FOCUS // DEVELOPING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES WITH KYOZO’S ALICIA REI KIM

(Editor’s Note: The past few weeks have been a sobering time for the math rock community, and indeed, the world in general. In an age of radical disinformation, the responsibility falls on us to become better listeners, deepen our critical thinking skills, and improve communication.

We also owe it to ourselves and others to establish and uphold certain boundaries. It is my hope that this article encourages that kind of growth in everyone: math rock might feel like a small, tight-knit community, but we’ve still got some ground to cover – ourselves included.

If at any time you find yourself thinking, “well, not me,” we humbly urge you to reconsider. It tends to be the ones who don’t think they need help that do the most damage.

Without further delay, we are honored to present this brief reality check with Kyozo‘s Alicia Rei Kim. May it serve you and the people around you well.)

FB: Kyozo, your latest project, builds on your math-y roots but shows some emo/post-rock influence as well. You also happen to sing, a super welcome surprise. How have your experiences in the scene influenced your lyrics, if at all?

Alicia: Kyozo’s content and sound was something I’ve always wanted to have in a band so I’m really happy that I managed to make this project a reality. Kyozo’s a band that’s formed with my closest friends that I’ve known for a long time, so it’s amazing to have a band where we understand each other and communication is straightforward.

My singing is getting there but having this band is helping me push myself in that regard. This different focus has me playing minimal guitar, which is totally different than what Dokoe was. The lyrics are heavily influenced by a lot from the past and the growth I’ve had as a person. The meaning of the lyrics speak towards more about growth and the people surrounding us, as well as uplifting those who have been put down.

FB: When playing for live audiences back in the day, what were some of the double standards you experienced?

Alicia: There were (and are) double standards for sure, not only for audiences but within the band itself. It was a bit draining, especially because I was pushed to have a certain look or aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the things I wore back then such as my seifuku, but behavior wise, people always seemed to think that I was this timid asian girl who was always nice and smiling.

A lot of the time it was a lot of behind the scenes ‘Do this, or do that, look like this and look like that, talk like this and not like that’. Thankfully the audience during live shows wasn’t as bad, but I felt like there was an expectation for me to be this bubbly persona 24/7. There was a time in the beginning where I was flustered because dudes (strangers) would always try to help me pack up my pedalboard like I didn’t know how to, and it kind of shocked me, because I’ve never seen anyone do that for my old bassist ever or any other musician friends that I know. It was a weird feeling that people were treating me like some fragile princess that only knew how to play guitar and couldn’t do anything else but that.

I’ve also had people come up to me here and there trying to ‘practice’ their Japanese which I kind of found insulting, especially when it was clear I was uncomfortable, but I feel like looking back I should have put my foot down on that haha. I feel like there are certain boundaries people should notice or be mindful of, but I think in that sense it was my fault for not addressing it on the spot because of ‘self image’.

Looking back, I wish I could have spoken up for myself more, but it helped me grow into who I am now. I’m much more vocal about what makes me uncomfortable and I want to help other women feel brave enough to stand their ground also.

FB: Do you ever feel like expectations for you as a guitar player are different due to gender?

Alcia: I see myself as non-binary, but I accept and know the fact I am born with a female body. With that said, I feel like being an asian girl who plays mathrock, I’ve gotten a lot of comparison comments of myself and Yvette. These comparisons not as much expectations, but more that the community loves comparing one person to another which I find truly unhealthy and toxic.

At one point I’ve had comments such as ‘you’re just a great value Yvette’ or ‘your riffs aren’t as dank as Yvette’s’ and so forth. Ironically Yvette and I always laugh about it when we hang out, but the issue still exists online of that toxic comparison. Just because we’re both asian and we play guitar doesn’t mean we are the same person. Expectation wise, when I changed my look physically the past two years, I’ve had a lot of negative comments such as ‘what happened to you??’ Or ‘you looked better like this’ to some people getting upset when they found out I was in a relationship. There’s a weird expectation that I have to be a ‘dream guitar waifu’ and I found that so tiring and it was also a jab at my looks, where at one point I felt like I couldn’t even dress or look the way I wanted because I felt like I was doing something wrong. I know that when I cut Yvette’s long hair short for the first time, there was a flood of angry guys saying ‘WHY DID YOU CUT IT YOU WERE SO BEAUTIFUL BEFORE’ or ‘omg no why did you do that??’

