Quick Q and A with Kim Moberg

Kim Moberg is a very inspirational singer-songwriter for a variety of different reasons. After being introduced to the joy of making music by her mother when she was very young and packing that joy away for many years, she dug deep into her core self and picked up the guitar and even managed to eliminate the anxiety of painful stage fright from her life. Kim’s Native American roots and strong family ethos have molded her into the creative musician she is today. Kim resides in Cape Cod and has recorded two albums which have made many music fans and devotees sit up and listen! Kim won the Rose Garden songwriting competition in 2018 and was a finalist in the 2019 Blues and Roots Music Contest.

You can find out more information about Kim on her website.

Enjoy this video of Kim’s 2020 Entry in NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest.

You spent your childhood as part of a military family, having to move from here to there.  You were born in Alaska which is about as far away as Cape Cod as you can get on this continent!  Do you have any memories of your life there?  And how about other locations where you lived?

We were transferred from Juneau, Alaska when I was very young, so I don’t have many memories of living there, but I’ve been back and it’s such an amazing place. Juneau is accessible only by air or water. When I was very young, we lived on a mountain and we climbed over 100 steps from ground level to our home. The US Coast Guard has a base there and there is a large Filipino community. My grandmother was 100% Tlingit and my grandfather was 100% Filipino. My mother and her mother and her mother going back for 1,800+ years have lived in Southeastern Alaska, so I have memories of some of the culture and beliefs.

My father was Coast Guard, so all of our moves were in the US. I went to 10 schools in 12 years. I’ve lived in Alaska, Staten Island NY, Toms River NJ, Garden Grove CA, Moore OK, Cape Cod MA, Sacramento CA, Boston MA and back to Cape Cod. While moving so much had the obvious challenges, I wouldn’t trade it. I’ve met some amazing people that I would have never met otherwise, many I still keep in touch with even though we haven’t seen each other in person for many years. It taught me how to get along with people from many backgrounds and how important acceptance is. I know what it’s like to always be the “new kid” and what it feels like to NOT be accepted so as a result, I try very hard to offer a kind hand to anyone I see that I think is feeling that way.

Your mother was an inspirational figure in your life since she was a trained musician. Was her playing piano and guitar in your home a pivotal influence?  Most children don’t have the luxury of experiencing live music at home so I’m curious if you took this experience as an ordinary one or whether you felt privileged to have it in your life on a regular basis?

Sadly, I took it as an ordinary experience. My mother was a very accomplished performing classical pianist who played starting at 6 years old. She was fiercely dedicated to her musical studies, in part because it was an escape from an abusive childhood. When I was growing up, she still practiced every day, so it was a routine part of our world to hear her working on Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, and Rachmaninoff pieces.

I wish I realized how privileged I was, but I did not. When I was a young teenager, she tried to teach me, but I was so ornery, that she gave up. I regret that to this day. I took piano lessons for about 18 months as a young adult, but I am convinced that if I had let her share her knowledge, I would be able to articulate my music much easier today.

Your mother’s heritage is the indigenous Tlingit people from the Pacific Northwest.  I looked up these people and I was intrigued by the fact that the Tlingits are matriarchal and that children are born of the mother’s clan rather than the traditional patriarchal role.  Were you aware of this as a young girl and did this statement about women as a powerful force influence you at all?

I was aware of that in the context of an historical fact, but I was assimilated into the the white world and did not really understand what it meant. In a military family – especially in the early 1960’s, the male set the rules of the family and it was not different for us (think: The Wonder Years TV show). It is important to note that while it’s kind of cool and interesting NOW to be Native American, that wasn’t the case when I was growing up. My grandmother grew up living in the traditional Tlingit ways, but hardcore colonization happened during my mother’s generation. My mother remembers having her mouth taped shut in school when she spoke in Tlingit. The intent by the US government was to destroy the Tlingit culture and it almost happened.

I grew up as a colonized Native, meaning, our culture was suppressed throughout my mother’s generation and there much she didn’t know and therefore, she did not have the cultural knowledge to pass on to me.

Until recently, I didn’t know exactly what that meant, nor could I articulate how I felt about it. Physically, I look the part, but I always felt like I wasn’t a very “legitimate” Indian. I didn’t know the culture, didn’t practice the culture and when people asked me about, I had no answers. I understand now that THAT was by design.

Similar to the local Wompanoag Nation on Cape Cod where I live, our Alaska lands were taken away and in the early 1907’s the Tlingit Nation sued the US government for reparation and won.

