The first time I saw Kaleidoscope Horse perform was two-ish years ago. Back then it was just Desiree Das Gupta and Sam Maloney in this epic duo. They opened for a band I was playing with at the time, and right then I knew these two girls had something special. I first met them however, a year prior via the Independent Music Production (IMP) program at Seneca College. Desiree was finishing up a couple of courses in the program, and right away I knew knowing her would be a growing experience. As a very shy and reserved person, Desiree was the total opposite. Her music was wild and fiery and she said things I could never hope to say out loud. I met Sam through Desiree, she had graduated a bit before us but had first met Desiree in her IMP class. Since then Kaleidoscope Horse has grown into a five-piece full band that have just finished recording their first album together. They also just signed with local Toronto label, Fried Records.
I’ve always known Desiree and Sam as these two badasses, confident and free spirits. To me, they never cared what people thought and nothing could ever touch them, but getting to interview them was an interesting and eye opening experience. It made me truly realize that you don’t even know what’s beyond the surface unless you try to uncover it. I learned so much about these two inspiring women, as well as myself, with this one 45 minute conversation.
Desiree and Sam are like two soul sisters that were separated at birth and found each other in their evolving adulthood. Constantly finishing each other sentences, it’s like they have a psychic twin link that’s just an awe to watch.
On a surprisingly chilly summer afternoon, we sat in the living room of the “Bayou”, where I asked them these questions.
IS: How would you describe your music?
Desiree: I would say our music is theatrical. It’s constantly evolving.
Sam: Let’s think of three words. Theatrical, dreamy…
D: And emotion based.
S: Emotion based, heavy emotion based. As of what people have heard so far.
IS: How would you define confidence & what does it mean to you?
D: I think confidence has a lot to do with feeling firm in what you feel, regardless of whether or not it’s a confident feeling. Allowing yourself and not judging yourself for the way that you’re experiencing life. Not answering to anybody about that, just be honest about who you are and not feel the need to overcompensate for something that you’ve done. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you’re your own worst critic but also you can’t go around being a certain way and expecting everybody to understand. ‘Cause they’re not going to understand, and I think to seek understanding from everybody is kind of a lack of confidence thing. At the end of the day you have to be cool with what you’re doing. That’s confidence for me right now.
S: Confidence for me really is if I’m happy with myself. If I can sit there with myself for like, five minutes and take myself for a walk. Just feeling comfortable with myself is where I find my confidence. Where I get to be weird and play around with things is when I feel comfortable. This side of confidence comes out that maybe might be portrayed as more spastic, but it’s actually way more natural.
D: Yeah. I think a lot of it has to do with feeling like you have something to bring to the table. I think everybody has something to bring to the table, and not being afraid to not know something is a big thing.
S: I learned that a lot the last couple of years from asking. I used to never ask questions ‘cause I was too embarrassed.
S: ‘Cause you’re comfortable enough…
D: With yourself that it doesn’t mean something about you to not know something.
S: Exactly. If anything, it’s more admirable that you would wanna ask.
IS: Do you feel more confident on stage or off?
D: For me, everyday, every moment is different. We’ll play shows where I wanna crawl into a shell or just sink back into my other band mates. Or I’ll have shows where I’m feeling entirely energized by what everyone else is doing, or just within myself and then I can feel good about that. I go back and forth between enjoying being the centre of attention, and feeling pressured by it. There’s just times when I’m not fully in the headspace of being like, “Here I am!” I would so much rather be just chillin’, but you know, as an artist you have to learn how to balance both of those things. I think that’s a different type of confidence.
S: I was just gonna say that.
D: When you’re on stage it’s more about pushing yourself, which takes a lot of confidence. Offstage, I think it’s a lot more about being comfortable in random interactions or not interacting at all. Not constantly putting yourself out there.
S: I feel like you pretty much summed it up for the both of us. There’s two different confidences. Well, for me I was so shy, like Des(iree) helped me out a lot with making me feel confident. As with performing, I honestly couldn’t have done it alone, I’m not the solo artist type. I very much thrive off of other good energy, and I would sing quietly in my room in literal closets and stuff. We literally wrote half of the album in a closet because of just how intimate and precious it was. It was kind of scary, you don’t wanna belt it out right away. Basically I didn’t sing, I didn’t know about IMP, I thought I was going in for just the production. I was like, “Yup, I’m going to be behind the scenes. I’m not gonna sing, no one needs to hear me sing or play really. I wanna be behind the scenes.” Then there’s like, song writing and I was like, “Okay, I guess I’ll get into this,” and then I was able to perform in front of people. I only started performing in front of people and not completely freaking out like four, five years ago. When we played together.