We are our own person respectively and quite frankly, it shouldn’t matter what we look like or do to our bodies physically to please others. At the end of the day we are musicians and we just want everyone to appreciate our music, not our tits, ass, or how we look. I just find it insulting as a person and a musician. I don’t see these incidents happening for our male music colleagues, but Yvette and I have to constantly deal with it.

FB: We live in fairly tumultuous times, but also times of great change. Perhaps there is still hope out there for some change. What are some changes you’d like to see in your community?

Alicia: First off, I’m so glad and I’m so thankful that our community is taking great steps for change that includes finally helping victims elevate their voices and taking an active stance against sexual/domestic violence. I know that it’s better late than never, but moving forward I hope that people can also keep watch physically during shows. Be there for the community, if someone is clearly uncomfortable, ask them if they’re okay or steer them away.

As much as we are addressing issues on social media, I firmly believe change is more important by actions. I think it’s the lowest of the low when people advocate for a safer community but turn a blind eye on a person. I’ve seen this countless times in the past and I hope that it will be different now. I’m hoping that in the future when shows resume, everyone will be more aware and watch for predators and shady guys AND girls, and make sure to remove problematic people at shows. We as musicians should take responsibility to ensure a safe space for our fans.

FB: Sometimes social media can as exhausting as it is empowering. What are some ways networking with people online have helped you? Or is it something you see as more exhaustive?

Alicia: At first I really enjoyed social media as I didn’t really have any music friends. It was really wholesome to meet other musicians and supporting each other as time passed, and to this day we all support each other. I’m very thankful for the people I’ve met and some I consider my best friend like Liz who lives in Portugal.

I think at this point I’m more focused on self care than networking, because at one point I was exhausting myself talking to people 24/7 and didn’t really get any work done hahaha (which was totally my fault). Everyone helped me through thick and thin and I am eternally grateful of the people I know now. I wouldn’t even be in this spot if it wasn’t for the support I’ve gotten from everyone that I’ve networked with! I love you guys so much!!!

FB: How do you balance self-care with hard work?

Alicia: Before it was a lot of turbulent back and forth to a point it was super unhealthy. I was overworking and then I’d get burnt out which ended up with me over drinking to ‘relax’ which looking back was very toxic for myself. Over the years I’ve learned to balance myself and learn that it’s okay so say no or admit that I wasn’t feeling well, and that it’s okay to take a rest and a step back if needed. I feel like I worked really hard for what I had the past few years juggling music and school, and I think I truly figured out what self care really means towards the end of 2019.

I’ve learned that it’s okay to just put my phone down and take a breather, and it’s okay to not reply to people right away. Now I find self care very important especially with the mental health problems I have, and I can proudly admit that I’ve been really stable and clear minded compared to the past. It’s great to be ambitious and work hard, but it’s also good to constantly remind yourself ‘Hey you’re doing great, but let’s have a breather because you deserve it right now.’

FB: Do you think your male peers ever suffer from a lack of self care? Do you think that has any bearing on how they treat others?

Alicia: Yes 100%. Not all, but from a good chunk of male peers I’ve known and know currently, I do feel that they suffer from lack of self care and even from self esteem issues. It’s also a conversation that I’ve had with a handful of my male peers privately. I believe that if there’s a mentality of self loathing, it will affect those around you as well as yourself. I think that in cases where there is a lack of understanding regarding self care, we should normalize that going to therapy is totally okay.

There is strange stigma where going to therapy is only for ‘mentally unstable’ people, but I believe it’s wonderful for anyone that is confused about their life and want to understand more about themselves and what steps they can take to achieve that. As much as talking to your friends is a type of therapy, I feel that we can’t always be there for them 24/7 and help them figure out their lives. All we can do as friends is support them, but if they’re still struggling, the first step is to realize what’s lacking in their life and understanding that they’re not okay.

I also feel like it doesn’t help with the ‘toxic masculinity’ culture that we had growing up where men aren’t supposed to show emotions or feelings. It’s okay to admit when you feel down, and it’s okay to cry you guys! It doesn’t make you weak, it’s healthy to be vulnerable.

