An Open Letter to the UFC Fighter “Ragin” Kajan Johnson

An Open Letter to the UFC Fighter “Ragin” Kajan Johnson from Dusty Exner of Kill Matilda

**UPDATE: hey all – if you want to read Kajan’s awesome response and the comments from there, and you can’t see them, click on the title of this blog, and it will bring it up on a separate page. The comments are below. Thanks again to my amazing husband for encouraging me to come forward with this – its been a healing experience both for myself and for Kajan I believe (as he’s expressed to me). **

Hey Kajan,

I thought of you the other day while biking to work, and something weird happened. I remembered what it was like growing up the child of two same-sex parents in a small northern town. I remembered how your voice was the loudest, the harshest, the most hateful. I started feeling upset. By the time I got to work, I was in tears and having a full-on panic attack. I had to leave for an hour and just walk until I could clear my head.

It’s been about 10 years since we last saw each other and I know that people grow and change over time. I certainly have. From what I’ve see online, you’re someone who has followed their passion and now you are a UFC fighter, succeeding at something I have no doubt you’ve worked tirelessly for. You are training to fight in Vancouver on June 14th at UFC 174 – pretty amazing. It also looks like you’ve become a person who cares about “the little guy” and an outspoken advocate for oppressed peoples. I can’t help but wonder how you can post tweets like the one below about the LGBTQ community and forget the way that you directed homophobic hate toward me in our shared past.

does this include yourself as well?

does this include yourself as well?

I moved to your town of Burns Lake BC when I was about seven years old with my mom, her “best friend” and her best friend’s daughter. I immediately became the most hated and picked on kid in school. Kids were always saying something mean to me, something about my mom, a word I didn’t understand. Lesbian.  I didn’t know what it meant but I knew it was bad, derogatory. So before I even knew what the word lesbian meant, I was already defending my mother, and myself against these attacks. “No she isn’t!” I would cry, “no I’m not!” I remember the day I asked my mom if what all the kids were saying was true – if her and her best friend really were lesbians. When she told me yes, I cried and cried. I hated her. How could she be this awful things that kids beat me up and teased me about?

Our relationship suffered for many years after that. I couldn’t tolerate her showing any affection to her partner. I told her she wasn’t to touch, hug or kiss her partner around me. If I even heard the sound from the next room of them kissing I would feel sick to my stomach, I would get angry at her. The few friends I did have (and not many people chose to associate with me), I was embarrassed to bring around. I would warn her that my friends were coming over and I would beg her not to be in the same room with her partner in case anybody saw, or noticed. Our relationship was affected for many years. I resented my mother so much for being in a relationship that forced me to suffer through endless years of taunting and bullying, including being beaten up and physically abused several times.

I’ll never forget the first time you talked to me in the hallway. I didn’t know who you were, and I didn’t know how you knew me. You’d walk down the hall with a few friends and make sexual comments at me as you walked by and all your friends would laugh. I didn’t know how you knew my name or how to react, but it made me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed and I soon began to dread being alone in the hallway when you and your friends came by – I knew that I would be the butt of your sexual jokes. Soon after that you started making fun of me because my mom was a “dyke” and you started calling me homophobic slurs too. You called me a “dyke”. You called “lez”.  You said shit like “eugh, that’s fucking disgusting!”. And you laughed.

Mercifully, my family moved to Prince George just before grade 9. I spent a blissful year in a new crowd of kids who didn’t know my secret, but who also didn’t seem to care. By the end of grade 9 I had gone public with the fact that I had 2 moms, and people were actually pretty cool about it. I don’t know exactly when you transferred to my high school in Prince George but seeing you in the hall brought a feeling of dread. My past had followed me. But maybe you were a different person – we both left Burns Lake behind. I remember trying to say hi to you a couple of times – I was naive, I thought maybe you didn’t like me because you just didn’t know me, that I could win you over by being really friendly and cool.

The first time you called me a fucking dyke at our new high school in Prince George, I felt hopeless. I’ll never escape my past, I thought – even in a new city, the taunts and the hate had followed me.

I remember the time I screamed in your face. I finally had had enough – My mom had broken up with her partner, my grandmother had moved in with us and immediately had a stroke, and shortly after that my mom had a nervous breakdown. She suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had to quit her job. We moved in to the trailer park, we lived off my mom’s small disability subsidy. We were the poorest of the poor white trash. I lived alone with my now-single parent. She cried a lot, and laid in bed. She wouldn’t answer the phone and when her friends came to the door she made us hide and turn off all the lights. I worked a part time job to help buy groceries. You made your homophobic remarks on the wrong day and I grabbed you by the shirt and shook you as hard as I could. I windmilled my arms and legs as my friend pulled me off you.  I laid in the sick room for an hour after our encounter, shaking and crying. I just kept saying to the counsellor who tried to talk to me that I didn’t understand why you hated me so much.

Where did those feelings of hatred come from? Why were you so threatened by someone you never met? Have you ever even met my mother? Because she’s a pretty lovely, beautiful person. Why were you so homophobic?

The social anxiety is something that’s never gone away.  Even writing this letter makes me feel afraid. While I’m glad to know that you’ve found discipline through your study of martial arts and your career in the UFC, just knowing that you are out there and that you can kick the crap out of anyone at any time for any reason makes me start to sweat and makes my heart pound.

When I realized in my teens that I didn’t identify as 100% straight, I hated myself, I felt disgust. I felt like I had betrayed myself after all the times that people had said I was a ‘fucking disgusting lez’. I engaged in high-risk behaviours with men because I felt like I had something to prove. I hated my mom for being “a dyke”. There was a wedge driven in our relationship and I feel shame when I think back to the contempt I treated her with, just for being with the person she loved. I couldn’t even begin to develop a relationship with the woman my mother loved – I could never see her as anything but a target for my angst. she was the woman who turned my mom into that hateful term – into a fucking dyke lez.

Sure, other bad things have happened in my life since then and I’ve dealt with them. Yet here I am, all these years later, still victimized by your attitude back then. I think it’s because I was a child and I didn’t know how to defend myself. As I became a teenager I tried to put on a tough face and say things like “fuck you!” to show that your words didn’t hurt me, but my little self-defenses felt so fucking pathetic.

I have a good life now that I have worked hard for. I have a wonderful husband, a strong First Nations man who coincidentally was also raised by two women. I live the life I want to live as a touring musician playing in my band, Kill Matilda. A few years ago, I wrote a song about the missing and murdered aboriginal women, which is an important issue you’ve talked, tweeted and hashtagged about too.  You’re a man who has experienced racism and small-town prejudice as a person of colour, and you’ve taken those hurts and become a successful fighter. I’m a woman who has experienced small-town homophobia and sexism and I’ve turned those experiences into anthems for strong women.

But when I see you post these tweets like you are so much on the side of LGBTQ people, it absolutely infuriates me and makes me shake to think that you could so brazenly take that stance without ever considering apologizing for all the hurt you caused me. My rage, my shame, and my memories make me feel crazy, even all these years later.

I just wanted you to know that I still think of you, and that as surely as you leave some real welts on your opponents in the ring, you’ve left a mark on me.

April Shower Bring May Flowers

Hi all;

Just a quick update this time. I’m going to work on my consistency in the blogosphere and try to work on weekly blog updates for alll you KM hardcores out there. We are here in Toronto getting settled and setting up the rest of our year: we will be playing many shows in Quebec and Ontario and are planning a tour to the states for later this year. Who knows what else might happen?

