I was super excited when the most excellent, Kim Dylla, was recently announced as one of thrash metal rockers GWAR’s new characters, Vulvatron! Not only does she play the Imperious Empress of the Universe from the year 6900 in GWAR but she is also frontwoman for Kung Fu Dykes AND has her own successful clothing empire – Kylla Custom Rock Wear – whose clients include members of Machine Head, Children of Bodom, Trivium, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Slipknot, Watain, Death Angel, Dragonforce, Asking Alexandria, Wednesday 13, Arch Enemy, Soilwork, Metal Church, Kreator, God Seed, Rob Zombie, Murderdolls, Prong, Danzig and more! Kim and I had a chat recently to talk about all that she does.
BIANCA: You’re not only one of newest additions – Vulvatron – to GWAR but you also have a successful clothing business, Kylla Custom Rock Wear as well as being a visual artist and academic. I always have admiration for people that are passionate to pursue all the things they love. It’s really lovely to talk with you to find out more.
KIM DYLLA: Thank you. It’s really nice to do an interview like this where I can talk about everything, especially my custom rock wear!
B: I really love your creations. When you were younger you started to make your own clothes because you couldn’t really find the type of stuff you wanted to wear in stores and if you did it was hella expensive. What was your style like back then?
KD: I like wearing dark-metal-evil-goth-rock n roll kind of stuff. At the time things like that I wanted to buy, I felt, were pretty cheesy and costume-like. I don’t like wearing things of the rack or fake leather or things that look brand new. If I went with a Goth look it’d be more along the lines of a “Hellraiser” kind of thing. If I went with a rock n roll kind of look, I wanted to look like a crust punk and like I’d just woken up in what I was wearing, not like, oh I just bought a brand new leather jacket [laughs].
B: What were the subcultures you were involved with?
KD: I grew up and geek and an artist. I tried to go to as many shows as possible. I was really into going to metal shows and industrial clubs (which were big at the time). When I’d travel around to cities that were bigger than mine I’d love to find little boutique stores that sell rock n roll clothing.
B: When you first realised you could make your own clothes; did you feel empowered?
KD: Yes. I was so surprised at well how things would come out because before that I’d only sewn tings from patterns. One of my friends who I sort of view as my big sister taught me how to sew and pattern corsets. After you learn how to do that you find almost anything else is easy [laughs]. That’s how I started making jackets too. I love playing around with remaking, unmaking and upcycling things so the process for a piece is quicker. From there I started producing a lot of gear.
B: I noticed that the tag line for Kylla Custom Rock Wear is: Rock your wardrobe, rock your life. In the spirit of that, do you believe that what you wear has an influence on how you feel about yourself?
KD: For sure! For me it’s a confidence thing and I know that people I’ve made stuff for feel the same way. Someone will say, “When I put on your vest and go on stage, I feel like a rock star! I feel confident.” They say that their stage persona is different to their off stage self. It works for people that aren’t in bands too. It’s the difference to wearing sweatpants and rockin’ a pretty dress—girls especially feel different depending on how they look. Making yourself feel like a rock star can do wonders for your self-image.
B: Is there a piece in your wardrobe that makes you feel amazing when you wear it?
KD: I LOVE the first jacket that I ever made, but I don’t own it anymore [laughs]. Joey Jordison [Slipknot, Murderdolls, Scar the Martyr] actually has it. He borrowed it to wear on stage and never gave it back [laughs]. That’s OK though. He wore it to a lot of awards shows and that’s really how my business started; he told people where he got the jacket. From that Robb Flynn from Machine Head called me and wanted me to do stuff for him. I definitely got great returns on that piece but it has always been my favourite.
B: Nice. I’ve read that you have a great love of muscle cars and are a mechanic?
KD: Oh I do love cars, muscle cars and sports cars and working on them but to call me a mechanic I think is a stretch. I’m not very good at it [laughs]. I have a 1976 Dodge Aspen. I rebuilt my carburettor so that’s something. I’m teaching myself along with the help of my friends that work on cars. It’s my hobby.
B: Previously, you’ve mentioned that you tie in skills from your experience in both the music and fashion industries to your label; can you elaborate on that?
KD: Working with bands in general, you have to work with a different frame of mind than working with business people. Musicians aren’t the best at time management, planning or deadlines [laughs]. I’ll get a call and they’ll be like, “Hey I need this thing overnighted to this venue halfway across the world.” You also deal with things like going backstage and waiting outside dressing rooms to measure up someone for what you’re making them. If you don’t know how to behave yourself in that world or how to deal with those kind of people, different personality types, it can be bad. It’s a big part of handling the wardrobe thing [laughs].
