Interview and Photographsof Yasmine Kittles by Emma Kathan
City: Los Angeles
Yasmine Kittles is the lead singer of the band Tearist and also lives and works in Los Angeles as an actress and model.
What have you been working on lately as far as music?
Our band Tearist is working on a new album with producer Dave Sitek from T.V. on the Radio. We’ll be releasing our next album on his record label Federal Prism. I really love working with Dave, because it just feels like he’s another member of the band; the label, really, feels like a family.
Good! Who are some of the other artists on Federal Prism?
T.V. on the Radio, Kelis, CSS , Telepathe, Scarlet Johansson, and Liam Gallagher who has a new band called Beady Eye. Everyone is so great. Also, Dave and I started something apart from Tearist, which is, currently, me singing and Dave creating the beats and music.
How would you describe these new songs?
It’s very different from Tearist, much more pop, which I never saw myself doing, but we’ve been writing together and it’s been insanely exciting and challenging trying to write these pop-style songs.
You kinda have to dumb yourself down for pop music, which is an interesting game to play. You are basically trying to fit a formula; so, adversely, it also requires quite a bit of skill and intelligence. At the same time when you do it you have to deal with the feeling that you’ve just totally sold yourself out. It’s a different story then. It’s also been challenging writing lyrics, because I basically have to think of something that I would have a really hard time singing. You have to literally strip down your words to something as simple as, ‘I just wanna drink.’
It makes me think of KLF and their manual, How to Have a Number One the Easy Way. In the manual they lay out their formula for creating a pop song, which they did and had several dance hits, won awards, and made money. But the great thing about them is that they were fucking with it from the inside like it was one big performance art piece. So, once I learned that about them they became my art heros. I’ve also started to work with some different rappers, which is something I’ve always dreamt of doing but never really thought would happen.
Who have you been working with?
I am finishing a song with Antwon and just recorded a track with Cerebral Ballzy. There are a few other rappers and artists I am working with, but I can’t say anything yet! It’s been pretty amazing!
Are you singing in your Tearist style while the guys rap or. . . ?
I’m singing kind of differently, more softly; Dave’s been pushing me to stay with the soft tones of my voice. I also rapped a little on one song.
How was that, did it come easily for you?
Yeah, surprisingly. Originally, I did try to sing it, but there ended up being so many words it was just easier to rap. I remember Antwon smiling and saying,’You were rapping just then,’ which made us both laugh pretty hard, because he sounded like a proud parent or something.
Also, I’ve been acting again and have been writing for Vice magazine.
I have seen your Vice articles about your family, which are so well written and funny. I also remember your telling me stories about your dad and what a great character he is.
Yes! I’m now working on a pilot with my dad where he will interview bands.
It’s called Hanging with Mr Kittles. It’s funny because he’s such a southern gentleman who listens to stuff like “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” but at the same time his current favorite song is “Yamaha” by The Dream. He also loves Das Racist—knows all the words. I saw the way he interacted with friends of mine that were considered either “famous” or in popular bands, and I realized I had to do a show about him. He asks my friends questions that no one else dares to ask, because he could care less and/or doesn’t know if someone is “famous” or “known”; he genuinely just wants to know; he’s not trying to make fun. So, I pitched this idea to Vice about having a show where he would interview musicians, and they were really excited about it.
Will this be filmed or print interviews?
It will be filmed. We filmed the pre-show at my apartment so he could practice interviewing someone. He was under the impression that he wasn’t supposed to be my father while doing this interview. At one point in the interview I said, ‘Dad stop.’ And he goes, ‘I’m not Dad I’m Mister Thompson.’ So I said, ‘OK, I was unaware that you were Mr. Thompson.’ He went on to compare his acting skills to Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. (I was in shock! Moments like these made me realize he was kind of a star and borderline diva.) So that’s the show that we’re working on together.
Sounds funny. Will this show be on Vice then, on the website?
Well, we’re doing the pilot now and then we can figure out where it will go.
It would be a great show for MTV or something like that.
Yeah! He just brings the material naturally. And the editor as well as everyone I have shown it to have been really backing me up on it.