We dropped in at CMW to see some of our friends in The Deadset and Gypsy Chief Goliath. It was so awesome to see so many music lovers out supporting rad bands. We look forward to our showcase at North By Northeast next month – keep an eye out for us!

Here are a list of our upcoming shows-

May 23 – the Cage, Toronto ON FB EVENT HERE

May 24 – Fitzy’s By the Bay, Barrie ON

May 30 – The Rockpile West (Etobicoke/Toronto) ON FB EVENT HERE

June 13 – CIDERFEST, St-Hyacinthe QC FB EVENT HERE

June 19 – Manik Mondays, Montreal QC

We will be coming to a town near you over the summer! If you think there are any festivals, shows, venues or events we should be playing, let us know! We want all the suggestions you have.

In other news, my guitar amp was stolen last month. It was upsetting and kind of a clusterfuck but it seems that there’s nothing we can do to get it, or any of my pedals, back. That’s about $600 or so worth of gear. Luckily, I found the amp of my dreams just sitting in Long & McQuade waiting for me! I am the proud new owner of a Mesaboogie Dual-Rectifier head. Now’s the hard part; paying for it. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks as I’ll be selling some hand-made art and putting deals on our merch to help cover the costs.

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Musical Misogyny

Earlier this week we premiered a video through Exclaim.ca’s website which has been garnering a really interesting response. This video was a triumph for me because unlike many other hard rock/punk music video you’ve ever seen, every major character and player in the video was a woman, none of whom were being objectified or sexualized. The theme of the video was a showcase of women’s aggression and athleticism, and an alternative idea of women being sexy that isn’t a bunch of girls in booty shorts shaking their shit. I wrote a blurb to that effect and I’ve been surprised since then the amount of vitriol that the video has faced from (male) haters all over the internet.

Could it be that this video is poorly produced or that the song sucks and that is where all the hate is coming from? Sure, but it’s unlikely; our 2010 video for “She’s A Killer” was arguably not very good and the song itself was a crappy recording that we did in our kitchen, yet in over 30,000 views in over 4 years we haven’t received the breadth of hate that we’ve gained in 4 days with ‘I Want Revenge’. So why is this video, and the commentary that went along with it, receiving so much negative attention?

In my opinion, the answer is simple. We have tons of awesome male fans who ‘get’ it, who support and find a woman who can rock as hard as a dude, hit as hard as a dude and be sweaty and up in your face totally awesome. But there is a very real ‘old boys club’ of rock and roll that feels VERY threatened by seeing a band fronted by a strong woman and a video full of strong aggressive women, with absolutely no tits and ass to be had. This very concept is so shocking, and so new to some people that it’s offensive and is inspiring hateful feelings. Deep down, these dudes are feeling threatened. There is a documented phenomena of men reacting angrily toward women trying to occupy what’s traditionally been men’s space in music. When women represent themselves as experts with regards to musical canon or knowledge, the reaction from this Old Boys Club isn’t just the typical internet shitty trolling – it often goes so far as to include sexualized insults and even threats of violence. Even blogs related to how to ‘get ahead’ with your band are written for men with male-gendered language; for men, by men. The possibility that a woman might be the one reading, engaging with or creating things in the music industry is such a stretch that many writers don’t even bother to consider that the people they’re writing about might be women and thus don’t even bother to hide their gendered use of language (note in this article, everyone the writer suggests you bring onto your team is a he – from the accountant to the booking agent. Apparently women don’t work in the music industry at all?). I believe this kind of territorialism extends to women performers as well. This video has provoked an angry response from these very dudes, who want rock and roll to stay a man’s game and for women to know their place, which isn’t being in front of a camera in anything other than a slutty outfit.
The commentary I made about this video talked about my desire to create a piece of media that featured how sexy women could be without overtly sexualizing and objectifying them (you know, like every other music video in the world) and the very first comment was “no one cares about this shit”. Well guess what guys… people do care. A lot of people. They’re called women, and they make up 50% of the population. Welcome to 2014. I was also called out on talking about women being sexy without being sexualized because I had posed for a VERY NOT risque, semi-clothed “sexy” photo which is on my facebook wall. Again, it seems that these men demand that women be either the Madonna or the whore; the idea that we can be both just does not compute. I personally am a big fan of girls being sexy, and I would never say that it’s a bad thing for a women to be sexual in media. I DO think it’s a bad thing if it is the ONLY way a woman can be represented and surely enough you almost never see women in the rock and roll industry who are fat or ugly or otherwise unkempt, unlike their male counterparts. One of the goals of this video was to create an alternative concept of what makes  a woman sexy, but it seems like that idea is very unwelcome to some. Keep us in the pin-up photos in bikinis holding guitars, but don’t dare let us in front of the camera screaming in your face. The truth is that I believe that a sexually empowered and powerful woman can be overtly sexual when she chooses and is also sexy and cool even if she’s dressed in a t-shirt and jeans; it’s all about attitude and intention, and to me the women in this video are so amazing. The video itself is groundbreaking for this reason and the backlash is an indicator of just how much misogynistic sentiment is still creeping in the cellars of the rock and roll industry. Who care about this shit? Only all the women who work in the music industry, make music, and buy music. So pay attention, haters.
See the video that’s causing such a stir here.

Tour Update #4: Regina to Montreal, Kurt Cobain, Driving Forever

Hi guys

Since my last tour update we played with some amazing bands in Regina. I really enjoyed the kick ass locals The Man and His Machine, and my particular favourite for the night was Palisades from New Jersey. They put on a really well polished show, they were hard hitting and really got the crowd moving. I’m always curious how a band formed only a few years ago (they were formed in 2011) is able to accumulate over 100,000 likes on facebook, tour support, really mint-ass gear and shit. It’s definitely taken us years to get spit and polish and I have to ask myself if these bands don’t have someone doing the majority of the heavy lifting for them? Heaven knows I would love to have a little of that myself – being a DIY band means learning everything the hard way. It’s weird; there are two kinds of bands. The first you never see playing locally until suddenly they’re opening for <POPULAR BAND X> on tour with some guitar sponsorship and they are touted as being from your home city, which is curious, because you’ve never heard of them or seen them play and they definitely didn’t “rise in the ranks” because no one really knows them. These are the bands that seem to have everything us DIY bands are striving for, or at least they LOOK like they have it (read; money). The other kind of band is the kind of band you saw when you were a teenager at the community centre, or who have played with your friends band, who accumulate and grow their fan base through the process of playing shows and getting better and bigger opportunities. Although this kind of a band tends to start with less of the money and the polish, they make up for it in legitimacy, which leads to committed fans who stick with you through the years. It seems Kill Matilda is in the latter category, and it feels really good to always be growing, doing better, improving and seeing our dedicated and loving fans grow with us. I like to think that this kind of musicianship means we are participating in and growing in a national musical community. Not that it’s bad to start out at the top with lots of money and sweet gigs; that’s pretty sweet. But, each approach and strategy has it’s pros and cons.

