Writing and Interview by Rose Sejean
Kennedy Shaw has hit the music scene with a fresh take on 80s synth-pop and a 90s girl-punk undertone. With frankness and maturity beyond her years, she wittily narrates the voice of her generation and the intricacies of the female experience.
We recently bonded over her new single, her first encounter with feminism, and our shared love of Bikini Kill.
Just a few days before our catch up, Kennedy had been celebrating her 17th birthday,
“I don’t do much for my birthday anymore because we put all the money toward music stuff, but it was nice. We had cake,” she says with a grin.
When I ask her how it feels to be 17 she admits that the perks seem to come with their fair share of looming pressures also, “The responsibility is starting to creep up on me a little. I’m driving soon and a lot of things are happening. I always thought I’d be doing music forever, and of course I still want that, but things like money start to come into play,” she discerns.
By the way, when I refer to our catch up, I mean over Skype; Kennedy is an ocean away from Ramona HQ, in her hometown of Millville, New Jersey. We laugh at the fact that I’m wrapped in a huge blanket while she chills out in a sleeveless top. It becomes a reminder that music really is a universal language, and that despite the distance and culture gap between us, her single, Forget About It had dominated my Spotify playlist for the past week.
“I wrote it on a whim,” she says of the track,
“I was tired of making sad music… It was summer and I was feeling over what I’d dealt with when I wrote [her last EP], ‘Make-out Machine’, and kind of embarrassed about having written about that stuff so much.”
Kennedy openly shares with me that the ‘Make-out Machine’ EP was based on one specific heartbreak, as most works of that kind often are,
“And there were a lot of other things that happened over the summer,” she adds,
“I think everyone goes through that when they’re young, where you sort of wake up and you’re like, ‘oh man, forget I sent you that text’ or, ‘forget I told you I felt that way’. But at the same time, that gut-wrenching regret feeling can also be kind of exhilarating”,
With my earring infection / and your indigestion / we’re both falling around
And I say I loved you / and maybe I meant it
but you’re so god-damned hard headed, I’m / I’m opting out
So if you wanna forget about it / we can forget about it
Kennedy emotes with the same unapologetic candor of Alanis Morissette and the rawness and intimacy of Ani Difranco. She cites one particular album as a key influence in shaping her own sound, “Tori Amos, ‘Boys for Pele’; the idea that she could bring a piano into a rock scene was something very new for me. As someone who played piano, I’d always thought of it as a classical instrument, it really changed my way of thinking about it.”
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the ‘Forget About It’ single artwork,
“I traced a selfie,” she says, straight up. DIY all the way.
With her EP at over 5k listens online and a full-length debut album in the works, ‘Forget About It’ is Kennedy’s second studio release and just a taste of what’s to come from this big hearted, big voiced riot grrrl.
Tell us about the music scene in your home town?
Millville is a very small town, so small in fact that I don’t even go to high-school here, but it’s nice. There aren’t really spots for singer songwriters to play at bars (most of the time they wanna hear covers) but there’s a bit of an art scene. On High St there’s like a bunch of older people running poetry readings and I got my first gigs at the coffee shops around there. I’ve got a lot of my friends into it too, so now there are some punk kids getting involved in an old art scene.
How did you first discover feminism?
I was in middle school. I don’t hate on ‘small-town’ kids or anything, but sometimes they’ll have certain ideas about the roles women play (like some won’t believe me when I say I wrote the drum and bass parts in my music) and so for me, being a tomboy made me feel like I could be a rock star. It was almost like being a ‘boy’ felt like being alive.
But my English teacher was so different to everyone else in middle school; she wore high heels every day and was still one of the strongest people I’d ever met. She taught feminism in her classes and I used to go home and talk to my younger sister about it. That was also when my friends and I found bands like Bikini Kill. After I left middle school she got into trouble for teaching feminism because they said her teaching methods were “suggestive”, and maybe they were, but I needed it! I found this feeling I’d been looking for and I want to take what she taught me and be loud.
What message would you like to pass on to young girls?
What I wish someone had told me was that you don’t have to be soft. I mean, vulnerability is a beautiful thing, but you can keep your fire and still be a woman.
And follow Kennedy Shaw on Instagram