Kendra McKinley is a San Francisco Bay Area singer, songwriter and bandleader whose songs burst with color, wonder, sensuality and wit. Finger painting with the sounds of chamber pop, jazz, soul and psychedelia, McKinley draws from a deep well of empathy. Whether she’s performing solo with a guitar and a looping pedal, fronting a full funk band, or collaborating with artists both local and around the globe, McKinley’s confident, honeyed voice enacts a gravitational pull on all who hear it.
Henry Miller Memorial Library Sessions marks the artist’s most intimate, vulnerable yet self-assured work yet. In the fall of 2017, McKinley lived in a tent for the duration of a five-week artist residency at the nonprofit Henry Miller Memorial Library, in the coastal California wilderness of Big Sur—the final weeks of a period in which the area was even more remote than usual, thanks to the biggest mudslide in Highway 1’s 80-year history closing the thoroughfare to cars.
The solitude and freedom of the setting are palpable on this EP, as the singer — who grew up just outside Santa Cruz — embraces the natural world as a playground: the languid pace of life, the majesty of ancient redwoods, the danger and drama of the cliffs and that lone highway and the ocean itself are all characters in this story; they swell behind her voice, in the dreamy, wild spaces between simple guitar, piano and percussion.
Face to Face, the record’s opening track, then, works as a clearing of the air, and a sign of what’s to come: while the song details a self-reckoning, examining the possibilities that present themselves in the absence of city-life distractions, the music video stars personal heroines of McKinley’s to explore female strength and resilience. Filled with imagery inspired by Freakebana, Stella Bugabee’s interpretation of the Japanese-influenced Ikebana that sees plants and everyday objects combined in a minimalist, unexpected fashion, the video captures the feeling of being 'a flower growing in plastic.’
McKinley also made a name for herself as an accomplished arranger and bandleader in 2018, including months spent immersed in Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy, a performance piece exploring misogyny in pop music that took place at the Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission District, for which Icelandic contemporary artist Ragnar Kjartansson hired her as bandleader and arranger. (The three-day performance, which involved more than 30 women singer-songwriters, drew notice from the New York Times, among others.)