Speaking of bands and their development, today is the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain. Here is a very interesting story of a band; unlike the two examples mentioned above, there existed a magical time in the 90s when music was still making everyone money and even bands of total junkie fuckups could become world famous. Don’t interpret what I say as derogative; I mean it in a loving sense. Kurt Cobain was a total and complete fuckup and the fact that he could become famous as a musician is to me, such an amazing crazy thing, neither good nor band, just remarkable. It could NEVER happen in this day and age. The time of musicians-cum-junkies is almost completely over because being in a band these days means almost constant work in a cutthroat industry with very little resources available for everyone. You have to be at the top of your game. It used to be, in Nirvana’s heyday, that your ethos and your art were all that was needed to bring you head and shoulders above the competition. People, and record labels, loved Nirvana’s music because Kurt Cobain had a special ability to connect with something so deep, so sad, and so primal that it connected us all to that part of ourselves. His epic unhappiness with everything earthly seemed to be conveyed through some kind of magical, beautiful, touching wormhole of emotions. In short, his voice, his words and his melodies moved us. And it didn’t hurt to have Dave fucking Grohl on the drums. But, think about it; Kurt Cobain was a self-loathing lazy junkie at the same time. He didn’t wake up in the morning, check his twitter, do all his own booking, and do all the driving on tour. He was able to exist in this pure bubble of just being an artist, a music-maker, and everything else took care of itself because the music was THAT good. Has there not been music as good or as touching since that time? No, there totally has been. But the eras of Kurt Cobains and Elliott Smiths are over; if you aren’t gonna do it for yourself, no one is gonna do it for you, no matter how good you are.

Beyond that, it also seems the musical and social pendulum has swung so far from the kind of crass self-loathing that Nirvana embodied that it’s unlikely that, at least in the next little, a band or an artist could come along and do something similar to what Kurt Cobain did. These days its not very cool to hate yourself and to sing about killing yourself. In fact, if you so much as post some sort of self-harming selfie on Instagram or Facebook, you better believe that shit will get flagged and taken down. Maybe because the playing field of how we interact with each other and our culture has been so changed through the internet and social media, and our constant interconnectedness, people can’t be so irresponsible anymore. Because that’s really what Kurt Cobain was; irresponsible. And it was cool, in his time. But imagine someone doing this today, using drugs flagrantly, being a total flail, talking about hating themselves… I feel like the collective hivemind of the interwebz would reject that person as just.. a loser. I guess what I am trying to say is that Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain, were a kind of miracle; the perfect collusion of several elements. Like an eclipse or a planet or comet that comes into view that we won’t see again for another hundred years or so. Everything had to be just right. The industry had money and was looking for the next big thing and plucked this (relatively) unknown band from obscurity (lord knows they couldn’t have done it themselves with that kind of a work ethic). The culture of the 90s, living in the shadow of the post-80’s economic boom, still privileged and rich enough to start having a vague self-hating sense of ennui played a role. People were just fresh out of the Cold War, which I think also probably gave a lot of young people a sense of gothic existentialism; only years before the threat of nuclear war was real, and frightening. Now there was nothing to be frightened of but there was a lot to hate, especially with regards to consumer culture, because people had money! All these things; economics, world events, culture… they are all related to music and what we as a society like and don’t like, will accept and not accept.

But, back to us.

Regina was followed by Brandon, big thanks to A.P.O.D. productions for hosting us! We had to immediately leave Brandon and drive through the night as far as Kenora, ON, where we crashed at a motel from 5:30 am to about noon, and then hit the road again, arriving in Thunder Bay in the nick of time around 8 pm. Seriously, why is the drive across Northern Ontario so long? How does it take 8 hours to go less than 500 kms? We pulled a repeat of the night before and hit the road right after our show to embark on the 10 hour drive to Timmins. The show in Thunder Bay was awesome; definitely check out the band Forever Dead,  a highlight for me. I also really enjoyed the Bay Street Bastards, who played a sort of combination of celtic-punk-meets-Gogol-Bordello.

We made it safely to Timmins around 2 pm after a 10 hour drive and immediately crashed out till our show. I’ve been pleased and impressed with the calibre of shows this tour; no matter where we play, and with who, people are happy and excited to hear us, they buy merch and we make friends. That’s all you can really ask for. We enjoyed a few days off in Sudbury visiting friends, a few more in Montreal, and a quick trip to Sherbrooke to play bar le Magog with Hardluck Battleground and Fate Hope Glory. Sherbrooke is a really beautiful city and always one of my favourite places to play!

Last night we returned after a too-long separation to the stage in Montreal and it was glorious, both to see old friends and familiar faces and to play for the awesome punks of Quebec. If you’ve never been to Quebec, or partied at the Death House, or been to a show, it’s definitely an experience you should try to have once in your life. It’s hard to put into words but the people and the culture of Montreal just hold a special place in my heart and Mykel and I felt really happy to be back in the ‘hood.

Next up: Sorel, Toronto, and ALL OF ONTARIO.

Tour Update #3: THE PRAIRIES – Rum Running & Hair Dye Freezing

Hi all; apologies for the delay on this update. It comes to you from March 27th. 

We made it through the perilous frozen tundra of Alberta sans winter tires. Since my last update we’ve played Edmonton, Edson, Calgary, Red Deer & Moose Jaw and we are on to Regina tonight to open for Abandon All Ships.

The question of whether or not to winterize the van has been on our minds since Kamloops. We had plans to hook up a cheap set of winter tires in Prince George, but the morning of, we ironically became stuck in a snow bank in Burns Lake and by the time we un-stuck ourselves, we didn’t have time to stop on our way to the show in Valemount. We’ve been lucky enough to enjoy awesome road conditions despite the freezing temperatures we’ve been enduring. In Alberta it was so cold that everything in the van froze solid including my beauty products. I went to go touch up my hair only to find that the dye in the jar was so cold I had to scoop it out with a spoon like ice cream! Some of our beers froze and exploded…didn’t anticipate that. The funniest part is that as I was explaining this with dramatic flourish to our host in Moose Jaw last night he just gave me a funny look and said, “well yeah…that just, like, normal”. OH REAL CANADA. I forgot who I was talking to. My exciting story of frozen goods was pretty par for the course. He said they’ve gotten about 5 or 6 days at -50 this year.

Edmonton was a great show at Studio Music Foundation. Big thanks to the other bands Knuckledown, Betty Sue’s A Tramp & Reckless Rebels. It was probably the most legit punk show so far of the tour and we appreciated seeing some fans who drove all the way out from Lloydminster to rock with us.

We played Edson at Fat Greasy’s, what a great little venue. I mentioned to the bartender that my brother had lived in Edson about 13 years ago and he remembered him! A few other people in the bar did too. We stayed in a motel walking distance from the venue and it was one of maybe five times in my almost-eight-year relationship with Mykel that I’ve seen him drunk; I specifically made him stay at the bar and party with the locals, because he is burdened with a sense of unerring responsibility. So, when everyone else is getting shitfaced and laughing and having fun, he’s usually the one wrapping cables, double checking that we haven’t forgotten anything, and making sure we all get to where we are going safely. Any of you who added me on Snapchat got the exclusive Drunk Mykel snap!

Next up was Calgary and one of my favourite dates of the tour so far! Aside from bumping into the bagpiper (bagpipist?) from the Real MacKenzies unexpectedly (mini reunion!), we played the “Dark Carnival”, so our set was featured among burlesque dancers, stunt performers (ie, dudes with giant hooks pierced in their backs with a rope strung between them having a tug of war and a dude nailing nails into his nose) and other awesome bands. We saw lots of old friends and made lots of new fans too. BUT FUCK WAS IT COLD AND SNOWY JESUS GOD

Red Deer & Moose Jaw were small shows with nice people, and we learned that apparently Al Capone was involved in rum-running during prohibition using this set of tunnels that make an underground network in Moose Jaw. Pretty unexpectedly cool… even in the small corners of Canada that seem sleepy a darker history lurks… other than that I’m excited for our gig tonight…first time Kill Matilda has played Regina! Hold on to your fuckin’ hats, prairie people!

