Alt-folk-country group Indiana Queen recently launched a new album and an accompanying film, “Summon Without Sorrow,” continuing to blaze a path for queer voices into the traditionally conservative genre of country music.
The group is largely an artistic umbrella project for its front man, openly queer singer songwriter Kevin Thornton, who brings in other members as needed.
“It’s part of a vision of how I wanted to present it,” he said about presenting his music as a group instead of a solo act. “There are lots of bands like that. Nine Inch Nails is really Trent Reznor and Smashing Pumpkins is really just Billy Corgan. There are people who play with me. When I do a live show it could either be with myself or with some other players. There’s a revolving door of players who play with me on and off. I didn’t want to present it as a solo act. I wanted it to feel more like an artistic vision than just a singer-songwriter.”
To help promote the new music, Thornton created a visual album, consisting of a string of visually striking and sometimes NSFW videos to tell a story of pride, love and acceptance.
“It came together in a fairly short period of time but I worked on it nonstop, like hours and hours a week,” Thornton said of the process of creating the film. “I literally did nothing else for those six weeks but work on the film. It was done very guerilla movie-making style. I filmed part of it in Cincinnati. I filmed part in my hometown in Indiana and the rest of it here. It was an intense six weeks.”
With songs like “Nashville Don’t Give a Damn” and “Be My Man” featured on the new album, Thornton writes lyrics talking about queer experiences in unambiguous fashion, set to a sonic backdrop of stripped-down, heavily folk-influenced songs. While he agrees this makes him somewhat of an anomaly in country music, the genre is far more inclusive today than it was a few decades ago.
“It’s moving slow,” Thornton said when asked about queer visibility and acceptance in country music. “When I first moved to Nashville 20 years ago, everyone told me to keep the gay thing on the down-low and it was going to hurt me. I was completely out on day one. It was 1999. I guess looking back, I wonder if they were right because here I am, still on the fringe. There are definitely artists in Nashville who have come out or become allies. The weird thing is the country-music industry in Nashville, like everyone who works in it, is super-progressive. A ton of them are gay. You go out to a gay bar on a Saturday night and you see tons of people who work in the industry. But then they give this other face to the world. It’s unfortunate I guess. It is changing. It is slow but it’s definitely a different world than it was 20 years ago. I just kind of kept doing my thing and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I felt like I’ve cracked anything open. I felt like being openly queer in my lyrics and all my stuff is helping at this point. It wasn’t helping me 15 years ago.”
Thornton also felt the need to stick to his guns artistically, staying away from the formulaic rock- and pop-influenced sounds that dominate popular country music these days.
“When you show up in Nashville, there’s a dozen people ready to tell you how to do it,” he said. “For sure, I had people telling me to maybe go with a more mainstream sound or something that might sell. That never worked for me. I feel like when people do that, you can feel the disingenuousness of it. That’s not something that interests me. I’m not making any decisions based on what I think people will like. I just let it come out how it comes out and that’s how it is. The next set of songs I’m working on are not very country at all. It’s way more like ambient folks like Bon Iver. But I’m not actually trying to be anything.”
Thornton doesn’t take his music on the road in the traditional sense as much as he used to, preferring to expose audiences to his music through other means.
“These days I just focus my entire attention online,” he said. “I used to play out in Nashville quite a bit but this town is changing a lot. It’s very tourist-based and I feel like [I found] my niche more on the Internet. When I hit the road it’s a variety of venues that I perform in. I’ve performed at a lot of theater festivals where I make my show more of a storytelling thing. I’ve played smoky little dive bars. Basically I perform at anything and everything I can get my hands on.”
Thornton added that the desire for a more stable life is one of the big reasons he’s pulled away from the life of a traveling singer-songwriter, but he’s still figuring out how to make that work.
“I literally lived on the road for over 10 years,” he said. “I went through a long period of time where I was literally homeless, intentionally so, because I was on the road so much that it didn’t make sense to pay for an apartment anywhere. If I was in town I’d just crash on somebody’s couch and hit the road again. At some point, by the time I was in my late 30s, I just wanted other things in my life that didn’t involve me drinking a box of wine at a Days Inn in the middle of Kansas. It started to become deeply unsatisfying. I wanted a love life that went beyond one-night stands. I just decided to revamp my life and have a home. I’m still in transition. I’m still working it out. I’m not sure how it all pans out.”
“Summon Without Sorrow” is available now. For more information visit http://indianaqueen.com.