5 Miserable Songs That Make Miserable's Kristina Esfandiari Happy | Revolver

5 Miserable Songs That Make Miserable's Kristina Esfandiari Happy

King Woman singer picks sad songs that influence her blissfully dark dream-pop project
miserable-tania-apolinar-web-1.jpg, Tania Apolinar
photograph by Tania Apolinar

Despite what message her band name might otherwise imply, Miserable's Kristina Esfandiari is pretty content with her life right now. When Revolver catches up with the singer-guitarist outside of Vancouver's Biltmore Cabaret, she and her three-piece band have just baptized the room in the moody, magenta haze of the project's new Loverboy EP.

Outside of this, the L.A.-based songwriter is in the middle of a particularly prolific period, balancing her current Miserable duties alongside writing her next record with distortion-soaked doomsayers King Woman, crafting a single from new-ish post-punk project  Whatever World, and putting together the ambitious debut recording of her rap, R&B, and noise-merging NGHTCRWLR.

"It's like I have 20 screens going on at once in my head," the artist says with a laugh of her penchant for multitasking. It's been a hell of a hill-climb to get to this point, though. Previously, with King Woman, Esfandiari examined her "cult-y" and oppressive upbringing within the charismatic Christian community, which she ultimately dissociated from; Miserable's latest four-song set channels a different kind of hurt.

Loverboy follows Esfandiari's brief stint living in Brooklyn, a period heightened by feelings of isolation in her then adopted home. "I had relocation depression. I didn't even know that was a thing until I got there. I'd lived in California my whole life," the musician explains. Though she admits to having had a support network in place in New York, Esfandiari still spent much of her time in the practice space beneath her house playing her guitar. Loverboy, however, took shape on a flight home to California, with an impromptu rush of inspiration pushing Esfandiari to feverishly jot down lyrics on airline napkins as the musical arrangements cemented in her head.

Topically, the title-track subverts the crass, confectionary objectification of the male gaze ("Not a lollipop, Gonna suck me up/Not a lucky charm you wear on your arm"), while closer "Pain Farm" finds Esfandiari using the gloom-gaze backdrop to weigh in on degradation, shaming and acts of abuse ("My body ain't a playground/No access, there's no excuse"). "It's from the female perspective. It feels important," she summarizes of Loverboy, adding how the material resonates with her current backing band line-up of bassist Sarah Green, drummer Jess Lankford, and guitarist Juliana Lydell, which was assembled post-recording. While the subject matter is sadly all too relatable, performing the material offers a shared catharsis.

"The songs are loaded," she says. "They're very emotional, and they're very heavy. [The band have] all been through these experiences as well, so when we play them we're playing our hearts out, and singing our hearts out. We're all on the same page. It's like unleashing the female fury. I didn't know it was going to be so cool."

"I've been through a lot, but I'm really happy," Esfandiari continues. "I'm happy when I play these songs. I don't feel angry. I feel lucky to be onstage, and lucky to be playing with them [the band]. I don't feel too emotional when I play any of the songs, to be honest. I mean, I emote when I'm onstage. I'm not far removed from them, but I'm giving it to the world now, you know what I mean? I suffered when I was hashing them out, but now I'm fine."

Ahead of the October 26 release of Miserable's spiritually uplifting Loverboy, which also comes digitally packaged with the project's debut Dog Days EP from 2014, Esfandiari revealed to Revolver a few other sad-sounding songs that ultimately make her smile.

This Mortal Coil - "Kangaroo"

I just did a cover of "Kangaroo" by Big Star, but I did the This Mortal Coil version. That's actually how I was introduced to Big Star. I think that song is perfect. I just never get sick of that song. I've wanted to cover it for so long. It's one of those songs where I'm like, "Damn, I wish I wrote that." It's super angsty.

I think I was living in San Francisco [when I first heard it]. My friend Jess was like, "Have you heard This Mortal Coil?" She showed me It'll End in Tears [the group's 1984 debut album]. I ended up covering their version of "Fond Affections" [originally performed by Rema Rema] as well. It's funny, because I really only cover This Mortal Coil, and the Stone Roses. Yeah, ["Kangaroo"] just transported me somewhere — I felt like I was a vulnerable teenager in the Eighties at a party, just the lyrics, they hit me so hard.