Tour Blog Update #2: Kamloops to Hinton. My Bully Died, I Caught a Cold, We Almost Lost Our Gear.

Okay, we played too many places for me to list them all in the title. 

We’ve just pulled up in Edmonton where our trailer door burst open mysteriously in the parking lot. Graham, who was driving at the time, said deadpan: “oh my god.”

“what?”

“the trailer door is open”

“what do you mean?” 

“I don’t know how I can be more literal. THE TRAILER DOOR IS OPEN”

I leapt from the van to find that the trailer door was indeed open although why we still haven’t determined. Luckily, nothing fell out. So after a bit of a scare we’re settled in at Marcus’ friends place drinking beer from Three Ranges brewery which we picked up in Valemount. I had to take a few nights off drinking after waking up hungover more times in a row than I ever have in my life so I’m happy to report my liver is ready for a bit more of the punk rock life. 

In Kamloops we played with the Real McKenzies and local band Second Day Sober. For a Wednesday it was a great turnout and we were honored to share the stage with some legit Canadiana punk. RM put on an amazing show. The next night we were hosted by West Metal Productions in Vernon, BC. I was really impressed with the strength of community I felt in Vernon. Everyone who came out seemed to be aware of or involved in the Armstrong Metal fest, or was friends with or associated with some locals bands. The overall feeling was really lovely and accepting and the afterparty in our room was a lot of fun. The ladies of Vernon and I built a pretty wicked blanket fort. 

We made our way through Williams Lake (another good turnout and a fun night of heavy drinking) and ended up in Prince George on St. Patrick’s Day. If you didn’t already know, Prince George is one of my hometowns. We’ve played here several times and always had a blast. The funny thing is that almost no one I know ever comes out to my shows, other than my best friend Tesia. The popularity we’ve enjoyed here comes entirely from the new generation of showgoers and punk rock kids and I’d say that the scene is as good as, if not better than, when I was a teenager attending shows. We played with Mediocre Minds, Crones & Jamie Bell. The lowest point was the shit-ass side roads of Prince George, which were so icy and snow-covered that we actually got stuck, nearly hit a truck and basically ruined the electrical input of our trailer by bottoming out so long and so hard on the piles of ice that took up space on every road. Luckily for us we have a lot of loving friends who came to our rescue the next day and repaired our electrical hitch. 

Our next show was in Burns Lake BC. This is my other hometown, where I spent time from the age of 8 to the age of 13. This show was of particular importance to me because other than a short visit for a friend’s wedding in 2007 I haven’t been back in a long time. I always tell people that I’m from Prince George when they ask where I’m from, because my time in Burns Lake wasn’t pleasant. Growing up as the child of two lesbian parents in a northern town of about 3,000 meant almost constant bullying, on top of what I’ve realized only as an adult was acute childhood social anxiety. I didn’t know what to expect from the show, which was being hosted at the shop of one of my peers from back in the day. 

My heart is filled with love to say that the show was awesome and everyone was rad. I think when you’re a child, and you face rejection, judgement, and hate, there’s a part of you that never recovers, a part that always craves acceptance. We had an amazing time and played with local band Azrael and Prince George metal band Kleaver who came out as well. It was really lovely reconnecting with everyone I’d seen as little children who were now all grown up. 

There is something that makes Burns Lake a place that captures my heart and it’s only from playing this show that I realized it. It’s a very small community, but being in the north, there is a disproportionately high rate of death for young people from accidents. When I think back on it, there are about seven or eight people that I knew as a child who are no longer with us who didn’t grow up. I was most struck by two of these; while speaking to a young man at the show who wasn’t sure if he knew me, I mentioned that my “moms” had owned the local general store, to which he exclaimed, “oh, the dykes!”. The way he said that brought me right back to my childhood, where the word “dyke” was as sharp as a knife. Not everyone had been so judgemental so it occured to me to ask him his last name and see which family he was from. It was my experience as a child that the kids heard it at home from their parents and brought it to school. When he told me his last name I knew immediately who he was; his bigger brother had been one of my worst bullies. When I enquired as to the status of his brother I found out that he’d since died when he was 18. As much as I didn’t have much love for that kid, I am deeply saddened to hear this news. As I looked around the room with all these young people that night, I realised that almost everyone in that room (because I knew almost all of them and their histories) had lost a brother, or a cousin, or a friend. 

The resiliency of the people of Burns Lake through so much tragedy and heartbreak makes me love my hometown. Looking at the faces of the kids I’d known, how happy they were to be rocking out with us, and how openly they accepted me after all these years heals some of the wounds I’ve carried around almost all my life. It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget and I was so glad to see family friends and familiar faces. That night we stayed at the home of some family friends that I used to babysit for, who also lost one of their sons. It wasn’t until last night in Hinton, laying in bed after the show, that I had some time to think back about this boy; I used to babysit him and his little brother, who was at the show that night. He was a really sweet little guy and the pictures all over the house of him gave me an opportunity to remember him. Two deaths; one of a kid who hated me, one of a kid I loved, both of which affected me equally. Dear Burns Lake; you broke me and you made me, I can’t forget you and I’ve always missed you and wanted your approval, and the lives of the people are deeply entwined with mine. 

We played Valemount for St Patricks day and all I can say is I’m very impressed with how hard such a small community can rock out! Hinton didn’t let us down on a Tuesday night either, though I’m sorry to say both Mykel and myself woke up with the most awful colds and Marcus and Graham had to put up with us coughing and sneezing up a storm in the van on the way to Edmonton, Now for a day off to rest and recover!

 

Tour Update #1: Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Mission

Here we are in Kamloops, having survived the first leg of our cross Canada tour. A Kill Matilda tour is always a bit of a gamble; we picked up our van only a few days before we headed out onto the road and knew very little about it. We also had a hitch installed so we could pull our trailer full of the combined lives of four people all making the move east; would the van be able to handle that load on the Coquihalla? It’s the kind of thing where you wait with baited breath and white knuckles gripped to the steering wheel… but we made it.

Our opening act, merch guy extraordinaire and close friend G Lazarus brought along about three shoeboxes of CDs. I myself had a few loose CDs kicking around. I don’t actually own a CD player at home and I use a Google Chromebook, which doesn’t have a CD drive, so I actually haven’t listened to or even looked at these CDs in probably two years. Going through them was a trip down memory lane for sure; a combination of our favourite artists and all the CDs of local bands we’ve played with over the years, some amazing, some not so amazing. Some of the CDs were just straight up unplayable because of the scratches.  Some were rare personal gold that we had forgotten about.

