Interview: Vonnie Kyle Talks Self-Acceptance, Writing Process, Tone, and Guitars

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Vonnie Kyle
Photo: David Badstubner
       

Vonnie Kyle’s latest album, Imperfect Parts, documents a transformative three-year journey during which the Portland, Oregon-based artist made some painfully complex decisions, and bravely emerged to embrace self-love and true romantic love. The 10-song album is a thrilling mix of vulnerable self-disclosure and visceral, hook-laden alt-rock.

Produced by Vonnie and engineer/producer David Badstubner, Imperfect Parts features the talents of Jillian Rae and Eric Martin, both of whom performed on, and also provided significant tracking and production for, the record at their home in Minneapolis.

Originally from Minnesota, since 2013, Vonnie has released three EPs. She began by playing DIY and taproom gigs, selling CDs out of a suitcase. Prior to going solo, she played in Skittish, and was featured on their 2010 double-record release, The Perfect Shade of Green. Since then, Vonnie has become a successful touring artist.

Vonnie’s sound blends alt-pop, alt-rock, and folk-rock with her expressive voice, producing luscious sonic concoctions. Entry points on the album include “The Brink of Breaking Down,” brimming with pumping guitars topped by Vonnie’s delicious vocals backed by glowing harmonies, the finessed guitars of “Say You’re Alone,” the tender, evocative strings of “The Hell Did We Do,” and, perhaps the best track, “Better Than Me,” with its creamy flavors of SoCal soft, country rock.

Guitar Girl Magazine caught up with Vonnie Kyle to discover more about the person behind the music, the inspiration for Imperfect Parts, and her songwriting process.

What three things can’t you live without?

A good pair of sweatpants, my cats, and ramen noodles.

What inspired your new album, Imperfect Parts?

The theme is learning to accept and love the flaws about oneself. I was in a failing marriage that I took a long time to get out of, because I didn’t feel like I deserved better. I eventually realized that while I may be a flawed person, so are most other people, and it doesn’t make me any less worthy of love. This record was my documentation of the personal flaws I needed to recognize and either accept or let go of.

Walk us through your mindset as you approached recording the album.

I honestly had zero idea what I was in for when we started this. Any records I had previously made were done over a few days in the studio with my whole band. Initially, that’s sort of what we were planning on doing, but then the pandemic hit, I moved from Minneapolis to Portland, and things got a little more complicated as we had to work remotely with a lot of people. Sometimes it was frustrating, but mostly it was nice to be able to take our time and be really picky about how we wanted different elements of it to sound. It was all very new and refreshing for me and I feel like a better producer now because of it.

How did you get started in music?

This might seem really cliché, but I honestly don’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t know that I was going to be a musician. I started piano lessons when I was six, guitar when I was 15, and basically started singing the moment I knew what singing was. I think I was eight when I wrote my first song.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Northfield, MN, and moved to Minneapolis immediately after high school.

Did your hometown impact your sound?

I suppose you could say that, yeah. There were a surprising number of bands and cool all-ages venues in my little hometown. Musically, I kind of always did my own thing and I don’t think I truly figured out what I really wanted my sound to be until I left Northfield. One big characteristic of my music though has always been lots of different harmonies and vocal layers, and that was definitely a result of years of singing in various choirs there.

Which singers/musicians influenced your sound?

Oh, that’s a real mixed bag. Ani DiFranco, No Doubt, My Chemical Romance, Alanis Morissette, Rilo Kiley, St. Vincent to name a few.

What kind of guitar do you play?

My go-to now is a 1995 Telecaster. I also do a lot of acoustic shows, and I switch between a few different acoustic guitars, but I have an old Washburn I played very regularly for almost 20 years.

What is your definition of tone? And has your tone changed over time, or remained pretty much the same?

I guess for me, tone is just an element of a song’s personality. I don’t really have a specific one that I consistently use, and honestly, I feel like I’d get bored if I did. I like there to be a lot of versatility between all of my songs and experimenting with tone gives me that. I have, however, been using the same amp for years (a Fender Blues Jr) that has never done me wrong and has always sounded great with every guitar and pedal I’ve used.

What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, TV, or other media?

I would say mostly places, relationships (romantic or otherwise), and experiences. There are definitely a number of artists who have helped shape the way I play or write lyrics. Sometimes if I listen to a really killer record and get amped up about it, I’ll shift my plans around so that I can crank out some new material while the energy is there.

What can you share about your writing process?

It constantly changes. There was a long period of time where I would carry writing materials around with me all the time, and basically, just write down every little thing that popped into my brain. Then I would snag pieces of that writing later on and build chords and melodies around them. These days I like to just play around with tones, riffs, and chords, and just spit out lyrics as they come to me.

Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?

Jenny Lewis, St. Vincent, Strange & the Familiars, and Nick Costa are all doing some pretty badass stuff right now.

What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? New material? Live gigs?

Lots of plans! Since my record just came out, I’m trying to play out as much as possible for the next few months. A couple of shows I’m particularly stoked about are 6/11 with LOUIZA and Scout Harris at the Alberta Street Pub, and 8/11 with the Hugs at the Mission Theater (both shows in Portland). At the same time, I’m working on new music videos, and am even starting to write material for the next project. It’s a busy and exciting time for me.

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