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Meet Kristi Michele of Paper Heart Collective in East Atlanta

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristi Michele.

Kristi, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started working as a solo musician in Los Angeles, where I grew up, and later moved to the UK for several years, earning my keep playing in pubs until the wee hours of the morning. In each city I lived, I helped to organize large music and art events. I’ve always felt that music and visual art are perfect accompaniments to each other and I love bringing the two forms of expression together to create an experience for both creators and consumers to enjoy. While living in the UK, I managed a popular music venue and I cut my teeth in graphic design, making posters and promotional material for all my events. I learned that the aesthetic you surround an event with really sets its tone. You can kind of invite people into a complete experience when you’ve already shown them your perception of the experience. I love thematics and I love theatrics. By diddling in music, visual arts, graphic design, filmmaking and collaboration with other artists of all types, I can create these sorts of immersive realities.

Living in East Atlanta Village has been a huge inspiration for me. I started to frequent the art markets organized by Alberolingarn Designs in the Farmer’s Markets space and would play music there. I was very inspired by the amazing artists’ collective that Caity had gathered around her, and we often put our heads together to collaborate on “big picture” ideas for events. It was there I met Art Sunday of “They Act Human”, who has been a good friend and occasional show partner. I started to experiment with more electronic music and live looping, largely inspired by his amazing live shows. Over the years, I had found that the acoustic singer-songwriter format was really limiting for me, so I’ve taken to creating electronic music at home, where I can layer violins and harps to my heart’s content.

I hit a jackpot when I found a somewhat dilapidated old church in Grant Park that had been previously called The Circus School of Atlanta. The owner was looking to move on and I took on the task of rebranding and reimagining the space. Dubbed The Priory, I hosted an event called “A Very Outer Space Dance Party” in May of 2019. With multiple live musical acts, retro-futuristic decor, food and alcohol vendors, and over 25 local artists, makers, and vintage vendors, it was quite the shindig. I collaborated with local artist Le Klo on the decor and worked tirelessly promoting the event with retro-inspired posters and promotional videos. Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to host one other event at the venue, as the lease was taken over by a different company who didn’t share my creative vision. I’m always hopeful that another venue will emerge when the time comes to throw another soiree.

Over the years, Paper Heart Collective has been the umbrella under which I have produced and promoted both my introverted and community-based endeavors. I self-released albums under the record label Paper Heart and have sold original art and published poetry and zines under the title. I have also used the label to promote and host events over the years, so Paper Heart Collective has become a sort of catch-all for all things creative. This allows me to evolve as an artist and as my interests meander (due to my ADHD, I am always moving from one project to another) Paper Heart provides me a vehicle to explore all of these ideas.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Being a self-employed artist and musician is never a smooth road. If it were not for the love of art and the tireless need to create, I doubt many of us would choose that path! Working as a solo musician throughout Los Angeles and the UK, I often couch hopped and rarely had more than enough money to eat. Organizing events is a more profitable endeavor but also includes the challenges of working with and coordinating many other creative and nonlinear thinkers like myself, which always has its own inherent challenges. Obviously, having to walk away from my vision for The Priory after the new lease owner and I didn’t see eye to eye was one of the most disappointing things to happen in my recent years working as a self-employed artist. It did, however, allow me to refocus on some of my more personal efforts and I’ve since been writing and releasing new music and focusing on developing some of my visual art into a product as well. Being a self-employed artist means always being able to diversify and be open to new ideas as life moves along.

Please tell us about Paper Heart Collective.
Paper Heart Collective specializes in the creation, promotion, and distribution of original works and live events, curated by myself and often joined by other like-minded creatives. My love of quirky aesthetics like the circus, vintage kitsch, 8-bit art, kawaii and art nouveau often dictates the visuals I create as a promoter and the artists I collaborate with, while musically I am inspired by everything from 90s girl rap to Beethoven.

I am proud of the company’s ability to carry many different projects and inspirations under its umbrella, and the way the specific aesthetic draws other like-minded artists to collaborate. I think what sets Paper Heart Collective apart is its diversity and its sole ownership. If I am interested in creating or distributing something, the sky is the limit for what Paper Heart Collective can contain. Other local companies seem to work more single-mindedly, focused on just music promotion or just visual art events. Though I currently only release my own original music under the label Paper Heart, I am hopeful that I will find other local musicians who share my vision and business model and that the Collective could grow to include a collective vision. I am always willing to adapt with it and consider it to have endless possibilities!

What were you like growing up?
I’ve been making music since I was a little kid. It started humbly, with carefully staged concerts of “Part of Your World” performed for my loyal fans (my vast collection of stuffed toys), and evolved as I donned a karaoke machine with two tape decks and my coveted Casio keyboard. I always liked creating original content, drawing pictures, writing stories, and creating a school newspaper when I was ten years old. My time was evenly split between reading voraciously, listening to music on my Walkman, and being a maker of.. any and all things. I attribute a lot of my adult pursuits in music, visual arts, writing, event planning, and media to my dedicated childhood introversion.

I started writing poetry when I was eight and songs when I was fifteen and got my first acoustic guitar. This turned into a constant dialogue between myself and my lyrics. I found that I was much more easily able to express myself using the limiting conventions of rhyme schemes, metaphor and melody than I was trying to communicate directly with others. I’ve written over 75 songs, some of which exist still in my head and others that have been recorded multiple times and in multiple ways. It sort of feels like giving birth to these little creatures that seem to have come through me rather than from me. Sometimes they gestate for years and other times just manifest from thin air. I realized early on that I wasn’t a great candidate for collaboration because I tend to think in many instruments and melodies at once and my songs are usually born fully formed. I studied classical composition in college and have always had a love for orchestral instruments, which I think shows through in my arrangements and production.

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Image Credit:
Installation by Le Klo

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