D: ‘Cause we were so used to being in this closet and in this bubble together, where nobody else’s energies could interfere with what we really believed we were creating. I think that when we went on stage, we recreated that world. That’s why we generally believed in what we created so we were like, “Boom!”
S: That’s kinda where the comfy robes and the blankets (that they had on stage), we kinda set up our safe haven space on stage.
D: Kinda tuck us in.
S: Yeah, allow us to get confident and then confidence outside of, it’s so different. It’s a confidence I never felt performing. It’s really cool, I’ve never felt that. Being proud I think is more of a thing, but being confident outside, I don’t know which one I’m more confident with. I’d say that they’re equally, they reflect so much on each other. I really can’t fully, can’t get outta the headspace I am in, the real world to the performing world all the time. It very much shines through all of us, I think it’s an obvious.
D: Yeah, I think they both affect each other very heavily, and it’s so rollercoastery sometimes, so there really is no steady answer.
IS: Where does your strength come from to share your art?
D: Oh God, I don’t even think it’s a strength, I think it’s a need. For me, I don’t find it. I mean, yeah, there’s a scary aspect, I guess of putting yourself out there, but for me I have always been more afraid of not putting something out there, not contributing. For me, being silent is what would take strength. Putting something out there is a need to be understood, to connect with people, to create. That is because of my lack of strength I think, in handling my emotions inside my head, I need to express them in order to deal with them, but that’s just strictly putting it out there, it does take a lot of strength to perform, that’s for sure another aspect of it. Where that comes from is really just the want to do music professionally. The want to not have to live my life in a segregated way where I’ve got this other job, I just really want to wake up in the morning and create all day, and get paid to do that. That would be wonderful. I mean to get paid just ‘cause you have to live,
IS: To sustain yourself.
D: Yeah, exactly, and it takes a lot of work for sure, but it’s a need.
S: For me, strength, when you were just saying, for performing specifically I feel like the strength comes from another conscious of myself, it’s another world that…
D: Like an energy source that you draw from.
S: Yeah, that I just draw from or I go up into, and it’s where I’m simultaneously truly feeling like the past, present and future at once. Kinda outer body feeling, that’s when I can really tap into it, which is really really nice. To say that, I can’t do that all the time but that’s a huge strength point through just being comfortable with getting to a different point in your head. Being able to get to those when you need, I’ve practiced; we’ve played a lot of shows. It’s just tapping into this different thing, and the strength to just actually let anyone hear the music is just shear need as well. It needs to come out, it has to. I feel like I would be way farther away from myself if I didn’t. So, strength from ourselves.
IS: What is your first memory of feeling musically confident?
D: This is weird. I was born musically confident.
S: (Laughs), Yeah, we’re so different this way.
D: I came out singing, I came out creating. I got my first guitar when I was like, three. I learned how to be unconfident. The world taught me to not be confident. I had to regain it. I’ve been singing forever, but I think a moment in my adult life, since I’ve matured I guess, was when Sam and I finished writing this first record, and we played some acoustic show somewhere, I have no idea. I know we played some show where it was just the two of us, and I legitimately did not care what anybody else thought. Not one single person in that room could’ve made me feel any less or anything, because I was just so happy and honored to be playing the music that we had created, and I felt so detached from the opinions of others., and I think that’s what was really like, “Okay, I’m an artist, I can do this, I can validate myself.”
S: Validating yourself is all that maters really. I’ll go like, way back throwback. It would be when I was in one of the first bands I was in. It was with one of my best friends, Marc, and I actually started out playing the drums. I still play the drums. So, I started with that and it was a way for me to still not have to interact, or really look at anyone, but still make a noise and express.
D: But you’re behind a kit.
S: You’re in the back, but that’s kinda changed now. Now I’m like, “Oh my god! The whole vibe is on you.”
D: Yeah! Because you know more now.
S: Exactly. The first time feeling confident, I think was when I did this grade eight talent show with my friend Marc and Robbie. We did some Nirvana covers, and Robbie playing the bass was just, this is such angsty teen…
IS: Middle schooler vibes.
