Meet KERA, The Genderqueer Musician Making 'Bipolar Folk'

Simone Niamani Thompson
Kera 

KERA also debuts the video for "I'm Late," the first release from their upcoming album.

It’s hard to describe the sound of Kera Armendariz’s music. The Los Angeles-based artist’s music is a blending of various different sonic elements that result in a uniquely beautiful sound.

“Bipolar folk” is the term that Armendariz previously settled on. “I just got sick of having to describe it, because I could never really figure out what genre it was,” they said, laughing. “I love music that never sits in the middle, but sonically, goes into extremes. So I definitely got the name from that.”

Armendariz brought their “bipolar folk” sound to their upcoming EP, Fall.Apart. Performing under their first name -- stylized KERA -- the singer explores the stages of grief in dealing with a heavy loss. The first video from the upcoming album for the track "I'm Late" (premiering below) shows Armendariz at the outset of a breakup, sitting in a state of shock and sadness.

The album is a personal one for KERA, as it's based on the ending of a real relationship they went through. “I had known this person for nine years of my life,” they explained. “It was really hard to have to let this person go, and I felt like for the first time, it felt like true loss. At this point in my life, I haven't lost anyone that close to me to death, but this was the closest that it felt like.”

“I’m Late” is the first part of a full short film that will accompany Armendariz’s EP, coming out April 13. The short film will fully explore the journey of a person coming to terms with the loss of their relationship.

In the way that the album was a way to express their post-loss feelings, Armendariz says the process of filming also became a cathartic outlet for them to realize that they still were struggling with the loss of their relationship. “What it showed me even during the process of filming it and editing it and finishing the film was that there's a lot of habits from trauma that I've kind of gathered through the years that I needed to unlearn,” they said. “I realized that there's some things I'd like to unlearn in order to have more meaningful relationships, and that it didn't always have to end so dramatically.”

Kera became a local phenomenon when they and their band, Kera & the Lesbians, made a name for themselves as one of the best live acts in Los Angeles. The name of the band is a joke in and of itself — Armendariz is the only queer member of the band, usually backed by straight men. “It's just a bit of irony,” they said with a laugh. “I like irony because I feel like it always just reminds me to not take myself so seriously.”

But when working on Fall.Apart., Armendariz says that they felt a desire to really embrace themselves: “With the film and the EP, there's just been so many different changes artistically, that I feel like I'm finding my voice, weirdly. I've kind of grown into really embracing and going by my first and full name, KERA.”

Embracing themselves also means embracing their queer identity. Armendariz identifies as genderqueer, and acknowledges that people often misgender them upon first meeting them. While they said there have been experiences like that where they've felt “disrespected,” most of the time, they try to use those opportunities as learning experiences.

“If people are seeing someone like myself where they don't know what gender I am, then I think that that's a good place to start,” they suggested. “All I can control is how I react to it, and how I choose to react to it, if I can be my best self, is out of kindness. They probably don't see people like myself all that often, so I can't necessarily blame them. I think that's kind of unfair.”

Armendariz added that after everything that’s happened in 2017 — including and especially Donald Trump’s presidency — they don't want to add to the negativity. Instead, they just hope to be a force for good. “I want to be the best voice I can be, and at least a positive light in whatever way I can, artistically," they said. "All I can really focus on now is to be the change that I wish to see in the world.”