Rachael Kilgour: I can make an impact through my music
Rachael Kilgour doesn't immediately seem like the kind of girl who would take on the social injustices of the world in a song. She's sweet-faced, fast with a bright smile and sunshine energy. A few minutes into knowing her, though, and it's suddenly impossible to see her in a role besides activist. The Duluth-based folk singer-songwriter has a lot of ideas, and she speaks animatedly, as though she's in front of a classroom or heading up a meeting.
As she talks with Gimme Noise about her brand new EP, Whistleblower's Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution, out today, Kilgour focuses on the role her music plays.
"My music is the place where I feel like I can make the most impact. I grew up in Duluth in a family that was really activist-y," explains Kilgour. "My older brother is a hardcore activist and has dedicated his whole life to that, specifically to issues of poverty. He runs a Catholic Workhouse in Duluth, and he's done that for many, many years... He was kind of my idol mentor big brother, and I always wanted to live up to his ideals. I spent a lot of time being like, 'I'm not good enough, I'm never gonna make a difference,' and then I started writing music, and felt like that was a really good way to participate."
Kilgour has already released two full-length albums, her self-titled debut in 2008 and her 2011 follow-up Will You Marry Me? Kilgour is a fearless songwriter, combating everything from government corruption to Christian hypocrisy. The songs aren't empty rhetoric: as a gay woman and activist, Kilgour has had plenty of experience in the social injustice realm. Her songs confront those challenges head-on, and Kilgour wouldn't have it any other way.
"I've gotten a lot of feedback that people really love [my political songs], that that's the most inspirational stuff I do, and I've also gotten feedback where people are like, 'Why don't you just do regular songs and write about love?' And that makes me really mad," says Kilgour with a laugh. "I feel like the thing that I really get passionate about when I'm singing and writing are the social injustices, when I can inspire awareness.... It's fun to get people feeling intensely however that comes about, whether they're like, 'Oh my God, that was the best thing ever,' or they're yelling at me."
The three songs on Kilgour's Whistleblower Manifesto are sure to inspire both responses in listeners. The opening track "He'll Save Me" is a satiric play on Christianity, all wrapped up in Kilgour's catchy folk-pop progression: "I earned this life/I climbed to corporate heights/Working and living by His word/A three-car garage and my weekly massage/I only take what I deserve/But see the mothers on welfare?/Think I should pay for their healthcare?/Don't you think I know better/Than to hand out rewards to sinners."
As a modern-day political singer-songwriter, it's fortunate that Kilgour is talented at both the lyrics and the music. It's easy to be self-righteous and preachy when you're taking down flawed American values, but Kilgour deftly walks a fine line, leveraging her excellent vocals against songs that never dance around the point.
"I think the goal in the music industry has been to blank-slate yourself as much as possible, so that you can get as many listeners as you possibly can," reflects Kilgour. "I think about the people who are on the Top Ten Billboard, and no one really knows anything about them, and if they did, they might be horrified by what those people stand for on a regular basis other than their catchy love songs. Might as well just go out and say it, I guess. Why not? It's more fun."
Despite having an arsenal of fiery songs, Kilgour doesn't come across as the soapbox type. She's focused on building her life with her wife, Adeline, and her 11-year-old stepdaughter, Gala, and beyond that, she's focused on making music she believes in and challenging listeners to think more, and deeper.
"I try and play for people who are expecting it," Kilgour smiles mischievously, speaking about the surprise punch her lyrics have, "But it's a little more fun to play for people who aren't expecting it. It confuses them for a second, and then offends them, and then sometimes they go home and think about it... which is what I hope will happen."
Rachael Kilgour releases Whistleblower's Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution today via Swim Agency here. She's gearing up for a small East Coast tour in May, but in the meantime, bookmark your calendars for her show at the Bryant Lake Bowl on March 14.