“In order to discover truth, art has to push into unexplored territory.” (An Interview with Human Kitten)
With a sleepy start to autumn, Half Mystic is preparing for a cozy and welcoming winter. We are excited to feature a talented multimedia artist who radiates a warm and gentle light in an often cold world. Please welcome Elijah Llinas of Human Kitten to the blog!
HM: You create art in several mediums, including music and comics. How do you decide which medium to pursue an idea in? Do your various artistic endeavors overlap?
EL: I think any idea can be pursued in any medium, but that different mediums lend themselves to better communicating different things. Throughout the years, I’ve gotten better at compartmentalizing what works and through which art form it proves most effective. I did overlap ideas fairly often in the past though. In particular, I used to write prose when I really wanted to be writing for film, so it resulted in a lot of lightweight, dialogue-heavy stories that I’m ultimately not really proud of from an artistic standpoint. But these days, I’m pretty good at filtering artistic impulses into their appropriate mediums, so the web-comic Bitter Root is very separate from Human Kitten.
Your music discusses a wide range of topics, from gender to chronic illness. How do you navigate these themes? How have your ideas about these themes changed over time?
My approach to these themes has changed a lot since the beginning. The thing with my first couple of albums was that I was only just beginning to understand this stuff myself, I was far from an expert. I was slowly discovering the ways these things related to my own life, and simultaneously my impulse to write songs about them was much faster, so the earlier works aren’t really what I’d call “responsible” exploration in comparison to more recent stuff. I think a lot of the mainstream discourse surrounding these topics is too often content to rest on the surface level right now, which makes sense sociologically, but I’m not really interested in all that anymore. People seem hung up on categories and definitions and particulars, but I’ve become more interested in the why and how of it all. When it comes to ways in which I navigate these themes, I think it’s all about the distillation. I try to hold onto the pivotal moments of experience and distill them into as clear of communication as possible. That’s kind of become my thesis statement for writing songs: take a crucial idea or feeling, distill it down to its rawest form, its skeleton, and then just let the listener project their own flesh onto it.
How has community played a part in your growth, both personally and artistically? How do you participate in and construct community?
I think it’s more so the absence of community that’s played a large role in shaping the content of my music. It’s usually during periods of isolation when I’m inspired to churn out a lot of material, and with technology and late stage capitalism arguably driving communities even further apart, it feels like a timely headspace to attempt to convey. Ultimately, I guess the ways in which I actually do participate in and build community is by engaging with the audience, reminding people that they aren't alone in experiencing the darkness of modern life. I struggle with finding a balance of community in my personal life, so I try to bridge that gap by crafting my music to function as a direct relationship between listener and artist, its own micro-community of sorts.
Describe your collective body of artistic work using only verbs.
Collapse. Unravel. Cultivate.
How do you confront art? What, in your opinion, makes art important and necessary in a constantly evolving world?
I’ve always just let art wash over me, sometimes too passively. When I was younger, art formed my experiences, but nowadays my experiences definitely shape my perception of art. I used to seek out works that challenged external systems and validated my vision of reality, but that's morphed significantly over time. I think we’ve all become a bit too comfortable in exclusively challenging the external. It’s necessary from a discourse perspective, but artistically, it’s been done to death and isn’t really anything compelling or profound anymore. I could write a thousand songs about the government being corrupt, and even though they'd be accurate, it would be artwork too content to dwell within the frustration of the external present. Necessary art is the difficult truth that stampedes out of left field. I think in order to discover those truths, art has to push into unexplored territory. Digging internally is usually a good way of getting there. At a certain point, you can write about almost anything, but if you're fighting hard enough to utilize the expression of your most authentic self, you can still create something fresh and vital.
What does your creative process look and feel like? How do you go about writing music, and how do you go about creating comics? How are these processes similar or different?
I’ve been asking myself these same questions recently. My process is going through a lot of changes right now and I’m unsure of how to describe it. I used to just let things flow out of me without reservation. I’d just sit down with my guitar and push a song out. I try to be more responsible with it all now, so it’s slower and more deliberate. When it comes to the comics, it’s inherited that slower pace. I started Bitter Root with the schedule of one strip a week, and I’m really glad I did, because I only just recently, after almost 6 months, settled on a clear vision of what the comic “is.” Being that music and comics are pretty different mediums, my approach to them are separately very different outside of the pacing I take on in creating them.
What or who do you look to when you are feeling uninspired? Has this changed over your time creating music?
I used to look to other music for inspiration when I was younger, primarily as a way of pushing myself to expand my songwriting and tie in different styles, but after a decade of writing songs, it feels kind of cheap. These days when I’m feeling uninspired, I just look internally. Sometimes I’m not challenging myself enough creatively, or therapeutically; sometimes I’m isolating too much and need to push myself outside. Usually it’s just impatience. If I’m feeling uninspired, all I really need to do is wait and eventually I’ll have something to write about. Life is ripe with things to feel and process and communicate. I don’t like to force it anymore. I'd rather wait to find something new and important to say than end up writing multiple versions of what is essentially the same exact song.
Who do you create for? What would you like your audience to take away from your work?
Honestly, I don't know. I don't really have a target audience—I started making art because I needed to. I drew comics on the back of my worksheets in elementary school because I was bored. I wrote short stories when I was a preteen because I needed an escape. And ultimately, I started making music because I desperately needed an outlet. I just try to make something that I think needs to be made and then assume there are people out there that think the same way. Sometimes it's a 40 year old single dad, sometimes it's a 14 year old queer kid. My audience definitely skews younger, which makes sense (most of my songs were written from ages 15-21), but I think by writing about emotions in a really candid way, my work can potentially be valuable to any kind of person. When it comes down to it, I think I just want people to walk away from my work feeling inspired to look more deeply into themselves and maybe challenge their preconceived notions of why they feel and act the way they do.
Recently, you went on tour across the western US. What did you learn during your time on the road about yourself, both as an artist and as a person?
I learned that balance is a lot easier in theory than in practice. I think I've probably learned this same lesson a thousand times before though. Touring as a lifestyle is just super unbalanced. Lots of driving, fast food, constant socializing, drinking, fluctuating sleeping arrangements, etc. I went into it saying I wasn't going to drink much, wasn't going to eat a lot of fast food, but I found myself quickly breaking these expectations. It's just an overall stressful endeavor. I'm a person that definitely needs recharge time and being expected to constantly interact with other people is really difficult for me. I mostly learned that no matter how well everything goes, touring is still really hard. I'll probably only ever do it once a year or less, and exclusively for the sake of the people that want to see me perform. I don't personally get much joy from it, touring is primarily a disorienting experience for me.
What projects are currently in the works? How are you spending your time, aside from making music?
Currently, I've been updating my web-comic Bitter Root each week (posted to Twitter and Tumblr on Sundays, Saturdays for Patreon subscribers) and I've also been working on writing new material for an eventual new album. I spend the rest of my time doing a lot of nothing. TV, video games, all that. I've been in a funk. I'm thinking about getting into cooking, but we'll see. Honestly, I'm still grappling with the entire concept of productivity. How does one actually best utilize the passage of time? I don't know, but maybe in the meantime, I can at least try to make a decent stir-fry.