S: Yeah, musical confidence, ‘cause I was just playing and I knew I could play. There was a huge lack of girl musicians in my town. No one, especially a girl playing the drums ‘cause I’m from a smaller town. It was terrifying but it was definitely a pinnacle point of confidence. Then we were playing “Territorial Pissings” by Nirvana, and I just start smashing on the drums, and Robbie starts smashing the bass on the thing (stage)! This grade eight talent show! That was probably the first time, but then once I started writing and singing that came with, when I was really, really proud. I’ve had so many times feeling proud, it’s really hard, but it really, truly started when I started playing with Des and performing with her. I wasn’t proud of myself because I hadn’t cracked into that part of me yet. She happened to be around while I was, and also helping me with it and vice versa, and that’s why we jive so well, ‘cause we were with each other in those pinnacle points.
D: And we brought out things in each other that we both needed.
IS: Why did you pick this location? What about it is special to you?
IS: We’re at the Bayou.
Both: The Bayou!!!
D: Basically what happened was when Sam moved in here, I helped her move in. We spent the night here and then we drove to Texas with our best friends the next day.
S: Three of our best friends! Also in a sweet band called Hot Garbage.
D: So, we were driving to Texas with these musicians, and I just realized that if I was going to do anything, if I was ever going to be a musician, I needed to get the fuck outta my mom’s house. I needed to be in the city, I needed to be around people who were creating and who were doing well for themselves. Every musician, everybody that lives here (in the Bayou) is a musician in a rocking band, actively working on their music on a regular basis.
S: So inspiring.
D: Once we were all together in Texas, and we had that week and we bonded so much, and we saw so much music ‘cause we were there for a music festival. When we came back we literally came back here, and I never left. I just said, “I can’t go back to the way I was living,” and she (Sam) was like, “Move in with me.”
S: She crashed with me.
D: For the hottest summer on record, we were dying, to the point where Alex (roommate) went and slept on the bus for air conditioning.
S: We were so hot up here. I first moved to Kensington after IMP, and I lived in a basement, and I had such pinnacle moments there. It was absolutely beautiful and a classic basement apartment in the downtown core. Then I was like, “I need to get out, I need to be around a tree.” There’s a tree in the backyard (at the Bayou), I needed that, and then I moved to the very top floor that I could. ‘Cause I just needed more space…
D: We were so comfortable.
S: ‘Cause we were confident in ourselves and what we were doing in our music. We were comfortable immediately! The space was ours to be created ‘cause it was just Alex living here, so it was pretty much up for energy, there was room to have more energy and stuff in there.
D: We really made it our own. We really spent so much time here doing so many things with different people. That’s really shaped who we are as musicians now I would say. Because we’ve met so many musicians, we’ve played with so many people here.
S: In this place too (the living room). All of our best friends, we’ve had so many jams and good moments in here. It’s the best place for us creatively, we feel super comfortable.
IS: It’s funny because you guys talked earlier about how you create your space on stage, and this place looks like what you create on stage. The fan that you used to play with is in the hall. The second I walked in here I was like, “Yeah, I can totally see Sam living here.”
D: To be able to come in and get messy I feel is important to the type of music we create.
S: Which is why we also chose to record in the home studio for the first album. We wanted it feel like we were inside somebody’s living room, we literally were in someone’s room.
IS: What’s your biggest battle in keeping the confidence and the battle to keep it growing?
D: For me right now, obviously I’m going through a lot emotionally, and that’s hard because it’s hard to find the motivation to literally get outta bed sometimes. To create is a lot of effort sometimes, that I don’t have the energy to exert, so I would say that is one half of the battle. The other half I would say is that I’m currently at a point where I have consumed so much music, because I wanted to branch out past what I was used to writing. Now I don’t really know what to do with this information, I don’t really know how to sort through everything in my mind and create in a way that’s organic right now. It’s not just me saying, “I just wanna sing a nice song,” or “Oh, this is how I’m feeling.” I actually have musical goals now. I actually have things I want to achieve sonically that I’m just learning about. So it’s hard because I’m both over knowledgeable in the sense that I’m oversaturated by all these different sounds. Where as when we made the first record, we didn’t listen to anything anyone ever did.
S: Yeah, we literally locked ourselves in a closet to not be influenced.
D: But now we are so heavily influenced because we wanted to learn more and expand.
S: It’s the only way to keep it going. The only way to keep that confidence going is if you keep challenging yourself and then you keep proving yourself right. I just recently really started getting into pedals and more effects stuff. We’re really tapping into that world of things now, which we’re new too. It’s like, we can write a song but how we want it to sound now is not as attainable at the moment.
