WOMYN YOU SHOULD KNOW: Aerienne Russell
I met up with womyn warriror Aerienne Russell, known to LA locals as folksy sweetheart Kitchen Hips and a co-creator of feminist DIY-space Gal Palace. She shares with me what it's like being a solo-female artist living and performing in LA and running the powerful DIY space and community that she has created alongside her roommates in her own living room. --Lauren
Lauren Moon: Hi Aerienne, thanks so much for joining me! How's your day been so far?
Aerienne Russell: Good! I woke up at sunrise to let our chickens out.
LM: I didnt even know you guys had chickens.
AR: [laughs] I guess you're always over at night. If you ever wanna come meet them we have six of them. There's Daenaerys, Bonnie, Tofu, Couscous, Tabitha, and Juliet.
LM: Do you have a favorite?
AR: I think Bonnie used to be my favorite but she's the youngest and she's kind of a teen now and I feel like she actually acts like a teenager. She doesnt want to be touched, she just doesnt want to deal with you, she just wants to eat and not do anything.
LM: Chicken adolesence, who'd have known?
LM: I guess we can start with super basic questions: How long have you been playing music? How did Kitchen Hips start?
AR: I've been playing music my entire life in one form or another. My mom is very, very into music: she followed Dylan and the Dead so I've always had a proclivity towards music. I started playing guitar when I was ten and writing songs at that point. I started seriously writing songs and performing when I was 17 at high school open mics, and Kitchen Hips has been around for four years now. I got a banjo four years ago and this marked a big transitional place for me where I went from writing songs and playing them for my friends to feeling like it was something more than that. So I came up with the name and started playing.
LM: What was it about the banjo?
AR: That was totally random. I went to the folk music center in Claremont [CA] just on a whim, I see a banjo, am like, "Oh, what's that like?" I picked it up and immediately just magic sounds started coming out when I started playing. Also, my family history is very rooted in Kentucky and past generations of my family were Appalachian musicians, as recently as my great-great-grandfather. And my great-great-grandmother played the fiddle! I never had a direct connection to that but I feel like there's some kind of magic flowing through the family veins.
LM: Why "Kitchen Hips"?
AR: I got the name from another song from a band called The Wailing Wall, and I just heard that in the song and felt a connection to it. I have very large hips, I like to cook... I felt like it really embodied femininity and old-timiness somehow.
LIVING IN LA
LM: So you're an artist living in LA, what is that like?
AR: It's fun. I think that there's a lot of artists that live here. I think this is a very community-oriented city, so rather than a place that's already established, like New York and London, where you have to break in, LA is very much about forming things and creating things. I feel like I've really been able to create my own community here because there's so much space. The physical space manifests in breathing room and creativity, I think.
LM: I so agree with you. I don’t know what it is about this city. It’s something to what you were pointing to, that there’s space to breathe, to create your own spaces.
AR: I feel like people here don’t work traditional jobs. Unless you’re in the film industry, a lot of people don’t have career-driven aspirations, because if you did, you’d be in a different place. Here it’s more like, what am I going to create? How am I going to manage my artistic self here?
LM: Speaking of spaces, you've created your own!
AR: The space is called Gal Palace and it started because we live in this really cool house and the house kind of just created itself. There’s five of us that live there, three of us run the space, and we’re all creative-type people and there’s something about having this space that makes creative people gravitate to us. Our mission is to create a space mostly for women artists to showcase their work.
LM: Tell me more about the space.
AR: The space is in Rampart Village, central LA. It is a house with a giant living room at one point used as a church so it has a built-in stage. It’s a DIY space, community-oriented, feminist-twinge. We have a lot of comedy, storytelling, other workshops, craft nights, dancing, movie screenings.
LM: Anything a person could really want.
AR: And really it’s about what other people bring to us. If there’s a cool idea and someone wants to make it happen, we try to make it happen, So it’s like all of these ideas and happenings that go on that are not really our own, it’s everyone making it happen.
LM: I think what you're doing is truly amazing. I feel like it’s given so many people a place that they feel comfortable and loved and powerful.
AR: I think that’s what we strive to achieve that’s different than just a traditional venue space. We get a ton of inquiries for events, a lot of them just like “Hey, let my band play a show.” And I think we try to keep it different than just a place for bands to play shows and instead have every event and action have an intention and be something that is contributing towards this greater community of female artists. And we do try to mix it up. We can bring film people, book people, music people, and crafty people all together at the same place and enjoy the same things and cross over these boundaries of “this is a show house” or “this is an art space,” we try to make it all-encompassing.
LM: I went to the Malblum show and she said this incredible thing, like, “this is the space in LA i’ve always wanted…”
AR: Yes! It was "this is the cutest fucking venue in LA, this is the venue I've been waiting for."
LM: And I feel like that rings true for most people who frequent this space.
AR: I don’t know if you ever went to the Country Outpost or anything, but that was right up on Glendale Blvd, and when I first moved to LA, that was THE spot. But they just closed down over the summer in June because of structural damage and because someone kept reporting them for permitting issues even though they were operating legally. They were in a zoned space for entertainment, they had their permits, but they got busted up.
LM: Are they trying to open up a new space?
AR: I think they are, but now I would imagine they might be priced out of Echo Park. But they were an inspiration for me because when I went there they were just really warm people and tried to foster this great community, mostly of musicians, but I loved that place. And I learned a lot just from hanging around there, about creating a cool community.
LM: This is going to sound like a basic question, but what do you think women can gain from attending or being in a space like this?
AR: That’s like basic but not basic. Well I know personally, this is going to sound really crazy, but when I was a teen and maybe in my early 20’s, I was like, “I only wanna hang out with boys. Boys are so cool, girls are so dramatic, I just don’t get it.” I considered myself on the masculine end of women-ness, I guess? And it wasn’t until I moved to LA and I had all female roommates for the first time that I just kind of started to understand, I don’t know this is going to sound really corny, but the value of sisterhood. You get beat down by the world sometimes by being a woman and then feel incapable, but when you surround yourself with very capable, active, intelligent women all the time? You’re like wait, I’m a capable, intelligent, and active woman too! And it can make you feel like you can do whatever you want and it doesn’t matter that you’re a woman. The other thing that I’m thinking of is that a lot of spaces that already exist are really, really masculine. Especially as a musician. I just feel like when I play shows, it’s like, here, let’s put you on a bill with three other bands and they’re all five-piece bands, and every single person in the bands is a man, and here you are, as a solo female performer. It feels very slanted, so it’s nice to be able to put on events where it’s kind of slanted the other way. We’re not saying that dudes can’t play here, we’re just saying that we’re gonna have more women play than men to even the scale. But I think it’s nice to create a space where women are valued as the makers of the media. I do feel like we’re entering a time where more female musicians are gaining popularity and recognition.
LM: Fuck yeah.
AR: We have been doing a lot of collaborating with the Women’s Center for Creative Work. They’re the nicest people of all time. And Stumble on Tapes! They’re two ladies who do a video zine and they’re really talented. They take bands to do an acoustic live session and then the bands choose any location in Southern California and they drive there with the band and film it on site. I met them through LAFABL [Los Angeles Feminist Amateur Basketball League, organized by Gal Palace]! They just randomly signed up and I was like, oh, you guys are really cool!
LM: If a person had an idea and wanted to come to you, how would they contact you?
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*video of Kitchen Hips by Stumble On Tapes
Is there a womyn I should know? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!