*Feature image by Annie Frame.
Kiyomi McCloskey is the front-woman of alternative rock band Hunter Valentine. Originally from Ontario, Canada, Kiyomi now lives in New York City and was most recently one of the stars of “Showtime’s hit series” (Hi, I’m Ilene Chaiken…) The Real L Word. Honestly, coming into this, dapperQ had some questions for Kiyomi about how she was portrayed in TRLW, but since doing some research and reading her AfterEllen interview, and her blog for the Huffington Post, these questions have been answered. Instead dapperQ learned some things about Kiyomi’s take on androgyny, fashion, David Bowie, and rock and roll.
dapperQ: Where’d the name come from? Hunter valentine? I heard about previous incarnations like Dirty Linen and Trash Before Class. Definitely think you made the right final decision in the end.
Kiyomi: You know…the band has been together for a long time. It started with us trying to get the name for a fictional character we created. Which is basically like a James Dean type character, like the ultimate heartbreaker. Who’s had his heart broken so many times that he’s a hunter for valentines. That was a long time ago, but it always stuck. So we created this character and we gave him…well not him, the gender is fluid. It started out as a character and now it’s just sort of a band name.
dapperQ: Were you writing songs around this character?
Kiyomi: In the beginning, there were a lot of themes around that character, but there’s only so much you can write about one person’s experience.
dapperQ: It sounds like Hunter Valentine maybe had some bad experiences with labels, like True North and Tommy Boy. Do you think that’s something you would want again?
Kiyomi: I think that we haven’t met our perfect match for a label. We just sort of signed with Megaforce Records recently. We’re taking it slow. They’re still courting us in a way and we’re being a little more careful than we have in the past. With Tommy Boy and with True North, it actually just kind of fell into bad circumstances. With True North, we were happy with the label and with the owner, but he had been in the industry for a long time and he was looking to take on less responsibility, so he decided to sell the record label part and keep just the management side. So, he sold the record company that we were signed to to another guy, and that guy wasn’t really familiar with our music and it didn’t really click. So, one of those records still belongs to that label, but we don’t really work with them anymore. And then with Tommy Boy, they were just sort of downsizing. And you know, companies downsize and people get laid off. I mean, when you’re in the record industry, you have to always maintain a positive mentality, otherwise they’ll just grind you out and you’ll quit. We’ve been very strong, but in the end we feel like it’s very worth it.
dapperQ: That must’ve been a wild experience, with everything so in flux. Lots of opportunities to quit. What kept you committed?
Kiyomi: Just the love for the music. Even though it’s been a slow grind, the fans that we do get have always been supportive. Even though labels may have not seen us grow at the pace they desired, we have seen the growth. Every time we go back to a city we see how many more people are there than the last time. And that shows us how we can really make this work. The commitment of the fans has really made us grateful and that’s what kept us going.
dapperQ: How was doing it on your own?
Kiyomi: We were doing it on our own for the last year with our management and our agents, but at this point it’s too much to manage on our own. We have a show every single night for the next few months, we’re going to Japan ,we might be going to Australia. To try to manage it all…we can’t do it anymore. We need help. So we’re venturing into this new relationship with the new label MegaForce and we’ll see what happens.
dapperQ: What can people expect from the new album, Collide and Conquer, and from this fall’s tour? It just came out in late October and I feel like it’s more lush…more textured than your last two albums.
Kiyomi: I think this album has a really great range of songs. It’s got like, ballads on it, it’s got progressive rock songs, it has mid-tempo pop songs. And I think that it’s really got something for everybody on there. There is a lot of growth with songwriting with this record. There’s a lot more collaboration on the band, we experimented with keyboards. So, we’re really, really proud of it and even though our van broke down on our album release day, we’re still trying to keep it positive and celebrate the fact that we got this record out and we’re really happy with it.
dapperQ: Other than your van breaking down, how has the tour been so far? Decent attendance?
Kiyomi: Sold out or close to sold out every night! So far there have only been a couple of shows that weren’t good turn outs.
dapperQ: That’s the dream right?