B: Is there anything in general you’ve learnt about from those kinds of experiences you could share?
KD: Measuring someone can be awkward, especially when you’re measuring their pants! [laughs]. I’ve actually been pleasantly impressed by how respectful everyone has been.
B: I really like that you said in a previous interview, that when you find yourself in those backstage situations that it’s important to be professional and respectful. I love that you said something along the lines of, just because you work in the world of rock n roll doesn’t mean you have to act like something out of Mötley Crüe’s book, The Dirt.
KD: [Laughs] Definitely! It ties into the whole “women in metal” thing; I’ve been discussing that a lot via the character I play in GWAR, Vulvatron. It’s something that I’ve always talked about a lot. It’s not a new thing for women to be in a band, it’s not a new thing to have women working in the rock industry, but there is still a lot of sexism and misogyny. If you’re backstage and you don’t look like the end of a horse’s ass, guys in bands will expect that you want to fuck them. It’s unfortunate. The stereotype exists and it’s sad but what you have to do is overcompensate. I’m not saying don’t have fun but make sure when you dress in a certain way that you’re conscious of those perceptions so you don’t fulfil people’s negative assumptions and stereotypes. It’s a sad reality but it is the reality that people will lose respect for you. It’s such a complete double standard. If you go somewhere and you act professionally, if you don’t throw yourself at people, then you do get respect. I’ve certainly noticed that in the way that people address me compared with the way they do some other people. I’m not saying don’t wear short skirts or anything like that, I’m just saying that there is a time and a place for sex, drugs and rock n roll but if you’re working at a show, that’s not it [laughs].
B: I know what you mean, I’ve come up against similar stuff myself doing what I do. I’ve always made a point to be extra professional when I go interview people. I fucking hate the predatory behaviour I have witnessed by some dudes in bands over the years. It’s fucked up and no one ever talks about it and most of the time people that are there too are aware of what’s happening but they turn a blind eye. I’ve moved along underage girls from backstage situations that I’ve seen that were getting messed up. Doing stuff like that doesn’t make you the most popular person in a room [laughs] but I don’t give a fuck, at least I know girls weren’t taken advantage of on my watch.
KD: Yeah, when you go backstage to do your job you have to fight against that assumption we were just talking about and the, “oh there’s a pretty girl she must be interested” thing. It’s like, NO! I’m working and if you could respect me for that that would be cool.
B: Have you personally dealt with sexism?
KD: Definitely. An Australian band was actually the worst example [laughs] a band called, Destroyer 666. One time I was in Norway and I was backstage (they said a lot of things but this was the worst), my friend introduced me by my name and they were like, “Who the fuck are you?” I said, he just told you, I’m Kim and I treat everyone with respect. He was like, “No, who are you fucking to be back here?”
B: That’s fucked up!
KD: Yeah, I’ve never wanted to punch someone in the face as much as them at that moment.
B: I hope Vulvatron gets to slay them one day!
B: I read a Vulvatron interview the other day where the interviewer asked you: who did you have to fuck to get into the band?
KD: Yeah, that question caused a lot of outrage. I know that the interviewer asked Vulvatron that question to illicit a particular response. I think I handled it well [laughs].
B: All the responses Vulvatron has been giving in recent interviews have been right on.
KD: It was insulting that he asked the question but I know why he was doing it, he wanted a funny response from the character. I thought it was appropriate because…I’ve been reading a lot of the comments, I know I shouldn’t read the comments [laughs], but a lot of people were saying that I fucked whatever guy to get the job. I’m like, how do you know this? It’s not true. I don’t even know you people!
B: When it was first announced you were in GWAR I was bummed out that a lot of the negative responses from the news came from other women!
KD: I did notice that. I expect nothing but the worst from the internet [laughs], I was floored by the general positivity of most comments but the ones that were the worst were from other women. Stuff like, I don’t want a bitch on the stage, and, she’s so nasty. I’ve noticed that a lot in “girl world” that there’s a lot of women hate. It’s just sad, we should support each other.
B: Absolutely! That’s why a lot of the interviews I do are with creative women.
KD: That’s awesome.
B: Thanks. Do you have many female friends that you lean on for support?
