The Chicago-based rock artist Girl K projects pure emotion from her melancholic, dream-like, debut album “Sunflower Court,” released in October of 2017. The artist brings an honest representation of her time, offering pieces of herself through lyrics about love and romance, while simultaneously spreading messages about loving and welcoming others. “Sunflower Court” is a reflection of frontwoman Kathy Patino’s own being through soft, delicate vocals amidst a charismatic background of guitar, bass and drums.
Girl K put on a badass show at Subterranean Wednesday night, March 7. Like something out of a dream, Patino stood front and center of her four-piece band and sung out ballads from her heart and soul, all the while strumming her guitar. The show was relatively short, being at such a small venue (which, by the way, is adorable), but Patino didn’t let that stand in the way of her ability to grab the attention of the audience and quite visually charm most individuals in the room -- myself included.
The show was a reenactment of Patino herself -- the words from her mind floating around the venue. She is an actual gleaming spirit, aiming to love, as she suggested during the set. This artist seems to know something not many others do, proving beauty comes most flawlessly from those who spread love unconditionally. Once during the set, the drummer for Girl K missed a beat; in that same moment, Patino chose to laugh it off and radiate a sense of relaxation and peace. This is a real-people band. There’s swaying to the music and appreciating that music exists to begin with; people need to be loved in order to be cherished. It’s the only way the world will go on.
Girl K is a band of this generation; they are important in their time, because not many artists know what it means to bring art with self-love and love for others. Girl K proves women have more than enough of what it takes to make a better world; Patino explains what love means to her during an interview the day after the show at Subt almost in a ‘60s, all-you-need-is-love type of way: “Take everything away, because love is always there, regardless of circumstance -- it’s always there,” she says. “When relationships end, the love is still there, whether you got to that point or not -- you admired something about that person.”
“People are so scared of using the word love. They think it’s like this special thing that only comes after a certain amount of time, but love is always existent. You can’t get rid of it; you can’t determine when it’s gonna come in. It’s a constant feeling. You’re feeling for someone -- whether it’s for family, for friends, for a romantic somebody. It’s just present in our lives, and we shouldn’t try to hide from it -- we should just embrace it.”
One of Patino’s songs -- one of her personal favorites -- is called “Pretty People.” She references the track several times during our conversation in Ground Up, a local coffee shop on campus of UIC. “Wow, this is a good one,” she says about “Pretty People.” “‘I was taught love shouldn’t cause tension’ -- that line has always been one of my favorite ones to sing. Because it’s true,” Patino adds. “Love is something that you never want to lose sight of.”
Patino recalls that the show Wednesday night was special, because many of her friends came out to support -- that also just made her more nervous to perform. “Mt. Pocono kills it, and they’re crazy talented,” she adds about the band that performed before Girl K. “Everything we do is so simple, because I’m writing just with words and stuff, so it’s not anything crazy, but I just get nervous, because I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I hold everyone to such high places -- I just respect everyone so much,” Patino continues. “I want them to respect me, as well, as an artist; I also feel so small,” she laughs. “Like always.”
During their sets, she loves doing what she does, but seeing the audience move to the music makes it all the more worth it. “I have this desire in me to move, and I always want to move, but if the crowd’s not moving, I don’t move,” Patino says. “I like looking at the crowd, though, which is weird, because it makes me more nervous. But I like seeing them. Sometimes I like seeing friends singing along to songs -- it makes me smile. [Or] when they have their eyes closed or something.”
Patino herself explains that she hasn’t always been as confident as she is now when it comes to performing. Even back in high school, taking up space was a difficult task for her; she always felt the need to sort of limit her movements and avoid doing certain things in front of people, like eating, or picking up a pencil in the hallway. “I wish I could step into someone else’s body, or someone else’s being, and perform. I love performing, but I wish it wasn’t me who was performing it...it’s a strange thing.” She adds, “I was scared to move.”
