It’s impossible to write about the history, evolution and future of the Albuquerque scene without mentioning Kimo Licious. A singer-songwriter whose work is as boundless and dynamic as the person behind it, who was born Sarah Stinnett, she’s a longtime, legendary force in the local community. The Alibi conversed with Kimo, and this is what she had to say about music and life on the muddy banks of the Rio Grande.
I thought if I liked it, everyone else would too. That’s not the way it works. I think in 23 years, what I’ve learned is that you’ve gotta stay true to yourself but also cater to your environment.
Alibi: Where are you from, and how did Albuquerque become home?
Kimo: I’m originally from Texas. I moved to southern New Mexico in ’85. I graduated from Las Cruces High, and after a strange first semester at college, I decided I was going to move to Montana. I got a bus ticket for my cat and myself, ended up staying in Albuquerque with a friend for what was going to be a week, and the rest is history. That was in 1992.
How did you get your musical start here in Burque?
I’ve always been musical. I was a band nerd and chorus freak in high school. I found the Indigo Girls and thought, if these chicks can rock a guitar, then so can I. When I moved out here, I was playing in coffee shops. I was in the theater program at UNM. We had a theater party, and Eric McFadden walked in. I’d never met the guy. He heard me play and thought I was pretty good, said maybe I should come over for a lesson. He was living at the Crossroads Motel at Central and I-25. I heard him play later that night, and I was dumbfounded. So I called him and took a few lessons at the Crossroads. I ended up opening for his band Alien Lovestock with Anton Kozikowski. They gave me 20 bucks to play happy hour at the Dingo Bar. I played a few songs there and met Miguel. He and I hit it off, and they began booking me. I owe Eric and Miguel my career.
How did those early experiences at the Dingo impact your music?
I was a young, naïve kid. I played really folky music. I thought if I liked it, everyone else would too. That’s not the way it works. I think in 23 years, what I’ve learned is that you’ve gotta stay true to yourself but also cater to your environment. One thing I try, and it’s taken me a while to realize this, is reflected in what Tom Waits said: “My songs are always sick, and I’ve got to make them better.” So your song can start as one thing but in 10 years, morph into something else. It’s the same song, but certain things—dynamics, important points—change. The biggest thing I’ve learned has to do with dynamics—how to get the story across to my audience in the correct, dynamic tone.
How has that attitude affected your work as a musician?
My hope and dream was to always be a rocker. But I realized you can’t always scream at people. Some bands can, but for my genre, it’s a delicate balance between rock and soft poignancy. My work is folky, but it’s not your typical girl-with-a-guitar stuff. People see this little tiny thing [me], and they expect a waif-like folk singer. And it’s strange, but my main demographic is straight, rocking dudes. They’re like, “Man you rocked out!”
So rock and roll is an important aspect of what you love. What else plays a role in your work?
I can’t sit down and write a song. The songs come to me. It’s pretty important to find that moment—to not let that moment slip by, to let the music come to me. If I don’t write it down, my headspace doesn’t like to keep ahold of it for long. The other thing I’ve realized over the years is that it’s not about me; you get to a show and see people that are so stoked. The music is for them.
Next time: Kimo’s recordings, farm, and future in Burque