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Kristin Witko Is Breaking Out of the Burbs 

The BC performance artist crafts a consistently surprising concept album with A Course In Miracles.

by Ben Boddez

Photo by Jake Holmes

You might not think that living in the suburbs of the Fraser Valley – frequently described as ‘British Columbia’s Bible Belt’ – would provide much in the way of inspiration. But performance artist and experimental indie-pop singer Kristin Witko has turned her frustrations about the area (and the world at large) into a dramatic, theatrical concept album full of genre twists and turns.

Her first full-length since 2019’s acclaimed Zone of Exclusion, A Course In Miracles follows a spiralling suburbanite named Sylvia, dutifully played by Witko in the interconnected music videos.

Sylvia is “a poster child for people who have reached a breaking point living within the world’s current ‘apocalyptic’ conditions. (Climate change, techno-fascism etc.)” Through sparkly, pulsating synth lines, shuffling jungle beats, rock distortion, club-ready house rhythms, ghostly soundscapes and pounding piano that comes right out of musical theatre, Witko unpacks the chaos of everyday life with grit and charisma. 

We caught up with Witko to talk about the new album, playing an embarrassing character, and the meanings behind some of her allusions.

Who have been some of your musical inspirations? What are you listening to lately?

Just go to “Steely Dan – Black Cow” radio on Spotify and you’ll see. Also, Charli XCX’s BRAT is obviously amazing. 

Where did the idea of Sylvia’s story come from? Also – who is Amelia and how does she fit into this story? 

This album is my own version of “Pilgrim’s Progress,” I guess; a story about moral development that unfolds song by song. Side one is focused on Sylvia’s naivete and self-absorption, her desperate attempts to generate meaning through hedonism and half-baked spirituality. Then, “Dreams Die” is the moment of cynical despair that opens up into an exploration of values that are more grounded, practical, and humble. Amelia is simply someone who needs Sylvia’s help.

What has it been like embodying Sylvia?

Honestly? Embarrassing. Sylvia is a very TikTok, very “white person flailing in a void without meaningful cultural traditions.” She’s an avatar for some of my own shame, for sure. But that makes her a helpful device for my own shadow work.

My favourite part about the album was the complexity and surprising genre twists and turns of the instrumentals – which is your favourite instrumental on the project and how did the song come together?

[Producer] Simon [Bridgefoot] and I are proud musical ignoramuses, so we tend to do things the wrong way. When I wrote “Dreams Die,” I really wanted it to have a Chorus A and then a Chorus B with a key change. But the original key change was busted in ways I’m still too ignorant to explain, which meant I couldn’t record the vocal without going pitchy. Our wonderful friend Jordan Klassen came in, listened, and transposed Chorus B by one note, and all of a sudden it worked.

What was the inspiration behind the religious themes that often crop up in the story?

Sylvia is a frantic appropriator, including of religious mythology, which is partly why there are so many Biblical references. I also come from a religious family, and I’ve read the Bible a few times. It’s definitely deep in my bones.

 

Photo: Luke Beach Bown

 

The first video for this album came out two years ago, but some symbols are still around – what’s the significance behind the beard?

In addition to the Biblical/literary stuff, I do have my own idiosyncratic set of symbols, including that beard. It’s actually made from hair that Simon shaved off his head for a joke on IG Live when the pandemic first kicked in hard. At first that beard was an aggressive bid for the respect I felt I never got for my masculine qualities. But now I think it symbolizes a divine protective spirit, which is why the angel Uriel is wearing it in the “Babylon” video.

I love a good concept album, and this one fits the bill – what are some of your favourite concept albums?

I’m quite classic rock-pilled, so it’s hard to beat Pet Sounds and Sgt. Peppers. Kid A, which I suppose is also classic rock, is another fave.

What’s next for Kristin Witko? Anything else you’d like us to know? 

Simon and I have started plotting for the next album. Since I’m a peon of the Canadian grant system, I’m contractually obligated to deliver it around fall 2025. But I could always give the grant money back if I really can’t stomach doing this again, so who knows!

 

Photo: Luke Beach Bown