Strength in Vulnerability: A Reflection from Kate Flynn of The Winter Passing

Photo by Seanie Cahill

Photo by Seanie Cahill

When I first joined The Winter Passing, I've got to be honest, I didn't know my head from my ass in terms of a lot of things  firstly, what it was like to be in a band. Of course it's something you love, so it should be easy but it's not, it's not easy at all. I had just started my first year of college and it was a crazy time of personal transformation. I was finding out new things about myself and my personality, beliefs and morals. I was away from home every week, and it my was first real time of freedom.

For four years I juggled college, my part time job, and being in a band. It left little room for anything else. This was the same story for the guys too, so I wasn't alone. We put our everything into the band, we still do. We are still juggling our lifestyles to be The Winter Passing. I wouldn't change it for the world. Sometimes, it's tough when I see some of my friends traveling together or going out and I can't because I need to save for the next tour. I need to be around for the show we have that weekend. I need to be around during the week to travel to write new songs.

As a 22 year old, I can tell you, this is hard. It's stressful both mentally and financially. Sometimes I want to scream with frustration but I wouldn't change it for the world. This band and this dreamer head of mine has given me something I don't believe any other path would have. The fact that I get to live out my dream, is all I need. It puts me in a vulnerable position at times, but sometimes when I sit back and think of all we have achieved so far, I need to pinch myself and realise how blessed I am. How great it is that I get to use my voice to make music I'm proud of, with my best friends. I've also realised that being in a band and making music, as a female, has taught me how to be strong. It’s helped me survive situations that could easily tear you down to the point of never trying again.

I believe that all of the situations I've had to deal with that have left me numb have only made me stronger and determined to learn and be a better person than I was the day before.

Admittedly, before I joined the band, the guys had already started the writing process for our first EP, so I didn't have much input. Back then, Im not sure I would have known where to start in terms of songwriting. I have always been musical. Singing is and always will be my true love. I was pretending to be Britney Spears in my mirror at a very young age and still pretend to be Taylor Swift now.

I knew music was always going to be my path, whether it worked or not. I would make crappy songs in my bedroom. I'm sure they weren't that good, but in my head, I was a punk princess singing and composing them on a shitty starter keyboard.

So when it actually came down to the writing process with four other people who had been in bands for years, I felt like I wasn't as skilled at music. I was scared to throw out my opinions, my ideas. This was my first time being in a band. By this point, they had already mostly completed the EP, I just contributed some lyrics towards the end. This feeling of being unable to contribute haunted me all the time. I knew I could do it if I just believed in myself, but sometimes these things are easier said than done.  

After this, and after a lot of weekends of traveling to shows, traveling to practice spaces and living on genuinely nothing, I realised that I didn't want to let my so called "incapability" stop me from participating in the band. When it came to writing the album, I knew I didn't want to take a back seat in any of it, I wanted to know everything. I began to educate myself. I began to let my fear of showing the guys my ideas and work. I showed my brother my idea for the song Penny Chains and I realised in that moment I was the only one who didn't believe in me. I was the only one holding myself back.

I had always been quite self-conscious since I was a child. I was never the one who wanted to be the centre of attention, I'd be quite happy to just be an onlooker. When my birthday comes around each year, I cringe. This whole day is about me and there's not a damn thing I can do about it because my family loves me too much to pretend it doesn't matter. In Ireland, your 21st birthday is a huge thing. You plan a party and invite people, actual people to this thing that's all about you. I can genuinely tell you this was my idea of hell. But after much thought and pressure, I did it. It was fine but I'm glad I don't have to turn 21 again. I’m referencing this because I feel like my self-esteem really inhibited me to be creative at the start of The Winter Passing. I felt small in a scene of truly talented people. Sometimes, I wondered what the hell I was doing. I made a decision to let this feeling go. If I was going to be a part of The Winter Passing and feel comfortable about it, I needed to pull my socks up and stop being so critical about myself. I needed to start loving the person I was and could be. I believe it's through this conflicting time, I gave myself the strength to let go of my fear of being ridiculed, being "wrong" and just doing my thing.

Photo by Seanie Cahill

Photo by Seanie Cahill

I recently bought myself a guitar, and Ive been teaching myself through Youtube videos. I felt like taking the leap in teaching myself an instrument would make me understand the structural side of songwriting more clearer and I could relate and grow even further as a musician with the rest of the guys. Which would in turn, help when it came to writing organ parts. I haven't looked back since. Through my self esteem issues and the vulnerability I felt, I have never been so determined to always surprise myself. Surprise myself with the realisation that, Hey, you're actually really good at this," or "Hey, isn't learning from yourself just fun.”

