a chat with kimi shelter

Kimi Shelter is the lead singer of Atlanta-based glam punk band Starbenders.

It's nice to e-meet you! Congratulations on the recent release of Love Potions. How does it feel to finally have the record out into the world?

It feels great! It took us thirteen months to complete Love Potions, which is a lot longer than we usually take. We pushed past the boundaries of our perceived limitations and the music that sprung forth inspired us. Sumerian [Records] gave us the opportunity to go deeper than we have before, which has been much more punk and off the cuff. We love that the record has finally come out and folks have a chance to dig into what we’re about.

You've talked in depth before about the tumultuous process of writing and recording the album. What was the most important aspect you took away from that experience? How did it differ from the process for Heavy Petting or your various other EPs?

Heavy Petting was a moment in time where we had a surge of music and could feel the potential of the band. When we fatefully met up with Emily Moon—our drummer post Heavy Petting—we found ourselves in the middle of a creative renaissance. Julian was so much fun to make and Japanese Rooms was a whirlwind of chaos that we managed to get down on tape. I guess it all felt like the build up to Love Potions. Ash—the founder and CEO at Sumerian Records—challenged all of us in ways that we hadn’t been before. Prior to signing with Sumerian, we had our own little universe that we dwelled in. At first, this new dynamic made us start second guessing everything. In time, we found our vibe and rhythm again. This process made us stronger as a band. We ended up with a better record.

You also worked with Remington Leith of Payale Royale on the track "Precious." What was that experience like? Who are some other people you hope to collaborate with in the future?

This came about organically. Palaye Royale are label mates and we did a run with them back in May. We thought they were cool and I dug Remington’s voice and his overall vibe. Ash [Avildsen, Founder and CEO of Sumerian Records] is tight with Remington and asked if he would be interested in being a part of "Precious." He happily agreed because he liked the rough mix we had put together. The rest is history. We are doing our part to honor great music from the past and bring into the future. I really enjoyed this collaboration.

I would love for Starbenders to do something with YUNGBLUD. I'm interested to see how our thorny sound, my voice and YUNGBLUD’s rasp would come together. Also, I’d love to do a duet with Willie Nelson.

Starbenders has been around for a bit. What was it like when you were first starting out in and around Atlanta? What was the most impactful aspect of the music scene there? How do you think it affected your progression forward as a band, and the place you find yourselves in now?

Atlanta has suffered the same fate all major cities across the country are encountering, which is gentrification. The major rehearsal spaces all have been bulldozed to erect massive live-work complexes. This has fragmented an already compromised music scene. We have tapped into the sounds and spirit of Atlanta’s rich history as a source of inspiration. The entire state has an incredible musical legacy which includes James Brown from Augusta, REM, Pylon and The B52’s from Athens, Ray Charles from Albany and Outkast from East Point, to name a few. I like to tap into the knowledge that these musicians from small pockets in Georgia changed the musical landscape. They were true trailblazers; that is all the rocket fuel I need from my environment.

The band just announced a run of shows this spring with Doll Skin, the Sounds, and the Struts. Is there a particular city you're especially looking forward to playing?

We’ve never played San Francisco, which will be cool for us to experience. We have an off day in Portland, so we’re going to do some exploring. I'm super looking forward to two shows in one of my favorite places, New York City.

This is a question I've personally been dying to know, but who are some of your style icons?

One person that comes to mind is David Bowie because he took chances and was willing to really go for it. I love that he was able to have several lives and incarnations within the context of a long spanning career. That’s not a small feat.

The majority of our clothes are secondhand thrift store finds. I really enjoy going into these places and pulling the lever. You never know what treasure you are going to come across hidden in the endless piles and racks. These clothes get a new life with you. We animate these garments once again by taking them home. The whole experience is beautiful to me.

Who is somebody that you feel everyone should be listening to right now?

I really love Temples. I've seen them twice and was blown away both times. King Nun is super cool too, with a fresh sound that I connect with.

You and your band are also big advocates for charities and non-profits, like Girls Rock Camp and My Sister's House. What are some other organizations we should be aware of?

Lost N Found Youth help to provide food, shelter and stabilization services here in Atlanta. They are legit and really live up to their mission statement. They help displaced kids from the LGBTQ+ community who often times are shunned by their own families and have nowhere to turn.

Lastly, is there anything else you would like us to know?

We’ve been told by industry “insiders” and others along the way that rock n' roll and guitar-driven music made by organic instruments doesn’t have a place in pop culture. As a band, we’ve been unphased by these unsolicited opinions and are unwavering in our commitment to uphold the tradition and spirit of rock n' roll. Bringing this artform into the future gives us great pleasure.

Catch up with Starbenders here.

Words by Carly.