It’s weird to have lived to see the rise and fall of the CD. I know I’m not alone in wondering and feeling a little nervous about where we’re headed with the future of digitizing all our media and entertainment consumables. Movies, shows, games, music; everything no longer has a necessary physical counterpart, all can be experienced and enjoyed digitally. I used to buy CDs, bring them home, put them in the CD player and read the lyrics along with the music. The artwork in the CD booklet was an important key to understanding what the band was trying to do with the album, or with their sound. Did they do a black and white photo collage, a photo set, hand-drawn artwork? I’ll never forget the artwork in the “I, Bificus” CD by Bif Naked; it was a set of photos of her in a sort of Greco-Roman outfit with a bowl of golden grapes on a throne. Just page after page of photos; as someone who has independently released CDs, that ain’t cheap! The more pages you print, full color, the more expensive your disc is. I felt like being able to hold something in my hands was a real part of the experience of learning about and loving my favourite bands. Now that everything is online, and there is so much of it, will the next generations experience of what it means to love a band be different? For the One Directions and the Justin Biebers there’s a whole world of consumer products, of which the music is only a tiny part… there’s perfumes and blankets and backpacks. The music is almost the least important of all that. But what about for the rest of us? Where are we headed? long gone are the days when kids would watch MuchMusic for hours just waiting for the hope that they’d see their favourite rock or punk music video, wedged in between the hip-hop and the pop music videos on high rotation. Now kids have unequivocal access to as much of their favourite artists as they desire. What romance is there between the young fan and the “rock star” of today? I guess Kill Matilda will be on the forefront to find out!

The Vancouver show at the Railway was great; thanks to everyone who came out and to the other bands who played; we were pleasantly surprised by Tickling Grandma, a 2-piece act that blew our socks off. The Injectors were tight as fuck as per usual. Our promoters, Taser Fraser and Art Signified did an awesome job. Sadly, the Railway was out of Longboat Chocolate Porter, which I only discovered after I convinced a patron that he should buy me a pint. I spent a bit of time working in a liquor store with a sizeable craft beer selection and I finally got into it a bit, but the Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter was one of the varities I never got around to… and I missed my chance. Can you imagine? A pint of Chocolate Porter! I feel a bit of loss that I missed out on that, though I might have barfed everywhere onstage after drinking that much. What struck me was how classic of a stage and venue the Railway is; it’s really got a great aesthetic. Will be missed! It was lovely to see a lot of old friends and fans turn out, the support we received at our send off show was really touching… we’ll be back to see you guys on our next tour!

We played the next night in Maple Ridge after spending a long day organizing and re-organizing our lives into the trailer. Between four musicians we have about twenty or so guitars, only about five of which are in cases (cases are friggin’ expensive!). So we did a little creative bubble-wrapping and some seriously tight packing. Four lives, four sets of gear ready to go. Big shout out to my sister Cailey and her man Gord for lending us their beautiful home for the day to do all that work. We played at the Wolf Bar, which is kind of a classic dive-biker-bar with the entrance in the alley. We didn’t know what to expect really, but the turnout was great and the crowd loved us; I’m thinking a decent part of our market might be men in their forties and fifties, who can appreciate our raw rock n roll sound from back in their youth, haha! I think every biker in that bar must have come up and shook my hand. Another highlight was getting to see Season to Attack perform, who played with us; David Isbister is a mainstay in the Vancouver music scene and I’m honored to have gotten a chance to share the stage (dancefloor) with him. Also Brian Badd has accompanied Kill Matilda on drums and we’ve played several shows together with his other band Unlabeled (featuring former Kill Matilda guitarist Dave Roberts as well). Season to Attack is a supergroup of all the best musicians in Vancouver, and it comes through in their amazing set. Thanks guys!

We played Mission with the help of Mission City Music at the Zoo. If you live anywhere accessible I really recommend this bar; they were advertising a onesie party they were having later in the month, and who doesn’t like that? The crowd was definitely off the wall; it was a pirate-themed event and about half the audience came dressed for the occasion. I daresay the other half were just Mission regulars. Some of these bargoers sitting closest to our merch table were being loud and obnoxious right off the hop and had an ongoing conflict with one of the musicians in the other band that nearly escalated into a fistfight. The security guard later told me that the night before there had been a 20-person brawl and someone pulled out a gun. When we got onstage everything was gravy; the crowd ebbed and flowed and everyone got right up in our faces for Geisha With A Switchblade. Good to know it’s still a hit! A less exciting hit of the night was trying to pull into the trailer park where my aunt lives, and where we were staying, only to bottom out our new hitch and trailer several times on the speedbumps. We lost our electrical connection and freaked out a bit but with some finagling we managed to reconnect it and learned an important lesson about speed bumps; avoid them at all cost on this tour. Thanks very much to Aunt Theresa for putting us up for the night and for feeding us delicious foods!

Now we are in Kamloops looking forward to a day of rest, some work on the van and to play with the Real McKenzies tomorrow night at Cactus Jacks! Event info here. Thursday is Vernon at the Village Green, event info here. Friday catch us in Williams Lake at the Overlander Pub, and Saturday in Prince George – event info here.

Till next time!

TIME TO HIT THE ROAD

Hi all;

In a few short days we start our #PUNK#ZOMBIE#ROCKNROLL tour. It seems no matter how well organized I strive to be or with how much structure I approach such a grand undertaking, I always end up in the same position; out of clean underwear and smelling like a homeless kid who’s misplaced their debit card. Staying on top of twenty different aspects is a hard road…being in a band is not glamorous. The saving grace is that the liquor store I frequent has a good selection of beers over 9%.

We gave up our apartment on Feb 1st in order to save money; well, I wouldn’t really call it saving. We’ve easily spent what we’d normally spend in rent money on all the things we need to be tour ready including new merch, CDs, dropcards, a trailer hitch, and so on and so forth. I want to take a moment to thank our friends Steve G and Will S for letting us crash at their houses this month, as well as all the kids at the Matador house in Vancouver.

I thought that it would only take me a few days or maybe a week or two to complete all my uncompleted projects, and that I’d have time to coast and couchsurf and practice guitar before hitting the road. I was so. wrong. I have three days left in Vancouver and I’m only now finishing all that needs be finished, the biggest project of which was the epic hand-drawn comic book I recently completed to accompany the new release. A 17-page hand-drawn and colored piece of art is a lot of work for anyone but is a special challenge for me. this month I’ve had a long-awaited, much-anticipated, badly-needed formal diagnosis of ADHD. Not a shock and not news, but a relief to finally have the validation that I’m not lazy, stupid, clumsy, or an airhead. People often say to me, “Dusty, you’re always so busy, you’re always working on something!” What probably seems like a virtue to many is a personal prison for me; I CAN’T relax. My mind is always racing, my feet are always tapping, my fingernails are always picking or scratching, my mouth is always talking. So, I can start any project with boundless enthusiasm; completing a project is another thing. ADHD has interefered with my ability to keep a job, to keep friends, to have pets (i’ll get into that another time), and to feel good about myself. To actually follow through and complete a project once the initial “brain candy” of something new has worn off was excruciating. It sometimes only came a page at a time or even a panel at a time; my poor publicist has been hounding me for weeks. The truth is that completing this comic is one of the first (personal) things I’ve done on my own in years and tied neatly with a bow. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it if it hadn’t been for the help of doctor-prescribed medicine and the support and sometimes very strict enforcement of “work time” by Mykel.

Tomorrow we are releasing the EP of the same name and I am excited to announce that we will be providing a free download link for everyone along with a comic that I drew by hand to accompany the release. This re-release of ours features a brand-new acoustic version of “Geisha With A Switchblade” so please download it!

We’ve put out a video for our single “Law Abiding Citizen”, check it out here.

