I grew up at war with the rest of the world.
Years later, I still fight the same battle.
Listen to the song while reading the text.
My Earliest Memories Are of Iron Maiden
I was born at midnight on a rainy evening – March 26/27th, 1979. I don’t talk about the beginning of my life much. There were some peaceful years. When we lived in California, my mother and I would draw and listen to classical music together. We lived in Palo Alto. That was long before the Silicon Valley days. It was just a college town. My memories go back a long way. We moved to Baltimore when I was two.
We lived a full yet materially simple life. Art and knowledge came before money. We shopped at Good Will, spoke several languages, did art projects and read books. I grew up with a lot of books from previous centuries and not a lot of popular culture. But we had a tape of 1950’s rock n’ roll, and I remember hearing heavy metal out in public. It was the best thing ever. I remember Iron Maiden and all the cool art, rocking out to it when I was really young. I was always a rocker.
My family was socially conservative. Although there was a lot of art and classical music and books, it was taboo for me to enjoy rock music too much – or science – or to do anything that might be controversial. And I’ve never been able to avoid being controversial. It’s in my nature. From the start, my drawings were of monsters covered in all kinds of bodily fluids, devouring people.
So I was always at odds with my family. There was nothing I could do about it. My personality clashed with their values.
Being a Dragon
A lot changed when I was four. I was diagnosed with some physical abnormalities – joint and muscle issues. The doctors treated me like a non-human freak show and everyone else seemed to follow suit.
Shortly thereafter, I was semi-rejected by my parents. My mother picked me up from school one day and told me that things were going to change. Then, while I watched, they packed up all of my stuff – clothes and toys and some books. They placed them in paper bags and put the bags on the top shelf of a closet. From then on, I had to pretend to be someone I was not. It seemed my status had been lowered and future options limited because of the way my body was.
I was lucky in that I got a good education. But I also faced on-going violence and the full range of negativity for the way that my body was. That was a basic fact of life. I often had friends, but the majority of people in my life treated me as though I was less than human.
Without the worldliness to put that in context, I accepted it as my social caste but knew that I was not actually inferior. I imagined that I was actually a dragon and that one day, they would see that, and the other dragons would find me, and we would fly around breathing fire on those who deserved it, then changing the world for the better, setting things right.
Moving Into the Sound World
I think there is something about looking close to what we consider normal but not quite. My physical quirks are often noticed but interpreted as something else. It irritates people. I look uncomfortable and nervous when I’m not. My eye muscles are a little wonky and sometimes my eyes kind of wander or look unfocused. I grew up with people constantly clapping their hands in my face because of that. Getting smacked for dragging my feet when my body couldn’t handle walking long distances. Adults thought it was OK to be violent towards me.
There were times when music was all I had, so I developed a very emotional relationship with it – especially metal and rock n roll – starting really young. That hasn’t changed. I still feel more emotionally tied to the music world than the human world in many ways.
The War Zone
So my childhood was like a war. And it made me think politically early on. I spent my elementary school days daydreaming and envisioning new types of societies, trying to solve the world’s problems. I researched other countries and wondered if life was really better anywhere or if I would be better off obtaining some land in Wyoming and being completely alone. Later, I did move to Australia, and with that came the wisdom that people are people wherever you go and that working to improve things where you live is a very good option. We don’t have to flee.
Music, art, and writing got me through it. I had suicidal thoughts at a very young age because things were so bad, but I overcame that, deciding to keep going and live life to the fullest as soon as I could. That’s still my attitude. I treasure every minute.
Early Writing and Art
I started asking for a guitar when I was young. But that took some time. While waiting for my chance to play guitar, I wrote and illustrated short novels, making copies, binding them myself, and distributing them at school. I was usually bored in class, so I used the time to construct plots and characters for novels and films, writing it all down when I got home.