KD: I have more guy friends than girls because of the environment I’m in all the time. I do have a circle of very close girlfriends though that are amazing—I couldn’t exist without them. We’re all very strong and supportive of each other. We have so much fun.
B: Do you identify as a feminist?
KD: I don’t actually because I think that saying I’m a feminist, even though it is saying that I believe in gender equality, it kind of makes me feel like I need to say that I’m taking up for women, and I am but, I would just like to say that I believe in treating all people equally. I hope that one day we won’t be judged by our gender to where I have to identify as a feminist to pick up for my gender’s bias…I don’t know, I never say I’m a feminist because I try to stay away from ‘isms’ [laughs]. I am certainly a strong woman and a supporter of women in powerful positions. I find it regrettable that we need to empower women at all—we should be empowered from the start!
B: I’m glad that you said that. I struggle with whether or not to identify publicly as a feminist too. Like you, I’m not into labels. Of course I believe in gender equality, equal rights etc. but I still haven’t found a reason that makes sense to me to have to tell other people this by calling myself a feminist, like can’t my work just speak for itself. It’s something I give a lot of thought too.
KD: Yeah, I support a man as much as I do a woman, it’s all about who does the job the best. I’m always stoked when I see a woman out there being strong and doing a job well; I’m proud of that person. In terms of identifying as any kind of ‘ism’ I just don’t.
B: Let’s talk about the custom clothes you make. You use both vintage and modern materials to make your pieces; what have been some of your favourite vintage finds that you’ve used?
KD: I like to pillage stuff from military surplus stores, like things that are in the discount bins that actually look like they’ve been through a war. I take those materials, deconstruct the garment, chemically process the materials and then reconstruct them into different things. A lot of the time I leave design elements of the original garment intact, so there will be seams and buttons and I’ll use them as something else. Found object and bits are what I like to use.
B: What is one of your favourite time periods to draw from when making your creations? You mentioned before that you like to make corsets…
KD: I did like doing that but I’ve kind of stopped making them because I can’t really wear them onstage. I made something for Alissa [White] from Arch Enemy, it was the first time I’d made a corset in a while. I like to look at the late 70s and early 80s. I love like 70s Alice Cooper! Ray Brown’s designs from the 80s on Mötley Crüe and Guns N Roses. I also like drawing inspiration from movies like Mad Max and Hellraiser.
B: Early today you actually talked to Alice Cooper, right? He interviewed you.
KD: I did! Alice Cooper called me on the phone! It was sort of a Wayne’s World moment [laughs].
B: We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy! We’re scum (dogs!).
KD: [Laughs]. He was very nice, he and Vulvatron got along really well. That was exciting. The whole character of Vulvatron has really been blowing up in the press. Shortly before that my clothing business did as well. It’s fun getting into the vibe of doing interviews with different people. To be interviewed by someone like Alice Cooper who I respect as an artist was fun! I was quite nervous though. I just thought, what would Oderus do? I was really good friends with Dave Brockie, I miss him. I always think of him when I’m doing interviews because I love the way that he used to do them. This is the first interview I have done out of character, it’s nice to talk about everything I do. I want more of that [laughs].
B: You do so much, it just makes sense to chat to you about it all.
KD: Thank you!
B: Why do you think Vulvatron is getting so much press and people are so excited?
KD: I think people were shocked by the death of Cory [Smoot a.k.a. Flattus Maximus] first and then Dave, he touched everyone [laughs] …Oderus did a lot of touching! When he left us it was so shocking and left a hole. I know everyone wanted it to continue so they were trying to work out who should replace him. When they put it out there that we have a new female character for the first time in 15 years, I think people didn’t expect it, it’s something totally different. You can’t replace Dave so we thought why not go back to the 80s format, go back to our roots and let’s do something totally different. Vulvatron as a character is different from GWAR because she’s from 6900; she doesn’t look the way the other scumdogs look. Also, the name Vulvatron is quite striking.
KD: Oh AND the big tits! [laughs]. If you put those tits on any woman, it’d go viral. Matt McGuire did an excellent job sculpting them, they’re not mine [laughs].
B: I was so stoked when they announced you in GWAR. I know many of my female (and male) friends were really happy about it.
KD: I hope girls take inspiration from Vulvatron (and knowledge from the year 6900) and know that they too can be scumdog heroes!
B: Yes! I also really love you in the band Kung Fu Dykes!
