'Opening up a conversation' about sexual assault: Kinley Dowling pens cathartic debut album
Warning: This story discusses sexual assault
P.E.I. singer/songwriter Kinley Dowling says her debut solo effort, Letters Never Sent, could also be her last — the album says what she needs to say, including calling out a man who she says sexually assaulted her at her prom 15 years ago.
I thought this was the best way to express myself, through art.— Kinley Dowling
The 33-year-old plays the fiddle, percussion and sings backup — firmly in the background — for Newfoundland-based band Hey Rosetta! and before that, for fellow Islander Jenn Grant.
In October Kinley surprised many by finally releasing a 7-song album of original work, produced by Paper Lions' Colin Buchanan.
There are several surprises to the album: the usually shy Kinley has her own voice. The music is electronic, poppy and danceable. And the lyrics are very, very personal.
"It started out more, I was kind of writing almost like a diary, and then I started playing guitar along with my diary notes one day and I was like oh, I could make a song with these," she said, snatching time for an interview with CBC between rehearsals for an upcoming mini-tour with Hey Rosetta!
'Best way to express myself'
Each song is written as a letter Dowling never sent.
"Either I felt like it wasn't my business to tell them how I felt, or if I did tell them it would have started a fight or something," she shared.
"I thought this was the best way to express myself, through art."
Perhaps the most surprising, though, is the content of track 6, Microphone — her favourite on the album, the one that she said means the most.
I've got a microphone
You are a pirate in the night
You took something that was mine
How do you live your life thinking this is all right?
And if you come to my show I think you should know
I'm gonna call you out for the the rest of my life
You are smeared on my mind
I've got a microphone
The song describes the night 15 years ago on which Dowling said a young man she barely knew sexually assaulted her at a post-prom field party.
She played it for some girlfriends, several of whom cried and admitted they had had similar experiences.
"It's opening up a conversation now, which is pretty great."
Furthermore, she never intends to play the songs for a live audience. She doesn't even like being in the same room when people are listening to her songs, she admitted.
"I just made it because I wanted to do it. And I also really, really love making music videos," she said. Her friend Jenna MacMillan is working with Kinley on that.
She also fulfilled her aim of having one of her songs used in a film — Microphone is featured in Island filmmaker Harmony Wagner's latest feature, Singing to Myself.
There is one person Dowling wanted to hear Microphone: she emailed a copy to the man it's about, with a note that said: "It's been 15 years. I never forgot. You might hear this song on the radio — it's about you."
"I think I did what I needed to do, personally," she said, acknowledging she never told police. "I feel good about it."
'I needed to talk'
She's not sure she'll ever record another solo album, either.
"I guess I just had these seven things I needed to talk about, so I'll do these seven songs," she said.
Enjoying her newfound skill of songwriting, Dowling has now begun collaborating with other musicians including Colin Buchanan and Carleton Stone, with whom she's formed a trio called Pizza Feelings.
Kinley's album is available online and in local CD shops.
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