Kinnie Starr‘s latest track, “I’m Ready”, is the third single off her forthcoming album Feed the Fire. The track’s upbeat tempo, driven by Starr’s full, soulful vocals and backed by playful, strong beats would find itself equally at home on the dancefloor or a summer deck party. The track, she said upon its release, was about finding the courage to move on and end toxic relationships; not necessarily romantic ones but any relationships or habits that hold one back. “I’m ready to walk away / I’m ready yeah it’s a good day / I’m ready to let you go,” she sings. “This is not about right and wrong / … / I’m writing a new chapter.” Starr, who has been recovering from a serious and previously undiagnosed brain injury that resulted from a car accident in 2015, has had to come to terms with the fickle nature of friendships, personal and professional alike. Like a true artist, she’s put the tough experience in the hands of her muse and produced a track that sends a powerful message coupled with an irresistibly catchy tune.
The track, with an accompanying video which takes an LGBT-rights direction and features Vancouver drag team the Brat Pack, is characterized by a distinct Kinnie Starr sound. Starr’s versatility lends itself well to the often politically charged and socially conscious nature of her music. Her early material was mostly guitar driven, ranging from light-hearted pop songs to harder-edged grunge and bluesy punk-inflected tunes. In recent years however she’s moved into groovier, dance-floor territory, introducing beats and vocal harmonies; she’s also an accomplished rapper. It’s the latter qualities that characterize “I’m Ready”; and serious though the lyrical content is, the track retains a playful light-heartedness, consonant with its optimistic and supportive message.
While she consistently meets the music industry on its own terms, with professional sounding tracks that hold their own against the querulously fickle trends of pop music, her music retains an integrity that distinguishes it from corporate pop, and her intelligent lyrics, sensitive to the social issues that concern her listeners, offer a distinctly independent take on today’s popular music. The track also features a contribution from Canadian hip-hop pioneer Spek (from the Dream Warriors, among other projects) who raps a verse toward the end of the song.
Kinnie Starr sometimes comes across as Canada’s best-kept secret, and gratifying though a collectively-shared secret may be, one also yearns for her to receive the wider acclaim she deserves. While resisting big-label co-optation, Starr has carved herself an iconic status in the Canadian music scene, with irrepressible enthusiasm and musical playfulness coupled with unrepentant truth-telling on critical social issues like Indigenous justice and reconciliation (in 2016 she released the widely acclaimed documentary film Play Your Gender, about the gender gap in the music industry).
The first time I saw Starr perform, it was at a sports bar in New York City, a poorly chosen venue which had more television screens hanging from the walls than it had taps at the bar. Irritated by an audience whose heads kept swiveling to watch the sports game silently playing out on the screens above and around the bar, Starr admonished her audience for not respecting the band and then proceeded to turn around and play an entire set with her back to the audience. The brilliant gesture conveyed all those qualities her listeners have come to love: playfulness, principle, musical skill and unpredictability. It’s exciting to see these qualities not only persist but grow stronger with each album.