Interview: Tiny Stills’s Kailynn West Talks Writing Pop Songs For Punks

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by Joe Lemke

Tiny Stills is the solo project of Kailynn West. With a current backing band of Tony Thaxton (formerly of Motion City Soundtrack) on drums, Harry Foster on bass, and Zach Comtois on guitar, West’s music fits squarely in the space between pop and rock. Still, her strong DIY backbone shines through along with emotionally powerful lyrics not always associated with pop-leaning music. After four years and a second successful Kickstarter campaign, Tiny Stills’s sophomore album, Laughing Into the Void, was just released on June 1.  

“A lot’s changed since the first record,” said West. “I Kickstarted [Laughing Into the Void] so that was the same, but I think I am in a different place.”

She feels that with her previous experience came the ability to better express herself. “I wanted it to be more rock, I wanted it to be more aggressive because it kind of just felt like that was the place I was coming from,” she said of the new music.

There’s a softer side to the songs on Falling Is Like Flying that isn’t there this time around, and West is pleased. In addition to evolving the sound of the last album, she took the idea of specificity and ran with it. “15-17 Months”, featuring lyrics plucked directly from life events, gained the most traction and is most often requested at shows. “I kind of took that and ran with it and decided I was going to get even more personal with the things I was writing and the way I spoke about my life.”

A prime example of this on the album is “Don’t Call Me A Catch”, which West wrote after getting cat called while walking her dog. “I think I wrote that in 2015 and it was just the last straw for me dealing with sexual harassment and the struggles that come with that and particularly with the pressures of being a woman. And what I was dealing with my whole life, in some ways subconsciously.” West said there were so many feelings she’d internalized since she was young that the song initially just flowed right out. “I had my verses pretty much locked down right after it happened and then I took a long time to write that chorus. I wanted to really say the right thing.”

The finished product is ferocious and moving: “When did you decide you won’t look me in the eyes? / You only see skin deep now I’m the one who pays the price / Judged and objectified. Drowning in the shallow end / that you threw me in that’s only skin deep.” West is glad to have written the song and made her feelings known, though not happy that she had to write it. “That song is as close to the truth of how I feel most days as any song ever written.”

After listening to “Don’t Call Me A Catch” and hearing that West had a co-writing session with Bayside’s Anthony Raneri, one might be inclined to think this was the resulting song. Even Raneri picked up on the similar cadence and bite between that song and his own work, something that West took as a compliment. “But that’s not the one we co-wrote. We wrote the happy, catchy one!” “Colorblind” is in fact the result of working with Raneri and Punchline’s Steve Soboslai. “I knew I wanted to write with Anthony,” said West, “and we had been talking about it since we had toured together in 2015. We really had bonded together. We’re both super into songwriting as a craft.”

The Nashville writing session led to a few songs, but “Colorblind” is the one that stood out and connected with West enough to use for Tiny Stills. The track stays emotionally true to what the band is, taking a close and self-aware look back at relationships.

While the music of Tiny Stills itself brings certain ideas of genre and where the band should stylistically fit it, that’s not something West adheres to. With an upcoming performance at Fest, as well as previous shows with Set Your Goals and Motion City Soundtrack, you maybe be scratching your head. And West is, too. Though she doesn’t feel her music fits in with the punk or emo genres, she always finds interesting parallels when playing with bands that do.

“I just feel like it’s easier for me to connect with those genres. I mean that’s what I grew up listening to and what I still listen to. And there’s something that I can’t quite understand, but I think it has to do with the lyrics.” West feels like she can’t quite connect with a singer/songwriter audience in the way that she does with a rock audience. “There’s a struggle there. There’s camaraderie. There’s a community. And those are the people that I tend to gravitate towards naturally anyway.”

Scott Fugger | @Scoober1013

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