Get to Know Kevin Sur and Tory J, Hosts of KEXP's Sounds of Survivance

Powering KEXP
Emily Fox

As of Sept. 13, 2023, KEXP has begun to roll out a new radio lineup full of new shows and DJs. Two of these newcomers are Kevin Sur and Tory J, co-hosts of a new show called Sounds of Survivance featuring global indigenous music from an array of genres. The show airs Mondays from 3-5 AM PT.

To help introduce Kevin and Tory to our listeners, KEXP's Sound & Vision host Emily Fox caught up with them both to learn more about her background, the meaning of "survivance," as well as two songs from each DJ to get to know them. Read their conversation below and check out the debut episode of Sounds of Survivance in the streaming archive

Emily Fox: Can you each introduce yourselves? 

Tory J: Oonugwito! My name is DJ Tory J and I'm one of the co-hosts of Sounds of Survivance. I'm Quinault from Taholah on the mouth of the Quinault River and I'm a PhD candidate in Native American Studies at UC Davis, also a bedroom guitarist who loves guitar-driven music. I especially love the sounds of jazz-fusion, prog metal, and math rock. I'd love to bring those sounds to the indigenous music scene, though, you know, bedroom guitarist so far. 

Kevin Sur: Instagram is pretty fire, though. I love that You got some pretty awesome licks that you play. 

Tory J: Thank you. It's my riff diary. 

Kevin Sur: Aloha Mai Kākou. My name's Kevin Sur. I am the co-host with my friend here, Tory of Sounds of Survivants. I am a Kānaka Maoli which, for those who don't know, is native Hawaiian. And I'm just so honored to be doing this and have this responsibility. And I can't wait to just get going and start playing this incredible depth of music on here. 

Emily Fox: I had each of you bring two songs. Before we get into that, I want to I want listeners to get to know a little bit more about you. So Kevin, you've been on the show before for your work with Artists Home. Just tell us a little bit more about what you do outside of... I mean, you are a music lover, but it's also part of your "day job." 

Kevin Sur: So, I am the founder of Artist Home, which is a local company that is most known for putting on music festivals that are community-driven, starting with Doe Bay Fest out on Orcas Island in 2008 and currently with Timber! Outdoor Music Festival, which we do every July. And that's where most people know us and most musicians know us with a lot of our behind-the-scenes work. I'm a former touring musician and we do free artist consultations for any artist seeking help. We will find time to have coffee, consult with them, and help them. A lot of it's trying to be the voice in an artist's corner that I've never had. And we get to do that through our work and through our festivals. And we have, like KEXP, we have an amazing community of supporters that want to come to our festivals because they want to see people they've never heard of before. And so we're really proud of that and proud of our community. So that's in a nutshell who I am and what I do here. 

Emily Fox: And I should also say, I think you've said before, like "we make festivals for people who don't necessarily like festivals." You do a lot of activities as part of your festivals like organized hikes and birdwatching.

Kevin Sur: Oh, absolutely.  But I think when we first started there were only like three major festivals and I just don't like music festivals. So a lot of it was creating... Doing the opposite of what a lot of festivals would do. You know, from day one, children 12 and under were free because all ages music is a really difficult thing here in the state. But that's also in Hawaii how we hang. Gatherings, luau. It's not really separated by age groups, which I always found very weird here on the mainland. Like, "This is for people this age, this is for people that age." And it's like, no, like you get together and it's your kids, your babies, your uncles, your grandparents. Everyone's drinking, doing other things. And so part of it was driven by that ethos of how would I want people to feel in my backyard. Well in my backyard, everyone's there and we're all hanging. And it's funny because like at our festivals, people are always like, "Why is it so chill?" I'm like, because the kids make the adults behave. When there'd children around, no one's going to act a fool. It's a cultural thing that you see in real life. But it's it's been fun over the years to see how the things we've done that are very different, how it's affected other festivals in the region, and how other festivals are seeing the difference that it makes and changing how they do stuff. So that's been really cool. 

