Kira Puru is not here for your shit. As you can tell from her current single, Fly, or the headlining tour kicking off later this month, she’s got enough to be enjoying without taking on your issues, thank you. But if you push her …
The visual artist, photographer and former frontwoman of hard soul rock band Kira Puru & The Bruise, has a solo career veering confidently into more pop territory. Busting with energy and hooks and amusement too.
The woman herself is equally confidently veering into territory where festival programmers who seemingly can’t find women, queer artists or artists who aren’t exactly white – or who can’t spell their names correctly when they do book them – are asked to explain.
And into the still contentious zones of LGBTIQ rights, the blunt force of racism in Australia, tech crews recognising a woman might be the leader of the group they’re setting up, and getting more than a handful of women on industry boards like APRA and ARIA.
Even if you’ve been on the end of a Puru hard question, or critique, it’s an impressive presence she’s got that’s not the cheap cliché of “fearless”, and certainly more than the other cliché of “mouthy”.
At the same time there’s this weird thing about the likes of Puru, for people of colour (or queer, or “other”) who grew up a generation or two back when no one was called a person of colour - though you might well have been called a coloured person if someone was being super polite - and being part of Australian culture meant bending to the shape of what white Australia decided was Australian culture.
You can’t help but be impressed with the way carving out a place for yourself in public discourse, not just asking for a place and hoping but knowing it is yours to take, comes almost naturally to her. Or at least it looks like it comes naturally.
The flipside to that is an expectation that engagement with issues such as racism, sexism, politics and more is expected when sometimes, as she said recently in one interview, she might just want to talk lipsticks and pop tunes. Even more than expected: if you are not seen as having an opinion and expressing it, you appear deliberately disengaged and maybe even cowardly.
“This conversation sits in my subconscious a lot: where the responsibility is and how obligated I am to engage,” says Puru. “As a person I instinctively move towards peace: I really don’t like confrontation, I don’t like feeling tense or under pressure. So I tend to shy away from those sorts of conversations.
“But I do feel a responsibility to be present in conversations that could potentially move things forward in a good way. It’s such a great tool to have at your disposal that it would be a shame not to use it and contribute.”
Not every musician wants to go there. Some of them can’t see a place; some can’t see a point; some can’t even see a need.
“I think it’s a real political choice on its own, not talking. A lot of people move through life in a similar way, like if you don’t have to engage with politics that’s because there’s so much privilege in your life and you don’t need to,” Puru says pointedly.
“[Not getting involved] especially when you’re working in industry that kind of capitalises on … people’s feelings and passions, is a really unfortunate choice.”
What about the fact that we sometimes are asking 18, 19, 21-year-old artists to have thought through and established a position on any number of topics, when a large number of others their age – and plenty enough much older - may not have even given it any thought yet. Is that fair?
“That’s part of the reason why I do like to engage in those conversations,” she says. “I don’t feel fully versed ever: I’m always scared about fucking up and saying the wrong things. But I feel like that’s why my contribution is important.
“I want to make sure that people know you don’t always have to be right; you can be discovering things and evolving and being wrong. You don’t have to be right to be part of the conversation. And sending that message to young people is really important because it allows them to contribute and to be engaged in that kind of conversation.”
And it’s a message that is even more important to those who, such as this writer, grew up in the outer suburbs of a major city, or who like Puru, who is originally from Cardiff in the Hunter Valley, grew up in a regional town – the kind of places where the cultural and political hubs are not just remote literally, but you assume philosophically and emotionally ignorant of your presence.
But here is the other bit that is often forgotten: it’s equally important to be able to say to those people you can have those opinions, you can develop those thoughts, without having to sacrifice the part of you that wants to enjoy life, that wants to have fun.
The part that will crack up with pleasure at Fly, or Molotov, the latter with a filmclip that is a parade of ‘90s moments that might induce travel sickness as much as a singalong.
“I was a much sadder person a while ago and my relationship to music was really about being reflective and personal and looking internally for inspiration that was touching my sadness and using that to make art,” Puru says.
“That was a fine experience and I guess in a way I moved through a lot of those feelings and now I make music that is celebratory as well as reflective. That I feel touches on my personality and political beliefs and it evokes that kind of carefree, irreverent party vibe.”
The self-titled EP from which Fly has been plucked is no straight out bundle of joy: it has a variety of emotional positions. But it is at all times a pleasurable experience. You know, like pop music. Ask the people at her shows, as well as the journalists looking for a good line on a contentious topic.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to put out to the world,” says Puru. “Where I’m at right now in my life I just really feel strongly about being able to positively contribute to things. The music is one of the ways I can do that.”
The Kira Puru EP is out now through New Tribe Music.
Kira Puru will play the Spilt Milk Festival, in Canberra on Saturday; Wine Machine, McLaren Vale, on December 1; HyperFest, Perth, on December 8.
Then headlining her own shows:
November 23, Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
November 24, The Lansdowne, Sydney
November 30, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
December 6, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
December 7, The Sewing Room, Perth