsten Thien’s unlikely path from a Georgetown University Business School graduate to a blues and roots rock singer/songwriter began just weeks before college graduation when she decided to forgo career on Wall Street for a life in music. Since then she has released four albums and toured the USA, Canada and Europe extensively including festivals in Belgium, France, Netherlands, Germany and Norway. Kirsten appears with her band, as well as in more intimate solo and duo arrangements. She has opened for Dickey Betts, Shawn Colvin, and one of her favorite artists of all time, Buddy Guy. Kirsten was the first female artist to record a studio track with blues guitar legend Hubert Sumlin (“Please Drive” on Delicious). The album received acclaim from Guitar Player Magazine, Downbeat, and Keyboard Magazine. It captured the attention of New York City DJ Pat St. John who said after seeing Thien’s live show, “The album is flawless. She’s gonna be a big, big star.” Thien has toured the world with her band as well as solo. One of her solo powerhouse shows yielded Solo Live from the Meisenfrei Blues Club. More recently, Thien has developed an Early Women in the Blues edu-tainment program, taking audiences through the music of the 20s blues women, with historical and anecdotal aspects of their lives and careers. She adds her own perspective on just how groundbreaking the work of these important women was at the time, and how they popularized blues music in recording and on the stage, while inspiring the generations to come.                                                       (Kirsten Thien / Photo by Jimmy Fontaine)

Kirsten went back to working a ‘day gig’ a few years ago, among other reasons, to fund the efforts of her record company (Screen Door Records) and various recording projects in the new financial realities of recorded music. Like many of her musical heroes, as long as she worked day and night, this did not slow down her touring or playing shows, and fueled her ability to release the "Two Sides" (Release Date: August 28, 2020) project as envisioned. Her new album Two Sides began with a session at Grand Street Recording in Brooklyn with Erik Boyd, Arthur Neilson, Steve Holley, Tommy Mandel, and ended up as a journey of exciting musical explorations and collaborations. New York City based singer songwriter Kirsten Thien assembled them akin to the A and B sides of vinyl ’45-singles’, which further inspired her to release this collection on a vinyl long-playing LP (October 2020). The eight new tracks on her fifth release showcase many sides of the accomplished performer as she moves easily from rock to blues, gospel to soul, her throaty alto beautifully in sync with her skills on acoustic and electric guitar.

Interview by Michael Limnios                Kirsten Thien’s interview 2014 @ blues.gr

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Traveling in the van for over 100,000 miles (over 250,000kms) with the band means much conversation over the years in our own band-of-blues-rockers-counter-culture. There is something magical about chatting away in the van, someplace far from home. We'd talk politics, world events, personal philosophy, boyfriend/girlfriend/family triumphs and challenges, and how we get by (or thrive!) each in our own ways in the challenging music business. I treasure these conversations and all they taught me over the years. Especially in these times of social change, I have reflected upon personal experiences of my band mates in a new light. I have been blessed by these wonderful human beings I've toured with and can only say...our band culture should be 'THE culture' rather than counter-culture...lots of love, respect, and working out our differences for the greater good and our common goal (a great show!).

How do you describe "Two Sides" sound and songbook? What touched (emotionally) you from "Montañas"?

"Two Sides" is all about contrast, in music and in life. The idea is that as people, and as musicians, we are able to seem like "walking contradictions" while still being true and authentic. For "Two Sides", I followed the songs and the writing and did not let that contrast deter me from putting these out as an album. There is a beauty of songs that I cherish - you can be hopeful in one song, angry in the next, loving in one, spiteful in another. These are all valid emotions that we experience, and songs are nothing if they don't touch us emotionally. Specifically for "Montañas" - this song captures the feeling of a self-confident person who can achieve anything they set out to do (...move mountains...change the world), but they just can't change this one person (or make that person love them). There is a melancholy acceptance in this song of that situation...which serves to take us through the sadness of it, and maybe move on.

"Traveling in the van for over 100,000 miles (over 250,000kms) with the band means much conversation over the years in our own band-of-blues-rockers-counter-culture. There is something magical about chatting away in the van, someplace far from home. We'd talk politics, world events, personal philosophy, boyfriend/girlfriend/family triumphs and challenges, and how we get by (or thrive!) each in our own ways in the challenging music business." (Kirsten Thien / Photo by Jimmy Fontaine)

Are there any memories from "Two Sides" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many amazing memories. One stands out as a demonstration of how in-tune the musicians were with the songs, and my intention for each one. I was isolated from the band in the singer's 'iso booth' so we could get vocals live with the band. This put me visually behind drummer Steve Holley, with Erik Boyd (bassist/producer/co-writer) able to see me from afar and face Steve as well. At the end of After I Left home, the ending is driven by an extremely subtle vocal cue -- but Erik and Steve picked up on it in milliseconds and the band ended perfectly and beautifully together. This happened on Shoulda Been too! Which, when live I visually cue everyone. I don't know how these guys do it, but can only attribute it to not only their amazing musicianship, but also the care with which they approached these songs to serve the song first!

The sessions recording with guest artists Raul Midon, Doug MacLeod, and Tank and Jelly were not only absolute bliss, but master classes!

Where does your creative drive come from? What moment changed your life the most?

You stumped the band on that one! I think I have to write my book to answer those!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Stay true to the song. Write, write, write where the muse leads and even when the muse seems absent. No matter the genre, quality, ability-at-the-time...only the intentions matter at the core of the song. The act of writing in an uncensored setting brings inspiration, allows us to explore our identity and emotions, and builds our skills at the same time. Editing and reworking songs until they are just so, as well as presenting them to the right audience and context is also important. But it all stems from the original intention of the writing -- to connect on a deep level with other people.

""Two Sides" is all about contrast, in music and in life. The idea is that as people, and as musicians, we are able to seem like "walking contradictions" while still being true and authentic. For "Two Sides", I followed the songs and the writing and did not let that contrast deter me from putting these out as an album." (Kirsten Thien / Photo by Connie Carroll)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

We can say things set to music and as part of lyric, that are more difficult to say in conversation. We can also distill complex ideas into a mini-philosophy that rules us for 3 - 5 minutes, then lingers on after that. Music amplifies the emotion and connection to each other at a level that is non-verbal. Going back to intention, the recorded song taps into the intention of the artist. This is why, when people hear music in a language that is not their own, it can still connect and inspire. I want to make the world a better place and I'm always looking to be honest with myself and others. I want people to know it's ok to take a chance and to fail. To be vulnerable at times -- this is how we grow as individuals and as a society, and this is how we ultimately become stronger.

Kirsten Thien - Home

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