We will also be releasing a video for “I Want Revenge” on Tuesday, March 11th. We worked really hard on this video together will director Will Strawn and we are so proud of what we accomplished. I’m super stoked for you guys to see it. I want to take a moment to thank Mykel Exner for producing and Will Strawn for directing/camera op. Special thanks to Cariboo Brewing and Dead Reckoning clothing for sponsoring our video, and to Terminal City Rollergirls, Academie Duello, and Audrey Bride for being in it!

We’ve also gotten some pretty amazing reviews of the re-release. Our favourite is this review, in which the reviewer calls us “like the Beach Boys, but evil” and says that I sound like “a female Rob Zombie”. I’ll take it! Check it out here!

This review says that my vocals are perfect – best. compliment. ever. Canadian Beats says the album makes you feel empowered just by listening to it. We are super happy with how much positive press this album has been received and are excited to lay it on you all for this tour.

I’m so excited to move out of the administrative phase of the tour and into the actual rock and roll phase of the tour that I could squee and just roll around on the floor. March 6th can’t come soon enough! I can’t wait to see everyone again and to bring you all new merch and new tunes.

Below is a list of dates for our tour – any changes or updates will be posted on our facebook page and on twitter.

Feb 28 – Abbotsford, BC – Gators Pub (details)

Mar 6 – Vancouver, BC – Railway Club (details)

Mar 7 – Maple Ridge, BC – the Wolf Bar (details)

Mar 8 – Mission, BC – the Zoo (details)

Mar 11 – Kamloops, BC – Cactus Jacks (details)

Mar 13 – Vernon, BC – The Green (details)

Mar 14 – Williams Lake, BC – Overlander Pub

Mar 15 – Prince George, BC – the Croft Hotel (details)

Mar 16 – Burns Lake, BC – Private Party (message dusty@sinagency.ca for details)

Mar 17 – Valemount, BC – Log & Rail Pub

Mar 18 – Hinton, AB – Valley Zoo

Mar 20 – Edmonton, AB – Studio Music Foundation (details)

Mar 21 – Edson, AB – Fat Greasy’s Metal Lounge

Mar 22 – Calgary, AB – Dicken’s Pub

Mar 23 – Red Deer, AB – Slumland

Mar 25 – Moose Jaw, SK – 23 Main Street (acoustic show)

Mar 26 – Regina, SK – The Exchange (details)

Mar 27 – Brandon, MB – North Hill Inn

Mar 28 – Thunder Bay, ON – Black Pirates Pub

Mar 29 – Timmins, ON – Victory Pub

Apr 3 – Sherbrooke, QC – Bar le Magog

Apr 4 – Montreal, QC – Katacombes (details)

Apr 5 – Sorel-Tracy, QC – Pub O’Callaghan’s

Apr 8 – Toronto, ON – Bovine Sex Club

A rocky start, a recommitment

Hi all,

I’ve enjoyed an outpouring of love and support this last week since my dear husband and bandmate let everyone know via social media that I’d been suddenly and unexpectedly hospitalized. I’ve seen friends I haven’t seen in years and people have been helping to make sure I’m fed, cared for and taken wherever I need to go or looked after. I am so grateful and appreciative of how many wonderful and caring people I know who will take time out of their personal lives to help.

I wanted to share my story of what happened. In order to tell the story I have to first skip back to the beginning of 2013; Mykel had just had successful surgery for a tumor in his carotid artery, a genetic condition. The discovery of this tumor in the fall of 2012 and his subsequent illness came at the end of a summer full of tense uncertainty about the future of our band, Kill Matilda. With his illness things seemed to go even further down the crapshoot; it was looking like we would never get our shit together again. Who knew when we would be able to get back to the project we’d devoted so much of our lives to? We were both depressed. I was working a full-time job, something unusual for me (because we were usually on tour or moving around), and I found that I barely had time for anything other than eating, sleeping, going to work and caring for Mykel, who wasn’t able to work. He was also very depressed because he could barely move around, was always tired and dizzy. It was a bad, and very boring, time.

Fast forward to post-surgery for Mykel; the beginning of last year. Nothing was going on with our band, our future was uncertain, but we knew that we were healthy and we had money. We decided that I would go off birth control and that maybe it was the right time to try and have a family. Things didn’t work out. The first few months I excitedly bought pregnancy test after pregnancy test, we talked about how we’d tell our families. My pregnancy tests became a graveyard of empty pregnancy test boxes under the sink. Seriously, I must have bought like fifty over the course of three or four months. We thought maybe it would happen by mother’s day and that we’d tell our moms as a present. No go. Time passed, nothing happened. We stopped waiting.

Things picked up with our band again and we focused our energies on writing and recording. Our drummer came back from a trip to Australia, we spent about 15 hours a week in the jam space writing and practicing. I left my job to focus on Kill Matilda and working more in the music industry booking tours. We didn’t talk about how I wasn’t on birth control, but my period always came and reminded me. I got really sensitive to seeing posts from friends and people that I knew who became pregnant. In a fit of jealousy I unfriended an acquaintance who posted a happy status about how she’d conceived “only one month after going off birth control!”. Later I felt guilty and re-friended. I’m not usually such a jerk.

Fast-forward to last week and a sudden stabbing pain in my belly. I ate a lot of cheese pizza yesterday, I’m probably having indigestion. I took a bath. I couldn’t sit still. Laying down hurt. Within an hour we were at the hospital, I could barely walk. I was crying. We sat in the waiting room after receiving triage and checking in when suddenly I went into shock. First it was just about the pain (which now felt like someone had punched me in the stomach), but then I felt I was about to throw up or pass out, or both. My whole body went limp, my arms and hands felt really loose. My face felt WEIRD. My skin felt super… aware, then hot, then sweating, then freezing. I heard a ringing in my ears and I couldn’t move. I tried to call out for help but Mykel said later I was barely whispering. He said about 15 more minutes passed by before I got a bed but I don’t remember; all I remember was slouching over my seat and him asking me if I could sit up, and I had to muster all my energy to say, “no I can’t, I can’t move.”

They told me in the ER that I probably had a burst ovarian cyst, which would hurt, but wasn’t dangerous. They would probably send me home and bring me back for an ultrasound the next day. Then the nurse poked her head in the door, looked at the doctor and said “your preg test is posi.” He looked at her with a weird little smile on his face and then looked at me.

“You did not seriously just open this door and tell me, LIKE THAT, that I’m pregnant?” I said to the nurse. So then there was that – suddenly, without warning in the ER, I got confirmation that my body finally did this thing I’d been trying to get it to do for a full year. I wanted to smile and laugh but I was in too much pain. Mykel got the news (he’d stepped out for a coffee) and we tried to remind ourselves not to get too excited yet. They said that since I was pregnant they’d probably do an ultrasound right away.

The pain got so bad I couldn’t lay on my back. The weirdest part was that I had stabbing pains in my right rib cage, my right lung. I wanted to breathe deep to ease the clenching stabbing pains I felt in my abdomen but it was like there was an elastic band around the bottom of my ribs keeping me from breathing. They did a mini-ultrasound in the room before taking me for a bigger one. The ultrasound tech left my door open, I overheard her saying to someone else that I was in a lot of pain, I needed morphine, and that she strongly suspected I had an ectopic pregnancy.

