While I don’t reply to every relevant email we get, I do listen to any links that are shared – especially unlisted or unreleased tracks. This was how I Am Strikes was introduced to me. The single, “Paper Tiger,” is aggressive. And different from previously released music. This caught my interest.
The other thing that caught my interest was her Instagram posts all featured a very intense-looking Korean woman. And then I got curious. After hunting around Google, I learned some history about I Am Strikes and asked if she’d be interested in introducing herself and here we are.
Can you introduce yourself? What are the origins of the name, I Am Strikes?
Hello hello hello, I’m Kelly, aka I Am Strikes. So, yes, the ~*~alias conception story~*~ Genesis! The word ‘strikes’ has contradictory meanings.. To hit something or to miss something in an attempt to hit it.
I have a pretty chill and sunny disposition but I write these really tragic dark songs.. The name is a nod to that dichotomy!
After your email, I listened through your available music and it sounds like it has always been a fluid exploration of sound. Low Standards has elements of pop, post-punk mixed with rock. “Out of Breath” reminded me of early Bloc Party. How did you discover your sound in the beginning?
Dang, thank you for listening to my deep cuts!!!! Modern production has made the ever-elusive marriage of imagination and reality seem more possible than ever (whether that is the case or just an illusion I have opinions about, though I digress :D)… If I wanna throw a fat french horn in that pre-chorus..
Alright!! Sick!!! Just plug that shit in!!! When I made those tracks I think I was just so stoked on that infinite potential energy. Possibility had no conceivable bounds.
Electrifying the frequency spectrum.. encapsulating something lurid. Stirring someone out of their passive playlist slumber, if at all possible.. That had a lot to do with the early I Am Strikes sound.
“Yellow Paint” and “Whatever Makes You Want to Die Less” sound like counterpoints. “Yellow Paint” is a continuation of Low Standards while “Whatever Makes You Want to Die Less” comes across like a new chapter while still using similar audio elements. There are also four years between releases. Was that a growth period outside of music?
Heck yeah it was!!! I moved to Brooklyn, found home, met the love of my life, met my best friends, fired my dick of a manager.. Learned the leftist way. Radical compassion and all of that magical stuff.
Really sunk into my chosen fam and my queer identity as well, which is super important to me. That was an explosive chapter for me. Real formative years.
Your second 2020 single, “The Truth,” strips everything back to an acoustic presentation. Was this a bit of a reset in expectations and an exploration into something new?
That song was always meant to be an acoustic banger. I actually think it’s overproduced as is. It’s my favorite song I’ve released so I feel a bit of a way about it. That track just tells a story.
It felt lilting, like it didn’t need any musical support. Like an oratory memory.
I’m heavy into that right now.
The lead up to “Paper Tiger” has featured photos of your Grandmother with the song kind of carrying the intense weight that each photo shows. Was the song inspired by your Grandmother or did the connection come after the song was completed?
Nice, thank you for checking out the photos. They’re very personal so I appreciate you remarking on them.
I don’t usually write with a prompt in mind, so pinpointing inspiration can feel a little like an afterthought. In this case, maybe a bit disingenuous even. Paper Tiger just kind of happened.
I am a product of my grandmother’s influence, so in a way, everything I do is inspired by her. I know that feels like a roundabout answer, but Paper Tiger is a track about strength, tenacity, and resistance – all things that were clear in my grandmother’s identity and way of conducting herself.
She fled North Korea as a teenager during the war, ushered onto a train in the middle of the night, and lost contact with most of her family. That’s just a single part of her story, though something I wanted you to know.
Her magnetism was undeniable. I think that’s evident in the photos.
Compared to your previous songs, “Paper Tiger” is an in-your-face rock track that doesn’t have the same amount of embellishments and instrumental layers. What are the origins of the song? Like inspiration and how it all came together?
Nice, thank you for asking. I produced Paper Tiger on my own. That’s a huge milestone for me!!! Seriously!!! I’ve always been like… I cannot produce my own music. Nope, I am not a painter!! I am an ideas-guy!! A soooongwriter. And then.. Paper Tiger happened and I was just like. Okay, wow, okay… I.. like this? I think I can say that I like this… Ok. And for me, that’s freaking massive.
Also I was stoked on the guitar line and the guitar solo. I recorded it on this $50 squier strat. I was so excited because it was a strat with a hardtail bridge!!!! I was like! I gotta dig in!!! And then I did. And I have a lot of pride in that ripper whammy solo. There.. I said it!!! I love it!
You mentioned in your email that you felt a sense of belonging when reading Korean Indie content. I was wondering if there were any artists that stuck out to you? Any specific reason why they caught your ear or eye? Has there been any standout reaction to any song?
I thought AERI’s video for “Agave” was very captivating and I have your blog to thank for that discovery.
The video was sick. I was engaged from start to finish. Sweet imagery, treatment, choices.
Awesome all around.
The media is quick to label and categorize artists into buckets. As an artist in this fully digital generation, do you find identity overshadowing the music and art that is created? Do you feel like there’s more to prove or required to prove as a Korean American artist?
I don’t think there is an identity overshadowing as much as there is a pivot toward viewing the art as a product of its human creator and, thus, tinted by their perspectives, lifestyles, values, etc.
Whether one believes the creator is 1. the human or 2. the divine may inform their opinion on the matter.
I have somewhat complicated feelings about it!!!! (–libra problems–)
Though I fall fundamentally in camp #2, I think that a pure divorcing of the human from its creations is rare (if even possible?), and even if achieved, I just don’t care to see it done by the most uniformly powerful, vindicated, shameless group of people on the planet.
Of course, cis white dudes can make interesting stuff sometimes.. I’m just not interested to see it?? For me, I’d rather experience art made by like.. Anybody else. It’s hardly deliberate. I am open to everything. I just find art made by women, queer people, & POC to generally be FAR more moving art.
In my personal experience as a member of a marginalized group, I think there exists a natural pressure for assimilation, validation, for pride in mainstream achievement despite the handicaps.. I think modernity’s celebrated accolades are too often arbitrary or not rooted in values I champion.
I wish to assimilate for physical safety, perhaps for some baseline ease, but for no other reason. I’m proud of my culture, of my idiosyncrasies and my unique identity. I feel a pressure, but not to “prove” anything, per se.
Is there one standout memory you have of your Grandmother? Looking through the shared photos, her fashion sense was 100% excellent.
It’s true; she was a fashion icon. I have many dear memories of her.
And it just feels a little too intimate to answer. I’m afraid I don’t have the language to properly revere her. I would be disappointed in myself, regardless of what words I chose.
I want to tell you how she smelled, how soft her skin was, how she sang Chopin as I drove her to get groceries. There is a fog and I am flooding.
She was brilliant.
Anything to say to readers?
Yes. Hi, thank you for reading this interview. I know there are many ways you could have spent the last five minutes and you chose to spend them with me, I Am Strikes, and Chris, of Korean Indie. I am sincerely appreciative of your energy and your time.
Please say hello if you feel inclined. I hope that you find moments of peace, joy, chillness, wonder, and sweetness in your life. I hope it’s warm where you are. Unless you’re not into that. Then I hope it’s delightfully crispy.
Peace and love to everybody (especially the lovers).