On January 24, 2022, I aired a conversation I had with Karina Gill, who is the front person behind the bands Cindy and Flowertown.

Cindy's album 1:2 was released on Mt. St. Mtn. in 2021; Flowertown released the album Time Trials on Paisley Shirt in 2021.

You can listen to the conversation on WFMU's website here.

Transcript below.

OLIVIA: I really wanted to talk to you because I read on Bandcamp that you only recently started making music. You said, "Having sat on the sidelines while ex partners and friends made their stabs at it," you decided to start making music. I just really respected your honesty and vulnerability on posting that and being public with it. It resonated with me! I wanted to talk to you about who you are and just hear more about it.

KARINA: Thanks. Glenn Donaldson actually wrote that little bio. But I shared that with him to write.

OLIVIA: I liked it a lot. I think it's empowering! A lot of people get intimidated by the process of making music or even if they make it but think "oh, I can't release this," or something like that.

KARINA: Yeah. So many people.

OLIVIA: Myself included!

KARINA: Mm, give it time.

OLIVIA: So where are you from? You're based in San Francisco now, but did you grow up there?

KARINA: No, I actually grew up where you are. I had one parent in New York City, one parent in Hoboken. I lived in New York for a long time. And about ten years ago I got tired of it and moved to the west coast. I got lucky, got a job teaching and just moved. It really wasn't until a few years living here that I even thought about playing music. But I'm from the east coast. Forever. (laughs)

OLIVIA: Where did you teach when you moved to the West Coast?

KARINA: I teach at a community college. I teach humanities and philosophy at a community college.

OLIVIA: Really? That's cool!

KARINA: I actually taught in Jersey City for a minute at Hudson Community college. Took the path train. It was a long commute from South Brooklyn.

OLIVIA: So you know what it's like. And your parents are artists - what kind of artists?

KARINA: I do. My mom's a painter. She's been a painter forever. When I was a kid, she just hustled and taught here and there to make ends meet. And then at some point she got a regular teaching job, so she's been an art educator for a long time. My dad was a sculptor and then... I dunno, this and that. (laughs)

I feel like growing up with artist parents, I just assumed that everyone made art. Like that was just something you did, along with eating and sleeping and playing soccer or whatever. So I've always had access to that. I never pursued it in any kind of serious way. But it was only later in life that I realized not everyone feels free to do that. So I'm lucky to grow up in a way that to me is just, "Oh of course you do that when you are bored, what else do you do?"

OLIVIA: Both of my parents wanted to be actors in LA, and both were single parents, trying to make things work. Dreams were set aside at points. That always made me cautious of acting. At points I wanted to act - in the middle school play or something - but then I was nervous. I just saw how hard their lives were, so...

KARINA: Oh yeah, for sure. My mom was like, why don't you go to art school? And I was like, "Hell no!" (laughs) "I don't wanna go through what you go through!" So yeah, I think on some level, even though I haad access to making art, I was definitely scared off of pursuing it in any kind of way. Except for on the fringe of life. Just like you.

(Then we hear "The Rope" by Flowertown)

KARINA: I had a boyfriend, and he was a musician and he taught me some chords. But being a total beginner with someone who's really good at something can be discouraging. It just didn't take. But after we split up, I moved into a house with a bunch of roommates. I found this guitar that was abandoned. I just started learning how to play really simple pop songs. It didn't take me too long to realize that it wasn't that hard. You could play a lot of songs with six chords. I got tired of that and I started releasing music on my own .t That was super exciting . It just kind of happened. But as soon as it started, it was so fun and so satisfying and I couldn't put it down.

OLIVIA: Were you ever listening to music and like, "Oh, I wish I was singing this!"

KARINA: No. Not once!

OLIVIA: Really?

KARINA: No! It must have been totally unconscious. I never yearned to be on stage. I never sang with a hairbrush, or whatever they do in the movies. I never sang really. It wasn't part of my life.

OLIVIA: So it was just circumstance? Like, there was a guitar and ...

KARINA: Well, it must have been in there. I could have seen that guitar and not picked it up. There must have been some desire in that direction. Plenty of people came across that guitar in that basement and never picked it up. There was something in there, but I never had that fantasy.

OLIVIA: It's so funny to me.

KARINA: I know, but it must have been in there, just not very conscious.

OLIVIA: When did this happen when you started making songs?

KARINA: It was about six years ago, maybe going on seven years?

OLIVIA: Like 2014? 2015?

KARINA: Yeah, 2015. That's when I moved in this house.

OLIVIA: It's all been in this house where you still live?

KARINA: Yeah, a lot of musicians have lived here. Maybe that's why. Maybe I moved into a music house.