I entered art contests at the Maryland State Fair, including in the Adult division (as opposed to my own age group), and won ribbons. My poetry was first published when I was in fifth grade, and I was interviewed by a local paper. It wasn’t the kind of poetry I wanted to publish. I had to stick to what I considered to be a boring topic – snow. But I was proud of my work, and it was good to see my writing in print.
That same year, I began a series of large portraits of the characters from Les Misérables, which we had just seen the musical adaptation of, and was prohibited from doing visual art again. (I did get to read the book – 3 versions – in the following years; I guess it must have been a creating versus passively taking things in sort of thing). The rift between my family and myself had become more political in nature.
So I shifted my focus to writing. I had already begun writing songs, using a small electric keyboard. I used to stay up late every night, secretly listening to the radio and educating myself about all of the genres and structures of popular songs.
I sang in the church and school choirs and got to take piano lessons for a few years. I learned a lot, but it was hard because repeating what’s written exactly as it’s written doesn’t come naturally to me; I’m really inclined towards improvisation and writing music. As soon as I start to play something, I need to add to it and take it in different directions. For a while, I thought that meant I was bad at music. Now I know that it’s just the way some people are, and it can be a good thing.
I took music theory in high school, which was wonderful – a small group of metalheads and classical music enthusiasts geeking out on time signatures. I didn’t do well on the tests, but I learned a lot.
Pipes and Strings
When I was fifteen, my brother and I got to share a classical guitar, but it effectively became mine. I played it for hours every day, writing tons of songs and driving everyone crazy. It took over my life. I dedicated myself to playing guitar, and to songwriting, and not much has changed since.
Two years later, I secretly sold a bunch of my belongings and bought an electric guitar and amp from a classmate. I named the guitar Esmeralda, Ezzie for short. I still have her. She’s a Peavey Predator.
Electric guitar and bagpipes have always been my favorite instruments. I also played the pipes in the city’s bagpipe band. I think you can hear the influence of traditional Scottish music in my guitar playing – kind of staccato, with grace notes.
I took a few guitar lessons when I first started playing (pre-electric days). That gave me a foundation in classical, blues and popular music. I loved playing slide. You can’t play anything wrong in an open tuning. It opens up the whole instrument for free-form self-expression. I also love finger-pic’ing because it gives you a wider range of tones and note combinations. I rarely use a pic these days, even when playing electric.
Adolescence made it easier to do things like marching in a bagpipe band, but my fingers were still a bit wonky – I’m missing a ligament or something in my left thumb, and it doesn’t work that well. So I found it hard to bar the frets and instead did a lot with open chords, slide, and leads. I played scales for about an hour every day, going through different modes. I wanted to play as well as Jimmy Page.
I also wrote a lot of fiction and poetry. I set a six-page-a-day minimum for myself. I used to write in class while pretending to take notes. English and foreign languages were easy. I was hopeless at math and science classes because I had severe test anxiety, so that was a lost cause. I learned the material, but I flunked. I only had to pay attention in history class. So I started novel after novel and worked on them when I was supposed to be studying.
I spent my summers writing. When I was 12, I got to go to Chautauqua, which was great because we had MTV – I watched a lot of metal videos. I loved performing my writing. I was really intense about it. I wrote things that intentionally pushed buttons, using bodily fluids as metaphors. I talked about lust and violence and every other significant part of life.
The school’s literary magazine didn’t want to publish my writing, so I started a zine aimed at fighting censorship. Everything that was submitted was published. Other students got involved, and it made my life a bit more social. We called it NAPALM.
Into the Void
I started college early, then went through some more difficult family stuff that left my life less stable. I completed my degree but not in my chosen area, and I moved around, bouncing between jobs. While it was physically easier to do a lot of things at that point, my body language still looked a bit off. That offended people and led to misunderstandings. I was reserved yet also outspoken. The typical creative type – overly sensitive and lacking a filter.