But as she started to realize she wanted to pursue music, she felt as though her confidence levels needed to change. Patino explains what it was like for her becoming into the person she is today: “I want it so badly, I’m willing to sacrifice my comfortability and push myself to be more active and moving around and dancing and stuff, which is nice. It has definitely helped me in confidence. I probably wouldn’t have done any of this back in high school.” She adds, “Thank goodness for the Donut for warming me up.”
Ah, the Donut. The Drunken Donut is a spot in Joliet, IL, a suburb west of Chicago, and it is also the place where Girl K actually first started. “[The Drunken Donut is a] staple piece of Girl K, basically. That’s how Girl K came to be,” Patino seems excited about this simple, yet sweet origin story. “My friend...wanted me to perform there. He was trying to get me to do the open mic there for months, but I thought everyone at that place was too cool, and I was like, they’re not going to like me. So he asked me to do it for his birthday, so I did.
“The day before, I was in math class, and I was thinking of a name, because I was like, ‘Kathy Patino’ is not gonna cut it -- that’s too singer/songwriter. Then I was thinking of things with k in it; I was just like, god, k is such a harsh letter -- it can’t start anything, so it has to be by itself. Then I was just like, well, I’m a girl; my name starts with k.” The story is so simple, it’s absolutely inspiring to hear about. Pursue your dream -- just try -- and you never know where you might end up.
She also mentions that “Sunflower Court” is named after the street she lives on. As for the Donut, Patino feels as though she wouldn’t be who she is today without it: “There are people who dressed like me and thought like me, and I was just never exposed to that being from Minooka -- no one is really expressive there. And now that’s all I’m surrounded by being in the city; the scene is just beautiful. I’ve met so many great people. It’s amazing.”
Patino talks about how Girl K has been compared to Alvvays or Angel Olsen; I add that their sound is a bit like Best Coast, as well. That was the first impression I got while listening to “Sunflower Court.” After expanding Girl K to include drums, bass and lead-guitar, Patino explains that it was definitely the right choice. “With the guys, I just wanna make it feel like it’s a band, [rather than a solo-act]. They add something to it; they change things; they give me ideas.”
She continues: “They motivated me to up my songwriting skills. When I make demos now, it’s not just me and a guitar -- it’s me, a guitar, drums, bass, all that stuff. They expanded it. It’s so dynamic when you have other people in it [with you]. I wanna make them know that I appreciate them and stuff. They’re a part of it; it’s not just me.”
Girl K is all about getting listeners and audiences to feel their music. “I love when people are moving and dancing. I love getting that feeling, where you hear a song and automatically you feel it in your heart,” Patino says. I explain that during their set last night that’s exactly how I felt. I felt the music flowing through me -- the need to move with the music. “That’s perfect,” Patino sounds almost relieved by my response to her show. “That’s what I want to give people, because it’s such an intense and awesome feeling,” she adds in.
When it comes down to their sound and inspirations, the ‘90s plays a huge role, specifically in the newer stuff they’ve been working on. “It’s definitely ‘90s-inspired, which is crazy, because I barely listened to the ‘90s [music] growing up -- I was like an ‘80s baby,” Patino says the phrase “‘80s baby” as a nod to the song, “‘80s Baby,” on “Sunflower Court.” She continues: “Hence why that song is called what it is.” She laughs. We both laugh. Oh, duh. She’s an actual ‘80s baby.
She goes on, “Basically, yeah, it’s more heavily ‘90s, and my bandmates are like super into ‘90s grunge -- my drummer is in love with Nirvana. That’s definitely coming into play. I wanna go crazy; I wanna break that girls-can-only-play-a-certain-type-of-music kind of thing. Like, we can play whatever we want. I definitely don’t wanna limit myself.”
