Grim Kells is an innovator in the recording industry, using their voice to stand up for minority groups.
Nancy Grim Kells aka Grim makes music under the name Spartan Jet-Plex, as well as being the founder and Facilitator/Executive Director of Grimalkin, a nonprofit organization created “to mentor and support trans and queer musicians, particularly BIPOC and disabled artists, using an artist-centered holistic approach to break down barriers, create new systems and structures of support, and expand the reach of marginalized voices.”
“I’ve always had a love of music and songs rolling around my head since I was a kid. I sang in glee club and then dabbled in some experimental sampling and layering in college, but I didn’t start officially writing my own songs and recording them until my mid-twenties,” they explain.
Their music is largely blues and folk tunes, but they have an appreciation for all genres. From the Go-Go’s to Nick Cave, their musical inspiration has been incredibly diverse.
“I call my own music dark folk, and I think my music encompasses what folk music is. I’m essentially a singer-songwriter though.”
Grim started sharing their music using an analog portable 4-track to record music for their mom and a few friends. They continued to evolve alongside the internet by using MySpace and Bandcamp. It took years, however, for Grim to consider themselves a real musician.
“Being self-taught is one of the main reasons why I consider myself a folk musician. I also struggle with anxiety and severe stage fright, and it wasn’t until January 2019 that I first had the courage to play my own songs live,” explains Grim.
Just a year after this first show in 2019, however, the world shut down when the coronavirus pandemic spread across the nation. In their late 40s at the time, Grim was laid off of the job they had intended to stay in until retirement.
“When I lost my job, I couldn’t even go back to the work I was doing because it didn’t exist,” they said.
Grim identifies as non-binary, agender, and fluidly trans, as well as being a disabled and neurodivergent person, making their involvement supporting minority communities more personal. Grim received a BFA from Tyler School of Art and an M.S. in Special Education before working as a public middle school teacher for 14 years. They also worked as Vocational Counselor for 7 years and currently are a Certified Workforce Development Practitioner and Work Incentive Specialist Advocate (WISA).
To pursue the dream of combining these advocacy practices with their passion for music, they began investing into Grimalkin.
“After being depressed and crushed for several days, I picked myself up like I always do and figured maybe the universe was telling me to try and make Grimalkin a legitimate business and to work on making it become all the things I dreamed about that I never really thought could happen or that I could possibly do in retirement, and to be honest, probably never would have tried if I hadn’t lost my job.”
Grim founded Grimalkin because they didn’t see enough spaces in the music industry, even within the DIY sphere, that prioritize providing minority communities with safe spaces and support.
“So much of the music industry runs on exploiting artists and they are used as a means for others to make money, and our survival, ability to thrive and make a living wage is not even a consideration and rarely a possibility,” they said.
Grim saw that within the streaming space, this problem has become even more profound.
“Rather than supporting artists, more and more companies are popping up that create systems and ways to exploit and profit off of us. For example, I am talking about streaming services and pay to play publications and companies asking artists to pay to get reviewed or be considered for review, airplay or to be on a playlist, which by the way, doesn’t compensate artists because streaming pays us a fraction of a penny!”
Grimalkin Records began as a DIY record label but has greatly evolved: though helping artists release music is part of their work, their work is far more diverse than that. “The word Records in Grimalkin Records is more about documenting our work, music, history, etc.,” explains Grim.
Grim also spoke to the difficulty that comes with running a nonprofit organization. After losing their job in 2020, they have been using their savings to support themselves and the business. The organization has received some grant funding, but that money often comes with strings attached. They use the crowdfunding platform Patreon, as well as one-time donations from individuals, to get the community involved in supporting Grimalkin.
Grim works over 70 hours a week just to keep the organization going, but they hope to be able to hire people who can help support their work soon. Despite the hardships, Grim says, “If you want something like this to be successful, it takes all you have to give to get it done.”
Fans can find Grim at Gallery 5 in Richmond on March 16 playing with (Eli)zabeth Owens, Infinite Bliss and Tiara & Andrew, and at Basic City Beer Co. in Richmond on March 25 with (Eli)zabeth Owens and Infinite Bliss. They are playing MACROCK in Harrisonburg on April 7 and participating in a panel discussion on accessibility and inclusion in music on April 8.
Jaci Jedrych is a World Politics student at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She loves going to concerts and exploring different genres, and has a passion for arts and news writing.
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Soft Punch, aka Rye Thomas, of Washington D.C. released his debut album, Above Water on September 15th, after years of working on it.
The album is a labor of love that Soft Punch, the stage name of Rye Thomas, has been working on for years since the diagnosis of his chronic illness. It takes you through the highs and lows, mourning the freedom lost, and celebrating the things that he is grateful for in his day to day life. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to him about his process of writing the album.
The titles of albums are the first thing that an artist sees. That, and the artist’s name. When I first heard the name ‘Soft Punch’, I was intrigued. It was gentle but intentional. “I don’t know if I had a specific ‘A-ha, Lightbulb’ moment, but I was interested in words that sound good together and have multiple meanings,” Thomas said. “It’s a gentle hit, and a nonalcoholic punch. It’s the image of something harsh and something soft is interesting to me. I think I lucked out.”