King Woman’s Kris Esfandiari: “The Scariest People Are Those Who Aren’t Integrated With Their Darkness, Who Are Unaware of Their Shadow”

Fans of heavy music have had King Woman on their radar for some time now. But with the release of her “Morning Star” music video, the solo project of Kris Esfandiari officially went from sludgy, psychological mainstay to underground phenom. Something about Esfandiari gyrating with cigarette in hand and flaunting the bloody incisions where her wings had been amputated inspired countless new fans and press outlets to look into King Woman’s compelling sonic darkness. Of course, it also inspired a lot of bullshit criticism from sneering online gatekeepers — which, for Kris, means she must be doing something right.

“There’s been a really strong reaction to ‘Morning Star,’ which I was nervous about,” says Esfandiari. “I don’t ever really care what people think, but it’s funny for me — I’m like, I wonder how people are going tor react to this! There were some comments like, You’re not Marilyn Manson! Just people saying the stupidest shit to me. The people that hate me are always either Incel types or ‘70s cosplay rocker dudes that are low-key sexist and always have something to say about my music, I’m like, You have no sense of style, you couldn’t creative direct if your life depended on it, so I don’t really give a fuck about what you think. But for the most part, I got a lot of really intense messages about how the song and video affected people. It affects me as well. It’s a form of magic, when you release a video like that into the world.”

Those critics looking to claim that King Woman are biting off other artists are shit out of luck. Celestial Blues is unlike any album released this year, bringing together elements of doom, black metal, goth, classic rock, and the folkish gloom associated with Tom Waits and PJ Harvey. The biblical themes present throughout feel more blasphemous any number of furious bulletbelt-wearers hoisting torches in caves, and the images Kris plays with in her videos — the smirking fallen angel of “Morning Star,” the writhing vampire of “Psychic Wound,” and in a yet-unreleased new video Esfandiari hints at during this interview, Christ Himself — feel graceful even as they embrace archetypes who have inspired terror throughout the ages.

“It’s like, when people are afraid of their subterranean energies — the scariest people are people who aren’t integrated with their darkness, who are unaware of their shadow,” says Esfandiari. “If you know what your shadow is, and what your darkness is, you can choose what to do with it. But if you’re unaware of it, it’s lurking there in the deep, and who knows when it will come out or what will happen of it? I don’t think it’s necessary to be afraid of these aspects of ourselves, so I think it’s just cool to act them out and bring them to life. It’s fun!”

How much of Celestial Blues was a product of the COVID pandemic?

I finished it in December of 2019. It was one of those things where I’ve been doing music so long that I know how intense it is going through a press cycle, so I said, You know what, I’m not going to rush this one. It’s going to come out when I want it to come out. I have ten projects, I was working on other things, I was touring, I had another record coming out — I didn’t want to rush it. But then the label was like, You have two options — July 2021, or 2022. And we were kind of unsure of what to do, because we didn’t even know if I would be able to tour for this. So what makes the most sense at this point? I felt like July was the right time, so we started getting everything together. But I feel like it still feels fresh. I’m not annoyed at the record. So that’s a good thing.

Did you feel antsy or annoyed at writing and recording the album, then having to sit on it for over a year?

It was done when it was done. The mixing process was a little bit hard for me, but I wasn’t really stressed about it after I recorded it. I think a lot of the stress is what comes after that — press photos, videos, interviews, it’s a lot. There’s so much that goes into it after you’re done recording. So that took a lot of time and effort, but it was worth it. A lot of the people I work with are out in the Bay Area and LA, so I was traveling back and forth a lot, which was a little scary during COVID. And being on set with the COVID situation was a little intense as well. But we figured it out, and I think we made the right choice to put it out in July, and now we’re going to do a few shows, but we weren’t really sure if we would even be able to play. Next year, we’ll probably do bigger tours.

I see you’re playing Oakland on Halloween. That’s a cool fucking show.

We do it every year. We do a covers set every year, and have our friends do cover sets. So I think we’re going to have Spiritual Cramp and maybe Fearing do sets. But I haven’t figured out a band yet. Like, maybe Replacements? Maybe Nirvana? We did Misfits the other year and it was so fun.

