There are hard truths and unmistakable beauty in Athens-based Harlot Party’s debut EP, I Want to Be Recalcitrant, I Am Just Exhausted. Partners and bandmates KyKy Renee Knight and Garrett Knighton build a quiet intensity with whispers and dreamy guitars that can, at times, reach a fever pitch or simply end in a bittersweet shrug. The duo formed just last year, but they’re already generating quite a bit of buzz, so it’s with no small bit of excitement that Knight generously agreed to answer a few questions about growing up in the south, the outlet of music, Harlot Party’s upcoming tour, and her “urgent recommendations” for women making great music.
Where are you from? Where are you now?
I was born in Nashville, Tennessee. That is where almost my entire, extended family live. My mom, brothers, and I moved a lot around Georgia as I was growing up, but I went to high school in the Powder Springs area. I now live in Athens, Georgia. Garrett was born in Americus, Georgia, lived in Kentucky for a little while, graduated from high school in Macon, Georgia, and now lives in Athens as well. Athens is where we met.
Tell me about the music you make.
I consider the music Garrett and I make in Harlot Party to be observational and conversational, between us and with our environments. We write a lot of our guitar material in consideration of the goals each of us has for the project, which are usually formed from long-running ideas that are shared between us; our lyrical content typically comes out of overwhelm and a need to characterize accurately what I am observing personally, socially, or politically. I think the project definitely explores a lot of my personality on the face of it. We tend to write melodically, with intertwined and dependent guitar lines, but we don’t write categorically. We’ve gotten comments that our music is dark, and I think the content and our position towards some of the themes we explored in our EP is such that it necessarily has been, but I would say it is varied and emotionally complex.
Does living in the south impact your music?
Absolutely. I think being shaped as a southerner, and experiencing the south as a black woman who has lived below the poverty line my entire life has directly shaped my approach to everything, especially the way I consume music and other media. It has shaped my approach to characterizing and rationalizing my environment, which is the fuel for the way I write. I was told as a ten-year-old on a trip to Savannah, Georgia, by a grown man that I should have been in a cotton field somewhere picking cotton–that I was less of a person than the other young girls on my trip. I remember aggressions that were more subtle before that, especially in regards to public education—I attended schools that were essentially districted so as to be segregated, and I saw first-hand the difference between the all black schools I attended in poorer, inner-city areas than the more diverse, and better socially endowed schools I attended. There have been aggressions I’ve experienced and continue to experience throughout my entire life that have been specifically referential to my southern upbringing that define me, and thus define my music.
On the other side of that, I am also affected positively by the shared experiences I’ve had with others who I’ve met who experienced in kind adversity specific to the south. For Garrett, southern religious ideology and conservative values that were prominent in his environment pushed him towards exploring music, people, and ideas which negated some of the negative attributes of the aforementioned catalysts. He says they pushed him to seek out different ideas, particularly into the hardcore scene of Macon in his formidable years, and towards alternative, positive and honest values that were truer to him.
How do your families and jobs affect your music making?
Our families are super supportive, even if they aren’t always totally interested in what we are doing. We both have siblings who love music and who come out to our shows, Garrett is teaching my younger brothers a wealth of music theory and techniques on various instruments, and we both come from parents who are themselves musical. We are lucky in that we have so much support, even if it is just having listening ears sometimes, and thankful for them. As far as our jobs, we actually both work around music, we are actively participating in what is considered gig work, for now. We pick up jobs or freelance our labor. Which means we don’t have a lot of money, but we do have a lot of time to play shows and write music, and it’s a tradeoff we are trying to sustain.
What are your hopes for your music?
I hope my music conveys honesty, and that people respond to it positively of course, but I also hope the project progresses such that Garrett and I are able to explore a lot of new things together. The band has been exploratory for me and a positive outlet. I want to continue to use it as a positive tool for description and catharsis. Garrett says in jest he feels as though there is music and the law, and he isn’t qualified to practice law.
Where will you go and what will you do next?
I think we will be in the Athens/Atlanta area for awhile, but eventually we might move west-ish together and continue to make music. Harlot Party is to release, tentatively, hopefully, a full-length this fall. I tend to self-appoint us deadlines that I do or die commit to. So we’ll say that is the plan. We are working on a lot of material. For now, we are playing shows and trying to sling this merch.
Where are you headed on tour?
We will probably do our first tour a few dates in the Southeast this spring. This is my first time planning a DIY tour, and I’m taking suggestions from friend-musicians, so a short run close to home to get a feel for planning and managing, then hopefully we can plan a second this year for Northeast US. I’ve met some really awesome bands who have come through Athens that I am hoping to connect with for a longer tour up the coast.
Who do you listen to?
I listen to a lot of Lauryn Hill, Esperanza Spalding, Chance the Rapper, Noname, What Moon Things, Palm, and a lot of my friends’ bands. And Beyoncé. Garrett listens to a lot of classical music, he is classically trained, but he also loves Maps and Atlases, The Fall of Troy, and The Supremes. We collectively listen to a lot of Earth, Pallbearer, TTNG, Rush. We were both really into singing They Might Be Giants loudly in the car for a while. I think we have really varied tastes that intersect in a really strange, but very cohesive way. We tend to like things that feel like something honest, but are drawn to particular melodies and techniques.
Who inspires you?
We are both super inspired by our moms. My mom is one of the most patient, loving, kind, bold, brave, and brilliant people in the world. My number one inspiration. She would help anyone no matter who they were with very little questioning. Garrett says his mom is a Sith lord, but he says it is a compliment. She is a very cool, powerful woman who I am grateful for on many accounts. Musically, my number one all time inspiration is Lauryn Hill. I think I came out of the womb singing songs from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Any favorite Southern women?
I meet wonderful, radical, active, inspiring and brave southern women, non-binary, and trans artists everyday so I couldn’t name favorites, but I think there are a lot of people in the artists’ communities I’ve engaged with in Athens and Atlanta that are working on very conscious, honest projects. One Southerner I’ve got to shout out is my friend Nikki Curry; she’s a printmaker in Athens who has been wholly inspiring to me. Her work is genuine, and she’s been a strong supporter of my endeavors and Harlot Party since day one.
Any other Southern women or non-binary or trans Southerners making music that we should know about?
Yes! My urgent recommendations: Saline, a woman-fronted and very talented band, and Lingua Franca, a black woman-fronted and very important hip-hop project, both of Athens.