Patino has several women artists she looks up to as inspirations for her music and life in general. She lists off the likes of Hannah Hooper, aka Lady Grouplove from Grouplove, a band she has seen four different times, not including the show she’ll be going to see this upcoming summer, for which she’ll be “waiting in line [to see] from the crack of dawn, basically.” She adds, “[Hannah Hooper] doesn’t care. She’s so free-spirited, and from the way she wears what she wears so confidently, [to the way] she just preaches love -- her stage presence is amazing. She’s definitely up there.”
Patino is also greatly appreciative of the artist MUNA and its members, Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson: “Their lyrics are very activist-oriented, and I like the rights they advocate for. They’re so strong; they identify as queer and femme. It’s just like really sweet.” Lauren Morgan from SALES, Stephanie Smith from Varsity and Lili Trifilio from Beach Bunny are all also on her list of women inspiring her day-to-day. Patino says she knows Beach Bunny’s Trifilio personally, adding that she looks up to her for her strong voice and songwriting skills. “It’s crazy, because she’s also kind of tiny,” Patino jokes.
Advocating for issues you believe in and support is important part of being an artist. Girl K is continually moving toward making statements through their music, but even more so through Patino herself and her clothing, Twitter account and in-between songs during shows.
“I haven’t really done too many activist meanings in my lyrics, besides for ‘Pretty People,’ [but] in the new ones that I’m writing, I definitely have thought about that, because I’m kind of tired of writing these love songs,” Patino explains. “I don’t really have a grasp of what that is beyond like loving each other. But ‘Pretty People’ is a song that’s coming out on our new [album] that we’re gonna release, but that song is definitely about gun reform.”
The new music for Girl K is going to be slightly more aimed at different issues like the aforementioned gun reform, as suggested by Patino. She goes on, “[The song is about] the general idea of war being something that I do not support at all. I understand that it’s a part of the world now and that it’s not gonna be eradicated or anything, but it’ll just never have my support.”
She adds, “I’m very oblivious, in the sense that I believe world peace can be a thing.”
Patino believes that many of her song lyrics can predict the future in some way; she explains during our conversation that gun reform, specifically, is something she wrote about and then saw become more prominent in society, especially as of late. Another thing she has seen become a reality after writing about it is love and relationships: “This isn’t how I feel about this person [at that time], but this is what I’m writing. Then after that relationship is over, I’m like, this is how I felt about this person. I think that’s so crazy -- it is a subconscious thing. Your mind knows where it wants to go, but you don’t know if you’re there yet. It’s very much a catching up thing.”
And though some of the band’s newer music will advocate more for serious issues, Patino talks a lot about how her clothing is her main source of activism. Every outfit she creates is with some hope that she can send a message and allow her audience think about what it means. She is also very creative in general with her clothing choices, never repeating an outfit, which is honestly a personal goal of mine. Patino explains that she does a lot of retail and thrift shopping, but has also gotten t-shirts from her dad -- the possibilities for creativity in style are endless, basically.
“I took a shirt and cut it up and added fringe to it, and on the back, I painted the word ‘love,’” Patino adds, after mentioning that she is really into fine arts and creating in every way possible, which is something she believes anyone can and should do within their lifetime. “[Love] is a very big thing for me, like you don’t have to love each other, but it’s more kind of a respect -- through respect, it is a feeling of love.”
She has also painted various phrases onto clothing, like the line from the ‘90s hardcore, all-female rock band L7, which says, “she’s fat, she’s lean, she’s frightening.” On the back of the shirt, it said, “I am her.” Patino also loves seeing posters and little trinkets in people’s houses: “It’s another form of expression.”
Patino’s mind does not cease to project important life-lessons and experiences, which shaped who she is today. Advocating for rights and issues such as gun reform and loving others, among other things, and continually striving toward creativity through art and expression is something that will always remain at the front of her mind -- Girl K is not just a group simply making music to sell. During the interview with Patino, she continually brought the conversation back to really what it means and looks like to push what you believe in and show that to audiences and listeners, making it clear that love is number one, no matter what. Love is what ultimately matters in life, in art and in music.