The “Psychic Wound” video is incredibly compelling, and you look believably tormented in it. What was making that video like?

Well, I realized in the past year and a half that I really like to act, and I’m a really theatrical person, so doing that stuff is really, really fun for me, and I feel like I’m in my element. I think one of the reasons I like to do music is that I get to be so dramatic. We actually did the “Morning Star” video and the “Psychic wound” video in the same day, and it was a lot. I had a bunch of my friends on set as the extras for the vampire video. Basically, as soon as I stepped in the center for the “Morning Star” video, as soon as they began recording, my period started and blood was running down my legs — it was so metal! It was kind of eerie, and a little rough because of that, because I was cramping. I had to deal with that on top of all the other stress! And then, when we did the video for “Psychic Wound,” there was this altar they made out of tile, and there was some pointy edges, and now I have a permanent scar on my right arm, a very deep scar, because it cut me while I was performing! I was actually bleeding pretty bad. It all kind of felt like some real ritual — there was a lot of real blood involved! 

It’s crazy that the videos involved a literal blood sacrifice. How much of that blood in the “Psychic Wound” video was real?

I did bleed a lot, and some of it is definitely period blood. But there were definitely gallons of fake blood. We had to get hosed down with these freezing-cold hoses afterwards — everyone was just drenched in blood. It really felt like, I don’t know, this is some shit! This is intense! But I was into it. I had a great time.

Between the “Morning Star” video and the album cover, it seems like the biggest theme you’re playing with on Celestial Blues is Lucifer and the fall from grace. 

Well, it does have some Luciferian aspects, but as the singles release, you’ll see that I’m working with all the archetypes for the Bible. There’s another video coming out with me as Christ. So I’m just kind of playing with all sorts of shit with this record. It just comes from my personal experiences growing up Christian, and some intense shit I experienced as an adult. It struck a chord with me — I felt like I should do this. Like it’d be a really interesting concept. It felt instinctual, like the right thing for me to do at the time. So as the singles come out, I think everything will come into view as to what I was trying to do. I’ve always been very intrigued by Lucifer — he was very bad in my household, and in church. He rebelled against God…and I always thought that was kind of cool. I wasn’t allowed to think that, but as I got older and recorded this album, I started thinking, Damn, Lucifer was kind of dope! I read other books, and started seeing a lot of other points of view on Lucifer, and on Christ. They’re both very light-centric beings — they’re different sides of the same coin, and I wanted to fuse them together in a way, and show that those aspects and energies are the same thing, in all of us. I think it’s a lot bigger than even archetypes themselves. It’s kind of seeing them as one. 

Is that exploration of your own religious upbringing therapeutic or cathartic? The album never feels bitter at the church the way so many satanic albums do.

With my record Doubt, I was definitely pretty bitter. You can hear it in the record — I was just trying to work through what the fuck happened to me. And then with Created In The Image of Suffering, it was more asking questions. I wasn’t necessarily angry, I was just curious…well, maybe I was a little bit angry! But I was trying to work it out more, find some answers. And then I came to this point — when you master all of it, you see it all as a play. You can play around with these characters, and it’s funny, almost. And so that’s kind of where I’m at now. It feels really good to be in this place. When I walk past a church and I hear people singing gospel songs, that shit makes me cry, it’s so beautiful. But if someone took me into a megachurch where it’s a white dude with a fedora emotionally manipulating people and singing really corny songs, which I had to do because I was a worship leader? That shit triggers me. I’d say absolutely not and would probably want to puke. Some aspects of Christianity make my skin crawl, and that will never change. But there are some beautiful aspects of the Bible in some of the old hymns. It feels good to be in this place. I feel a lot lighter. To me it’s always really funny now! And I know that some people I grew up with will see what I’m doing and be horrified…but that’s kind of funny as well. 

King Woman’s Celestial Blues comes out July 30th on Relapse, and is available for preorder. Catch her live at one of the following dates:

7/30 – Los Angeles, CA Lodge Room
7/31 – Los Angeles, CA Lodge Room
10/15 – Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus
10/16 – Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus
10/29 – Oakland, CA Starline
10/30 – Oakland, CA Starline
10/31 – Oakland, CA Starline (covers show)

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Words by Chris Krovatin