(photo: Mary Manning)
Words by Jordan Martich
Twelve years ago, when Kristina Esfandiari – vocalist for gloom-rockers King Woman and proprietor of dark pop in Miserable – began calling the Bay Area home, she says she didn’t have the resources she does now. She remembers the early days of Whirr, before her departure, playing at lost venues like SUB-Mission and staples like Hemlock Tavern.
“When I moved out here it was all garage rock,” said Esfandiari. “There was nowhere for me to play shows, and when I started playing with King Woman, we kind of realized that we could make this whatever we wanted it to be.”
Now she’s mentoring bands she admires and busy with three projects, including her hip-hop obsession outlet Pink FG. Raised in the Sacramento area, she received encouragement as a child in choir, under a strenuous religious upbringing that permeates her songs. It wasn’t until a close friend bought Esfandiari a guitar that she began to take her talent seriously.
“When your friend buys you an expensive guitar, looks you in the eyes, and says, ‘You need to be on stage,’ you think it’s something to really consider,” said Esfandiari.
The power in her musicianship is her deep honesty; the truth contained in her lyrics as well as the emotive delivery. Beneath the doomy haze of King Woman is an introspective search through a private darkness that Esfandiari plunges into intuitively. Less bleak, but more mysterious, with Miserable she showcases her songwriting range and her proficiency crafting an album. Esfandiari’s artistry has grown exponentially through traumatic and cathartic experiences, finding herself subsequently stronger.
“Those gifts kind of unfold, I just wasn’t fully aware or awake,” said Esfandiari. “I’m really proud of myself. I don’t really know how I got here, to be honest.”
Miserable exhibits a compelling balance in the range of emotions portrayed – turns out, she’s more than just ‘miserable.’ Debut LP Uncontrollable, released in April by The Native Sound, is an examination of paradigms falling apart and the struggle to remain. Songs like ‘Violet’ recognize the dissonance between feeling remorse from falling out with a friend and the pounding anxiety of living with that betrayal. Or ‘Stay Cold’ where the singer works to – perhaps unconvincingly – persuade her lover to dismiss the instinct to keep numb, only to return to a drawn-out, chanted refrain of “stay cold, stay cold,” as guitars swell up to finally dissipate.
On September 10 at Eli’s Mile High Club, Miserable kicks off a tour moving Esfandiari to New York, where in Bushwick she sees a future managing bands and continuing on with two Miserable albums. Esfandiari is also excited about the future of King Woman, who signed to Relapse Records earlier this year and will release their debut full-length Created In the Image of Suffering in the Spring of 2017. She know’s she’ll miss Oakland.
“We have a very tight-knit group of people and it’s very supportive,” said Esfandiari. “Oakland’s been really good to me.”
Miserable, Plush, Never Young, OCD
Eli’s Mile High Club
September 10, 2016
8pm, $8 (21+)
Jordan Martich is a writer and musician living in Oakland. He drinks too much coffee and doesn’t go to the beach enough.