2020 was supposed to be a big year for Kristin Hayter. The singer, who performs as Lingua Ignota, had released her third album, Caligula, last July, earning praise for her skillful blend of metal, noise, and classical. She had headlining shows and big-festival slots lined up. Then, COVID-19 snuffed them all out, along with her income. Even worse, it all happened just as the uninsured musician was dealing with substantial medical issues. She spoke to Rolling Stone about her struggles before and during the pandemic, and why she felt compelled to make a cathartic musical response to the Gal Gadot “Imagine” video. Here’s her story in her own words.
Once Trump shut down international travel, my manager was like, “Everything’s gonna get canceled.” Counting just festivals and larger shows I had lined up, I lost maybe 20 gigs and tens of thousands of dollars. I really like to play. It helps me feel connected to people in ways that I typically don’t. After the initial emotional reaction, I was thinking, “I’m fucked — I’m not gonna have any money.” Playing shows is probably 90 percent of my income.
I had a tooth that was destroyed, and I was dealing with it by getting antibiotics at urgent care every couple of months. Eventually, I paid for a couple of procedures in December and January. It cost about $5,000. I was like, “Next year’s gonna be good [financially], so I can do this.”
Around that time, I was having severe back pain. I saw an orthopedic surgeon in March who did an MRI and lab work — which was over $1,000 — and he said, “You have a severe herniation, and you should get surgery.”
I had insurance last year with Covered California, but I was not eligible this year. I’ve tried to reapply over and over again, but I’m not able to get insurance in either California or Pennsylvania, where I currently live. It’s really strange to go to the doctor — I’ve been treated like I’m less valuable because I’m not part of the labor system that’s insured. It implies we don’t have real jobs. It’s frustrating and disappointing.
I scheduled the surgery for April. It was going to be about $20,000. I had no idea how I was gonna pay for it. The surgeon actually said, “Do a GoFundMe.” I really did not want to do that. But [my manager] Cathy decided it would be necessary. On my behalf, she wrote about my situation on social media and raised quite a bit of money. My mind was blown. I was so grateful. I owe my fans a lot. The relationship between the artist and the fan is reciprocal, and it’s loving. I’m still trying to grapple with the idea that people take things from my music and that it helps them, and they find it healing, and that they want to help me. That was the craziest thing for me — to feel like people wanted to help me and wanted me to be well. I really want to give back to them in whatever way that I can.
I ended up having to delay the surgery because of COVID. So right now, I’m just kind of hanging out, hobbling around, and trying to do exercises to strengthen my lower back and core so it’s not extremely painful all the time, but that’s just kind of what it is right now.
I watched [Gal Gadot and other celebrities singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”] and I was so grossed out with it that I wanted to make something and to — in my particular way — comment on the grotesque responses of the wealthy and greatly privileged. I think the purpose of harsh noise is to deconstruct and obliterate something into total abstraction, and I just wanted to take that little sound bite and just kind of extend it, destroy it, obliterate it.
It’s been really strange trying to stay creative and focused. All these existential issues come up when your identity is tied to producing things culturally — is that even important right now? It’s like a strange ego death.
To purchase Lingua Ignota’s merchandise and music, visit linguaignota.net/shop.