A Conversation Worth Having
I doubt I will ever forget my phone call with Kaeley — and I’ve done a LOT of phone calls. Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm is a songwriter and folk musician who grew up in rural Eastern Washington, where goats and Republicans roam, but she says took the time to learn from both the goats and people. Kaeley is sharp as a tack and I was struck by how she spoke with such ease and nuance about complicated subjects in the very first few minutes of our conversation. Her family was musical; Her sister went to opera school, and by the age of thirteen, Kaeley had started her own rock band.
“Hi, from Pillows”
Kaeley has been working on her EP for two years while bedridden. Kaeley was working as an activist in Washington, D.C. and playing with a local band called Wild Coast when she suddenly was struck with a late-stage disease that left her mostly bed-bound for the last two years. The theme of her EP “Hi From Pillows” – much of which she recorded herself from bed – is ‘hope amidst illness’; highs coming from lows. The EP pushes the boundary which previously defined raw and vulnerable art for me, pushing the envelope simply by being true to her own health experiences.
When I asked her where she drew the strength to be vulnerable, she answered simply, “It wasn’t until I was too sick that I couldn’t fake it. I wasn’t that vulnerable until I had absolutely no choice but to rely on my community. Rising out of that, I was pushed to a place where it really was a choice of being on the streets, without food or safe housing, or any kind of income, and just using what I had to contribute and get some money in return.”
When her illness forced her to move from DC back to her home state of Washington to be near family, it friends in her music community that told her she had to keep creating music. The entire EP was born from this long-distance collaboration. Specifically, bandmate Conor Whelan mailed her the first quality microphone she’s ever had in the mail and said, “We’re going to keep on going and making music together, whether you like it or not.”
She told me my favorite song off the EP “Believe Her” was sung in one breath, and I’ll admit I lost mine hearing that:
“At the beginning of treatment, I could maybe lift my head for 5 minutes a day and I couldn’t sit up at all. So, I would prop myself up and sing into the microphone while I was reclined… and would pump out a song in one breathe.”
How to Ask for Help
After being denied disability, Kaeley, inspired by Amanda XX’s TED Talk about how to ask for help in an open-ended fashion, decided to ask for help. Now, she is funding her treatment and recovery entirely through music on the crowdfunding platform Patreon.
Yet, throughout our conversation, Kaeley continually discussed her own privilege while praising the charity and giving-nature of others. She focused on her friends within the artist community that have it worse. She focused on the marginalized groups of people who are never thought of during the planning of events. We discussed how communities of artists could demand events be more friendly for the disabled, for minorities, for the ill. When I asked her about how she forged her own path right to the intersection of music and activism, she answered poignantly:
“You have to think to yourself: how can I do something that sticks to my values… what legacy do I want to lead?”
Kaeley hopes to shift the conversation around women’s health care and is giving voice to marginalized communities through her music. Her EP “Hi from Pillows” does just that, as will her upcoming event SICK WOMXN at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center in Seattle. Come join an all-womxn cast of characters speaking and singing out for affordable, accessible healthcare for all regardless of gender, race, and class.
WHAT: SICK WOMXN
WHO: Y La Bamba, Ings, Tara Hardy, Leland Chazen, & Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm
WHERE: Fremont Abbey Arts Center (4274 Fremont Ave N, Seattle, WA)
WHY: Come join an all-womxn cast of characters speaking and singing out for affordable, accessible healthcare for all regardless of gender, race, and class.
HOW: Pick up tickets here. Event webpage here.