Emily Fox: Tory, I want to hear more about your academic studies in Native American Studies. Tell me more about your academic work. 

Tory J: I moved down to Davis to get a master's degree in Native American Studies in 2019. My original plan was to get a master's in Native Studies as kind of an "Indigenous studies shield of armor" for continuation into a law career because one of my favorite quotes from Beth Piatote's 'The Beadworkers' – she's a Ni:mi:pu:, poet, scholar and etc. – was that it's every bright kid from the rez's dream to go to law school. And so I had that dream. I had that sense of responsibility. I always wanted to leave home and then come back and give back to my community. But then I met Dena'ina musicologist Jessica Bissett Perea, who is now my major professor and mentor, and she showed me that all of these questions that I had about music and all of these things... The ways that I was thinking through sound, not even just indigenous sound, but sound and music in general are things that are doable in academia. And so I felt compelled. I felt inspired to reapply to the program for the Ph.D. I advanced the candidacy in April, and now I'm here. I'm back in Seattle. My research and home base will always be here because this is where my people are from. My ancestors paddled the Salish Sea, along with our Muckleshoot, Duwamish, Suquamish relatives, intertribal, urban, native, all of them.  My work kind of focuses on sound and music as a domain of indigenous relationality. We're going to talk a lot about survivance today because of the show's name. But one of the things that the sort of nascent field of indigenous sound in music studies takes for granted is that we have always been making these sounds in light of settler colonial impositions and that those sounds carry really potent meaning. They are articulations of law and governance. There are ways that we kind of strive for healing. There are ways that we repudiate settler-colonial impositions. And yeah, so ideally I would love to do a community-based music project where I just hang out with musicians. And so I really want with my dissertation to, I guess, kind of just help everyone hear what we've been doing for thousands of years. 

Emily Fox: So I have asked each of you to bring two songs to share that are meaningful to you and that you're excited to play on this new Indigenous music show. Sounds of Survivance. Who wants to start? 

Kevin Sur: I'll flinch. I guess one thing that I strive and it's just sort of my thing is always discovering something new. And as a former working musician and also just as a music fan, I think any music fans know that if you look hard enough, you can find somebody playing for $10 or Conor Byrne that is every bit as talented, as great as someone people are spending hundreds of dollars to see a Climate Pledge. It's something my whole company was built on. It's something I'm proud of. But with that, this is a songwriter, Métis native songwriter with just one song in existence. I have messaged him because I can't stop listening to it, but I found it. I'm like, "I'm playing you because this song is an earworm." But his name is Wyatt C. Lewis. And yeah, this is this is the track. 

Emily Fox: I absolutely love this song. And only one track out there in the world? 

Kevin Sur: Only one track in existence. Album coming out in the fall. But that's my jam. That's what I love digging and finding is that artist that's never had a platform and giving them one. 

Emily Fox: I think I just added a new artist to my own list that I'll be listening to on my walks. Tory, how about you? What's a song you want to share? 

Tory J: Yeah. So people might not think so just from meeting me, but I'm a huge metalhead. I love metal music. And the cool thing about that is that there's also a massive indigenous metal scene, and this band is called Graves of the Monuments. I don't know if they're all Navajo, but I know that at least some of their members are Navajo, and so they're one of the plethora of metal artists that I hope to amplify with my show just because there's just so much good music out there. 

Tory J: I love that song. It has all of the dimensions of modern metalcore that I really love, like detuned seven-string guitars, incredibly impressive, harsh vocal performance from Carlos Weiss. It's right up my alley along with the groove shifts. 

Emily Fox: Alright, Kevin, you've got one more song to share with us today. 

Kevin Sur: I know. And I'm thinking of, like, switching gears. I'm going to do Jesse Davis. Jesse Davis, a legendary Kiowa musician, guitar player. I think for this I just kind of picked it because I do feel like I am so overjoyed and just have such a... I think much of this I feel like it's a celebration of Indigenous people and the progress that Indigenous people continue to make. And so Jesse Davis just kind of instills that feeling of "eff yeah" and he's just a legend. Played with Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton. Paul McCartney was just sort of the go-to. But also his two albums are just impeccable 70s rock. The song makes me feel that joy, that's all. 

