The first time I met Kim Kelly was at a record label showcase at the 2010 South by Southwest Music Festival, she strode to the front of the stage and immediately started headbanging. I was impressed not only because I was a fan of her writing but also because of her tresses: As she fist-pumped (not in the Jersey Shore way; even though she is from Jersey) her long, almost waist-length hair was flowing in a perfect wave in slow motion, and suddenly no one else in the venue existed. She was totally enraptured with the music.
I’ve got 15 plus years on Kelly but I greatly admire her, especially because at a very young age, she has not only made a name for herself as a globe-trotting music journalist, writing for a slew of publications, such as The Atlantic, Pitchfork.com, Iron Fist, Invisible Oranges.com and Decibel. She is also a touring merch slinger for bands such as St. Vitus, Down, and Black Tusk and also runs the public relations company, Catharsis PR. It’s not her youth or her gender that makes her stand out: It’s her talent, work ethic (and great multi-tasking skills) and dedication to a commonly maligned music and culture and while it’s doubtful that she would say this herself, she challenges the preconceived notions of what a metal head is. Kim Kelly is someone worth getting to know a bit better.
You are a music journalist and run your own company while being on tour. Can you recount a typical day in the life of Kim Marie Kelly?
It’s always different. There really is no “typical” day; when I’m on tour, there’s more of a schedule to follow, of course, but even that can go out the window at a moment’s notice! Right now I’m settled down in one place for a decent stretch of time (London, UK), which is a whole new experience for me, and a pretty welcome one at that after spending the better part of the last two years in perpetual motion.
However, let’s say that I’m answering this from somewhere along the highway, halfway through a three-week run across the States: I wake up whenever someone comes along and nudges me or my alarm goes off – depending on the length of the day’s drive, it could be 8am or even as late as noon, but no matter when you went to sleep or how hungover you are, van call is van call. You get your ass up, you throw on yesterday’s clothes, you brush your teeth, and you get your ass in the van. We spend the day driving, with the occasional gas station or truck stop thrown in. I’m on my phone answering emails, dealing with social media junk, and stressing out about whatever deadlines I’ve got looming.
We get to the venue, load out the gear, I set up my merch display, and then, depending on how late we are, I get some time to scurry off and take care of Catharsis business and Skype my boyfriend in England (the time difference is a massive pain) until doors open. I’ll have my phone and laptop at hand during the show in case anything needs attending to. Afterwards, we load everything out, pack up the van, and drive to wherever we’re staying – either a cheap hotel or a friend’s place. I’ll stay up ‘til around 5am doing more Catharsis stuff or writing whatever needs to be written, shower, then crash out. Rinse. Repeat.
What led you to start your own PR company?
It just made sense. I’ve been involved in the music business for a good while now – my first published music-related articles began appearing when I was fifteen – and there were always people asking me for advice on contacting labels, reaching out to press folk, booking shows, and various other industry-related things about which I’d managed to accrue a bit of know-how, and I always did my absolute best to help them out. We’re all in this together, after all.
I started Catharsis PR in the summer of 2008 when I was nineteen, a sophomore in college, and living in NYC completing dual summer internships at Metal Maniacs Magazine and Earache Records. By then, I’d already been working as a music journalist for four years, had started booking shows in Philadelphia and NYC, and I was enrolled in Drexel’s highly competitive Music Industry program.
Once I figured out that I could combine all the favors I was doing into an actual service, I threw myself into the idea. The first few bands I worked with under the Catharsis PR banner were friends of mine, and I did all the work for free because I still wasn’t entirely sure if I could pull it off. After seeing two of my first four clients gain considerable notice and eventually sign recording contracts with a major independent labeI, figured I might be on to something. Five years down the line, it’s been amazing watching my little idea blossom into something that has had a tangible, positive impact on the music and people I love. For example, one of my bands, Cormorant, had their album named as NPR’s Best Album of 2011 – that’s the sort of thing that just makes you go all melty inside, you know?
What have the challenges been as a small business owner, and who, if any, were your mentors, or people you looked up to in putting together a business?
Just figuring it all out, really, and as my roster and responsibilities have grown, finding the time to make sure I do the best job I can. It can be really tough to balance Catharsis work with my writing and my travel schedule, but it always works out (even if I don’t get to sleep very often). It’s been a one-woman operation since day one, though I have had lots of help from plenty of my more experienced friends, who were always super supportive and free with advice early on. As far as PR goes, my biggest influence is Earsplit PR – Liz and Dave Brenner have been great friends for years, do an amazing job, and have the best taste in bands of any company out there. I always tell Liz (who also served as an editor for the now sadly defunct Metal Maniacs and is a killer writer in her own right) that I want to be her when I grow up!
You have written for some top-tier music print and online publications, as well as The Atlantic, which seems a bit odd for someone who writes about metal music. How did you get them into metal?
The Atlantic reached out to me about writing a piece about Revolver Magazine’s annual Hottest Chicks in Metal (now Hard Rock) issue. They found me through my writing for Metalsucks.com, dropped me a line, and we were off to the races. I had a great experience working with them and had developed a rapport with one of the editors there, so thought of them first when it came time to pitch a story I’d written on Middle Eastern black metal. They were into the idea and loved the piece, so we did a few edits, and, voila! I hadn’t realized that it was such a big, respected outlet when they initially approached me, and was a bit startled when I found out.
I enjoy writing for more mainstream publications. It’s fun to expose that sort of audience to this kind of music and culture, and as long as I’m able to cover the bands and music that I want to cover and I don’t have to compromise that, I’ve got no problem writing for places that aren’t exclusively metal-oriented. So far, my work has appeared on The Atlantic, NPR, Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan.com, Independent Weekly, Boston Phoenix and the Chicago Reader. None of them are specifically geared towards metal fans, but the content I gave them sure as hell was!
Metal is my life, but I’m definitely interested in exploring other topics, as well, so developing relationships with publications outside the metal realm can’t be a bad thing. Besides, I get a kick out of imagining straight-laced bankers and soccer moms sipping their morning coffee as they read an article about black metal written by a tattooed, pierced, leather-clad and foul-mouthed twenty-something from Jersey. If only they knew!
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