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Rachael Kilgour stands up for herself on 'Rabbit in the Road'

Rachael Kilgour

Rachael Kilgour Graham Tolbert

You know what they say: A bad breakup makes for a great record. If that’s the case, Rachael Kilgour has a total classic on her hands.

In the past, the Minneapolis transplant (by way of Duluth) has sung out about social injustice and seeking the truth. But with her latest album, Rabbit in the Road, Kilgour gets angry about her own personal injustices, expressing sentiments that are vast, sprawling, and unrestrained, yet delicate enough to prickle all the right emotions.

Kilgour wrote the bulk of Rabbit in 2014 as she watched her marriage unravel, eventually ending in divorce. The songs explores the many layers that make up relationships: emotional investments made, things left unsaid and the eventual forgiveness necessary in order to move forward.

On a cold March evening, Kilgour shares the story behind her new songs over tea and a light dinner in Uptown. Her green eyes dart back and forth underneath a headful of curls, and her mood alternates between exhilaration and the contemplativeness she exhibits on her tunes.

Now 32, Kilgour married at the age of 23 and raised a stepdaughter with her wife in Duluth. Looking back, she realizes how stunted she was because she got married so young. “You think, ‘Done. I did my growing. I’m doing this grown up thing and sharing my life with this person,’” she says. “We had put each other into a box. I had all of these things that were incomplete in my growth. It changed how I relate to other people.”

The open anger of Kilgour’s writing on this album might make some uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable for her as well. Raised with Midwestern values to always be accommodating, she extended those values to all parts of her life -- to the point where it was detrimental to her relationship. As she wrote these songs, she found a healthy way to get angry and when she did, something broke in her, allowing her to finally say, “Fuck no,” and realize she was not to blame for some things in the dissolution of the relationship.

“Before it was easier for me to be angry on behalf of someone else,” she says. “Until recently, I didn’t write a song that defended myself as a homosexual. My first instinct is always to apologize for my actions. It was interesting after the divorce. I had righteous anger that I had to work through. Most of the songs were me coming to terms. ‘Is it okay to be angry? How do I forgive a person if I’m this angry? How can I be angry and understand why they did what they did?’ It was me asking a lot of these questions.”

Kilgour had to wait for the songs to come around, but once they did, they quickly spilled out one after another. She knew her ex would possibly hear them, but the relationship had been broken beyond repair, which liberated her to be more honest in her writing.

“Grief is very uncomfortable for some people,” Kilgour says. “Everyone else is watching. We apologize for it. There was no hiding in a small town like Duluth. Every person knew my business. They would ask me how I was doing. My response was, ‘You know what? Life sucks.’ I’m not editing my experience for you. Time helped. There’s something amazing about bringing that to the stage to inspire others. By me willing to take on my feelings and very thoroughly examining them in front of everyone, it shifted it to something universal. The most I can do is get in touch with myself. If I write a line, and it makes me weep, then it will do that for someone else. I like to write things I might be afraid of.”

After Kilgour had finished all of the tracks on Rabbit, she realized what was missing was an element of forgiveness. Realizing she could forgive her ex and not have to ever speak to her again, she went through and wrote down as many things as she could remember about her. Trying to humanize her was difficult, and she came up with many banal things. One thing that stuck out when making her list was a time they were driving and her ex stopped the car and stepped out to snap the neck of an injured rabbit on the side of the road.

“Those were the two things I kept coming back to,” she recalls, staring into her tea. “I tried to avoid putting it in the song, because it didn’t feel of pure heart to include it, but it ended up being the perfect metaphor for the album as a whole. It’s so confusing. She both did and didn’t give me what she gave the rabbit -- a swift kill, but also with empathy. The physical aspect of snapping this rabbit’s neck was so violent, but she was capable of empathizing. She has that in her.”

“Writing this album was another step towards moving forward,” Kilgour says. “It’s funny to decide if I’ve healed. Some of those things stick with you or change your behavior. You grow in a different direction. I became choosy in who I trusted. My marriage ended, but I got to set the pace of my own healing process though the songs. It’s closure, but it’s ambiguous. I’m still hurt, and I forgive you.”

Rachael Kilgour Album Release Show
With: Chris Koza, Sara Pajunen, and Liz Draper
Where: Aster Cafe River Room
When: 6 p.m. Sat., April 8
Tickets: All ages, $10; more info here