He Heard There Was a Star :: Gay Singer-Songwriter Roger Kuhn
Singer-songwriter Roger Kuhn grew up on a farm in North Dakota, but to judge from the slow, low drawl of his singing voice--which can switch from an Elvis croon to a tenderly gruff Tom Waits growl at a moment’s notice--he picked up more than a hint of his mother’s Alabama accent.
Toss in a stint in New York City, where he launched his music career, and Kuhn’s vocal influences are just about complete--so far. One can only wonder what impact life in his current city, Boston, will have. So far, not much: Kuhn only arrived in the Hub of the Universe, together with his husband, in June.
The move marks a return for the pair, who are legally wed. "We got married in Boston in May of 2009," Kuhn told EDGE. "So we’ve been legally married in the state of Massachusetts now over a year."
But living in New York was just as good, wasn’t it? Doesn’t New York honor same-sex marriages granted elsewhere, even though the Empire State failed to bring gay and lesbian families in out of the cold when support among state lawmakers for a law to extend marriage equality collapsed early this year?
"Uhhh... they say they do... but it was always very sketchy," Kuhn told EDGE. "You could never get a full answer. I’ve known several people who have had problems, like a lesbian couple who wanted to get their names legally changed. [The state] wouldn’t do it, because they weren’t legally married in New York. There’s no actual law protecting us in New York--it just sounds nice [to say that the sate will honor same-sex marriages granted elsewhere]. Which is one of the reasons why moving to Boston was an easy choice for us, because we were already married here. We thought, ’If we’re paying taxes, let our tax money go to a state that’s actually going to recognize out love.’ "
Kuhn isn’t about to sever is relationship with New York City. He’s headed back to the Big Apple for a release party in support of Every Year Around Xmas Time, his new seven-track CD of holiday themed original songs. He still keeps a special place in his heart for New York, however.
"I love Boston," Kuhn said. "Let me start out by saying I love Boston."
"But I didn’t start out wanting to live in Boston," Kuhn confessed. "I grew up wanting to live in New York City. That was my dream: move to New York, become an artist, and that’s what I did. New York will always be that special place for me, even though I’ve let the city go and moved on. But all the hard work that I did, all the passion and tears and hurt... this record was written in New York. All of my records have been written in New York. All my childhood dreams are there."
Though being an artist was his dream from childhood, being a musician was not. "I wanted to be an actor," Kuhn confided to EDGE. "But I think the fact that I was musical was kind of a quirk. It wasn’t something I ever recognized about myself until others started to say, ’We want you to sing a little bit more... You should do this solo...’ Music, and singing in particular, always kind of pushed its way ahead of acting.
"I moved to New York thinking I’d be an actor," Kuhn continued, "because I did musical theater and acted all throughout my time living in North Dakota. And then I got to New York and went to one audition--the line was wrapped around the block. I was, like, ’Fuck this! No way! I can’t handle it!’ It was too much. But within three or four months of living in New York, I got my first professional job singing, and I thought, ’Well, if I can make money doing this, maybe everybody was right!’ So I did a really dramatic shift and started to perform as a solo artist.
"I’d always been writing songs, but not doing much with them, when I lived in North Dakota," Kuhn added. "But it was really in New York that [I started to perform]. I started out doing standards and lounge music at art openings and different parties around town. The people I was working with had a really crazy relationship and they had a breakup and I kind of fell in the shuffle of all that, so I said, ’You know what? Fuck anybody else taking control of my professional career. Let me just do it myself.’ So I stepped out, got o n the stage, and started singing. Friends gave me a guitar, I took a couple lessons, and then pretty much from there was self-taught. That’s how I got started."
Kuhn relied on talent, in other words, a talent that comes through in his expressive voice and his songwriting. Musically, his style has Johnny Cash moments and Lloyd Cole interludes--but those artists were not his primary influences.
"Musically, I grew up listening to ’80s pop music--Madonna, Cyndi Lauper," Kuhn said. "When I got older, I started listening to more female singer-songwriters, in particular Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, The Indigo Girls, k.d. lang, Paula Cole. These were all women that I idolized not only for their performing ability, but their song writing--their craft. They taught me how to craft a song, how to tell a story.
"The male comparisons that I get vocally--I guess that’s just how I sound!" Kuhn laughs. "I grew up listening to Madonna, but my Mom was always listening to Elvis and country music, so I think maybe by default I just kind of picked that singing style up, maybe to please my mother in some weird way!
"I get the Elvis comparison a lot, and I don’t quite hear it myself, but I always like to joke that I’m the secret love child of Elvis and Cher," Kuhn added. "I think that they got together, had a kid, and it was me!"