D: It’s not as organic I would say. It’s much more crafted now, where as before it was so free flowing, “Oh, this is the way we want it,” and now we have more goals. I think the biggest battle is remaining organic while simultaneously challenging yourself.
IS: When you’re performing, what makes you feel most powerful?
D: You go.
S: My band.
D: I was just about to say that. My team.
S: My team. Taylor, huge rock. Sean, sweetheart. Kyle, so easy going.
D: Good vibes.
S: Des is, my magical spirit swirly lollipop. (Laughs), Fan breezer, writing partner.
D: (Laughs), All of those things, I totally agree with.
S: But at the same time, all those five personalities I just said, everyone is also the same. All of those things simultaneously. We really try to balance out things for each other to make life easier, ‘cause it’s not easy in this industry. You’ve gotta be good to each other.
D: Being good to each other keeps our heads outta our own asses, keeps our music honest and fun. Not too serious, ‘cause that can get overwhelming, but then just going up there and knowing you’re just so well rehearsed, you love the people you’re playing with, you love the music that you’re playing. That’s the most powerful feeling.
S: And rehearsed doesn’t even necessarily mean we rehearse and we do it like it is on stage, it’s if we have gotten the time to spend together. To gel with each other, you’re more confident and going with the flow onstage. I think rehearsal and jamming, and writing together are the biggest things that keep us powerful.
IS: Who is your female inspiration? Musician or not.
D: Outside of each other.
S: Patsy Cline. I had never heard emotion like that in someone’s vocals. It just resonated with me so hard, I know she doesn’t write any of her own songs but that’s not why. I really looked up to her in a genuine passionate way, which I’ve always admired about any kind of music. If it’s really genuine sappy, that’s me to a T. She was that first introduction for me. More recently, Angel Olsen’s who I’ve been listening too.
D: I’m going to go not musician, because I try very hard not to not focus on musicians in a gender type of way. Not to say that you are (Sam), I’m just saying I don’t think of people as boy or girl really. Although if I could say any musician it would be Björk. Björk is insane, I don’t even know that much about her, I just know that she is genuine to herself and I think that is such a number one thing. She’s not afraid to be freaky, she’s not afraid to try out different styles of music. She’s not afraid to make something that doesn’t appeal to mass audiences, and she doesn’t answer to anybody but herself. She’ll go as girly or as not girly as she wants to be. She doesn’t play into any gender factor so I would say that’s a massive thing I love about Björk. In a much more personal way I would say my Omi, my dad’s mom. I wear all of her clothes on stage. She was a massively powerful woman and she passed away when I was 14. Her power that I saw, the way that I always saw her is the way that I envision the way I see myself at my best, so I kinda see her as my best self, which may or may not be true at all. For all you know, you don’t know your grandparents as people, you just observe them basically. Especially when they pass away when you’re so young. For me the way that I idealized her is kinda all the things about myself that I love, so it’s really just an external way to connect with a higher part of myself but in the form of my grandmother.
IS: What has been your biggest personal confidence set back? Did it help or hurt your music?
D: Mental illness I would say. The struggle to keep personal motivation is something that lots of people experience, and that hurts your music all the time. At the same time everything ebs and flows you go through ruts, you’ve got your peaks and valleys. If you spend a long time not creating, you will eventually explode open because you have to, it comes to a boiling point.
IS: That literally just happened to me. All I could write about was how I had writer’s block and how pissed I was that I couldn’t create anything. Then I wrote like, five songs in a day. It was just like puke.
D: See? There you go. I think struggling to maintain a steady mood is difficult to really work with. Especially just trying to be professional, doing something, planning things. It’s hard to keep a schedule when you don’t even know if you want to be around the next day.
S: My lyrics. I’ve always lacked confidence in my lyrics. I can never just seem to push past thinking that they’re too obvious or maybe something doesn’t flow. In that way, it really got me to delve into effects and creating, and guitar. I don’t think I would sing if I hadn’t started the guitar first, I’ve always let that speak more than the words. The emotion, I was way better to put it into guitar chords and a sonic sound than words, which is why it flowed nicely with Des’s lyrics and poetry. It has hurt a lot; it’s really set back my writing.
IS: What do you think is the most important thing to remember as a female musician?
D: That you’re a musician. That you don’t yourself as a ‘female’ musician. Dudes don’t say, “I’m a male musician.”
S: Guys don’t have to say that. I even said a couple of times, how I brought up being from a small town, it was very obvious that, “Oh, you’re a girl. You like drumming? You like skateboarding? You like snowboarding?” No one seemed to get it. Basically no one needs to get it, no one needs to question why you wanna do something just because of what you were born with.