The Replacements - "Swingin Party"

[Starts singing] "At the swinnngin party down the line." I like songs that make me feel like a vulnerable teenager, I guess.

I would love to see [the Replacements] live. I was trying to find a way to send my record to them, because I love them so much. I just love the song because it feels super nostalgic. I don't know the background, I don't even know if I want to know. I like how it makes me feel, I think that's the main thing. I feel that it's some of the most heartfelt music I've ever heard. I love the lyrics — they're very vulnerable and honest. That's kind of the approach I take when I'm writing for Miserable. Miserable, to me, is very teenage, angst-y music.

Velvet Underground - "I Found a Reason"

If I want to think, I'll go on a long drive and just loop this song. It helps me to gain clarity, I guess. I listen to it a lot — I listen to the same 10 songs on repeat, pretty much. Driving, even on long tours, really helps me to clear my head. It's like meditating for me, just having the music in the background and focusing on the road. It enables me to think a lot more clearly than I normally can; My mind is pretty jumbled.

My dad introduced me to [the Velvet Underground]. There's this movie, How to Talk to Girls at Parties — they have this song in the movie, and the placement is fucking perfect. I don't want to spoil it, but there's a romance between an alien and this punk kid. This pure, innocent, blossoming romance. It's just so beautiful. I love it.

I was pretty sheltered growing up. I wasn't allowed to listen to secular music, but my dad had a record player. He was allowed to listen to whatever he wanted, but I wasn't. He'd play classic rock: Neil Young, Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin, Stones ... and then some disco, and a lot of classical. Those were my influences growing up. Kind of weird. And then Christian music, which was another strange thing. I was a worship leader at church.

The Only Ones - "Flowers Die"

I feel like not a lot of people know about them, to be honest. My friend Dakota showed them to me. I guess it kind of reminds me of a really weird time in New York where I'd discovered old music that I'd never heard before — this record was in heavy rotation. It really inspired me for the next Miserable record I'm about to put out. I really like [Peter Perret's] vocals. I think they're really weird. I used to get made fun of for how my voice sounded when I was growing up, just because it's really deep, and kind of weird and husky. And I sing a little bit off key sometimes. I appreciate a distinct voice, a strange voice.

I think you just get sick of feeling like shit and second-guessing yourself and you go, ' Fuck, I don't care anymore.' The limbo of feeling self-conscious sucks. I feel like my voice got deeper after the first King Woman record. When I put out [King Woman's] Created in the Image of Suffering, I started to explore how my voice actually sounds.

Frank Ocean - "Self Control"

The whole Blonde record is my favorite record, ever. I think it's a masterpiece, and every time I listen to it I hear something I love more than I did the week before. It's one of those records ... you can be fucked up at a party, or take a drive, or take a bubble bath and listen to it to decompress, or whatever. It's one of those records that goes with anything. If you're heartbroken, or happy. This is my favorite song, I like singing along to this song.

I was about to move when it came out. I had just gotten off of tour. One of my last shows was in New York, and I remember there was a really long line at the merch table, and everyone talking to me was like, "You should move here!" And I was like, "God damn, I think I'm going to move here." I just got rid of all my shit. I took an amp and two guitars, a bag full of clothes and a couple of books, got in the van and booked a U.S. tour. My last stop was Brooklyn. So I listened to this record a lot during that time. A lot of memories tied [to Blonde]: moving, transitioning.

The hardest part was that I mentored a lot of people in the Bay Area, a lot of young musicians — I still keep in touch with all of them. I felt like a mom that was leaving her kids. "Who's gonna hold shit together when I leave?" I was a little sad to leave them, but I was like, "I gotta do this for myself. This is the right thing to do." They're all doing great! The kids are alright. They got their shit together in the Bay.

I'm pretty good at up and moving. I moved a lot growing up, so I don't have a whole lot of possessions. If I have my guitars and my amp and a bag of clothes, I'm happy.