by Tom Welsh
Little Kid’s Kenny Boothby talks through the challenges of untangling his Christian roots while embracing the positive power of change
‘I noticed that a lot of the songs were about the idea of change – returning to places and seeing the way they’ve changed, or how I’ve changed…’
Kenny Boothby, the creative force behind Toronto’s Little Kid, is ruminating on how he arrived at the title Transfiguration Highway for the band’s sixth full-length release, and first as a signed artist. As we find with the engaging Boothby, however – as he proffers potential readings and insights into its religious connotations and double meanings – there’s a lot to unpack. ‘Sometimes I think about it and I know what it means, others I really don’t…’
Religious imagery, self-discovery, misty-eyed nostalgia and petty jealousies are all contained within Transfiguration Highway’s eleven tracks, which collectively brim with self-assured songcraft and uniquely perceptive storytelling. Comprising The Band-esque balladry, Big Thief-beauty and the hint of ramshackle realness, it stands with folk luminaries in its most melancholically beautiful moments and with modern indie peers in its inventive, often-leftfield take on salt-of-the-earth songwriting.
Delve a little deeper into previous Little Kid releases, however, and Transfiguration Highway is further unveiled as a bastion of Boothby’s journey of discovery. Raised in the Pentecostal church, Boothby began releasing music as Little Kid in 2011, as an outlet for his increasing disillusionment with aspects of his upbringing.
‘When the Little Kid project started, it was almost intended to sort that stuff out for me and to process difficult questions, and it was definitely a helpful process,’ explains Boothby. ‘It was important for me to make some extremely sincere music for a while. That was a challenge I kind of gave myself and I’ve just tried to be a more sincere person over the last ten years.’
The first fruits of this focus came in the stark sparseness of Logic Songs, which laid bare the feelings he wrestled with as he tried to balance the dichotomy between teachings and his own emerging truths. Self-recorded on a four-track, and containing some first-ever performances of its cathartic songs, Logic Songs earned Little Kid a somewhat cult following across messageboards and gave Boothby a platform to continue his self-exploration through music.
‘The first two albums were especially raw emotionally,’ says Boothby. ‘The first one is kinda sad – it’s still questioning things, but I’d still say it’s a Christian album and I probably still would have called myself a Christian at that time too. But [second album] River of Blood is a little more angry and a real rejection of all that stuff. It’s like cycles of grief.’
Subsequent releases have seen Boothby progressively allow his all-consuming, cathartic vision to be sculpted and smoothed by fresh perspectives and a now-established close-knit band, but each release still offers ever more insight into a journey that now embraces the past as part of the present. Each release still bears the knowing hallmark ‘released in the year of our lord’, but the sentiments are increasingly unburdened by the need for answers that he seems to have found in himself along the way.
‘I guess as I get older and get further away from everything, I can see it for what it is and the way it’s influenced my life in good and bad ways,’ offers Boothby. ‘There’s still anger in there I guess in some way, but with the ability to see it from a bit more of a distance now, I like that I can pick and choose. Now it’s just part of who I am, and I can appreciate parts of it, and I can use it as a songwriting tool of some kind.’
This is clearly evident across Transfiguration Highway, with Boothby’s upbringing allowing him to give a unique offering on such varied topics as power dynamics on the music scene (Thief on the Cross), journeys back home into the questionable hallmarks of change (Transfiguration Highway) and even a story of a husband’s failure to grasp obvious infidelity (I Thought That You’d Been Raptured).
‘There’s a freedom in being able to joke now about something that had a fear of hell attached to it before,’ Boothby admits about the latter. ‘If I was back in my real Christian days maybe I’d be like, “you shouldn’t be joking about raptures, it’s a serious thing,” but it’s not intended in any harmful way – it’s just used as a funny concept for the song.’
This desire and ability to harness the doctrine of his youth in uniquely positive ways, while also mining new personal and observed narratives has increasingly lent Little Kid’s output a grounded confidence, as well as an evident playfulness that talks of the space that Boothby now finds himself in.
‘When I was writing these songs, I was having a pretty good time,’ explains Boothby. ‘There’s still plenty that feels personal, but they’re less raw because I was less raw in myself. If I go through a crisis of some kind in a few years, I might have a batch of raw songs, but I think that now I can take that stuff as it comes.’
With Boothby obviously devoted to ensuring his art imitates his life in all aspects, initial talks of signing to a label – Transfiguration Highway being Little Kid’s first released on Brooklyn-based Solitaire – brought conflicting emotions. To someone so accustomed to having control of everything himself – even previously posting bespoke, self-taped sessions to fans with a tracklist of their choosing – the change to becoming a signed artist wasn’t exactly an easy sell.
‘I was just having to work through some anxieties, and picture that Little Kid will still be the same project that it is, but just hopefully reach more people,’ says Boothby. ‘I think our listeners will still get the same experience they did before, and that’s the important thing.’
Recalling earlier ruminations on the meaning of the album title, I’m reminded of Boothby’s reservations about whether change really is more often for the better. As someone whose journey of self-discovery has been so honestly and devotedly documented through a richly diverse discography, he really only needs to look back to see the positives a change can bring. Boothby – to his credit – will probably always carry his past as a passenger and let the experiences he’s passionately put into the Little Kid project guide him. Because of this, he really needn’t worry about being on the right road – it seems he’s got this figured out.
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