Kiyomi: It feels really amazing! I’m glad that it took the band this long to get to that kind of a level because it makes you appreciate it that much more. I don’t forget that sometimes we would show up to cities or towns and there would be only a handful of people in the audience. So, it makes you really appreciate what you have now.
dapperQ: Tell me about your songwriting process. Do you have progressions you gravitate towards naturally…do you write the chorus first…do you work as a band?
Kiyomi: It’s really different for every song, y’know. Sometimes Vero will bring in a whole song and we’ll make adjustments to it. Sometimes I’ll bring in a song. Sometimes we’ll work out songs just jamming out on a riff in a rehearsal space. It’s hard to say because every song is different but that’s also what makes it exciting.
dapperQ: Through personnel changes, multiple records, what do you think keeps the band grounded? What keeps you guys Hunter Valentine? And on the other hand, what has changed?
Kiyomi: The evolution of the songwriting has changed…and we’re having a really good time right now with the members and the current lineup. We’ve got a mutual respect for each other and that’s really important when we’re on the road. We’re really having fun, which is new. In the past, we’ve taken ourselves so seriously. I feel like we have a really great balance of fun and professionalism. I think our work ethic has stayed the same, though. We work really hard. We try to do everything ourselves. I do all the merch, creating all the merch with different local designers, then getting it manufactured. Laura was doing the tour management. We’re just really hands on. We do all our own promo, all our own tour videos. Stuff like that. We don’t really ask for help until we can’t, until we really need it. I think at a certain point, though, you do need to be okay with accepting help, realizing that it’s gonna make you and your company grow. ‘Cause hunter valentine is a full on business. Laura and I are CEOs!
dapperQ: Y’all should put that on your business cards.
Kiyomi: (laughs) Yeah, exactly.
dapperQ: So I hear a rumor that you’re starting a clothing line?
Kiyomi: Yup, I’m starting a clothing line. I want it to be catered to people like myself that aren’t afraid to play with like a little bit of femininity but, are more androgynous. So, females or boys like that. It’s called Death and Diamonds. We’ve been on the road so much that I haven’t been able to get it to a launch level yet, but I’m looking to get it out soon. I’m going to do a lot of work with my tattoo artist, Mike, who works at Fly Right tattoos at Brooklyn. Like I said, I do all the merch for Hunter Valentine, most of those designs come from my brain, but I also work with a lot of local New York artists. So, I’m interested in doing my line in that same way, giving exposure to local artists and give them credit.
dapperQ: What sort of things would you cater to?
Kiyomi: Well, for example, I have smaller feet and I still have feminine physical body parts but I like to dress a certain way that’s like sleek but a little bit masculine and playing with it.
dapperQ: From what I understand about your style, it walks a lot of androgynous lines. You wear makeup but you wear men’s button down shirts. Can you talk about how you choose to maneuver that with your style?
Kiyomi: I hate when people are like… they see your look being one way and then the next day you decide to wear something different, and they’re like “what the hell that’s so weird that’s not her style.” I like to be able to play with different looks and sexualities in fashion on a daily basis in whatever way that I want. So, if I want to wear like… a blazer and heavy eyeliner to counterbalance that and fuck with people then I’m gonna do that. The next day I might wear a leather jacket with a low cut shirt. I’m not afraid to play with my masculine side of my feminine side. And that’s what rock and roll is: David Bowie, Mick Jagger, those are some of the most iconic people in rock and roll and in fashion. You see those guys play with their feminine side, and it’s like…most people in fashion respect it. And then you think about women playing with their masculine side, like k.d. lang and Annie Lennox, it’s all part of like being a performer. And being able to show all your different shades of color.
dapperQ: Who are some of your style icons then?
Kiyomi: David Bowie, Mick Jagger, I like classic imagery. I have a little bit of an obsession with James Dean and very clean cut, rock-and-roll sort of looks. But, then I also like street wear sometimes, like when I’m just chilling out. I’ve been wearing a lot of my friend’s line, it’s called Cashletes, and she actually works with me on a lot of my merch. Her name’s Mackie. I like Diesel, their jeans and jackets are amazing.
dapperQ: Where are some other places you like to shop?
