At the microphone
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Interviewing Kinley Dowling, you meet many musical personae in one. “’Kinley Dowling’ is more folk, and she is who plays with Hey Rosetta! or with Dennis Ellsworth,” she says. Kinley Dowling is the in-demand strings player. Then she cocks her head and frames her face with a sparkly grin. “’KINLEY’ is someone different.”
Kinley, who loves nothing more than being behind the scenes with bands, has had to learn to adapt to the spotlight, since KINLEY’s powerful, personal song “Microphone,” released on the album Letters Never Sent, has led to radio play and intense media attention across Canada.
“I definitely didn’t see it coming, but it has been amazing,” she says, of the song about surviving sexual violence. The song’s message of transforming trauma into art (“And if you come to my show, I think you should know / I’m gonna call you out. I’ve got a microphone”) has made her metaphors of empowerment real.
“I love the song,” Kinley says. “The rest of the album, I can’t be in the same room when it’s playing,” she says self-consciously. “But so many people thanked me—and when I wrote it, I didn’t even think about other people,” she admits.
“It’s the fastest song I’ve ever written. But it’s something I’ve been thinking about, thinking about every day, for fifteen years.”
In “Microphone,” KINLEY sings at the song’s emotional and melodic climax, “And if it happened now… I’d go get all my friends.” And that’s exactly what Kinley is doing right now: going to get all her friends, for all the art-making.
Film producer Jenna MacMillan is producing videos for KINLEY’s songs—a recent shoot for the song “Blackbirds” took them, with Maria Campbell as choreographer, to the roof of the Dominion Building. “Mille Clarkes shot it, and every scene was perfect.”
In late March, she’ll go to Toronto to work with Jenna on the video for “Microphone.” She will collaborate with PEI friends with Toronto connections to tell the song’s story with the powerful visual metaphors she and her friends picture. Her new website features a donation page for the project they imagine for “sharing the microphone.” She wants the song to help other sexual assault survivors find their voice and to help prevent sexual violence.
Personally, she has figured out what she wants from the man who raped her: “I think what I want is an apology,” she says frankly, and to hear from him that he didn’t hurt anyone else.
The videos for “Microphone” and the other songs will be a virtual tour, of sorts, for an accomplished performer who is comfortable playing violin and singing backup but whose nerves don’t let her comfortably perform her own songs live yet.
“I plan on never touring the album,” she says. “I want to do it on my own terms.” Also, she says, “I always wanted to make music videos, even when I was little. People say, ‘I want to go to your show,’ and I want to say, ‘Go online! Where I have made this musical telecast for you!’”
She also says, with a little irony, “I also love being at home, staying at home, and writing songs and not showing them to anyone.” Her album might never have been made except her cousin (and co-performer in a project called The Express) Liam Corcoran and producer Colin Buchanan booked the time and space and told her to show up.
Kinley isn’t apologizing for taking time before next steps. “Come on,” she says, “I used to be mute!” (She’s serious. She was a selective mute in childhood.) “I’ve come pretty far. I’m new to songwriting, and there are a lot of people listening. I don’t want to mess up.”
So Kinley and KINLEY are making art with friends, making videos, doing lights for her boyfriend Dylan Menzie’s shows, playing strings on many recordings, co-writing with people like Dennis Ellsworth.
Next, she says, “I want to write songs with women.” She has a few friends in mind, but they’re nervous. She will tell them, “I was nervous, too. It turns out, it’s easy. You just write things down.”