Kim - Artist / Ringatoi

I’m from a family of five children. I have two older brothers and my two younger sisters are twins. Sometimes I like to joke that I had a condition called ‘Double Middle Child Syndrome’, because the boys would often hang out together and so did my twin sisters, leaving me to play piggy in the middle for attention.

Being introverted, I often spent many hours inside, working on creative projects. My idea of an exciting Sunday afternoon was spending hours on Photoshop and PageMaker. It gave me a lot of scope to learn how to be creative. My sisters and I also watched a lot of Disney films, probably too many. We’d learn the songs then sing them while prancing around the garden. Just like Pocahontas and her entourage.

At school, we took violin and piano lessons. At the time, I found it pretty painful, especially the violin. I could never hold the bow correctly, it was quite frustrating. Piano was more bearable because I figured out how to make up my own compositions. We had a funny tutor who always had lipstick on her teeth. Whenever she got angry at us, we just giggled. Mum ended up having to bribe us to practise, which we thought was awesome. As a child, I suppose I didn’t appreciate having that opportunity to learn music. In hindsight, I’ve realised how fortunate we were.

Although I disliked being force-fed music as a kid, the one class at high school I really enjoyed was music. I remember one afternoon we all got the chance to play the electric guitar. I was thinking, “I’m so not cool enough for this, electric guitars are for boys.” Yet the teacher encouraged everyone in the class to pick it up. It felt special in my hands. I tried to play it, but I’d never even strummed an acoustic guitar before, let alone an electric. I didn’t know where to put my fingers or how to make a chord.

As a side note, there was a boy at the time who I had a major crush on, and he happened to play guitar. I thought if I learnt the same instrument as him, I might be in with a chance. Also, I wasn’t very sporty so I needed an extracurricular activity to keep me busy. Turns out I didn’t impress that boy, but it didn’t matter because I found an instrument I loved. I even got to leave my dull classes to go and practise!

For a while I attended a youth group. We would go on several camps a year, and during the evenings people would jam on their guitars and sing. One night I was practising and a friend came over and sat with me. He played in a few local bands and we got chatting about music. He asked if I was writing my own songs. “Not really, I don’t know how.” To which he replied, “You should be. You’re talented. You just have to start, even by taking sections of songs from bands you like and combining them into something new.”

From then on I started playing around with writing lyrics and melodies to simple chord patterns. I’d written poetry before, so it came quite naturally to me. Looking back now, the lyrics were terrible, but it’s great to see how far I’ve progressed. I’m glad I was encouraged to give it a go when I was young. It gave me a few years to work on material, write some decent songs and develop my voice.

In my late teens, some friends and I started an all girl rock band. Being a part of the youth group was great because they were like our ‘rent a crowd’. We played some shows at the original Dux de Lux and by the time all our friends arrived, the room felt pretty full. I was about 17 when I started playing shows, so venues were limited. I remember having to sneak into bars just so I could watch decent bands; I wasn’t interested in drinking, I just wanted to hear good live music. My band was called Aviator. We were inspired by The Beatles so we spelt it Aviatour - we wanted to tour far and wide. We managed to get ourselves gigs in Nelson and Queenstown. Along with some savvy persuasion, we also scored ourselves a Lee Jeans sponsorship. At the time, it felt like a pretty big deal.

During year 12, I decided to leave school. I disliked most of the subjects at school, and was even failing the ones I enjoyed like music, art and english. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of a long term career. I was rather stumped. I took myself to the careers advisor and explained my situation. She suggested I take a career’s quiz. It asked me all these different questions about what style of learning I enjoyed, and what hobbies I had. When she tallied my answers, we discovered I was most suited to hospitality. So I enrolled in our local polytech's year long course called 'Restaurant, Wine and Bar'.

I absolutely loved it. I remember thinking how much better it suited me than school as it was so practical and hands on. I learnt how to make cocktails, coffees, how to pour beer and change kegs. It was great working alongside people who were also very passionate about food. One day after class, the bakery students gave us chocolate torte, which we washed down with fancy wine from our afternoon’s International Wine class. It was heaven.

For a while, I used those skills and volunteered at a local café, as well as trying a few short stints at restaurants. While I enjoyed it, there came a time where I needed to try something new. I had a friend who needed someone to work as in-house graphic designer. He knew I was into design so asked me to apply. Instead of an extensive interview, he had me do a couple of creative tasks, like morphing a photograph of my own face with that of a tiger. I was relieved, job interviews have never been my strong suit. These mini assignments gave me the chance to showcase my skills and allowed them to see how well I could fit in with the company. All those years using Photoshop as a kid really paid off. At high school I sat in on a few of the year 13 graphic design classes. I remember thinking how much I loved design, but I thought I could only do it as a hobby. Turns out I was wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed that job and I stayed there for four years. The best part was waking up every morning, knowing I had a creative day full of drawing and designing ahead of me. Being the sole designer meant I also had a lot of creative control over the projects I was working on. It was a mixture of being confident in my own style and skill set, and merging that with the clients' wants and needs. I really enjoyed having that responsibility.

It is difficult when you’re young. You have all this pressure on you to ‘succeed’, to find a great job that suits your talents and skills. Graphic design is good fun, but it got to a point where I knew I needed a change of scene. I was working with people who were a lot older than me and while they taught me a lot, I really wanted to meet people my own age. I also had an itch to challenge myself a little more, to learn new skills. So I surprised my family and myself by enrolling at university. Considering the marks I got at high school, I never thought I would ever be able to get a degree. To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed being in that environment. I took english, history, classics, linguistics and literature papers in my first year. I decided to major in english, with a focus on children’s literature and creative writing. In my spare time, I’d been working on some whimsical children’s stories. I had written poetry and stories before I ever dabbled in lyrics. All of my interests seemed to merge, and it became a great platform for me to make music from. Going to university enhanced my knowledge of how to use language and story telling to captivate an audience. I was in my element.