Now, I write lyrics every day. Mostly because it's what I have found to be the only therapeutic thing for me to do whilst still being productive. In my last two years of college, I began to go through a very strange phase. I didn't want to go out or meet my friends and I would spend hours in my room with the harrowing feeling of anxiety every moment of the day.  Eventually, even leaving the house was a real process. I had to fight with myself to go to college. My friends stopped texting to see if I wanted to do anything because they already knew the answer. I went to see the student councillor a bunch of times, with no luck of feeling any better. At this point, I bought myself a notebook. I wrote the lyrics to Penny Chains and I haven't stopped since then. It's through writing that I feel I have the strength to go on, to get better and be better constantly. In my own experience, I didn't find talking to anyone at the time very helpful so I wrote to myself. I wrote these words to melodies and made songs out of them. I used pain as my way to create, be productive and progress. Most people my age suffer from mental illness at some stage of their early twenties, maybe even before and forever. Sadly, it may continue for their whole life. Whether it be lyrics, stories, or even just what youre thinking - this is why I encourage anyone that tells me that they are struggling, to write. There is something about writing it out and closing the book. Making something of the words I wrote down has been even more of a pleasure for me and makes the anxiety feel very small and allows it to be something I can control. It might be there tomorrow and but at least I've made a step by just writing about it. I've also found that letting go of the stigma of going through a tough time has made me stronger. I very willingly talk about my struggles so hopefully, the person reading may get the strength from their own vulnerable situation to talk about it too, without the stigma attached to it. My motto is that it's completely okay to not feel okay and it's also 100% acceptable to talk about it, seek help, and embrace advice from your friends or professionals. And it's true, you are the only person that can get you out of a rough time. I actually quite like the fact that it has taken my own strength to come out of a struggling and trying time. It just makes me think that if I can do that, I can do anything.

When I first started going to local shows, I was complete awe of the whole thing. I was in awe of how all these people could gather in one room and use their art to convey emotions. I had only ever heard this through earphones to my portable CD player (or my MP3 player that I later got, and thought I was the shit). I had been to a few big concerts (my first concert was Avril Lavigne and it was SICK) so going from a few thousand people to maybe 100 in a small room, watching people perform their songs, was the biggest influence in my life to date.

At this time, I didn't realise that I was a feminist. I didn't realise that I always had been. Females have inspired me my whole life thus far. I've said it before, but even as a kid, if the band had a female in it,  I was all about it. I was besotted with it. But at this time, I wasn't educated in feminism. I wasn't aware of its presence. I was at a show in Dublin and I stood back and counted the females in the room, on one hand. I started to realise then that my gender was outnumbered at these shows. Even in terms of female musicians, most of the shows were only male musicians. It got me thinking how many females are probably killing it at home on their guitars, drums, and vocals, but can't seem to make the next step of forming a band and playing shows. I remember seeing my friends band "Kate's Party" play and thinking look at these girls absolutely killing it. It inspired me so much, that when the opportunity of being in band came, I didn't think twice. I wanted to be up there, hopefully encouraging other females in a crowd that they can do anything they put their minds to. They can sell out a room with their talents. They can shift the norm. I began buying books about females in the music industry and watching documentaries about feminism in all walks of life. I educated myself and the struggles we have faced and are still facing when doing the right thing in a vulnerable situation.

I truly believe, or at least want to believe, that local scenes in my community here have come a long way in creating a safer space. People have become more aware of issues that were making these spaces unsafe. They want to make an effort to not let misogyny, racism, and sexism exist inside of these spaces but it still needs work. These things are being talked about more frequently at shows and the fact it is being talked about more makes me feel like it’s finally not being hidden or hushed, and it's being taken seriously.

My first realisation of sexism when it came to music for me personally was when a sound technician came and plugged in my organ to the DI and arranged my mic. Now if you can imagine, we aren't U2. This was in front of people who had gathered at the front of the stage and watched while we set up. I remember being met with conflicting thoughts of "maybe he is just being nice" and "why is this angering so much?" I didn't see him go plug in Robs guitar and arrange his mic so why was he doing it for me? Recently, while sound checking, I asked the sound technician if it wasn't close to feed backing, could he turn me up. I have a delicate voice, it's quiet when it's quiet but pretty loud when it's loud. He responded by showing me how small my voice was by measuring it with his fingers while smirking. This was the just the start of a bad night for me. Later, someone in the crowd shouted up a pretty grim comment during a break in the set. At this point I genuinely felt pretty degraded - but that night I called that person out on stage. I wasn't going to let anyone make me feel like I shouldn't have been where I was in that moment. I'm not really a person for conflict but I wasn't going to let it go, so I took to social media and shared it. I needed people to know, it needed to be documented, that even if we are making progress, it's not over yet. I got an amazing response from lots of people, male and female. No gender, race or sexual orientation should have to feel victimized at an event of any sort let alone an artistic event that allows people to connect. That's why we go to these shows. So we can all feel the same things under the same roof. I'm aware that there is always going to be that "one person" who just doesn't get it, and maybe they are young and haven't been educated in these issues yet - but I know that I never want to be quiet when I see or hear anything that could be harmful. I don't want another person to be in a vulnerable situation at shows that makes them feel unsafe, with no one to stand by their side. We are past that time in society, there is no need or room for it.

It's only in the past few years that I've realised how strong I can be through vulnerability. I've realised that I can do things that I would have never thought possible for myself because I am good enough. I am capable. I am determined.

Keep up with The Winter Passing, and stream their music on 6131 Records by clicking here. Don't miss them at FEST 15 this year in Gainesville, FL.