An ectopic pregnancy is when the pregnancy implants in the fallopian tube or somewhere else it isn’t supposed to go. It’s never viable and can sometimes be taken care of via an oral pill which causes the body to miscarry. Sometimes your body will miscarry naturally. When they took me for the big ultrasound I could barely get through it, I was hurting so bad. All the pain was now in my ribs, shoulders and lungs. I couldn’t lay on my back, it was like laying on a knife.

They told me that my tube had ruptured and that I was bleeding internally. This meant I couldn’t have a pill because without surgery to repair the damaged tube I’d keep bleeding. Ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death for women because of this risk of rupture. The rupture doesn’t happen to everyone but when it does it’s a medical emergency. I later found out that the pain I’d been experiencing in my ribs and shoulders was due to internal bleeding, because the blood was tracking up my abdominal cavity when I laid flat. The reason I couldn’t breathe deep was because my diaphragm was being irritated by blood. I said, “are you sure you can’t like, scoop it it out and put it where it’s supposed to be? are you sure it can’t be saved?”

They came in and told me that I’d be going into surgery very soon, within an hour or two. I called my mom. I was scared. I was really scared that I might not make it out of the hospital that night. It wasn’t a very risky surgery but hearing that you’re bleeding internally is a pretty scary reality. I’d gone from normal, to pregnant, to needing a surgically-necessary abortion, to bleeding internally in a life-threatening way in a number of hours. I had to take out all my piercings because they were going to cauterize the tube.

When I woke up from surgery I felt a million times better. The incisions were quite small and I had very little pain (compared to what I’d been feeling!). They told me that I’d lost about 25% of my blood. My hemoglobin was at 90 (they give you a blood transfusion at 70). They had told Mykel that they were ready with 2 transfusions for me. They took out a big chunk, but not all, of my fallopian tube. The rest is quite hazy but the risk for a woman to have an ectopic pregnancy after having had one jumps from 1 in 90 to 1 in 10. They don’t know what state the other tube is in; they suspect that mine was weakened due to some kind of pelvic inflammation from a long time ago.

There will be tests. I have to get a blood test every week for the next little while to make sure my pregnancy hormone levels go back down to normal. When I’m healed I’ll have to get a kind of CT scan to see what state the other tube is in. If it’s no good there’ll be another surgery to reattach what’s left of the fallopian tube on the damaged side. They recommend against trying to get pregnant for awhile. If things are damaged, there is a whole new reality to face. Tests, procedures, maybe drugs, payments. I don’t even know. The thought that the act of having a baby would be more difficult than simply just wanting to and trying to never crossed my mind. I’ve always been so careful with myself. I went through a day of hormones falling; I walked around the house screaming and punching things. I was really angry. No need to really stress out before we know anything but can’t help but worry and feel a little cheated.

Next up; I had to rest. I lost a lot of blood and it showed; even walking up stairs made me lose my breath. We have a show on Friday. How do I get my shit together before then? Cancelling the gig never even crossed my mind. Dave can play; I asked Marcus to take care of arranging practices without me. I’ll try to squeeze one in before the show. Sleep rest rest sleep. It’s been a week. We’re only playing a 20 minute set. I went to rehearsal; if I stand still and play and sing I sweat but I can do it. The incisions are healed, there’s no pain and no reason I can’t. Many people go back to work within a week of having this surgery.

So listen up; there won’t be any babies for a little while. I don’t want to worry, and I have bigger fish to fry right now. I have been, and always will be, obsessed with making music and performing. We’re planning a tour. When we had nothing in our lives, when we felt settled, we badly wanted to start a family. We still do. But not on tour, not while we’re experiencing so much success and doing something so amazing. It’s not logical and it’s not fair to a baby, for sure. Maybe we can make it work in the future. But I also can’t handle the fact that I can’t plan it. Can I pull off touring, being in a band, having a kid? I think I can but only if I can plan and know when things will happen. Without control over my reproductive abilities, without knowing what kind of laborious medical processes are (very likely) now going to be involved, I can’t do it. Too many unknowns. And my heart aches. A lot. To think that this given is no longer a given isn’t easy and I know I don’t need to feel ripped off but I do.  I’m still having a few cramps and pains and I’m still low energy – about 2 hours of doing anything is all I can handle.

Why do I feel this surge of success and this renewed sense of commitment to this project.

#1 – The amazing attention of Garth Richardson. Although this man has produced so many amazing albums and we’re not the only band getting some attention and love, he took the extra steps to personally engineer our new album, which is something he has not done in like, 10 years or something. That makes me feel very, very special.

#2 – our re-release. We will be doing a re-release of I Want Revenge this spring, retitled “#punk#zombie#rocknroll”. With the release I will be releasing a short Kill Matilda comic I’ve been working on, very exciting… I hope you all like it. We’ll tour cross-Canada with our rerelease to drum up some attention and excitement for the album we did with Garth, which will be out later this year.

#3- We have been working hard to produce some music videos for the rerelease and things are coming together. We’re excited to announce that Cariboo beer has been behind us 110% helping us get this video together and sponsoring us. We are excited to work with them and promote them. I’m a Prince George girl and I’m happy to rep my hometown brewery hard.

I have a guitar, I have a microphone.

One week out of my hospital bed I will meet you onstage.

I’ll  see you motherfuckers on Friday.

This is what I’ve got to hold onto and it’s plenty good.

2013 Year in Review

Hi all, welcome to my first blog post. I started this blog awhile ago but was slacking on actually writing anything. Ushering out the year that’s been and ushering in the year that will be seems fitting.

2013 was a strange, strange year for Kill Matilda. While in 2011 we rose to some seriously bad-ass heights, in 2012 we nearly ceased to exist because of conflict between band members, health problems for both myself and Mykel (I was hospitalized several times over the summer and he was diagnosed with a tumor in his carotid artery that kept him from being able to do much of anything), and an overall feeling of trauma from having worked so hard, for so long, with no resources. We fell apart. But as much as 2012 was the year that we crashed and burned, 2013 became the year we rose from the ashes. We are still in this process of arising but we are nearly ready to take flight and it will be a fucking fire when we do.

This year Mykel successfully completed his surgery, for which there was a significant risk that he would never be able to speak again. He had a non-cancerous tumor grown nearly 360 degrees around his carotid artery, attached to his vagus nerves (which control the ability to speak, swallow and chew). He needed time to heal and wasn’t able to play. But by spring we were back on track – however, Marcus had been traveling abroad in Australia. With the help of bad-ass Season To Attack drummer Brian Badd, we played a rippin’ 420 show at Iron Road Studios and went on to have a few other awesome and memorable shows around Vancouver this year. In August Marcus came home to us and we prepared to record the other 3 songs with Garth Richardson at Fader Mountain Studios. We started jamming and practicing harder than we’ve ever played before. We wrote more than 10 new songs in the space of two months and from these we selected the best 3. I have to give so much credit to Mykel Exner – more than ever before he stepped up and took an active role in writing and crafting the songs, whereas before he’d hung back in this area. As a result, our new songs are some of the best we’ve ever written, because they reflect the input of myself, Mykel and Marcus.

At this point I want to thank Garth, Nygel, John and everyone who worked with us or helped us at Fader Mountain. How amazing to be given time and space by someone so in demand; who has literally been there for the birth of some of our most canonical rock and roll anthems. I feel lucky every day that I went from being a 15 year old girl playing songs alone in my room to having face time and having my voice be compliment by someone who works with the best of the best. I feel lucky that so many people gave my band their time and energy. You guys seriously rock my world and I feel humbled by the experience I had this year.

