Visual artist, founder of the Gold Standard Laboratories record label, frontman for punk rock outfits Angel Hair and The VSS and now, executive director of Hot Springs’ Low Key Arts, Sonny Kay’s DIY approach to new projects is a part of upbringing: He credits an unconventional childhood, moving around the world with a father pursuing a career as a film director and a mother who knew how to adapt quickly
Here’s an excerpt from a conversation I had with Kay earlier this year:
What drew you into taking the Low Key Arts executive director position?
I spent 14 years running a record label, which was definitely an exercise in orchestrating lots of people and lots of things, having a whole bunch of stuff going on at once all the time, and just being in a hive of activity. Then I spent the next 10 years freelancing — basically, being at home doing art by myself. There was definitely an element of group-project-aspect of something like Low Key Arts that was missing.
I definitely felt a little isolated. I’d managed to publish a book of my art. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fulfilling or rewarding in its own way, but I missed being at the
This came up, and it was like, “Oh, yeah, that could be really incredible,” and so I set caution aside and just did it.
Throughout your life, you’ve been at the
I think a big part of it is having parents that were similar, especially my mom. My mom is a very practical and pragmatic
I find taking the initiative and just being willing to redefine yourself really compelling. There’s some aspect of me that is also a bit of a control freak that likes being at the helm and feeling like I’m a motivator for other people. I’m a naturally creative person and I feel like sometimes that’s best suited to a singular
Describe what your childhood was like a little more. Was there a seed that really sparked your DIY ethos?
My parents were an unusual couple in the sense that my dad was twice as old as my mom. He was American and my mom was English. Basically, a month after they were married, they were pursuing his career as it took these strange turns around the globe. My dad was a film director and the constant moving was a result of that. His career, at that point, had
My mom was young and slightly naive and a little bit swept off her feet, thrilled about
When I was about 15 or 16 and living in Colorado, my grandfather came over from England to visit us at Christmas. I asked him to bring me a bunch of records from England that were difficult to find at the time — this would have been around 1987. He showed up with this fistful of Joy Division and Cure records I’d asked for.
One day I was poring over these records, rambling on about these groups and he stopped me and
At the time, I disregarded what he was saying, but there’s something about that that planted a kernel of something in my mind. It really took him saying that to me for me to start to embrace the idea of DIY and involving myself in what — up to that point — I’d only been a fan or bystander of. Even though there were a thousand examples of teenagers starting bands and putting out records, it took a man in his 70s to say that to me for the penny to drop.
You’ll take on music programming for the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival. What are you excited about?
I’m still absorbing all this information and mapping it out in my mind. I’m fascinated to see it go from point A to point B to point C. I feel a little bit like an anthropologist in this situation where I’m a newcomer experiencing something that’s a cultural staple in that area. And I’ve been tasked with not necessarily improving it, but growing it and diversifying it, developing it, so I want to see where it’s at before I can take any practical measures to do any of those things.