And I had a lot of post-traumatic stress from things I survived while growing up. My mother had some mental health struggles and I had born the brunt of that and then taken responsibility for trying to help her. There was more. I’ll write about it elsewhere. I don’t want to say too much here. But I had been through some hard things and I was kind of shaken up for a while.
That took a toll on my employment situation when I was in my twenties. I struggled to find stability. I went to shows, collected records when I could, and tried to form a band. I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to play the same kinds of things, or anything. There were a lot of jam bands, cover bands, stuff that sounded like Korn, pop punk, emo . . . I wasn’t into any of that. I didn’t know how to find people.
I was a wild one. As soon as I was out on my own, I really cut loose. But I’ll save those stories for another time.
I stopped writing fiction and decided to only write songs. I settled in Downeast Maine, where my grandparents had once lived, and worked in the tourist industry. I wanted to have a family and a small business. But life took a different direction. The relationship that I was in didn’t last. After four years or so, our differences and the town’s work-hard-play-hard lifestyle drove us apart.
I needed to do something with all the songs I had been writing. I started a noise punk band and ended up in Texas. I borrowed a 4-track from a friend and started working on tapes of what I had written. The band thing didn’t gel. I wanted to go in more adventurous directions. And, as it still is today, people seemed uncomfortable with the fact that the way I looked and what I played didn’t go together, didn’t fit the expectations. I was shy too. Not in music or on stage, but in day to day life. I had to get over that. To learn how to live in the world of people as well as the world of sound. But I didn’t care. I play because I need to play.
I realized I had to become a one man-band. I survived some more messed up stuff from people who took issue with the way my body was. That was a turning point, a deciding factor. And I kept feeling like I was coming from a different place than most people who I knew. I just had a different kind of perspective, different ideas. I wanted to share all of that. I wanted to go do my own thing and express myself without having to explain or justify anything.
For a while, that meant sticking to playing acoustic, which seemed like going backwards – a detour. But I just wanted to play. I got out and played as much as I could – open mic’s, anything. I would play several open mic’s a week.
I had written vocal melodies to go with my acoustic stuff, but my voice seemed to have been damaged by pneumonia, or maybe the medical treatments for it. I’ve had it a few times, two of them being really bad – once after nearly drowning and another time that landed me in the hospital for a week. My singing voice just wasn’t the same again. But I listened to punk and metal so doing gruff, growly vocals with my acoustic music was good. It didn’t make me popular, but I enjoyed it.
I alternated between different names – Kim Ewart (trying to spell it in ways that people could easily pronounce), Evil Kim Evil, and Paisley Nightmare. I went to a lot of shows. I ended up living with a promoter and I had more and more friends in bands and other facets of the whole music thing. But I stayed on my own path, which didn’t happen to match what was popular then, and remained on the periphery. I was an inside-out-sider. I accepted that and the highs and lows that came with it.
A friend sold me a Gibson SG for next to nothing. I still treasure it to this day. It’s a beautiful guitar. It’s covered in flames – painted by a local mural artist. In keeping with the dragon theme, I let the fire symbolize the power behind the noise – the impact you can have with your music.
I felt like an outsider, but I just wasn’t willing to compromise in a lot of ways. I have to be myself, do what I want to do, stay true to my basic ideas about things. I’ve always been like that.
There were times when it felt isolating. But I got to blaze a new kind of trail. That meant a lot to me. And it’s an easy thing to do. We’re all different. So if you follow your instincts and stay true to yourself and your own vision, you’ll inevitably end up doing something different from everyone else.
I had been keeping my songs mostly secret – just playing for friends in Bar Harbor living rooms – for years. As I got out and played for larger audiences, I got to see that people liked my music. That if you play from the heart – play what you really mean and what you really need to play – people will connect with it. That was the best feeling in the world.
Drum-Stomping Solo Rock
In 2008, I moved to California and got drums. I started to make the one-man band thing happen and got into digital recording, working on more acoustic stuff at first, then branching out, playing electric slide guitar with drums. In the music world, everything seemed increasingly sanitized. I wanted to shake things up.
