IMANIGOLD is more than just a band. Started by sisters Nikki and April Kae to be “a soundtrack to our generation’s fight for Black, queer liberation,” IMANIGOLD is also an art collective for marginalized voices to express themselves. Much of the social justice progression and encouragement of creativity that IMANIGOLD fights for can be found on their blog at imanigold.com.
In this interview, Nikki Kae covers a little bit of everything—from her and April’s start as artists and musicians, to why it’s important to create space for marginalized groups, to IMANIGOLD’s creative process, all the way to giving advice on the best way to start something as out-of-the-box and exciting as IMANIGOLD.
So IMANIGOLD is a sister duo. Tell us who makes up IMANIGOLD and where you two are from?
So my name is Nikki Kae, my sister is April Kae, and we make up IMANIGOLD. We’re from Austin, Texas, but we’ve been living in Harlem for about six years now.
Let’s jump right into IMANIGOLD. You all have a unique business setup. Tell the readers a bit about the IMANIGOLD Collective and some of the parts of that tree.
IMANIGOLD is the soundtrack to our generation’s fight for Black, queer liberation. We’re always growing. We love to see people do what they enjoy and are good at. April and I are the band IMANIGOLD, but IMANIGOLD is a collective that has initiatives outside of music.
April and I are the heartbeat of IMANIGOLD, an indie rock band and art collective seeking to create spaces for marginalized people to gain strength and heal. IMANIGOLD’s music is an unlikely cross between Odetta and Tegan and Sara, telling vulnerable, honest stories and inviting listeners in as family. IMANIGOLD is based in Harlem in New York City. We’re excited to start playing shows again, and are performing at two outdoor festivals this summer.
As the IMANIGOLD Collective, we make art, share stories, and educate. We have a social justice and art blog (imanigold.com/blog), where we promote progress, social justice, creativity, and greater possibilities for all people to self-actualize, especially the most historically marginalized people.
One thing that makes you all unique is the fact that you are both sisters and work well together. You all are very in sync. Can you talk a bit about how music started for you both and how you came to begin making music together?
We come from a musical family and have been singing together since we were babies. Our parents met when our mom auditioned for our dad’s band in college. My sister and I both played in jazz band in school and played in our own punk bands outside of school all through middle and high school. As I said, April and I have always sung together. April is my favorite person to create with. There had also been a point early on, when April had started writing this EP, that we decided to make it official and call ourselves IMANIGOLD.
How long has April been playing the bass and guitar, and how long have you been creating visuals?
April has been playing bass for about 20 years, and I’d say about the same for myself visually. April started playing bass in the orchestra and jazz band in middle school, and I was in band and choir too, as a singer and saxophone player. Our mom is a piano and voice teacher, so we always had a piano around we would play on. I always painted and drew. I’ve loved making mood boards from magazine clippings for decades. April bought me my first camera for my 13th birthday, and my dad got me a generic version of Photoshop, and I really got into photography. I think it was a great art form because I didn’t need to take up space to make it. I only needed people and my camera.
Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? What do you pull from to create coherent and cohesive visuals?
April and I have been piecing together this aesthetic for years. Anything I do is typically inspired by ’70s-’90s-Y2K retrofuturist aesthetic, but I’m also obsessed with the repetitive chaos of industrial machinery and industrial waste. Utopian and dystopian dreamworlds and blaxploitation. Definitely a lot of ’90s-early aughts animation. I usually work on multimedia paper with a combination of Sharpies, India ink, charcoal, scanners, and Photoshop.
IMANIGOLD is a particularly personal project, so when I was building the aesthetic, I wanted it to be very true to what felt natural and easy to me. So, for example, when it came to the logo—I’m not a typographer or logo designer, but I have been playing with this elongation version of my own handwriting for years, and I finally found the perfect home for it.
How would you describe your sound/music?
The IMANIGOLD sound can be described as a mix of indie pop, with heavy punk and folk influences.
Why is it important to you to create spaces for marginalized groups of artists to feel comfortable being themselves?
It is important to create spaces for marginalized groups of artists so that they feel comfortable being themselves for two very personal reasons. First, because I often feel like an outsider, and I want spaces for myself and my friends. Second, I want to live in a world with all the art and expression that comes from the proliferation of these spaces.
Take us through your music writing process as a team. Do you work together on each component of your music, or do you work off of each other’s energy?
April was about to go study for a semester abroad in Italy when her best friend died from suicide. She decided to still go through with the trip and take the time for herself to heal and connect. She also wrote this EP as part of that process. After returning, April and I started playing the songs together. The songs are nearly unrecognizable from what April wrote in Italy, but they came from love.
Who influences your sound?
In the same way that we have been building our aesthetic over a lifetime, we have been building the sound of this EP for a lifetime. Some massive visual and sonic influences are Tegan and Sara, Blink-182, Best Coast, and Alkaline Trio.
Do you have to have certain environments that you are most creative in?
The space that is made for what I’m doing is my own studio with all the materials I need. No one else is around or in earshot, and I don’t feel encumbered, influenced, or judged. I think I come up with most of my ideas outside of the studio by absorbing and collecting experiences. But I tuck them away to become what they are meant to be when I’m surrounded by my creative tools and past work.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to follow in your footsteps?
When it comes to the creative process, when I aim for what feels “right” rather than what feels “perfect,” I complete more work, and I have more fun.