Kuinka Talks Going From Busking to NPR Tiny Desk, Premieres “Living Room Floor”

When she was eighteen-years-old, Miranda Zickler, co-founder of the Seattle-based indie band, Kuinka, unexpectedly lost her job. She was working in a café in New York City when the position vanished. So, Zickler did what she’d always wanted to do. She took her guitar down to a nearby subway station and she began to play. And as the days passed, she continued to busk, even making upwards of a few hundred dollars per session. It was around then, too, that the musician met her future band mates – Nathan and Zach Hamer – face-to-face. She’d known them through social media; they were all from the same region in the Pacific Northwest. But it wasn’t until meeting three thousand miles away that they became friends and collaborators. Now, Kuinka, which has gone on to play the prestigious NPR Tiny Desk series, is set to release its new single, “Living Room Floor,” which we’re happy to premiere today.

“I’d thought about busking a lot,” Zickler says. “But I’d talked myself out of it several times. When I got laid off, that night I said, ‘Alright, forget it! I’m doing it!’”

Zickler says, as she played in the subway, she strummed so hard that her knuckles began to bleed (friends brought her Band-Aids). A lot of pent up energy came out through those hands, through those strings. Simultaneously, she was setting a new creative path for herself. Zickler, who grew up singing and writing songs with her musician father at two- and three-years-old, began to perform around five-years-old in little plays. Her dad, a drama teacher, encouraged her creativity and performance. Zickler says, above all else, she loves to sing. And to do so in harmony. So, it was a boon too her musical goals when she met both Nathan and Zach the day before she went back home to the Northwest.

“We had mutual friends but we’d never actually met,” Zickler says. “But the day before I was leaving New York, we saw each other in a coffee shop.”

At the time, the two young artists were attending school, trying to make indie films and just working to figure out their futures. But after they’d met Zickler, their chemistry seemed to provide a compass for a new direction. Inevitably, both young men found themselves back in the Northwest and it was then Kuinka began to take shape. As the three jammed and wrote, they recruited more players to their gang, including cellist Jillian Walker and, later, drummer Michelle Nuño. And as the group got off the ground, which included many nights sleeping on living room floors of their own, they began to tour more, culminating eventually in the Tiny Desk gig.

“Every year, we’d set a list of goals,” Zickler says. “And every year Tiny Desk was at the top of that list. We got some nice attention but we never won. The last year we entered, though, we were invited to play as part of a series of shows around the country of NPR’s favorite submissions. So we played at the KEXP headquarters [in Seattle] and Bob Boilen, who runs NPR Music, saw us and pulled us back into a corner at the end of the night and said, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I’d love to have you guys come play a show.’”

The monumental moment only gave more wind to the sails to Kuinka. It gave the band the encouragement they needed to press on, to continue writing, playing, recording and reinventing themselves over and over. While many first learned of the group as a new participant in the folk and bluegrass genres, Kuinka continues to explore new sounds and writing styles. Nothing is off limits. And the band’s newest single, “Living Room Floor,” is an example of that growth. The track, which sounds more like a pop tune than a folk one, has a special meaning for Zickler. It’s gone through many iterations over the years, she says, and represents a new way of thinking about love in an at-times frustrating world.

“I wrote that song a long time ago, after the 2016 election,” she says. “I was feeling really confused and hopeless and I was exploring my own queer identity and sexuality and gender and my life was just in a strange place. So, I started writing this song with the idea of radical acceptance. I was in the headspace where I was thinking the world was probably going to end soon so all I could do is love myself and the people I have around me.”

Today, while Zickler still feels unsure and uneasy about the world, she feels as comfortable with herself and her band as ever. The five-piece, which plans to release more new music in the months to come, is as close. The members write collaboratively, brining ideas finished and unfinished to sessions to have the others examine it, add to the music and work things out together. Indeed, the group dynamic provides a new hope for Zickler and each of the members. And the music is squarely at the center of that.

“I love the connections that happen when singing and playing music with other people,” Zickler says. “I’m really hoping we can move through this phase of no live music and get back to that kind of connection. In the meantime, we can do all we can through the internet and in our little pods of people – and in our living rooms.”

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