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Award-winning Haida grunge musician revisits Prince Rupert childhood

Kristi Lane Sinclair’s transformational move from Rupert to the big city featured in APTN documentary
Kristi Lane Sinclair in APTN’s “Home” series. Sinclair, who bounces between Toronto and the West Coast, said she’s ultimately a city girl, though loves unwinding in beautiful Haida Gwaii. (Contributed)

After decades in the big city, Haida and Cree grunge artist Kristi Lane Sinclair revisited her relationship with the North Coast in an APTN series.

In the second season of “Amplify,” an APTN series profiling Indigenous musicians across the country, Sinclair’s story was documented in an episode called “Home.” The episode centres on Sinclair’s return to family connections in Haida Gwaii, where she sought forgiveness and healing.

After growing up in Prince Rupert, Sinclair left for the bright lights of Vancouver the second she could.

While she spent her childhood years in Prince Rupert, her memories of the city are not great. She said she grew up in a shoddy apartment complex behind the Five Corners Liquor Store and saw Indigenous peers who were really struggling around her, which was a catalyst to getting out of the small city as soon as she could.

A main component of the episode “Home” was the leap she took to get her music career started in Vancouver, according to Sinclair. Her late mother, whom the episode is dedicated to, played a key role in Sinclair’s exit story.

While her mother was supportive of Sinclair’s music path, a chaotic and often disturbing childhood home was another reason to leave the small coastal city.

”I was worried that I was just going to never leave and live behind the liquor store. So that’s why I left three days after graduation and went to Vancouver Community College,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair believes that the incessant West Coast rain feeds the frustration that’s required for deep, grungey music.

”I feel like the West Coast as well, you get so good at what you do because of the weather and because we were so bored,” she said. “There was a lot of staying inside and there was a lot of boredom and there was a lot of time in hand if you’re a teenage girl in Prince Rupert. I decided to spend it playing guitar and watching TV.”

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Super Blood Wolf Moon, Sinclair’s latest album, delves into challenges in her past and explicitly brings up topics of PTSD and domestic violence. She said she initially had no intention of putting her personal trauma out into the world, but was convinced by her producer and bass player.

“The thing is, I didn’t write these songs for them to ever be released. I think there’s a lot of songs that I write that are not intended for any audiences, I literally have got to get it out of me or else I carry it around,” she said.

Getting her story out is also a way to break taboos surrounding domestic abuse, according to Sinclair.

“It’s hyper-personal, but once it happened to me, I realized, like, it’s happened to almost everybody,” she said. “And it’s very taboo. You don’t talk about it, especially in the music industry.”

After seeing a VHS tape with grunge legends The Smashing Pumpkins as a teen in Prince Rupert, Sinclair wanted to be like their frontman Billy Corgan. She still uses the Fender Stratocaster her mother bought her after the music store owner told her mother the future Indigenous Music Award winner would only use it for a week.

“It’s still, my main guitar, out of like 12 guitars, this is like a part of my body,” she said. “And I ended up meeting the Smashing Pumpkins and hanging out a bunch with Billy Corgan. It turns out we don’t really get along.”

With a new influx of Indigenous musicians around the Northwest, Sinclair said she is excited for the future, as she said there is an Indigenous music “renaissance” currently underway.

Sinclair’s return to Haida Gwaii and the North Coast is not only therapeutic but also a way to bridge family relationships that were maybe overlooked in her music journey.

During COVID, Sinclair moved to coastal Campbell River, where she lives with her partner and her dog. She has been recording her next album in the small, picturesque Vancouver Island town, though she frequently travels back to the hub of Toronto, where she also works in the film industry.