This interview is from October of 2016. I had just invested in my recording gear and Knell was one of my first interviews. I drove out to her boarding school in Northwestern Massachusetts and we cozied ourselves into a friend’s bed for about an hour. Knell held the mic reporter style while joking with Lena, whose room we had claimed for the afternoon. At the time of the interview Knell was sixteen. She is now seventeen and going into her junior year of high school. She turned up at my apartment recently and it was evident that she has grown a lot in the time since this interview. I’m including photos from that day in October but also photos from the following months taken by her sister Lola Dement Myers, because I want to honor the person she was that fall without also suggesting that she has remained unchanged since then.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Knell Dement. I’m sixteen years old.
Where are you based out of right now?
Say whatever you want to say!
I’m based out of Boston, but - yeah, I’m based out of Boston.
Okay so, what do you like to do Knell?
Um, I’m interested in digital art and video production - these are all classes I take at school actually - and my own personal art. I write, I’m not a writer though. I draw, but I’m not like an artist. I’m trying to do video too. Video production, experimental film, that’s what I’ve been doing since last winter, but I’m trying to structure it more. Also I’m in a band with Lena Megingsky, who is a very close friend of mine. We are working on our style and music, and we’re kind of just getting a feel as to what instruments we both play. It’s really amazing, and I love that I get to do that with her. I’m gonna like maybe make a comic? Like, kind of a multi-piece zine art project.
Have you ever done stuff with zines in the past?
Yeah I have made small zines before. As a child I made a bunch of little books. I made this one book called Duck Goes to China. My mom edited and printed it, gave it to a bunch of people - Whatever, that doesn’t matter! Don’t put that in! - But yeah, I’ve met a lot of zine artists who work in the Cambridge Zine Library. I worked with them over the past years in the summer and made zines with Girls Rock Campaign Boston, which I am fully a part of.
Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yes. It’s a summer program for young girls. It’s raising confidence through self and peer encouragement. You have a band and it’s incredible. I have been attending since GRCB started in Boston in 2010. I’m an intern there this year and I’m going to volunteer soon.
Do you get to interact with girls who are younger than you? Or -
Yeah! I taught bass guitar to I think twelve girls this summer, with help. There are other instructors but I had the lesson plan. GRCB has opened me up to a lot of scenes in Boston where I can play music in different venues that are amazing. I love GRCB, I hope they see this, I love you all.
Can you think of a time where you felt like you were having a positive contribution to your world? A time where you were part of something, made something, did something that you felt was meaningful or powerful in some way?
I have two things, small things: seeing my GRCB girls succeed this summer, on showcase, playing at Brighton Music Hall. Just seeing my girls succeed, seeing them play something I helped them figure out, something I gave them the tools to do. I don’t know if I’ve ever influenced “The World” but something that felt really good to do... I made a video last year, that I really just tried to like… I didn’t really know what my intention with it was, maybe a little bit of just putting how I think, putting how I feel, and putting how I view out there for my community. I didn’t know it was going to be shown, but my film teacher told me she really wanted to show it [at my school]. It felt really nice when multiple people came up to me after and told me it was really great (I didn’t even think it was that great). My teachers talked about it to each other and to me, and they said “This makes so much sense now. I understand her. I understand how she thinks, I understand this girl. This makes so much sense. It was beautiful. I know so much more about her and about what she wanted to do." That felt really great. To like, be able to create something that had people know what I want. To be understood.
So you have this Instagram handle, “lilclowntown”, can you tell me a little about that and why that exists?
Okay so, I love clowns. I love them a lot, for many reasons. For me at least, clowns are a way of like, seeking out self confidence and how to own myself, because I’m no property of anyone. I have always kind of admired clowns. I think clowns don’t have any gender and they don’t really have any culture that they belong to. Like there are clowns or jesters, different types of clowns or something loosely related, in every culture, everywhere. I think they’re so cute, so perfect, I just love clowns, they make me so happy. They’re the cutest thing on earth! I just love - I LOVE CLOWNS! I can’t say anymore, I just love them so much. [Laughing]
I remember last year I had a relatively good year. I mean I had a bunch of rough patches, but as does everyone else. I remember finding my really close friends, a lot of people who didn’t really “know who they were” but they knew who they were. I kind of was just holding on and grasping at anything I could identify with. I was so excited for high school you know? I was a little wimp, but I was loving it. I was loving this entire experience, being away from home, living here [at school]. It was kind of insane the first month and a half for me here. I liked American Horror story, which has Twisty, and I loved Twisty, fell in love. The entire character was so hilarious, so great, so perfect, so cute. I loved Twisty. And I also started to be into makeup. So I started doing clown makeup last year around December.