D: Don’t be afraid to be super feminine or super not feminine.
S: Be both, one day or the other, that’s also a thing. I thought that I had to just be really Tomboyish, that it was weird for me to wear a dress. Then I started doing that, I’d go really Tomboyish with a nice button up, lookin’ really dapperly. Then I’d go really flowy. I’m more confident for allowing myself to have all sides of that.
IS: You weren’t in an environment where that was a thing. You had to be one or the other. Toronto is such a melting pot.
S: Toronto changed and saved my life honestly.
D: Same. I think also a thing to remember as a female musician is to not compare yourself to the guys. Not to look at the guys and think, “Oh, they’re doing it this way, so I either have to do it that way or not do it that way.” I think it’s important to not be afraid to be the first one to do something. With a lot of female musicians, you see them going about things a certain way, or you’ll see them talking to people in a certain way just because that’s the way people have talked to them. Like, on stage they’ll say things that maybe are sexist. Like, you’re a woman! Why are you saying certain things? Just because that’s typical stage banter or something? I feel like it’s important to pave your own way and be your own person, and not be afraid of what that means.
S: Also, don’t be afraid of being a sexual woman. If that’s how you wanna express yourself musically, that is your own fucking business.
D: Or not. You don’t need to sexualize yourself and you don’t need to desexualize yourself.
S: Don’t feel bad for either.
D: You’re a full scope of a person, don’t paint yourself into one box just to be appealing to one type of person.
S: That has to do with image, not only music too. ‘Cause girls shred.
IS: If you could go back to a time where you felt taken back by whatever obstacle, what would you tell yourself knowing what you know now?
S: My parents were really, really cool, they never questioned when I wanted to do something that wasn’t stereotypically girly. They always just went with the flow of it, it was more so society that made me feel like I had to be a ‘girl’. When I went fully Tomboy, I thought I just had to be a Tomboy. It felt weird to kind of go back to being girly too. I was really confused in what I wanted my style and my feelings to be. Then I realized I could dress like a Tomboy one day, and dress really girly the other day. Same with music, I could scream or I could sing really pretty. I would tell myself that people are going to be around no matter what and you have to love yourself. It’s gonna be okay, ‘cause as long as you’re cool with yourself, you’re gonna be happy. You’ll be able to sit in a park by yourself and get stoned for hours. All you’ll need is to just love yourself.
D: That’s totally what I was gonna say. Just that you’re fine. Honestly you’re fine. There are so many moments that I’ve had where I thought that I wasn’t gonna get over, or through something, but you do every single time. You’ve got your ups and downs of life, and at the end of the day if you are genuine to yourself, and you are as good to yourself, and to other people as you can be, you will come out of those times.
IS: Do you have a message you hope to send to people who see you live or listen to your recordings?
D: It’s hard because we want the music for itself. We want people to take whatever they’re gonna take from it, that’s what we want them to take from it.
S: So, don’t worry. You are fine and let yourself decide how you feel always. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to love it. It might impact you for a split second and then you never hear it again. Know that it was made with care and that it’s all very genuine and honest.
IS: What’s your advice for other women, young or old, who struggle with confidence?
S: Seek out your fellow friends, they’ll help you a lot. My best friends have helped me so much with my confidence and honestly, hug yourself. Sometimes legitimately, if you hug yourself and smile for at least 30 seconds, it can help.
D: I think to be able to spend time alone with yourself is very, very important, in terms of knowing where you’re at. If you’re reflecting actively and you know where you’re at, then you don’t need to worry when you’re around other people or when you’re doing anything. ‘Cause at the end of the day, if you’re checking in with yourself, you know where you’re at, you respect your own feelings. I would say respecting your feelings and prioritizing your own feelings is very important. Not in a way where you’re putting anybody else’s feelings above at all, but to see them on the same level as your own at least. At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to live your life. You are the one who has to live in this body, you are the one who has to experience the world through the way that you create your own experience. I think people think that they have less control than they do.
S: Spend time with yourself.
D: Tap into your own power, ‘cause it’s so there, everyone has it. That doesn’t necessarily mean power as in, “I can do whatever I want.” It could be knowing when to go to a friend, knowing when you need external help, knowing when you need internal moments. I know I’ve done a lot of experimentation with different mental states, different emotional states. That’s my own way of learning about myself, but I think if you’re dedicated to learning about yourself, that’s what gets you to confidence.