Even if you're not really a fan of the singer-songwriter genre, it would be difficult to deny that local Vonnie Kyle is a woman with talent.
Kyle's previous efforts with her full band Ten Ten Division (described on their Bandcamp as "a playful blend of '90s rock, theatrical swirling vocals and pop melodies") didn't find her trying to needlessly reinvent the rock genre, but contributing something to the dialogue not heard in every corner of a saturated market.
Ten Ten Division hasn't been active for a few years—members wound up tackling other projects more full-time—but Kyle pressed on, refashioning herself as a folksy singer with a powerful voice and something to say. Her eponymous EP, released in May 2019, is a collection of just four songs, but has enough -swagger and down-to-earth familiarity to be worthy of repeat listens; Kyle, however, didn't box herself in.
The act of reinvention isn't new to her.
"When I was a teenager, I got started playing a lot of solo shows when I was just learning the guitar," she says. "For the last year or so, I've been mainly focused on these solo acoustic shows and a lot of touring."
Which isn't to suggest touring solo is easier; rather that, for Kyle, it affords a freedom that's worth the trade-off.
"Playing solo has allowed me to tour because I'm only in charge of myself," she says. "The disadvantage to touring myself is that I have to do all the driving."
If this was a piece about a girl playing a guitar, we could probably stop there, say that she's playing a show on Thursday, Feb. 13 at Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery with touring acts Jillian Rae and Lydia Liza, and call it a day. But there's more to Kyle than yet another Santa Fe folk singer with a guitar and a decent voice.
"About a year ago, I was diagnosed with type II bipolar disorder, and that was a condition I left undiagnosed for a very long time," Kyle explains. "It feels weird to call it a diagnosis when it was me saying 'I bet I know what this is.'"
That intuition proved right, and dealing with her mental health has found a way into her music. The second track on her EP, a punk-rock influenced piece named "The Brink Of Breaking Down," puts a face to her struggles as she sings, "You're pulling every trigger, every word plays on a loop."
Throughout her EP, such lyrics are commonplace, even when Kyle addresses simpler topics. When juxtaposed with the simplicity of the major key chords, it highlights an internal emotional tension, not unlike how Morrissey and The Smiths use major keys to convey a specific type of contemplation (side note: fuck Morrissey and his alt right edgey-queen bullshit).
"At the time I wrote that song, it was kind of getting to where I knew something was up, but I wasn't doing anything about it," Kyle says of "The Brink of Breaking Down."
"It's sort of related to those manic phases where your thoughts are just racing," she says, "and those racing thoughts are very easily triggered by something or someone."
In some ways, those manic phases can be productive, even at her dayjob.
"I would be walking around Meow Wolf with a clipboard, and I was writing three or four songs during an eight-hour shift," she says.
Zeroing in on a diagnosis and the proper meds altered those lyrical sessions further. Now, she says, "instead of writing all of these lyrics while frantically trying to put them to power chords, I'll actually sit down and be patient with it. I don't think it's bad that it's changed. The pacing is different, but it all evens out when you consider the depressive phases, where you don't get that much done."
Those with depression know those phases can hit hard, and Kyle says she even struggled with things she enjoyed, like seeing live music. It is, she says, "hard to get out and do things like that when you're depressed."
Music, of course, doesn't have an obligation to explore depression and sadness to have value. There's a joy in hearing or writing a pop tune filled with expressions of admiration towards a lover or about the good things in life. Kyle does touch on those very topics, though rather than a revisionist take with lovey-dovey imagery and hearts shooting out of one's eyes, she imbues music with delicate sincerity and honesty. It's easy to forget everything can be complicated, be it love, loss, mental illness or even getting out of bed and picking up the guitar.
7 pm Thursday Feb. 13. Free.
Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery,
2791 Agua Fria St.,