It would be like Between Two Ferns or Ali G, but it would be real and my dad doesn’t want to make fun of anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings.
I’ve also been doing some modeling stuff for Purple Magazine, which is really weird for me. I’m just so self conscious when I’m in that scene—in the sense that it’s just an unfamiliar world.
Definitely, modeling is hard in that way: you really pick yourself apart and worry constantly about the way you look. It’s definitely not healthy for your sanity. One has to have a certain personality that can handle it and handle the rejection you receive based solely on your looks.
Yeah, and it’s, really, just not my passion. I, mean, it’s fun and flattering, but I like doing things I feel strongly about. Plus, all of a sudden I find I’m obsessing over things I don’t normally obsess over or want to obsess over like, ‘What are my eyebrows doing right now? Can I fit into these sample sizes? Blah-blah-blah.’ And I don’t want to think about that or like that, but if it’s your job, then, that’s what you’re being paid for. It can just be such a fucked up thing. I like taking photos, but doing it for a living—as your main outlet—would be such a hard existence. There are, just, so many other interesting things that my mind could be working on instead of obsessing about the way I look . . . or rather, the way I look through other people’s eyes.
I know what you mean. I wouldn’t want that to be my life either, because I would unhealthily and unnecessarily worry about such things too. Like you said I’d rather be doing something more productive in life than worrying about my appearance. You mentioned Purple magazine, and I’m staying at my friend Darren Ankenman’s house right now. He works as a photographer for them sometimes. Do you know him?
Yes! I mean I know of him. He’s a great photographer!
What’s funny is that when I look at photos of my playing shows I often cringe, because I look so sweaty and I’m usually making the worst faces, which is because I’m not trying to look ‘sexy’ let alone attractive at all. I’m just being honest . . . and I guess, honesty maybe isn’t pretty. I know I’m being hard on myself, but, seriously, feel that I look like Henry Rollins or something when I’m playing.
BUST magazine wrote something about the topic of female artists being attacked and sexualized online instead of being noticed for their music. They mentioned me and a friend of mine EMA, because she was being objectified, apparently, as well. I always hate when they have to say ‘female musician’ where the term ‘male musician’ is never used. I’m not a male or a female musician; I’m a musician and when people recognize me in articles as a musician or singer without objectifying me as a ‘female musician’ or ‘female singer’ I’m stoked. I want to be considered a strong front person not a strong ‘female front person.’
I, usually, look at comments on our videos and think they’re pretty comical. I think what was so upsetting [about the former comments] was that I do not consciously portray myself as any sort of sex symbol in music videos. I’m not shooting whipped cream out of my breasts. . .. And even if I were—how are we at the place in society where old-school sexism is acceptable? It’s sad. It seems like some don’t understand how to verbalize what they are feeling. Ultimately, I feel that it’s based supremely on insecurities—this need to discredit or objectify things that make you feel emasculated or that challenge your normal way of thinking. And I, genuinely, do feel that a lot of these guys think they’re being complimentary, but that somehow this is the only way they can think to express it.
I just didn’t realize this old-school sexism still existed.
Here’s the thing, unfortunately, I (and many female musicians) have been and continue to be faced with this sort of thing—being harassed or objectified by males—while performing on stage. I think there is a misconception that this isn’t happening anymore; I know that until I began playing live shows, I was under the naive assumption that we had moved past it.
We haven’t. I feel as though I almost got ‘used to’ it, because it seemed it was just ‘how it’s gonna to be,’ which should never have been in my head at all.
I think, my main issue with acknowledging—let alone speaking out—about the fact that I have fallen victim to many types of harassment as a female in the music world, was probably the fear that my image of being a strong person was being compromised, or just the fear that people would see me as ‘weak.’ But it’s, actually, totally the opposite: talking about it only shows strength.
The only reason I am talking about this is because it’s important to be aware that these things are happening. They’ve happened to me, and unfortunately, to most women (the strongest) I know that play music. Things have to change, and I, genuinely, believe that the only way they can is by speaking out about them.