After five years in my band Aviatour, we called it quits. Two of the three members had budding law careers that took them to Auckland. I wanted to try a different approach, so I starting gigging on my own. While I enjoyed the freedom of having complete control over my musical projects, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable performing or recording on my own. There was no one else to get energy or ideas from. Often I would ask a friend to do percussion or to sing back-up vocals to add a different dimension to my sets. It also took a bit of the pressure and limelight off me which was good. I was definitely still searching for a style of music that I really enjoyed playing. I went from playing acoustic sets to being back in my room experimenting with electronic equipment and sounds on my computer.

All the while I kept in touch with several friends who were still making music. My friend Josh was living in New York and had been sending tracks to my friend Charlie over email. One night Charlie asked me to come up with some vocals for one of their songs. I came up with a bit of a melody line, wrote some lyrics, recorded it that night. Whilst I was fast asleep, Charlie sent our finished song to a few of our favourite labels and music blogs, and it sort of exploded from there. The next morning, he woke me up saying something ridiculous like, “Kim, we’re a band! I named us Yumi Zouma. You won’t believe this, but over night we got signed to a record label.” He was right, I did not believe him, not one bit.

Turns out he wasn't joking. We live in an age where the internet has boosted so many musical careers, and we are lucky to be a part of that. In August we got back from our first world tour. We played in Australia with electronic musician Chet Faker, and then at more festivals in the Northern Hemisphere. All of a sudden we went from having never played a show together, to performing in front of 2000 plus people. I struggled to take it all in. I was so nervous for our first Australian show. We had only practised as a band for about three days prior to going on tour.

I really enjoy dressing up for our shows, especially the big ones. Sometimes I have to get ready in the grungiest bar toilets, but other times we are lucky enough to get our own dressing room. Caking on the shimmery make up, putting on a bold outfit with some amazing heels helps me to feel confident and ready to rock. It’s like I'm putting on a stage persona. I can be having a terrible day, but I still have to get up there to perform. At the start, I might be faking it, pretending to have a fabulous time, but after a few songs my whole mood can change. Coming off stage, people cheer and clap and I can’t help but feel lighter.

I listen to a lot of female artists, and one of my favourites is Annie Clark, also known as St Vincent. She’s my ultimate musical hero. I think I read that she dropped out of university to become a full time musician. She’s one of those people that went out and did what she dreamed of doing. On stage, Annie often wears high heels and a classy dress. She looks so powerful to me, commanding the stage while shredding on her guitar. One thing I really admire is that she doesn’t allow the media to interfere, she keeps her personal life personal. You can’t even find out if she’s married. It’s been good for me to have her as a role model. Because I’m still learning the ropes, I’m trying to suss out how to portray myself in the media, and how much information is too much. In my opinion, the more female musicians I look to, the better. Finding women to look up to in my field is so important, they essentially paved the way for me to do what I want to do.

Whenever our band is interviewed, I notice that I tend to hold back a little more than the guys. I suppose I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, or interrupting the flow of the conversation. Luckily, the guys are good at encouraging me to speak up. More and more, I’m becoming more confident in voicing my opinions. I’ve been reading a book calledEveryday Sexism. A good friend gave it to me to help me survive touring in a mainly male dominated industry. The title is pretty self-explanatory. It talks a lot about how sexism has become so ingrained and normalised in our society. Reading it has opened my eyes and I’ve learnt to question the things I hear and see.

For instance, the other day I went to the Miley Cyrus concert. There were lots of young women dressed in shorts and crop tops, with their hair in double topknots. You know, just like Miley. As we were walking to the venue, we passed some apartments that overlooked the path. There were some men sitting in their deck chairs on a balcony, beer bottles everywhere. They were cat calling and wolf whistling at these girls as they walked past. It made me furious. I couldn’t walk past and not say anything, so I called back to them. “Women are humans, not objects just your pleasure!” I want everyone, including those young women, to realise that it’s not OK to harass women in any circumstance, not even as a ‘joke’. You would think that's common sense, surely.

Of late, I’ve been trying to figure out what my future might look like. Being in a band isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s not like a 9-5 job where you have a steady income and you know you will be able to make ends meet. I always have to have a plan B. At the moment I’m working on some design work for the band, as well as planning some projects to start my own creative business. I managed to find a shared creative office space and I’m hiring a desk there. Dad is helping me until I make enough to pay him back. He’s an entrepreneur and almost all of us kids are trying to make a go of our own businesses, too. I guess you could say it’s in our blood.

If you really want to do something creative with your life, you definitely can. It’s just about pushing yourself, reminding yourself of why you’re doing it, and bringing a personal, unique edge. You have to learn to dream big, work hard, and accept critique, but don’t let others discourage you. I’ve found that if I surround myself with like minded people, it can be very encouraging. I get a lot of satisfaction out of my work, whether it’s designing, writing or playing music. Another great aspect is that what I do brings joy to other people’s lives, too; whether they watch my band or experience another aspect of creativity. And you know what? That alone means more to me than any salary package.

How do I get into this career?

Like Kim said, most musicians need to have supplementary jobs to keep a steady income. So while it's important to build upon your music theory and skills, make sure you keep an open mind about what else you could do on the side.

- Try the Careers NZ website, the link will take you straight to more information about being a musician. Their 'How to enter the job' section has a lot of really good info.

- Get involved, start a band, or if you're a solo artist perhaps gigging at weddings would be a good way to see if you like performing for a crowd. It's important to find a community of like minded people to get a sense of support, so get to know other musicians in your area, too.

- Pursuing a creative career isn't straight forward, and as an artist you need to figure out what you have to offer that either differs or adds to your area of interest.