True Lions is something of a Kansas City supergroup comprised of some of Kansas City's most talented songwriters and musicians. Spearheaded by founding members Alison Hawkins and Mikala Petillo and recently expanded to include Elizabeth Kosko on drums and Claire Adams on guitar/bass, True Lions recalls 90s classic lo-fi indie pop with songs that are full of hooks, harmonies and other sonic surprises. While their future beyond a bunch of live performances and an excellent EP, "Cute at Best", remains unclear, Kansas City is lucky to have them while they're here. Enjoy our 2019 interview with Alison Hawkins about the band. And, join us for a free, live performance tonight at City Center Live.
How did True Lions originate? Is this the first time you both worked together?
In late summer 2018, True Lions began as a protest against misogyny in the Kansas City music scene. I’ve been performing music for most of my life, and there are countless instances where folks--usually cis white men--assume I’m shy or inexperienced, or they question my musical knowledge and skill set. Often femme folks are mistaken for audience members (groupies) rather than performers, and the representation of femme people on stage is disproportionately low. When a man referred to my music as “cute at best,” it nearly destroyed my self-esteem and confidence. I met Mikala Petillo (Miki P) through mutual musician friends, and when I confided in her about sexism I’ve experienced, she quickly understood and related, and we started regularly meeting up to jam. Initially we were calling ourselves “Two Lions,” but when we were presented with a cease and desist letter from another band in California, we changed our name. We’re quite happy with our new name!
Talk about the recording session(s) for “Cute at Best.” Where were these songs recorded? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
We recorded our EP “Cute At Best” with Ross Brown (Shy Boys, Full Bloods) in his basement. It was my first time ever recording anything, and it helped that we were all already friends. He took care of us and made us tea; it was a fun, stress-free experience. Our biggest challenge was only having two of us to track all the instruments. We started by recording guitar (myself) and drums (Mikala), then piano/synth (myself) and bass (Mikala) until we were satisfied.
What was the level of collaboration in terms of songwriting?
Together, Mikala and I collaborated on song topics and arrangements. I wrote most lyrics, as Mikala is quite busy and successful with her own project (The Swallowtails.) I’ve been lucky to receive her wisdom, guidance, and support throughout the past year. The first song we wrote together, “No Thanks,” was written on my apartment floor on a tiny Yamaha Reface CS synthesizer. I knew which chords and lyrics I wanted to hear, and Mikala sang back to me how she thought it could sound. We kept bouncing ideas back and forth until several songs were born.
What music are you both raving about these days?
Crushing by Julia Jacklin
Whack World by Tierra Whack
Sunshower by Taeko Ohnuki
Mujeres by Y La Bamba
Anak Koby by Jay Som
What’s ahead for True Lions in 2019?
The future of True Lions isn’t certain, but we are writing songs and performing for local audiences. We have expanded our duo to include Elizabeth Kosko (drums) and Claire Adams (guitar/bass.) The four of us are recording a new EP in August, and hope to have an album release show on Friday, Nov. 1 in Kansas City.
Tues. July 9 at Josey Records
Tues. July 16 at Speakeasy KC
Fri. July 26 at Records with Merritt
Alison Hawkins's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Stoner by John Williams
I discovered this practically perfect novel when I worked at Kramerbooks in Washington, DC. I was an English major at Mizzou (where the novel takes place) so it’s nostalgic, relatable, tragic, and beautiful to me.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
How can I resist a tender, radical, memoir about art, music, New York City, feminism, true love, and activism?
Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin
I met Jessa at an author-talk in D.C., and her book fundamentally changed how I see the world. It suggests that our current standard of feminism in the U.S. isn’t adequate for real social change. She encourages us all to do better, that it’s our collective responsibility. She’s brilliant.
Frances Ha directed by Noah Baumback
I’ve never seen a movie character who I identify with more than Frances. She’s a funny, independent, free-spirited 27-year-old trying to make it in NYC as a dancer, but always cast as the understudy. She prioritizes her best friend over all other romantic interests, and she’s incredibly awkward, yet endearing.
Young & Old by Tennis
I admire Alaina Moore’s honesty, and we share a love for sailing. This album helped me through a hard time, so it would be a shame not to mention its influence on me.
Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors
I’m inspired by the unique guitar riffs and incredible vocal harmonies. I love the chemistry and collaboration of Amber Coffman and David Longstreth.