Jami Kali is the vocalist, lyricist and synthesizer for Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms. She is a graduate of GAR Memorial Junior-Senior High School, Wilkes-Barre, and Wilkes University, where she double-majored in English and philosophy. She and her band will take their first tour this year when they travel across New England in April. She lives in Wilkes-Barre.
Meet Jami Kali…
Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I grew up in a heavily musical household. Both my mother and father were musicians, and they really encouraged me to express myself creatively. When my dad saw me playing around on one of his synthesizers, my parents decided to push this for me. They were really supportive of that my whole life. My dad is a guitarist. His jam room was right next to my nursery, so I would be in my crib, and he was going off on the guitar. I always enjoyed it. I started singing at a really young age. I was singing along to my favorite bands and music. My mom was always singing at the house, and she had a really beautiful voice. I started to realize I really enjoyed singing.
Q: Was there a specific time that made you realize you wanted
to be a musician?
A: There was a jam session that my friend and I had. There was a picture of a girl on the wall. She looked very sad, and she was carrying a basket of flowers. They were joking around and said, “Jami, write lyrics about that girl,” and I did. We were just goofing around, and I started singing it. We thought it sounded really good. We wrote a song called “Black-eyed Susan” because she was picking black-eyed Susan flowers, and that was actually when my first band started with those people.
Q: What groups and musical roles did you have in the past?
A: The first band began in 2011; it was called Mock Sun. That was like an experimental, dream punk band. That lasted for about six years. I had no idea how to book a show or how to record and release an album. It taught me how to do the whole band thing. That’s how I met my co-writer, Ray. We realized we wanted to collaborate, and that’s how Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms started. I started it as a solo project with a little recorder and my loop station. It then turned into a duo with Ray. We were so like-minded. We put some feelers out and acquired Anthony Shiny Montini, our drummer, and Matthew Chesney, our bass player. Once those guys came into the mix, it turned into something new, and it keeps evolving.
Q: Tell me about Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms.
A: The four of us get along so well and collaborate so wonderfully. We are so different, too, that we bring so many elements to the practice space. We have so many different musical tastes.
Q: What influences you?
A: I was a poet before I was a musician. I wrote and read a lot of poetry. The beats really inspired me. I was trying to hone in on the craft of writing poetry, and word play was always one of my favorite past times. The means of writing the poem was always more fun than to have the poem at the end. A lot of my style is heavily poetic and very dreamy. I was influenced by punk, pop and the grunge scene.
Q: How does that come together in the band?
A: We came up with a genre called neo-psych, space rock. There’s a new movement of psychedelic music. We fit with that a bit, but we’re not exactly a psych band. We’re very spacey, ethereal, dreamy and groove-driven. There’s elements of pop, and we’re very eclectic. One thing many people say to us is there isn’t any other music like us. It’s hard to put us in a category.
Q: Tell me about the self-titled album you released earlier this year.
A: That album explores a lot of topics relating to growth and evolving as a human, shedding the skin and becoming something new. It explores the cycle of life and the changes that take place. We recorded it all do-it-yourself; we set up a recording studio in our apartment, and we had such a good time recording it.
Q: Talk about your study of philosophy that’s had such an influence on you.
A: When I started college, I was really into the animal rights movement. My first semester there was a course called the “Philosophy of Animal Rights.” I jumped into that, not having ever delved into philosophy. That blew my mind. I really loved hearing all the arguments, counter-arguments and different perspectives that went into every thought, issue and ethical dilemmas. It really got my wheels turning in a different way, the constant questioning. I’ve always been a deep thinker, but philosophy really changed my perspective on life.
Q: Prior to performing, you were afraid of public speaking. How did you overcome that?
A: I was the head editor of the school’s magazine, and we would run poetry readings. I had terrifying social anxiety and fear of public speaking. When I ran these poetry readings, I felt like I was going to faint. I was filled with fear, but it seemed like I had this crazy desire to do the things that I feared the most because it’s empowering to tackle that fear of yours. The poetry readings really got me to feel a type of comfort in my voice that I didn’t feel. I remember the first time I stepped up to a microphone to do a poetry reading; I didn’t like the sound of my own voice over a microphone, so I didn’t use one. Now I love it. It’s not that I love the sound so much, but I just love the feeling of your expression coming through.
Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that’s helped shape who you are today?
A: I had some experiences when I traveled across the country that really changed who I was. I remember being in the desert for the first time, and in the Badlands. There’s some type of silent beauty that’s really hard to put into words. You have to be there to feel it. That put me at a type of peace and understanding with the world. Being out west was a really incredible learning experience and really grounded me.
Photos by Emma Black. Thanks to Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms members: Ray Novitski, Anthony “Shiny” Montini and Matthew Chesney for joining in.