Metal Singer Kristina Esfandiari on Using Dark Sounds to Heal

Vocalist of doom-y band King Woman and solo project Miserable talks shedding childhood shame, moving past "mental turmoil"

Kristina Esfandiari, vocalist of doom-y Bay Area band King Woman, discusses her repressed upbringing and her dedication to spreading positivity. Credit: Rob Williamson

On a balmy August night, the musician Kristina Esfandiari rattled the pews of a Brooklyn church with thunderous riffs and her distinctive vocals – which moved from a whimper to a wail. For this gig, the bicoastal musician wasn't performing with her acclaimed Bay Area hard-rock band King Woman, who released the doom-laced and drone-laden Created in the Image of Suffering earlier this year. Esfandiari performed cuts new and old from her solo project, Miserable, which, though she describes it as "songs to drink NyQuil to," had a galvanizing effect on her congregation.

As Esfandiari told Rolling Stone a few weeks earlier at a local bar, her current mindset is the result of some harsh self-inventory. "I've been through a lot of mental turmoil to get to where I am," she explains. "I don't waste a moment, no matter what setting I'm in, to use the time I have in whatever space to bring something positive, to make someone feel better about themselves. Why not? Why would I waste my words and waste my time when I could say something encouraging?"

Her personal struggles date back her upbringing in a "charismatic Christian church," and King Woman's first album, Doubt, grew out of her coming to grips with – and deprogramming from – her early religious experiences. Both in music and life, she's obsessed with authenticity. "I can't talk to people unless they're trying to fuckin' talk," she says. "I don't know if I'm going to be alive tomorrow; I'm going to have an important, engaging conversation with you right now."


Another positive outlet for Esfandiari is travel. Lately, she's been touring more heavily with Miserable, which she describes as a chance to explore her "angsty teenager" side. "I never got to fully experience that," she says, adding that she couldn't keep a diary growing up. "So that was part of my avenue to really open that up, you know? ... I always felt kind of ashamed. Even now as a woman, just shamed for [my] emotions." (See "Shame," a gripping, sludgy offering from King Woman's latest, for just one example of Esfandiari's lyrical prowess.) 

Esfandiari has a lot on the horizon. She'll be touring again with King Woman this fall, and she's working on a new solo EP, Loverboy. She also hints at collaborations with a pop musician, and has longstanding plans to write songs for an autobiographical musical entitled Jungleland, a nod to the Bruce Springsteen song. 

Her work may be varied but it's all united by her desire to "bring something positive" to her listeners. Fittingly, in the middle of our conversation at the bar, she instructs me to hold out my own hand and drops a clear, square-shaped crystal into my palm. "If you're ever feeling stressed out, you can hold it and you'll literally feel it suck weird energy out," she says. "You can take that one."