KD: Thank you! I love Kung Fu Dykes. It’s been said I’m previously from Kung Fu Dykes but that’s not correct, I’m still working on an album with them as we speak. Most people in GWAR have other bands because we only do a certain number of shows a year. Kung Fu Dykes is such a fun band and also very femme power, even if my bandmates aren’t actually girls [laughs]. They’re like women though!
B: How did you first come to performance?
KD: I was in my band Thismeansyou for a decade. In college my friend Christina sang for a goth band and they decided they wanted a screamer. I sang in musicals and choruses in school and took voice lessons but I was really, really into extreme music at the time like black metal, death metal, nothing melodic at all. I would scream along in the car to songs I love [laughs]. I never thought I was a good enough singer or screamer to be in a band. There was a confidence issue. I went and tried out and they started playing the song and I screamed into the microphone and they stopped playing the song [laughs]. I was 110 pounds at the time and bald. I got the gig. Thismeansyou played a lot of shows and did tours up until 2007, now my guitarist Mick is in Arch Enemy.
I got to be in Kung Fu Dykes because the singer quit. They played a show and then after we went to Waffle House (a 24 hour breakfast joint) and they were like, “where are we going to find another singer?” I was like, HELLO! That’s how I got the gig. I was really good friends with Brockie and the whole GWAR gang and they started asking the Dykes to play shows. It’s funny because Beefcake from GWAR actually once auditioned for Thismeansyou. He was Brockie’s roommate and he kept trying to get him a gig. Then we started playing at shows with GWAR and that’s how a lot of GWAR fans started to know Kung Fu Dykes.
B: How do you feel when you see someone wearing one of your creations on stage?
KD: It’s a great feeling—you feel like a proud mom! [laughs]. For me it’s cool to see my creations on bands that I’ve listened to for years and to in a way feel like part of the show’ my creations contribute visually to the vibe of the show. It’s just nice to be a part of things I’ve loved for years.
B: What’s next for you and your clothing empire?
KD: I’m taking the show on the road. I have a business partner Laurie so the business will run full time while I’m out on the road at festivals. I’ll also be out on the GWAR Eternal tour all fall. I have a roadcase for the sewing machine!
B: That is the best!
KD: We’ll be expanding the line. I’d like to make more clothes for women. I’d like to come up with some sort of vastly different new looks for bands. Really I just want to continue what we’re doing but just on a bigger scale. It’s been a little challenging with all of the intense GWAR work but it’s good to know you can put things down for a few weeks and they won’t collapse. It can be stressful as a small business owner, you hear that you have to work 24/7 to get it happening. It is important to step away and be able to do other things too. It’s been all consuming the past couple of years. It’s nice to feel I have a little balance.
B: Is there anything that helps you when you get super stressed?
KD: Beer! [laughs] Beer is excellent. I didn’t start drinking until later in life and when I get stressed out I’ll sit down and have a beer with a girlfriend. It helps. Other than that, traveling, just hoping on a plane and going somewhere else. A change of scenery is nice. It can be nice to get on a plane and know that your problems are 35,000 feet below you. The world is a big place. I used to date a guy in Artic Norway and it is the most beautiful, otherworldly place I have ever been. I love The Alps, Bavaria and Switzerland—the beer there is really good [laughs]. My boyfriend lives in England, so that has become a second home. I really love the UK. I love the vibe, people and pubs. I’ve never been to Australia, I can’t wait to go. GWAR will come and slay you all! [laughs].
B: How much input have you had into the Vulvatron character?
KD: They gave me a ton of input, I was surprised. Matt and I designed the costume. We’d go back and forth with sketches, we’d find they’d be exactly the same [laughs]. He sculpted it. In terms of the character it was just like, come up with a basic idea and I’ll run with it. They want me to have a lot of input and say. When I do interviews I just make a lot of stuff up. They want it to be my character, so that’s great. No one is doing it for me. We work together on the creative stuff, there’s a lot of really smart, funny amazing people in this band. It is such a privilege to work with them.
B: What’s your favourite thing about being Vulvatron?
KD: I’ve always wanted big boobs! If I knew I only had to join GWAR to get big boobs I would have done it a long time ago [laughs]…no that’s not really true, I do like the big boobs though. I love the crowds that come see GWAR. I am a performer through and through, it’s my greatest desire and dream in life; to get to go on stage and hear so many people screaming, screaming for you, is the biggest high in the whole world.
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*All photos for Kim’s IG, except the Kung Fu Dykes pic by Adam Scott. Vulvatron art by me.