FB: Who are some feminine power-players in music we might not know about but should?

Alicia: Well I’m gonna flex right now and say my bassist Christina hahaha! And my beautiful friend Liz from Portugal who is amazing with her guitar glitch works on Perfect Katsuragi.

There’s so many female musicians who are so talented but I’ll name a few from the top of my head:
All the ladies from Paranoid Void (whom are this point we all know haha) who are a kick-ass all-girl band. Eri and Phoebe, who are an LA based j-idol duo called PhEri. They are the cutest and I support them so much.

Stephanie Topalian who is an amazing vocalist who sang really sick songs for a few anime openings. She lives in Japan, but she came to play shows here and there where I live and it was such a treat.
LiSA is one of the vocalists I truly look up to, she’s based in Japan and I’d really recommend listening to ‘Gurenge’ it’s my guilty pleasure. And lastly a straight up all female fronted power band to me is Exist Trace. They’re a metal/jrock band and they go so hard. I looked up to them so much when I was in my angsty teen phase hahaha.

FB: What’s something males could go through in order to understand the feminine perspective a little more?

Alcia: This is a tricky question because it’s a bit hard to pinpoint which perspective would really help men understand. I feel like learning basic manners would be a start when it comes to treating women. I call it a ‘caveman’ mentality when men will say very sexist comments to women, think that women are lower than men, or treat them like it’s the 1920’s.

I’m glad that society has changed a lot over the years where women are empowered and stand in equal footing as men, because at the end of the day we are all human beings. I just wish that they would be mindful that it is much more dangerous to be a woman than a man in terms of rape, assault, and being cat called. Women are always told what to wear so they don’t get attacked, or easily pushed off as ‘emotional’ or ‘they asked for it’ mentality.

The lack of actual basic respect to women as human beings is to me a joke at times, and I wish that men will read, research, and study more about how it affects the world overall. I feel like it’s something we should be teaching children as a class, because I truly believe if you teach children to genuinely respect each other as they grow up and show that we are all equal human beings, the problems we have now for adults will be lessened for our future generation.

FB: When things eventually resume and people can play live again, what are some things men can be more respectful of at shows?

Alicia: It’s quite a simple answer, don’t be a dick and read the room. As a musician playing shows, I’ve been pretty lucky to play with really cool dudes that I can call my friends and music colleagues. I’m hoping that for future shows, women will feel safe being at my shows and I want to help them feel empowered. I’ve had a lot of douchy guys come up to me with off hand comments as I’ve mentioned in the earlier questions.

I’d say please learn to have more tact and just be there for the music. Also I’m saying this on behalf of a lot of women, please do NOT touch their waist to move them or squeeze past them during shows or at bars. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of people including myself, just kindly ask them to let you squeeze by, there’s no need to touch them like that.

At the end of the day though, we’re all gathered to enjoy the songs all the bands worked hard on. Educate yourself on the boundaries you should have and learn to read uncomfortable body language and tones. That’s of course easier said than done, but I truly believe it can be done as long as we are all vigilant about it.

FB: Thank you so much for working with us, Alicia, it means a lot. Is there anything else you think would be helpful?

Alicia: I want to first thank you guys this opportunity for me to speak about these issues, I feel like when it comes to these kind of issues, they always tend to sound biased. However, these are from my personal experiences and my colleagues experiences as well.
It’s not pleasant stories, and I’m sure many of the guys who are reading this are thinking ‘well I’m not like that at all.’

I just want to make it clear that not all men are like this of course, and for the men who aren’t, you guys also have the ability to stand up for women too. I feel like it’s worse when men who are all about women empowerment or care about the safety of women, turn that slight blind eye when situations like these happen.

If you see a woman getting harassed via in person and online, literally do something about it. Women are not objects, and women are not inferior to men. If you agree and truly believe that statement, then you have the power to make a change. It’s not something that can be done overnight, but it’s something we can all work on within ourselves.

For those who have continuously supported me and even stood up for me at certain points of life, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And for the women out there reading this, I hope that this interview somehow gives you courage and the confidence within yourself.