OLIVIA: It's in the walls.

KARINA: It must be. In the air, in the water, the pipes, the paint, the dust. There's plenty of dust.

OLIVIA: I don't know if this applies, but what do you think stopped you from making music before?

KARINA: I was always pretty shy. Maybe shy isn't quite the right word. I was never a performer. I was never in school plays, it just wasn't part of my personality. I think I had to have this kind of privacy to start. I don't think I would have the confidence to get on stage or to record or to even play for other people if I didn't have something in the form of a song that I thought was worthwhile and I was convinced about. So I don't think if anything really stopped me except for I just wasn't the kind of person who was gonna go out and be on stage and have people look at me and be the center of attention. Until I stumbled on upon something that was worth doing it for.

OLIVIA: Do you get stage fright because of that?

KARINA: Oh of course. Even now, before a show. I think, "Why did I sign up for this?" But then you start playing, and it makes sense.

The first show we played as Cindy, I had never done anything like that before. We had a house show. I really wasn't sure I could do it at all. It was kind of an experiment. One of my roommates had some expired Xanax. That made it possible. But then I realized that the dissociative thing that Xanax can do - half way through the song I was like did I already sing it through the second verse?

OLIVIA: That would totally disorient me. Was it disorienting?

KARINA: Oh yeah. I made it through but I had to be totally vigilant to paying attention to where I was.

OLIVIA: I think I would suffer from stage fright. I do usually suffer from that. But I wonder how - alcohol might loosen me up, but sometimes drugs can make me get in my head like second guess myself but I'm like - "Is what I am perceiving what you are perceiving?" You know? You get in these little mind loops.

KARINA: Beta blockers are the key. They stop your hands from shaking but don't change your thoughts. The thing that was really problematic was that my hands would shake, so I couldn't play. Your body is calm enough to do it even if your mind is like, "What am I doing? Who are these people?"

OLIVIA: Shaking of the hands... I didn't even think of that.

KARINA: Yeah, I mean still, to this day, my hands get shaky.

(Then we hear 'Sincere Sound' by Cindy)

OLIVIA: Have you ever done voice lessons? Do you ever think about doing it?

KARINA: Um, yes and no. There have been moments where I think it would be fun to sing really well. But I also I feel like the way I sing is really honest. And it suits the music in a way. Or it suits what I write. For now I'm gonna stick with my very limited what I can do, but maybe some day. It would be cool to be able to actually sing.

OLIVIA: I think you said that before when we were talking online. You said something about how when you're not a master, when you don't have technical skill, there's magic in that. I do really like that aspect, I agree with it. It's kind of amazing - this magic that can be found in not being an expert.

KARINA: Yeah I think being "good at things," in the conventional way, can sometimes get in the way of pushing against your limits. You have so much room to maneuver that it's kind of easy to... Oh I don't know, not that I'm really good at anything. I don't know what I'm talking about... But in my imagination, when you are good at something, you can swim in that water indefinitely. If you are always kind of at the limits of what you can do - maybe vulnerable is the word I am looking for - I think it connects with people because we all experience that in some way or another.

OLIVIA: I love that. Yeah that's really well said. Your "professor-ness" is coming out. (laughs)

KARINA: Well, we don't talk about this in class.

(Then we hear 'To Be True' by Cindy)

OLIVIA: I guess we already talked about this but I'll ask it again. Once you started making music, what was it like sharing it with people,. Getting a band together, playing with other people? Did it all kind of come together, or was it like a battle, a struggle?

KARINA: Yeah, kinda both I guess. My band was really happenstance. Simon, who plays drums in Cindy, he kind of overheard me playing and offered to play with me. Jesse, who plays bass, I met him once, somewhere. He's a cashier at the grocery store, and I was buying groceries. He asked me how my day was and I was like, "Oh it was good, I played music with my roommate." And he was like, "Oh I wish I was playing music all day." And I was like, "Oh well, do you play bass?"

I didn't know many people who made music yet. Once we made that first record, that's when I started meeting people who play music in San Francisco. That was really pivotal. Without that encouragement and support from other musicians, I don't know if I would have persisted. The energy of knowing people who are all working in this way, and you can listen to what they're making, it changed things, for sure.

OLIVIA: And when was that?

KARINA: 2017 maybe? 2018? The years melt by. But around there I started playing shows and meeting other bands and feeling part of something that was happening.

OLIVIA: It's kinda crazy how much can happen in such a short amount of time.

KARINA: That's the part that feels kinda cosmic. There are all these people here really devoted to playing music in a way that supports each other. It's kinda surprising.

OLIVIA: Do you think that's what lead you to start playing music in Flowertown?

