While quarantine stalled projects for most creators, Los Angeles-based poet, actress, and singer-songwriter Kyler O’Neal spent the past few months working on music for her forthcoming EP and putting the finishing touches on her first music video. We talked to Kyler about the inspirations and influences of her work before the video’s premiere.
Adolescent Content: What’s behind the title Pity Party? Poems span “dating dilemmas to internal and external self-destruction.” What events inspired you to write the collection?
Kyler O’Neal: The working title of Pity Party was actually The Broken Express. I wanted the book title to capture the essence of the tone of the book, but Pity Party seemed catchier and more appealing, with more wiggle room for play. For example, in the promo photos for the book I had party-themed imagery, which was a lot of fun.
Pity Party is a collection of poems I’ve written throughout my life, dating back to my college years, before I began my transition from male to female, to my more recent years, living in Los Angeles. There are poems that highlight some of my darkest moments in life; from having a dating life filled with men who kept me closeted to living in New York City and feeling so alone amongst millions of people, to the point where I wanted to end my life. Whenever I felt inspired, or was at my wit’s end, I’d just write.
Adolescent: What drew you to the genre of poetry, specifically?
Kyler: Ever since I was young, it was a way to vent and get people to hear me out. And although I love to sing, I feel like words and ideas get through to people more when it’s simplified to words on a page. Poetry has always been a way for me to express my feelings in a creative, open way, and to actually capture people’s attention.
Adolescent: Can you talk about your song "Satan’s Tears" and its forthcoming music video?
Kyler: Every once in a while I’ll dream about a song or melody—“Satan’s Tears” was one of those songs. I dreamt the melody, and when I woke up the words just came to me. I sang the chorus over and over and even got teary-eyed when I thought about what the message of the song would be. Somehow I knew it’d be a song, or an anthem, for the outcasts.
In all [honesty], I had no expectations of there being an actual music video for the song. I didn’t even think it was music video material. Then I connected with Luka Fisher, who had a vision, and he connected me with director Andrew Lush and the next thing I knew we were on a path to creating a music video.
Adolescent: It’s a Christian song and the music video is slated to be released during Pride Month. When being religious and being LGBT+ are (rather naively) reduced to separate and even competing identities, what’s the significance of representing the intersection of the two?
Kyler: I love your phrasing “rather naively” because that’s exactly what it is. I see religion as a tool to help guide people to live and be well, especially toward each other. Anyone can add their own bias or misinterpretations to a message and influence others to share the same beliefs or confirmation biases...and then things can get messy. Suddenly, groups of people are shunned or cast away and there’s all of this unnecessary division.
As the child of two ministers, my parents have always shown me God is love and love is love. Sure, during the early stages of my transition it wasn’t easy for any of us, but we eventually came back around and remembered at the core what’s most important and that love is unconditional. While they may have their own personal biases and interpretations I’ve never seen my parents shun or outcast anyone—they welcome all, especially in their congregation.
We don’t see or hear about this enough, so as a transwoman who practices Christianity I think it’s important for people to see that the two can exist harmoniously and that not all churches or people who engage in religious practices are in the business of shunning others. Love is the message.
Adolescent: Did growing up as the child of a pastor and being involved with the church have an influence on the themes and style of the music you’re creating now?
Kyler: Yes, when it was discovered that I could sing, I was always in choirs and musical programs, which taught me how to harmonize and ad-lib, as well as sing solos. I use my harmonizing skills in almost all of my songs because it can really shift the experience of a melody. If the energy of a song calls for some ad-libbing, I get down.
Adolescent: How do you approach composing a piece, whether it be a poem or lyrics?
Kyler: For music, sometimes I play random keys on my keyboard and end up creating a song. Other times I just think of a melody or freestyle one and, as mentioned earlier, sometimes a melody or song will come to me in my sleep. With lyrics, I either freestyle them or write them out after I’ve already come up with the hook. The voice memo app on my iPhone is my best friend.
With poetry, I’m usually fueled by the motivation to get someone to listen or see a perspective regarding a subject matter or feeling I’m passionate about. What can I say? I’m a Cancer.
Adolescent: You’re also an actress with experience in independent films. Can you walk us through some of the film work you’ve done?
Kyler: My first breakout role was in a YouTube fan film by Chris Notarile titled Superman: Sylvia. This production lead me to land gigs on USC student film projects like Awaken by Kerri Cecil (San Francisco Transgender Film Festival) and Stealth by Astor Stark (Outfest). The most recent production I’ve acted in is a short film titled Hey Man by Kai Tillman.
Adolescent: What’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects?
Kyler: Music, music, and more music! After the release of the “Satan’s Tears” music video, I’ll be releasing another music video for my second single "S I T O L I K." It’s a production that I co-directed, co-edited, and produced, which I haven’t done since my college days, but was a lot of fun to do.
I’ve been working on my EP and have some songs in the queue to be finished—along with another music video. I’m so thankful to have been able to work with amazing music producers like Burak Yerebakan, Rass Tokyo, Jordan Mekano, and others to come. This may sound odd, but as a black trans woman, you get rejected a lot in life and really don’t expect many people to want to associate with you, let alone work with you. These guys have been amazing and I’m so glad to have been able to collaborate with them.
You can also catch me making cameo appearances in two music videos from other artists that are coming out: one is for Los Angeles hip-hop recording artist Kamal Shah’s song “Stay Prepared” and the other is for Canadian pop artist Raff Pylon’s “Kings Lane.”
Photo by Alan Amaya