Instead of a straight cash distribution, the Elders decided to use the money for a more lasting and sustainable benefit and formed the Sealaska Corporation, with all non-trading stocks issued to Native Tlingits. An offshoot of the Sealaska Corporation is the Sealaska Heritage Institute, who’s mission is to preserve our Native story. Much work has been done to bring cultural knowledge back from the brink. Tlingit was always a spoken language, not a written one. My great-aunt Nora Dauenhauer and her husband Richard Dauenhauer (both poet laureates) were part of a team to document the first Tlingit-English dictionary. Together, they published several books documenting the history of Tlingits and stories that had been previously passed down only verbally from generation to generation. I have those books now to help me to better understand my heritage. My sisters and I were all given Tlingit names at birth, but with our two daughters, we took it a step further and put their Tlingit names on their birth certificates. My Tlingit name is Kooskas (pronounced Kushkas) which loosely translates to “sits very still and shines”.

So, to answer your question with regard to my cognizance of women as powerful force in our culture: I was aware of the power of women as a young girl, not in the context of our Tlingit heritage, but primarly as a witness to the strength and intelligence modeled by mother, who after a childhood of abuse, strived for a better life for herself and her daughters through self education and breaking the cycle of violence; who became a divorced single parent with no ’marketable’ skills with four daughters aged 3-15 and somehow raised us while carving out a career as a police dispatcher; who taught us to face our problems head-on and instead of fealing sorry for ourselves, seek smart solutions.

When I was a young child, she was a stay-at-home mother (a “vocation” I have high respect for, as I had the same privilege) who instilled in us the values I live by today and through the choices she made, the example she set, her dedication to us, she showed me every day the inner strength, wisdom and power to effect change that women possess. I honestly think that matriarchal strength is part of my DNA.

What provoked you to pick up a guitar?  Did you have any guitar heroes you aimed to copy?

When I was 14, my mom was saving for a piano (she was without one for a few years, so taught herself to play guitar as a musical outlet) and she had decided to give lessons to kids in our neighborhood to earn some money. I wanted to take lessons too, and in order to earn my lessons, I had to type up the lyric and chord sheets for her students.

I loved the singer/songwriter and pop music that I heard on the radio: The Beatles, Carole King, Jackson Browne, James Taylor. I took lessons from her for about a year and she taught me how to play some chords and how to fingerpick. She also taught me how to play some songs by artists she loved: Glen Campbell, Kris Kristofferson, The Carpenters. She exposed us to many genres of music – classical, jazz, singer/songwriter. My father is a big country fan, but for most of my life, I was not. It’s a genre that I’ve came to appreciate as an adult. But as far as what I liked to play on my guitar – it was singer/songwriter and folk music.

Your bio says that you put music aside to raise a family and pursue a career and didn’t get back to all things musical in 2014.  Had the inkling to play been there all along and you chose to put it aside all the while knowing that one day you’d be involved with music somehow or did the urge to play come on suddenly?

During all those years that I didn’t play, music was still a big part of my life as a fan. Love for music was the primary common demoninator that brought my husband and I together. I always knew I would go back to playing and singing. Every once in a while, I’d pull out the big old Epiphone that I bought for myself when I was around 18 and try to play, but I would get frustrated with it.

Then about 10 years ago, I decided it was time to upgrade my guitar and bought my first Martin from the Music Emporium in Lexington. Practicing on a better instrument made a huge difference, so between that and having a more time due to our girls getting a little older, my abilities began to grow – which is a wonderful incentive to keep moving forward in the learning process.

You are very open about your experience of having stage fright. I’m sure that there are many people who feel the same way. How did you overcome this fright?  Do you have any tips for those who suffer from this plight?

I have anxiety and one of the ways it manifested itself was through a lifelong battle with stage fright. When I was a kid, I badly wanted to learn a Neil Diamond song (“Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”) on the piano for our school’s talent show. My mom taught me how to play it and I practiced until it was perfect. On the day of the talent show, when my name was called, I was frozen in my chair. I couldn’t do it.

As an adult, it took abut 18 months of semi-steady playing to finally overcome my stage fright. A few things stand out as being helpful to me:

I was invited to play a song at our church’s contemporary service. The music director Steve Gregory who is a friend of mine convinced me that it wasn’t a performance, it was a church service and no one would mind if I make a mistake. And he offered to accompany me. From then on, I played one song once a month for about 6 months.

In 2012, my daughters’ ballet teacher convinced me to open the Cape Conservatory Youth Ballet show by performing a song for the parents, convincing me that they were a safe audience.

In 2013 I was on the board of a program at my daughter’s school and organzied a fundraiser called Musicians For Gateway where I invited parent and teachers to perform for the event. With the help my pianist friend, Misao Koyama, I performed 3 songs at the event even though I completely stressed about it for weeks leading up to it and was terrified during the entire performance. My friend, Todd Nickerson also performed at the event, liked what he heard and encouraged me to come to a local open mic run by his friend, Kathleen Healy. It took me 4 months to get the courage to go and I was ready to back out when my husband convinced me to go. It was such a warm and welcoming group of people that I went back almost every week, with my husband cheering me on. After about a year of playing that weekly open mic, I finally and gratefully bid my stage fright goodbye.