Instead of seeking to play standard shows, I played a TON of open mic’s. I did open mic tours. I would show up and play as a masked one-man band. I called that thing Paisley Nightmare. It was mostly offline and mysterious. But it took off. People got into it, and it was so much fun.
Part of Your Art is How You Share It
I intentionally made open mic’s my thing because it was a free-for-all – you share the stage with anyone who shows up, anyone can show up and do anything. I felt inspired by that experience, by traveling all over and connecting with all kinds of people. I really loved it. How you share your art is part of the art itself. I wanted the way I shared my music to reflect my basic belief in complete freedom and equality, to live by what I believed in instead of just talking about it. To make no plans; just to play wherever and whenever I wanted to. I did that for years and I’m sure I’ll go back to it.
I’m an instigator by nature, always one to go against the grain. Instead of playing with similar bands for a crowd of people who definitely like the kind of music I play, I want to play for anyone anywhere, including people who don’t like what I’m doing. I love the chaos that goes with that. The fact that who I am and what I look like don’t really match became part of my art. People often assumed I was playing for the first time and would probably play an acoustic cover. I loved seeing the reactions when I did something different. And it went the other way just as often. People didn’t react the way I would expect just by looking at them. So I really learned not to judge people.
I took my playing in weirder and noisier directions, using different kinds of objects as slides and pics. I recorded some multi-track stuff, recording each instrument separately, and intentionally making the tracks a split second off from each other to create subtly jarring feelings.
I had always wanted to record using just one mic (wide diaphragm or omnidirectional), so I started doing that as soon as I could. I was a big fan of Cowboy Junkies back in the 90’s; I got that idea from them. I loved their early recordings.
So that’s what I use for my one-man band recordings. It’s all live, mono, using just one microphone. I started recording stuff that I was happier with and wanting to share it more widely. That required art. So I dusted off some repression and bad memories and got back into art again, at times trying to recreate my childhood style of drawing and all the stuff that I wasn’t supposed to do. Like with music, I like to write and draw by stream-of-consciousness. That took on a life of its own. I now do as much art as music and have a traveling art shop called Immortality.
Going Home to the Highway
In 2015, a turning point came where it seemed like I would need to play more standard shows. I had written hundreds of songs, and I wanted to play longer sets. I went on tour.
The second day of the tour, I pulled into Portland for the first time. I went to the building where Tombstone Music used to be and picked up a couple of pieces of wood from a pile of construction scraps. Then I drove to the venue, parked, and as I opened the car door, a city bus sped down the road and hit it, just an inch from my hand, ripping the door right off. I unloaded everything into the venue, played for three hours, and rented a Jeep on the city’s dime to continue the tour into Canada. The Canadian Rockies are amazing and Calgary has a great metal scene.
I was still calling it Paisley Nightmare, but that didn’t fit. I didn’t like it for what I was doing at that point. I needed to change something.
I toured more and shared the stage with a lot of great bands of all genres. It was wonderful. I did the whole thing completely DIY, traveling alone, booking and promoting most of the shows myself. Drummers would ask to come with me and I would tell them I didn’t have room in my car. I was glad to be a one man band, living it up on the road, traveling alone. That was the life for me.
The Pirate Ship
In 2016, I moved back to Texas so I could record more. I set up a studio at home and really immersed myself in it. I call it The Pirate Ship. I wanted to make music that evoked fear and discomfort. You hear a lot of sad songs, love songs, angry songs and happy songs. I’ve always been interested in provoking other emotions, seeing what other things you can make people feel through sound. So I worked on that.
I changed the name again twice – Kim Ew and then back to Evil Kim Evil. I call it a III phase assault on civilization as we know it. I’m standing up for everyone’s right to play, to express themselves as they please, for our common humanity, for all the changes we need so badly right now. Playing multiple drums standing symbolizes that. I feel like there’s a kind of power behind it. It’s the dragon thing – flying and breathing fire and setting things right in the world.