Emily Fox: Alright, Tory, you've got the last track for us to share as part of our intro to our new show, Sounds of Survivance. 

Tory J: Yeah and speaking of songs that make me happy, this one makes me kind of sad happy. It made me bawl my eyes out at the end of season two of 'Reservation Dogs.' I don't want to go into spoiler territory. I was about to describe the scene. 

Emily Fox: But it's a great show for anyone who hasn't seen it.  

Tory J: And there's so much great native music on there. It's a huge inspiration just seeing everyone be amplified in that sort of context. But this song is from Black Belt, Eagle Scout. It's called "Salmon Stinta." And I know what you're thinking. Black Belt eagle Scout has had a lot of play here on KEXP, but I wanted to highlight this song and KP, Kathryn Paul, in general, because because she's from here. She's from here and specifically a song about loving salmon is a really beautiful thing that touches me as somebody who's also a salmon people. And so I wanted to bring in that context while we listen to the song that made me about my eyes out in season two of 'Reservation Dogs.' And that's kind of the beautiful thing about the show, too, is that, you know, in the midst of these histories, like we also get to present the Indigenous musical excellence that persists in light of those histories. And so that's kind of the essence of survivance.

Emily Fox: I was going to ask overall, what are your goals and hopes for this show? And also just talk a little bit more about the significance of the title of the show, Sounds of Survivance. 

Kevin Sur: I'd never heard the word and then Tory had this beautiful email. We were given like 24 hours to name the show, and we hadn't even met each other. And I called him and was like, "Man, take us out to dinner first or something." Tory can explain it way more elegantly and eloquently than I can. 

Tory J: So yeah, survivance is a term that was coined by Gerald Vizenor, coined in the Indigenous studies context, but Vizenor kind of made it his own. He's an Anishinaabe, super illustrious, mega prolific scholar, and that kind of articulates this amalgam of survival and resistance, right? So survivance. And to him, it's an active sense of presence, right? It's both an acceptance of the fact that we are doing the same things that our ancestors did and constantly and always communicating with them, but also carrying with us both this sort of history of colonization and resisting it. So we're not just sort of passive by standards in our colonization. We're always doing this thing of carrying on our ancestors' legacy. Our ancestors' dreams. We're dreaming ourselves. And so it's a subtle shift that kind of takes the lens away from our experience of subsistence through oppression and reframes it in the sense that we are doing what we've always done and we haven't lost. And so I think that in a musical context, it's something that you hear, you know, it's something that you hear through all of the artists that we'll be bringing to the show. It's something that's felt in all of their experiences and making art and making music in itself is an act of survivance in this post-settler, colonial, apocalyptic world, you know? 

Kevin Sur: Yeah. I've got to say, that participating in your culture is literally taking baby steps in reversing cultural genocide. But also for people that aren't indigenous or aren't a part of a culture that's being separated, that has been oppressed, like literally just listening and bearing witness is participating in that as well. You know, my goal and my hope is that this reaches Indigenous people far and wide. You know, as a Native Hawaiian here on the mainland, there is always this feeling of separation. There's a feeling of not having other people ever in your room that you can talk to about what that means in terms of your own struggle, your own feeling separated. And so what's amazing is [that] I saw the job description, all the work I'd done in music, and I was like, I never felt like the bright light above me go off and "ahhh!" It felt like a calling where I can give all that pain and kind of anguish that I've had to carry by myself a purpose. And that purpose has driven me to also make sure that – at least on these airwaves and they connect with this show – that there are people out there that are never invited, never included when it comes to like the word Indigenous that can be seen and can be heard. So that's my hope. I hope it connects Indigenous people from everywhere and that they find this as a beacon of connection. 

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