Personally, 2013 was a lonely year for me. We came home to Vancouver in 2012 to find that so many of our good friends had moved away. I worked full-time until about August and I found spending 40 hours a week of my time not on music and not on my personal life exhausting; there was almost no time or energy for anything else. But more than this, I experienced lip service from a lot of friends and acquaintances this year. People often told me they wanted to hang out – sometimes repeatedly – but despite my hosting almost weekly events for people to come and hang out with me, I found that these same people never actually ever got around to making time for me, nor did they initiate hangouts. Maybe this is part of being in your late 20s; but I look back at my texts and my facebook messages and I see a lot of talk and very little action. Instead, I spent my time with a small, close circle of friends that I value who actually make the effort to initiate hangouts or to come out to the events I work hard to put together and promote.  Whereas before I had a wide circle of friends that I could call on for any social occasion, these days I find myself more introverted and less inclined to spend my time in busy, crowded places. I know who my real friends are.

If there is one thing that characterized 2013 for me it was personal growth. I am ten times the person I was in 2012. It was a hard, long year of facing my shortcomings and my issues and learning to overcome them. Our culture values what we look like and what we can do; we spend so much time on our bodies, on our style, on our careers and on our skills. Rarely do we turn our efforts inwards and look at what kind of people we are.

In part because of my job in the first part of this year as a manager of a group of dynamic and diverse young people, and in part because of the insanely high standards of my husband and bandmate Mykel Exner, and also in part because of the ongoing difficulties I have with other people, I had no choice but to look at my own role as a team member, as a leader, and as a person. I didn’t always like what I saw. Although I love to dazzle people out of the gate with my enthusiasm and my ability to do stuff, I was lazy and I was sloppy. I couldn’t complete projects. I lacked consistency in a seriously damaging way to my life and to my job and career. I saw this sloppiness reflected in products I’d created for Kill Matilda and I didn’t like it. I wanted better. I struggled to complete tasks week to week in my job – I could do anything once, but to keep it up was an insurmountable chore.

Worst of all, I was defensive. Now that I’ve identified this as one option in a range of reactions to any conflict situation, I see how defensiveness is a pervasive quality of our times. We can’t take feedback or criticism. When we get called out on not living up to the standards of others, or letting people down, we shut down rather than listening and just start tossing out the excuses and then the self-pity. At it’s core, the most damaging thing about being defensive is that you don’t listen to what is being said, and without listening you can’t learn. So often when people are trying to tell us that something we’ve done isn’t good enough, all we hear is that WE are not good enough (at least I know that’s what I heard). But that’s simply not so; in fact there is so much to learn from our failures, no matter how big or small. If you are trying to seal a leak, and you feel air coming in somewhere, but you refuse to look to see where the holes are, how will you ever seal the leak? you won’t. Looking at points where we’ve fallen short or failed, whether real or even just perceived by others, helps us evaluate and finesse the person we want to be.

“But Dusty,” you say, “why do you care what other people think? If other people think you’ve done something wrong but you know you did everything you could, it’s their problem.” True, in one sense. Here’s the thing; reality is subjective. When someone feels let down by you, or hurt by you, and you know you didn’t do anything wrong but it’s all in their perspective, here’s the clincher: IT STILL REALLY HAPPENED IN THEIR REALITY. Being a manager to a group of very sensitive, artistic young adults made me realize this. In the end, the way you respond depends on what you want. Do you seek harmony, or do you need this person to do something for you or get along with you? Well, you can be right as rain all the way till the cows come home but in the end, denying their viewpoint and refusing to look at the way in which you let them down won’t benefit you in the end. You can be the person who says, “I don’t care what others think of me, I won’t change”…. but you may find yourself alone.

Not being defensive is NOT the same as saying “YES I FAILED I’M A TOTAL SHITHEAD”.  It’s simply giving the other person’s viewpoint some airtime. When you listen to what the other person has to say, you show them respect, even if in the end you don’t agree. At least you looked, you were objective and you were rational. In the end, you can say “I see what you’re saying but I stand by why I did ____”. You don’t have to give up anything you don’t want to, but the likelier scenario is that you will learn something about yourself.

This year as a manager I faced near constant critique. I was asked to change my methods, refine my program and chastised when I fell short. It wasn’t personal; my bosses had high expectations of me. It was the same in Kill Matilda; I’m lucky enough that my partner in crime won’t settle for me giving less than my best. I reached a point at which it felt like nothing I did was ever good enough for anything – this is because I’ve always been able to get by giving about a 60% effort. I’m cute, I’m sweet, I’m a fast talker. I knew that about myself too, but when push came to shove and the habits I’d developed around cutting corners started to fail me, I had every excuse in the book. I was stressed. I was going through something. I had this road block and that road block. But my critics in all areas of life didn’t accept my excuses and in the end I had to look inward; why didn’t I follow through on my agreements? when I said something would get done and it didn’t, was it because of excuse X,Y and Z, or was it because I promised something I hadn’t left myself enough time to deliver? When I behaved badly, or was rude or crabby or just sloppy, was it because someone else made me act that way, or was it because I chose to act that way?

I learned slowly and painfully to listen, really listen. And then I learned that it doesn’t hurt so much to accept critique and criticism. When you leave defensiveness behind you come to understand that people aren’t trying to hurt you, they’re just trying to get what they need. When you try to talk to someone about something they’ve done don’t you just want to be listened to and heard?

I am a better person. I am a stronger person. I put my focus on quality and I’ve done something really important this year; accepted my limits. It sounds funny but up until this year I’d make plans and promises willy-nilly. Basically, I was a huge flake. But it’s not as permissible as when I was in my early 20s. These days, people are pretty choked when I let them down. So I’ve learned not to make promises I can’t keep and to keep the agreements I do make. I want to take a moment to thank my bosses at my last job, Ryan and Kate, for teaching me so much about management theory, and for taking the time to develop me. Although in the end I faced a lot of personal struggles around just working in general, working 40 hours a week, getting to work on time, the simple things, the lessons I learned helped me grow as a person. Public Outreach is a great organization full of caring people and I’m lucky to have been involved.

I am most grateful for Mykel and Marcus this year. Mykel overcame huge obstacles and came back twice as strong. His leadership helped our band get back on track and his adherence to standards of quality has made me pull my hair out at times when things aren’t good enough, but have ensured that what we do create is the best it can be – whether it’s a merch design, a music video, a song, or a performance. Marcus travelled the world in 2012/2013 and I am humbled and honored that he chose to come home to us and be a part of what we are creating. He has also contributed more to the creative and behind-the-scene processes of Kill Matilda more than ever before and as we approach 2014 we have become a 3-piece band that is a tightly functioning unit. We will be moving forward as a 3-piece; our lead guitarist Dave Roberts had an amazing year – he got married, he went back to school to become an electrician, and he has embarked on a whole new phase of his life that is sure to be full of such amazing experiences. His energy onstage and off, and his talent is something we simply can’t replace, and I don’t even want to try.

I’m also pleased to announce that we will be touring east in 2014 to Toronto – and staying there. Ontario and Quebec; you’ll be seeing a lot more of us soon.

2013 was a year of painful growth both for myself and for our band. We are ready for 2014 to be the year we put everything we’ve learned into play, and I am excited for you all to be there with us. I thank you for your support through the slow times – you fans and friends will be on the frontlines of our success and we will share it with you.

Lots of love,

Dusty Exner