King Woman By Mary Manning

King Woman (photo: Mary Manning)

I was having a slight panic attack while waiting, in a fancy cafe that I’ve previously ignored, for Kristina Esfandiari of King Woman and Miserable.

The night before had been a little harsh on my sleep. It was also the hottest day of the year so far, so my whole being was a little out of whack. I even got to the cafe early to prepare my thoughts and try to mentally wake up. I had met Kristina at a house show a couple weeks before. Before this, however, I had already decided that I wanted to write about her.

I won’t lie: I have never seen King Woman live, but from what I had read and heard, I knew that this was something I had to write about. Not only are both her projects filled with personal lyrics, Miserable being on the “angsty teen” side and King Woman being more about the inner darkness in all of us. That first time I met her, she mentioned how she creates to not be suicidal, and that was when I knew was I was right.

All artists are assumed more emotional, but a lot of the time the emotions are kept locked in their art. Esfandiari’s approach to her art is not like that, her art is part of her and she’s not afraid to speak of the things that helped create that part. King Woman is more than a rock band, King Woman is Kristina’s way to not only save herself, but other women.

“I got into music kind of late, because I had to sneak a lot of the music I listened to. I started listening to Bruce Springsteen out of nowhere — Born To Run and Nebraska, and it just did something to my heart. And I was like, ‘This guy is so true and I love his lyrics and he’s an incredible performer and something about him as a person just grips me. Also Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, good kid, m.A.A.d city. I listen to that album at least once a week. Channel Orange, I listen to that album at least once a week.

“There’s really specific albums that I love. I love FKA Twigs, I love old hip-hop, rap. I love electronic music. That’s something I’d love be doing, producing electronic music and producing albums. That’s kind of my end goal. I want to provide a safe environment for women to, like, work on their albums, where they’re not being sexually harassed and they can completely dive into the creative process and feel safe and not feel insecure about what they’re doing, y’know?” said Kristina in reply to me asking her what her inspirations are. “Because I’ve been in situations like that.”

We started getting into a conversation about depression and anxiety. I’ve suffered from both for most of my life, so it was both easy and hard for me to share. There is so much stigma around it that I am personally still working through, but Kristina understood, because she had been through similar.

“Anxiety and depression is not a joke and it can lead to suicide, and a lot of people have taken their lives because of it. I don’t think it’s something that should be made into something weird and cute. It’s not cute at all. It’s a real thing. You need to be real and talk to people about it. It’s a very serious thing and it torments people’s lives on a daily basis. It’s true suffering. Like ‘I can’t breathe.’ It sucks.”

“Like for me it’s hard to say that it’s crippling because I’m not physically crippled,” I replied.

“But you feel emotionally and mentally crippled sometimes; it’s real. To the point that it makes it hard to do everyday life, and do things that you wanna do and accomplish things that you want to accomplish, ya know it’s hard.”

“It’s something you have to work through, and I think your music has done a really good job of showing how you’re working through it,” I say, because it’s true. The first time I listened to King Woman, I was struck. Kristina sings about things I’ve felt as well, things many women have felt, but that many of us never get the chance to speak out about.

“I’ve had anxiety and depression since I was a little kid, but I also had a lot of trauma while growing up, so who knows how they’re all connected. But ever since I was in kindergarten I wouldn’t talk in school at all. My teachers would tell my mom, ‘Your child has the worst type of social anxiety we’ve ever seen.’ And I didn’t know this until I got older, she never told me. Never got any help for it, never took me to a doctor or anything. So I just suffered and didn’t understand that I was suffering because I was so little…Really timid, no real sense of self. I was raised in a very religious environment so I had no backbone, no identity. And that’s just such a bad combination with anxiety and depression.”

King Woman is more than a band, it’s an entity. It’s a living energy. It’s the only way Kristina Esfandiari knows how to control the darkest parts of her.

“When we started writing the first King Woman EP, was when it all came out. It took me a while to realize that there’s nothing wrong with my darkness. There’s nothing wrong (with the fact) that I have a sense of dark and light; it’s a perfect balance. And, like, we need both of them. And there’s nothing wrong about me writing about my experience, and there’s nothing wrong with me being honest about what happened to me. It’s helping other people and I am getting flooded with emails from people around the world, telling me their experiences, and I’m doing something right.

