Audra Lynne Kubat is sitting in the back room of Union Street at the end of her shift, dabbing at a glob of ink with her finger that found its way onto a black-and-white sketch she’s working on. It looks kind of like a plant or flower stretching off the page, blooming from the dried and bleached pulp. When she sees me, she puts it away and tries to focus her attention on her music, what I came to talk to her about. “It’s for a class,” she says looking down. “I’ve never really been good at drawing reality.”
Everything else about her exudes realism, however. Her naked and pale complexion, hair pulled back into a cream-colored wool hat. Not to mention her stark new solo album,Elixir, a ruggedly pretty venture into muted guitar, haunted voice and empowering-while-humbling storytelling. It calls to mind great albums from folksingers such as Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez, and translates their messages to the present tense — and to the language of her hometown. Most of her subject matter draws from growing up and living in Detroit. She recognizes the things she doesn’t like — racism and fear — and is attempting to inspire positive change.
Kubat’s holding a release party for the CD on Saturday at 313.JAC. The party’s going to have a loose format, which will allow her a chance to talk about what she’s been up to and to eat some of the vegetarian food she plans on bringing. She’ll also play a few songs.
The band she fronts, Stunning Amazon, is still alive and kicking, but Kubat wanted to give the solo album a try. She’s performed both with bands and solo since the Gotham City Café open-mic nights.
“If you can play by yourself and you can play with a band, you should do both,” she believes. “To not do one you can do is kind of selling yourself short. You never know which one’s gonna take off. Or you might have a totally different audience that would like you solo as opposed to with a band.”
Stunning Amazon is starting to move in a new direction and Kubat didn’t want to lose sight of the messages she’s trying to convey, such as acceptance, togetherness and empowerment.
“The band’s getting a little more rough and edgy. And I want that to happen, but as well, I want to be able to play by myself. When I play with myself (giggle) … it can’t be misunderstood. When you play with other people and all the attitudes they bring to the table, it can change the message sometimes.”
You can tell playing the music itself helps Kubat in her own empowerment.
“I get a lot more apprehensive when I play solo because everything shows. There’s no mask. But I think I really get the message out clearly. When a band plays, it’s really loud. People are in their own little worlds. They’re kind of listening or they’re kind of drunk. But solo, people tend to be really quiet. I like commanding the audience. I’ve done a few shows where people actually shushed other people.
“When you’re with the band, you don’t know if anyone cares about what you’re doing. You don’t get that feedback. When I play solo, I feel like I’m getting the feedback right away.”
After saying something profound, Kubat has a tendency to laugh, almost embarrassed at her profundity, like a girl who’s taller than all the boys in her high school and slouches for four years — until she makes the winning basket, signs a modeling contract or becomes a Stunning Amazon.
The name actually stems from a day when Kubat was feeling down and depressed about her body, thinking she was ugly and too big. The bass player in her band tried to cheer her up by telling her she was a stunning amazon. Then they decided that would be a good name for a band.
Kubat’s music doesn’t fit snugly into any circle around town and that’s the way she likes it. One memorable show happened at the Labyrinth on Halloween when the band played Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, King Crimson and Iron Maiden covers.
“There was one girl who really hated us. She thought we were doing original material and she really hated that. She came up to me after the show and said, “This petition is for you from everybody who thinks you suck.” There were 30 names on it. There actually were a lot of people there who seemed like they were, you know, clapping. And I had this cool Ozzy shirt with fringe … I kept the thing, though. And I put it on my fridge. I thought, ‘This is why I have to play music. I felt so bad for her. Someone would go through all that trouble just to make me feel bad. And it kind of affected me the other way.’”