catching butterflies

Kimberly Narcisi -- stage name, KimberLiana -- hesitates over a cup of tea, not quite sure how to begin.

"I'm not good at describing music," she says. "It's simple, moody ... actually, I'm more interested to hear what other people say, because I'm not very good at defining it."

She's more eager to explain how she got into the business.

"I thought everyone secretly wished they were making and sharing music," she says. "It became a desire that I could no longer deny. I finally came to a point of deciding that the risk of failure is a risk worth taking. I'd rather try and fail than die having never tried."

That meant giving up a good job in graphic design. That, she says, was the career she'd prepared for in college, but it didn't satisfy her yearning for music.

It did have one benefit, however. "I'm married to the drummer for a band called The Mint," she says. "We met because I was doing the graphic designs for his band."

Kimberly admits that leaving her comfort zone -- a safe and steady, if ultimately unfulfilling, career -- wasn't easy.

"People who knew me knew I liked music, but I didn't put myself out there," she says.

"I was unhappy at my job -- and I shouldn't have been. It was a good job. But everybody I worked with also did graphic design on the side. They'd work eight hours, then go home and do more. That wasn't it for me. ... I was, like, 'Everybody really wants to be a singer.' Then it hit me, maybe everyone else doesn't want to do this. Then I thought, maybe it was too late for me. But it's never too late."

But conquering her fears was a vital first step.

"I didn't want to put myself out there," she says with a sigh. "I mean, what if I'm not good enough?"

But not trying was not an option.

"I'm still not comfortable. I just do it," she says. "I believe in the music. And I believe it's my responsibility as a performer to share something with my audience. But I can't say it's comfortable, although it is rewarding."

Writing, at least, is a more solitary endeavor. Kimberly says the process is therapeutic. "It's like writing in a journal," she says.

There's no specific formula to her process. "It's different every time," she explains. "Sometimes a song hits me when I'm driving. Or when I'm trying to work something out. Sometimes, a melody hits me while I'm working, and I have to run to the bathroom so I can record it on my phone."

She has to run fast, though, lest the song get away.

"I see unwritten songs as butterflies," she says. "Sometimes, you catch them. Sometimes, you don't. And if you don't catch them, where do they go? There must be unwritten songs, just floating around."

Kimberly was born in Baltimore, Md., and raised in New Freedom and Red Lion, Pa. She moved to Lancaster, Pa., in her mid-20s.

She adopted KimberLiana -- short for Kimberly Ann -- for her music because "my last name's hard to pronounce," she explains.

She will do the occasional cover song -- particularly if it's Mazzy Star -- "but I prefer not to," she says.

"There's inspiration everywhere," Kimberly says.

"Sometimes, I have a whole song written and no words. Sometimes, I have all the words and no melody. Usually, the words come first -- I always have my voice, but I don't always have my guitar."

She's bringing both this weekend to the LAUNCH music festival and conference, which is unloading a host of musical talent in Lancaster, Pa. Kimberly is a return performer, playing at both Annie Bailey's Irish Pub on East King Street and the former Pennsylvania Academy of Music on North Prince.

Besides Lancaster, Kimberly's focus is solidly fixed on the Montrouis region of Haiti.

Kimberly visited the area on a mission trip in 2008. She came home with good memories, experiences and friends struggling to eke out a living. Then the earthquake struck in January 2010, and Kimberly's heart broke just a little.

"All natural disasters strike a chord in your heart, but when it's faces you know, it's so much more," she says. "I'd dream I was there, and I'd wake up crying."

That sparked a deep-rooted need to express her feelings in song, but the words didn't flow, she recalls. "I needed to write about it, for my own sake. That might sound selfish. How can I write in my comfortable house, in my comfortable bed, with all they're going through?"

But she persisted. Even so, it wasn't until she herself returned to Montrouis that Kimberly knew what she needed to say. She taught the words to children at an orphanage there, recorded the song and released the "Dear Haiti" EP to raise funds for recovery efforts. "It was an incredible experience," she says.

Meanwhile, it's been about five years since Kimberly took the step from graphic design to music. "I've definitely changed," she insists. "I'd like to think that I'm more free than I was. Maybe more light-hearted -- I tend to take myself too seriously."

[ visit the artist's website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

23 April 2011

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