I wound up with more amps than I needed after scoring at garage sales. So I played through multiple amps at once to create a thicker sound. It was great. It could also sound dissonant in interesting ways if you set the tone knobs differently. I had fun with that. That was during the Kim Ew phase of things. An all-out noise frenzy, no holds barred.
I’m Evil Kim Evil now. I’m still writing and recording tons and tons of music, and planning another tour. I’m doing stuff that’s more like a noise punk take on old school metal and some jazzy instrumental stuff. I grew up with a lot of jazz, and I’m letting that come out in my own music. I’m also recording more acoustic material.
For a while, my acoustic guitar needed some work and I recorded stuff that let the buzzing just be part of the noise. I really like making my bad luck – or any external circumstances – be part of my sound. Life is art and art is life.
And I started making videos of myself playing. Not for the first time, but I made it a bigger part of things. For years, there was a lot of confusion about what I do. No matter what I said, people expected either a mellow solo act or a full band or someone playing guitar while toggling with loop pedals. I let the surprise factor be part of the show for a while. But there came a point when I wanted to be more upfront and clear with people about what I’m doing.
I don’t know of any other one-man bands who do exactly what I do – standing on two drums pedals to play, and playing noisy punk/metal stuff. There are tons of one-man bands worldwide and I don’t specifically follow them; I just listen to a few who spark my interest. I like to draw inspiration elsewhere and bring it to the one-man band format instead of identifying with the solo thing too much.
Heart to Sleeve
In my songwriting, I keep wearing my heart on my sleeve more, striving to make it all more honest and unguarded, and not being afraid to be cheesy or literary. Nothing is off-limits. I’m also re-recording the songs that shocked people when I was in high school. That’s fun.
And I book and promote shows, making hand-drawn fliers. My drawings are crude – lately I’ve been envisioning a sort of DIY precursor to things like Helloween, Stormwitch and Virtue – but I want to bring something human into it, keep the old art of flyering alive. I hit the streets and hang flyers in interesting places. There was a real art to that at one point, and I want to bring that back.
I also busk, and I feel inspired by that. There’s a lot that we can do with battery-powered amps. It’s a way to have a voice in the world when you otherwise aren’t welcome to participate, to have complete freedom. Busking is beautiful. You go out and do something that’s available to everyone, and people can react any way they choose.
Our Words and Sounds Outlive Us
I feel like I’m honing down my sound and my creative vision. I like being intense – in many different ways – but also uplifting, even soothing, if that makes sense. Healing instead of responding to hate with more hate. Working towards solutions. Delving into the difficult parts of life and bringing a sense of hope to it. It’s important to make your writing reflect what you actually believe because it will outlive you.
I know that my playing is a bit sloppy because I’m a bit gimpy. Not just that, but it’s also by choice – I have a very raw and aggressive approach to it. Hardly anything is planned. I’ve tried writing set-lists, but I end up playing whatever comes out. Sometimes I play so hard I bleed, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I’m banned from rock n roll. I think I rocked so hard and so weirdly and in opposition to so much bullshit, it killed itself. I feel like I’m killing it and breathing life into it at the same time, and that’s my art.
I’m not really at war with the world anymore. I feel more like I’m fighting for the kind of world that I want to live in. I’ve survived a lot of messed up stuff. I tend to relate my own bad luck to bigger issues in society, get angry about it, and focus on how to change things for the better. I let that fuel me – fighting against the bullshit with sound, burning it down to make way for something better.
I can’t wait to get back on the road again. I really believe in what I’m doing. I love hearing other people’s music and everything that goes with being on tour. It’s such a great feeling, and I want to take it even farther and do more with it.
In the beginning, they called me a thing. But this one thing band keeps taking on the world. It must be doing something.