Kiyomi: I like shopping in NYC. Lauren takes me to this store in L.A. called Kill City, they always have a million things that I want to buy. I like shopping at vintage stores too, like Beacon’s Closet in Brooklyn. In Toronto there’s this store called Jacflash, which is cool. I like wandering in to random vintage stores around the country…’cause I’m on tour all the time, so just if I’m passing the downtown area of a city I like checking out little boutiques and seeing what they have.
dapperQ: I feel like you’re always doing crazy cool, interesting things with your hair. Sometimes you do like a pompadour thing, sometimes you keep it down, sometimes it’s fauxhawked. Can you tell me about how you keep it fresh and interesting and switch it up?
Kiyomi: I’ve always been obsessed with hair. I really have. I’m not a huge color person, where I want to change my colors all the time. I leave that up to my girlfriend.
dapperQ: So, you’re still dating Lauren?
Kiyomi: Yeah, she’s here with me right now. She came out to visit for some of our California dates.
But yeah, I don’t know, when you’re performing all the time you get sick of just doing one thing with your hair. I like to keep my options open, so I have a cut where I can do a pompadour or slick it back and I can also make it messy. It’s the same thing with changing up your style all the time. It’s a mood thing. And then certain occasions call for different looks.
dapperQ: Like what different occasions?
Kiyomi: Well, even different shows require different looks. Sometimes we’re playing dive bars and other nights we’re playing more of a theater style, so I like to get a little more dressed up and formal if it’s a nicer show and if I’m playing a dive bar I do punk rock. But, if it was something like a dinner party, right now I’m into the ‘50s slicked back look, with like a straight line. But then some fans are so used to seeing my hair up and they’re like “what are you doing?” and I’m like “oh god”…it’s the same shit that Lauren catches when her hair isn’t pink. At some point you have to make changes. You have to not be afraid to take a punch when you make a change with your personal identity.
dapperQ: Do you think your band has a style? You guys kind of wear similar things…a lot of black and red. Dark messy hair. Do you consciously think about it or does that just happen? Do y’all ever coordinate?
Kiyomi: It was just naturally that we found ourselves. When we have a more proper, fancy show, we’ll coordinate our looks more like, ok tonight we’ll wear black and white and look a little more slick. And then other nights we’ll just be like, okay it’s grunge. And it’s sort of fun for everyone ‘cause it keeps it interesting on tour. We have a stylist that we work with, her name is Micky Fontinella. She also works with Cyndi Lauper.
dapperQ: How do you put together an outfit for a show, then? Can you walk me through, say, a dive bar outfit and an outfit for a show at a nicer venue?
Kiyomi: (laughs) Okay, this will be fun. Well, for a dive bar I would wear more of like a worn-out, vintage T-shirt with a chain and a leather jacket. Skinny jeans and some rolling stones weather boots. For a nicer show, I’d probably wear skinny jeans (G-Stars?), button up shirt that was like short sleeves, or roll up the sleeves with suspenders and then maybe a blazer. And then shoes…I have these like…patten leather oxfords.
dapperQ: So this is a little personal, but I have to ask this question, because it was an ongoing debate between my girlfriend and I while we were watching TRLW. Do you bind?
Kiyomi: I don’t actually. I feel like there’s a common misconception that because I can be more of like, a butch person, that I bind or that I’m going into transitioning, but I’m very comfortable with and really appreciate my femininity too. So no, I don’t bind, I just wear a very strong sports bra (laughs). It’s also about working out a lot, which I haven’t done in a very long time. Ohh, I haven’t been to the gym in about two months it’s tragic.
dapperQ: What advice would you give to someone who was trying to figure out their own androgynous style?
Kiyomi: I would say wear what you feel, y’know. And you’re not gonna feel the same way every day so don’t be afraid to change it up. Personal style and clothes are just another form of expression of yourself so, y’know, use that to your advantage and don’t be shy or afraid to express yourself.