A big part of my identity I guess - it’s really true, I hate to say it - is just being really small. I’ve always just been tiny, like a lil runt. [Laughing] That’s where the “lil” comes from. My mom, a bunch of my friends, my teachers, honestly so many people from different parts of my life, are just like “Hey lil clown.” It’s my nickname. And then like “town” just sounded nice: Lil-clowntown!
Do you think that starting to do clown makeup was an expression of your identity? It seems like a very uncommon thing, do you think that it brought you into a new kind of realm with your outward expression? Were you doing wacky makeup or clothes before then? Or was that the first time that started happening for you?
Oh, that’s a really good question! A lot of people perceive me as self centered. Which I can’t deny. I feel like in a way everybody’s self centered. I mean like, you wake up and who do you see? You. Who do you have to take care of? You. It’s always you. At the end of the day, nobody’s there for you but you. You gotta be there for yourself, and you gotta like, make yourself somebody you can live with. You know? You can’t just be ticked off by yourself all the time, you gadda make yourself somebody you admire. I don’t know, self love is really difficult and a long hard process, but clowns really have been helping me. I love clowns… not too fond of myself… but I’m trying to like, be good with myself. And love who I am, love where I am.
Identity has always been like very relevant and like really there for me, because I’m multiracial. I have been navigating identifying within different cultures, within how I’ve been brought up, how I look as a person of color, if I’m white passing or not. When I was smaller everybody saw me as a person of color. I didn’t really know that, I didn’t really know what that was. And also through navigating myself as a feminist and an activist. Identity has always been really like, on my mind. I just want to be my own me, and I just wanna share things with people, and be invested? I guess. I love having things that people associate me with. I love it. I love associating my friends with things. Not to categorize people, you know what I mean? Like I know everybody is their own person, and what it comes down to is them, but...I just really love clowns.
Do you think that by physically transforming yourself and identifying yourself with something you love a ton you are practicing self love? Is that a practice of self love?
I think it’s a practice of working towards that. I don’t really know if anybody has ever decided “You know what, today’s the day, I’m gonna love myself forever.” I think it’s more of a thing you go in and out of. I definitely have been going in and out of it, but when I think about clowns and what I want to do with my love for them, and what I want to do with my love for myself, and how that can benefit me and how that can benefit others, I think about how when I love myself I love others, and when I hate myself I hate others. Like, love is kind of the ultimate goal. I want that. But yeah, [clowning] definitely helps me a lot. Sometimes I get harassed, or honestly bullied, about being a clown. People are like “What the shit is on your face?” And I’m like “Ah ha ha ha ha self expressionism. I don’t know, I’ve just been touchin’ my face with some different colors for a while, and this is what has happened." I don’t actually know how to use makeup, I’ve been in Sephora twice. I feel so beautiful when I clown, even though it’s not stereotypical beauty.
I’m wondering, what do you think is expected of young people in our culture right now?
Well, I don’t think we’re doing that, whatever it is. I feel like the people who expect the things are adults and right now me and other people I know are trying to equalize and flip and navigate roles between adults and teenagers. I feel like we’re doing this. We’re doing it now, right here. We’re taking control, we’re taking our own lives in our own hands. Maturity is a myth, age is a myth, this is all a myth. It’s who you are as an individual, who gets to decide what you put out to the world and how much people see it or like it. What we’re all trying to do right now is just extract all that, and do what we need to do.
Can you tell me about a time when you felt really powerful?
Powerful? Uh I’ve felt it a lot of times. One time, just off the top of my head, I was with two really close friends of mine. We were together and we were making music. It was kind of difficult for us to be on time for this one song. We were trying over and over and over again, and then we finally played it so incredibly. It felt so nice. We were on time with each other, and I could just feel it. And actually, that song, the bass ended it and I play bass. We were all so incredibly on the same page with each other, and I felt so powerful. I felt like I could do anything, I was… crazy happy. It made me happy for so long. It was such a satisfying [experience]. I loved everything in that moment. I just wanted to like hug and kiss everything and everyone, it was so incredible. And it was just us in a little practice room, not many other people could hear it. We were just listening to each other and the music, and it was just...incredible... that I could do something with them that I felt good about.
Amazing, thank you Knell!