“It was a shitshow after that first EP came out and I started doing interviews. I got awful threatening mail, I got Christians saying whack shit to me, like they want to pray for me and they hope I see Christ’s light, and my family was pissed at me for saying the things I said, but I was like ‘Fuck all of you, I have suffered my whole life and I am not going to shut up. This is my experience. This is my story, and I don’t give a fuck about what any you think, because I’ve cared long enough, and I’ve been controlled long enough, and I’ve had no voice for long enough, and there’s so much that I need to say.

“(I used to be) very suicidal, just so low a lot of the time, just didn’t have a purpose and didn’t know why I was alive. And I constantly tried to mask my anxiety, I didn’t even realize what it was a lot of the time, the feelings I would have in my body. I just didn’t understand what anxiety was…And I just didn’t want to get medicated, I felt like it was a weak thing to do or something. I had these ideas about it. Several of my family members are medicated for whatever they have going on in their head, but I found music…and I started doing Miserable and King Woman and I just found my sense of self…through that because it was like a miracle for me. It showed me things I couldn’t see within myself without it.”

Miserable is more of Kristina’s attempt at pop, while King Woman is where she lets out everything she ever held inside. It’s where she’s no longer afraid to be loud, to take up space, to speak, and be heard. King Woman was originally signed to the Flenser, which is more of a metal label, but there’s something different about King Woman. There’s so much more to it than what that genre holds. It’s bigger than itself. It’s easy to experience the power, just by listening to the music. It’s all-encompassing and unavoidable.

“It’s just really heartfelt, theatrical, spiritual, mystical music. We love each other a lot. We love each other, we respect each other, we cultivated something special, we’re really like a little family. We have our philosophy as to why we do this and we don’t put out desperate energy. I believe in that. We do this because we love to this and we have fun. We love music. And if it’s ever not about that and then we’re not going to do it anymore.”

After talking to her, we both shared a hug, because everything she said hit hard. Everything she said happened to be things I know used to be hard for her to say, but Kristina Esfandiari is beyond. She’s everything the music scene needs. She is working hard and endlessly to keep alive and others alive too. She has so much faith in her friends and other women. She’s the type of person that will not let you give up on your dreams, and instead of giving a blanket statement, she will perfectly explain why she knows you can do it. This all happened during an album almost conversation. This was the first time, I really spoke to her, and I am still blown away. King Woman is feminist gospel. King Woman is the kind of band, that breaks down genres and your fears.

“Everything that happens to a woman that’s shitty has happened to me. And I’ve turned it into something powerful and beautiful to help other woman, and like I don’t really regret anything that’s happened to me because it’s in enabled me to dig down deep and realize why I need feminism and what it means and how I can turn these violent situations around and turn them into something powerful and beautiful and reach out to help out other women and that’s what it’s about for me. I had some realization, some epiphany, this is not how it’s supposed to be and I’m never going to let somebody do this to me again and I’m going to change things for however large my community is or how far my reach goes. I’m going to make a difference, whether that’s big or small.

“I want to do something different for women. I want it to be like church for them. I want them to be like ‘OK, we’re going to the King Woman show, this just happened to me — I just got sexually harassed, I just got raped. Let’s go to this show and like rage and get this shit out. We’re never allowed to have a voice. We’re just taught to smile and be polite and like not RAGE, essentially, not have these violent, loud, animalistic senses of expression. And I think that’s fucked up and I don’t think that’s how it should be. And it’s still a problem so I still have to talk about it.”

There’s really a lot I can say about King Woman and Miserable, but I feel Kristina said it all so well and wasn’t afraid to say things that many women still keep locked away. King Woman and Miserable are also soon going to have new albums out, and they’re both bands you can’t and shouldn’t ignore.

King Woman is also going on a full tour soon with Wax Idols, and half of the tour they will be supporting the legendary doom band Pentagram.