My advice is to just keep playing any place you can. Find a friendly open mic, sign up to play at a local Farmers Market, volunteer to play a song at your place of worship. Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people. It may take a few times (or in my case, a bunch of few times) but you’ll get through it and it will be so incredibly liberating.

Tell us about your songwriting process.  Are you a “write it all down on paper” kind of creative or do you sing tunes on your phone or … something else? I’m always wondering how songwriters can commit the song to memory once it’s composed.

Ha! I don’t have the memory that I used to, so I use text and voice memo on my cell phone. My guitar is kind of like a Ouija board —— it’s almost always the guitar part or a piece of the guitar part that comes first, followed by the melody. The lyrics are what take me the longest – trying to figure out what the song is actually about then wordsmithing through the story. All of my songs are very personal, stemming from a personal feeling or memory – but it is important to me that the song also be universal so that it will connect with the listener. For me, the power of music is how it connects us through empathy, so I want to listener to think “I’ve been there! I’ve felt like that, too!”

You’ve recorded two albums.  Do you like the recording process?  Did you do them both in similar ways or did you learn from record number 1 and implement changes as you moved onto record 2?

I adore the recording process! It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I’m still learning that art is SELF expression. Yes, it is very subjective, but there is no “wrong” art and it took me awhile to stop listening to people who had negative versus constructive things to say about my songs.

The first time I went into the studio to record Above Ground, I felt very intimated. My producer, Jon Evans, worked me through that, helped me to build confidence in my music and hammered in me his belief that “no one should dictate your art.” The first time, I wanted to make a recording that people would like. I’ve since learned – and I very strongly believe – that the music will find the ears it’s meant to.

On my second recording, Up Around The Bend, I was more open to seeing how the songs could change with added instrumentation. Some folks prefer Folk or Singer/Songwriter be strictly vocal and guitar, but I liken it to decorating a house. You can change the paint color, decorate it with curtains and furniture but the structure remains the same. To me, a song is no different. So this last time in the studio, I focused more on being confident in decorating the songs the way I hear them in head versus trying to attract a specific audience. I think the production on Up Around The Bend represents my love for several genres. Jon was a master helping me to articulate, grow and explore the songs until they were just right.

Do you enjoy working with a band?  Or do you like the freedom to play solo?

I love collaborating! For the past few years, I’ve been performing with a very talented fiddler accompanist, my friend Heather Swanson. She is also a classical trained violinist and brings so much depth and texture to my songs. When I collaborate, I invite the artist to bring what they feel – I don’t ever dictate what should be added. I want the artist to add their musical personality, their perspective to the song. If I had the funds, I’d definitely love to play in a full band, which I’ve only done a few times. Each time was such a rush – it was incredible to see my songs go places I hadn’t even thought of. I think collaborating with the right people – people who understand how important it is to serve the song – can lift the songs to a higher level.

What are the happiest moments you’ve experienced since you back to playing music?

The connections are what make the happiest, whether I am playing to a room of 5 or 300. When a listener comes up to me and shares a personal story that is connected to a song I wrote or someone takes the time to send a personal note after a live stream, that is the best feeling.

I performed “Angels Fly” at Circle of Friends Coffee House this past December. It tells the story of me taking a bus from Cape Cod to NJ to say goodbye to my younger sister who passed away from breast cancer. One of lines in the song is “In a seat by the window, southbound on I-95 praying the driver will get me to you in time”. At the merch table, a man in his 80s patiently waited in line and when he got to me said “I just wanted to let you know that I was on a bus southbound on I-95 too.” We stared at each other for a few seconds and I gave him a long hug. That was a very special moment for me.

What’s on your mind during these trying times? Having to roll with the punches has made a lot of musicians have to pivot and learn new skills. Have you been experimenting with anything new lately?

Like many, I am on an emotional roller coaster – one day feeling sad and helpless, another recognizing all the people and things in my life that I have to be grateful for. Through it all, my family and music are keeping me sane. At first, I had no desire to perform online. Then a fellow musician poked me to do an online show and once I did, it felt good to connect. I realized that I’m not the only one who turns to music to help me maneuver through trying times, so I thought maybe others might get a little emotional distraction from listening me play and I’ve been doing it more. I wanted my audio to sound as professional as possible so I had to learn a few new skills and some new software. I spent a LOT of hours watching YouTube tutorials and luckily I have a network of audio professional friends and musician friends to go to when I am stuck. While I’m happy with my streaming audio (the video still needs work), I really can’t wait to be able to perform in front of a 3D audience!

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