Alibi V.29 No.2 • Jan 9-15, 2020 

Music Interview

Smooth Style of Syncopation

Kristy Hinds and her Strange Religion

Kristy Hinds
Kristy Hinds
courtesy of the artist

Kristy Hinds sent Weekly Alibi an email. She sent that email to the music editor, August March. The electronic missive detailed her career as a musician who came up in New Mexico among some of the state’s most interesting and important musicians, her trip and success away from here on the Left Coast, as well as her recent return to the state to make some of the most richly complex and dreamily danceable Latinx-infused jazz-pop to ever come out of The Land of Enchantment.

Hinds’ new EP, Strange Religion, dropped on Jan. 6. Featuring regional jazz masters Claudio Toulousse on guitar, Robert Muller on keys, Samantha Harris on electric bass, Colin Deuble on double bass, Arnaldo Acosta on drums and percussion and Michelle Kernen on background vocals—while Hinds handles lead vocals, ukulele and percussion with focused aplomb and more than just a little jazzy dissonance—the album was recorded at Third Eye Studios by Dave McRae.

Listeners can expect informed yet playful instrumentalism with a deep groove and a Latinx sensibility that comes from Hinds’ years of work down South with Chilean percussionist Luis Opazo. They can also expect witty songwriting, filled as much with memorable characters as it is with slyly unexpected bridges and hooks that kill quicker than anything since Steely Dan’s Walter Becker layed his hands—and his chops—on the funk itself.

Then there’s the history. Hinds grew up in Peralta, N.M. One of her neighbors was this cat called Bo Diddley. That’s right. As a youngster Hinds got to meet and work with one of the ascended masters. Through Mr. Diddley, Hinds learned to play the tambourine, got introduced to the rock and roll road show and even met folks like Chuck Berry and Keith Richards.

And as one might expect, the new work is impeccable. We’ve been listening to the EP for days now, trying to get a complete understanding of a brief work that is filled to the brim with quirk, nuance and damn fine tuneage.

After all that learning and listening, Weekly Alibi decided to give Kristy a call to find out more about her music, her life and her ability to create and perform knowing, no-nonsense pop-jazz with a kick.

Hinds was busy plotting her conquest of the local music scene when we caught up with her between gigs. Here is some of what she told us.

Weekly Alibi: Hi, Kristy! It’s August March from Weekly Alibi. How are you?

Kristy Hinds: I’m fine. How about you?

I’m doing really well. I called to talk to you about your music. Do you have a few minutes?

Yep, let’s do it!

Excellent. I have so many questions to ask. I don’t even know where to begin. How about we start with where you are at right now?

Well, when people ask me, I usually have to start in the past. I did a lot of music in Portland, Ore. and put out a CD while I lived there. But then I went on hiatus and raised my daughter. I came back here and I don’t know, I just picked it up again. Something in me woke up and I started writing and recording again. I picked up where I had left off, before. I don’t know where these new songs came from. Artists never know that.

I hear you. I constantly tell people that I don’t know where it comes from, the work. It just sort of comes out of me and there it is.

Exactly. It’s very meditative.

Let’s talk about “Miss Morocco,” a song on your new EP. It’s got this fine Latin groove to it, but it also has piquant jazz turns that pop up at the end of bridges and serve as a sort of groovy counterpoint to the melody. Stuff like that makes for a very compelling listen. How did that happen?

Well, I guess that something that is key to these three songs—two of them, “Miss Morocco” and “Burn or Drown”—was that they were written on ukulele. That is a great instrument because it limits your palette. You’re working with three or four notes. It was a bit of a challenge to keep true to that song while bringing in all these other instruments. I think my sensibilities are always leaning towards jazz. I think that using the ukulele sort of restricted me, and yet couldn’t restrict me. I was reaching for the notes I always like to use on the guitar, because that’s my main instrument.

Throughout “Miss Morocco,” the ukulele plays a sharp role, informing not only the melody but also the lyrical narrative of the song, which is basically a tale of beatnik glory. Discuss.

Interestingly, I hadn’t written about a character before. I think it’s just a maturity thing in songwriting. It’s not all about me all of the time, anymore. I was just channeling this woman and what might go on in her mind. It’s a feminine take about something that Steely Dan might write about.

It’s a very American tale about triumph and despair. It’s something that comes up in pop culture and they happened to be very good at handling those sorts of narratives through the medium of loungy and articulate jazz rock, que no?

That’s true.

And yours is a great follow-through. Does that sense of informed but cynical creative accomplishment have anything to do with the fact that you met and worked with Bo Diddley when you were young and lived in Peralta?

I know. It’s bizarre. It’s not really a blip because it really set me on a path. But I was only 9 or 10. I just happened to meet his family through my grandmother. We were all horseback-riding buddies. We started out that way. They had this band. I had no clue about any of it. I mean, I think I had taken some guitar lessons by then, but this was very different. They put a tambourine in my hand and we were the Diddley Darlings. We played, like, the honor farm in Los Lunas. I think we even played the Civic Auditorium. We’d open for Bo Diddley.

No way! The Civic Auditorium? So you’re totally OG Burque!

Well, kind of. I left for a long time.

Tell me about that.

I went to the Dick Grove School of Music in LA for a year. Then I lived in the Northwest for almost 15 years. I released a CD, toured around and had a band, all that stuff. I don’t know, I guess I just burned out. I was ready to try something else for a while. Now I feel like I have a lot of songs to write. I can’t wait to do that.

Why did you decide to return to New Mexico to resume your music-making?

I guess I knew it was time. I had been going to the jam sessions at Ben Michael’s [Cafe] for about a year. I picked out all the players I wanted to work with and asked some of these guys—who ended up playing on the record—where they record. I just kept my ears open. I knew I needed a certain level of bandmates to pull off what I was aiming for.

And now the resulting EP drops on Monday, Jan. 6. What’s next?

I am planning a CD release party. I’m trying to get all those details together. I’m going to look for likely venues and am hoping that the festival scene this summer provides some opportunities as well. I’ve been doing singer-songwriter gigs around town but my intention is to get some of the players on the album to do the CD release as well.

I heard you knocked it out of the park the other night at Thirsty Eye Brewing Company.

It was a great gig. There are so many venues here. I was very impressed by the local craft brewery scene when I was looking around for places to play.

The scene is very eclectic now because of joints like that. Burqueños want to hear jazz and Latinx music. And they’re coming out to brew pubs for those kind of sounds!

Yeah, it’s like the sky’s the limit now. The music industry has been totally revamped. People are really hungry for “authentic,” I think. A lot of the old labels and categories are falling away. That all benefits me greatly.

Besides Steely Dan, what you’re doing reminds me a bit of Joni Mitchell during her straight-up jazz period, like The Hissing of Summer Lawns, you know, playful complexity and all that?

Thanks. I dig that album.

If you had to explain what you do to someone who had a limited knowledge of jazz or the West Coast jazz or even the post-collegiate East Coast ramblings of Fagen and Becker, what would you tell them?

I guess I would say it’s music from the people of Earth, music from one tiny pint on Earth. It’s a broadcast from a lone woman and if it reaches your ears, then I am glad.