KARINA: Yeah, definitely. Mike, I met him playing shows and we were gonna play a show together right before COVID shut it down, and everything shut down. But we had started playing a song together. We thought let's keep doing that. Thats how Flowertown got started.

OLIVIA: One thing I was thinking about - it sounds really hard. I would get intimidated. If I was just starting to make music, it would intimidate me - other people's skills, etc. Do you get intimidated collaborating with other people?

I'm not asking it well but...

KARINA: Yeah, I get it. Yes. And no. I guess. When I first started, it's hard not to feel kind of helpless. I would plug the things in wrong and be unsure why I wasn't getting any sound out of the stupid amplifier, and things like that. There were moments where it felt embarrassing, it felt humiliating, it felt like why am I doing this?

But at the same time, I think there was something about the songs that I was writing that I felt convinced by. That always sort of won out. That being said , I'm also super lucky to have come across people who are on the whole very supportive and not interested in making me feel small and - so definitely the people I was working with made a big difference.

Even still - working with Mike, he's been making music a lot longer than me, has a lot more technical abilities - but always encourages me to try things and has pointed out over and over that some of the best things are not made by technical expertise and shredding and noodling. Some of the best things are very simple.

So yes and no. I have definitely felt at sea and embarrassed and embarrassed that I'm even trying to do this, but at the same time, I've felt sorta pushed on by the things I do believe in and the people who think it's worthwhile, I guess.

But I still feel that way. I play in my friends projects sometimes. I ask don't you want someone who can actually play? And I don't know , it's not rocket science, you can do it.

OLIVIA: Yeah, there are a couple things I really love about that. The fact that the belief in yourself outweighs any fear you have, which is important to remember. The easiest things are sometimes the most powerful - or the simplest things are the most powerful. It's easy to forget. I guess.

KARINA: It is. It's also vulnerable. It's vulnerable to do something simple and straightforward and unadorned and there's not a lot of bells and whistles. It's just what it is.

(Then we hear 'Time Trials' by Flowertown)

KARINA: What about you? Can I ask about your music?

OLIVIA: Yeah! So, I do a lot of sound collage. I've done that for as long as I've done radio. In the past I used to get a bunch of other music and sound clips and make a big sound collage map. At a certain point I was like I wanna start making my own soundtracks. I can craft my own music. I grew up playing piano so it was kinda related to that. I could figure my way out on a keyboard. But I always felt like I wanted to sing but I was so embarrassed. But my sister would tell me that I was out of key. So I have her voice in my head a lot of the time. But I'm so uncomfortable singing. But I've tried to be ok with my singing voice like I am with my speaking voice. I've made a couple songs and I'm trying to make an album but I get distracted and I get embarrassed by what I've made. The idea of sharing them holds me back, too. But I did share it with one person.

My boyfriend is a really good singer. And he tries to remind me that we both like people who are not super talented so if I like that in other people I can like that in myself. Somehow there's still some kind of conflict.

KARINA: I'm glad you're making it, that's the most important thing. Just the act of making it.

OLIVIA: Yeah, that's where I've been trying to get to. It's really hard to figure out what's public and what's not public. In the past, nothing felt real unless it was public and I shared it on my show. It feels so different to have something ruminating in my hard drive. It's harder to do something slower and longer.

KARINA: I find that also you change. Whatever you made a year ago, it's kind of like a stranger made it. That can be kind of liberating. You can have a sense of humor about it. Like gosh, listen at me. 2019... yikes, right? Having that kind of distance on oneself can let the humor in. Just about the facts of being a person and all the things that we don't mean and yet come through. All the ways in which we think we're playing it cool and we never really are.

OLIVIA: When you have something that's been in your heart for so long, rattling, might as well just do something because it clearly needs to go out. If nothing else happens then at least you did that. I'm a lot less scared. I talked about it with you which in the past I would never do .

KARINA: Yeah, just copping to it is big. Just admitting it is something you want.

OLIVIA: Admitting a desire is really vulnerable. Scary!

KARINA: Can be a spur to loosening up the inhibitions and reasons we shouldn't.

OLIVIA: One of the reasons I'm more public about it now is I kinda just want to do it already. It's hard when - nobody is waiting for my music to drop.

KARINA: Well you could set that up for yourself... " Hey, where's that .wav file?"

OLIVIA: But at the moment no one is, so it's hard to stay motivated and stay on task.

KARINA: Well there's also no hurry. Life is short, and life is also very long. (laughs) Whatever that means.

OLIVIA: It's been so cool talking with you.

KARINA: Likewise. Thanks for reaching out, it's been a pleasure.

(Then we hear 'Flowertown' by Flowertown)