Musician. Author. Podcaster. Prepper. Anarchist. Cabin builder. Road warrior.
Margaret Killjoy is a creator who defies categorization. I became familiar with her work through the feminist black metal band Feminazgûl, but that's just one piece of Killjoy's output. We connected on Twitter after she posted about Money Hacks for Metalheads and Old Millennials, and I'm very happy to feature her as August's Musician of the Month.
Read on to find out how she makes a living as a creative, how anarchist beliefs connect to personal finance, the role of direct action in anarchy and other movements.... And much more!
I'm Margaret Killjoy, I use she/her pronouns, and I'm the principal songwriter of an atmospheric black metal band called Feminazgûl that's an all-women black metal band. I also have a bunch of other side projects including a solo doom project called Vulgarite -- that would be my other metal project, I'd say -- and I also write fiction and do a lot of other creative pursuits.
Well, thank you for zooming with me!
Yeah, of course.
I was looking at your bio and your website and your many different projects, and one thing that stuck out to me was that you make a living from creative means. So can you talk about how you've developed multiple streams of income.... One thing you talked about (in our Twitter messages) was making sure artists get paid for your work, how you've been making that happen for yourself?
As full disclosure, I actually took a job in cooperative finance last October in the nonprofit world -- and that's my first time with any kind of job that isn't self-directed besides quick gigs in fifteen years or so. But yeah, developing multiple streams of income seems to be absolutely crucial -- and in the end, learning to funnel people towards Patreon rather than just specifically trying to sell individual items has been a game changer for me. My ability to make more and more of my living with less freelance work and more work as a creative professional. One of the biggest struggles with multiple streams of income is that it's hard to build multiple audiences at the same time -- people who are interested in science fiction might not be interested in black metal, might not be interested in spooky, gothy dance music. But slowly I've been able to build an audience that at least appreciates a decent chunk of those things.
Your Patreon following is very impressive, I gotta say. You've got a lot of folks on board there.
Another thing that stuck out to me is "The Cabin." (Killjoy lives in a cabin she built herself on collectively owned land in Appalachia.) How long have you been living in the cabin?
I've lived in the cabin for about two years. Before that, I lived in a barn on the same property for about two years -- a bedroom I built out in a barn that was built by the people I live with on the property. Then I took the time to build a 12x12 cabin a little bit farther up in the woods. Before I lived in the barn, I lived in a regular house for about a year, and then I lived in a van for five years, and then I lived out of a minivan, and before that I lived out of mostly a backpack and squats... I try to recommend that people don't move down to tiny homes, but tiny homes are great when you're moving up into tiny homes. All I want right now is a medium home -- my eyes are set on, "How do I get a medium home?"
How did you get the skills it takes to actually build a cabin? That's an impressive feat, I can't even turn on my DVD player, so...
Um, YouTube mostly, honestly, and some books. There are a bunch of books on building cabins and things like that. I picked and A-frame because I hate myself -- no, because it's the easiest way to build structurally sound. There are no load-bearing walls; it's all roof, this wall behind me isn't load-bearing, it just keeps out the weather. And the people that I'm around through the community of "strange-world queers who built their own houses or whatever" helped out a fair amount with the design and talking things over.
It's funny because my friend who used to live in an A-frame was like, "Don't build a fucking A-frame." And I was like, "Nope, I'm building an A-frame." Right now I don't know what I would tell someone about whether they should build an A-frame or not -- if they do, they should build it larger than 12x12. Especially if there's a pandemic coming.
We'll definitely come back to the pandemic, especially with prepping and stuff -- I guess space is an issue with that too, huh?
I had a lot of advantages over other people who quarantined as hard as I did, in that I have the whole outside -- but on the other hand, my inside space is very limited. Now that the pandemic is, like, over and no one is ever gonna worry about it ever again and the United States is the only place that... But anyway! Now I'm able to interact with other interior spaces and the smallness of my cabin isn't as much of an issue.
I started listening to your prepping podcasts, and I got through the first episode and part of the second episode. It was interesting because it was recorded right before the pandemic happened and the second one was, like, just the beginning when people were like, "Oh, this is gonna be a problem. What do we do?"
So that's where I left off, where the public health person was like, "This is gonna be a problem, so maybe don't go to that protest..." (laughs)
How did your approach to prepping change or not change due to the pandemic?
It certainly stepped it up. It also made me feel less isolated in it, because then suddenly like... I wrote an article called, "We're All Preppers Now," which was my attempt to lay out my own philosophy of prepping, which is a non-individualistic version of prepping but still often focuses on what you can do as an individual. It's what you can do as an individual when you don't see yourself as outside of the rest of society or at least your local community.
I think that like a lot of preppers -- I mean, I had only really gotten started with prepping shortly before the pandemic -- it's just really interesting to see what you do and don't need that you think you need and you forget about. For me, hygiene was really hard off grid during the pandemic, (especially) at the beginning of it, because I relied so much on other people's washer and dryers and a communal shower space and things like that. I think that's the thing that people often forget about with preparation -- they get so into the rugged "Oh I can live in the woods, and if you live in the woods, who needs a shower?" The answer is that anyone does if you're trying to live long term without terrible things taken over your body.
For sure. And at parts of the pandemic, the weather wouldn't be conducive to bathing outside or finding yourself a nice spring or something... A bit chilly!
Yeah at the beginning of it, there was a creek on the property... But it was like February, March... A solar shower is not a very appetizing spring when it's 40 degrees out and the water gets to like 80 degrees if you're lucky.
Yeah... So how does the collective property thing work? I'm coming from a very conventional single-family home, "non-collective" property perspective.
Yeah, to tie it into finances, I've been very lucky that by being part of the anarchist community, most of what we do is somewhat collective... But it's not communistic, and I don't mean that in a like Soviet sense, but I don't live on a commune. I live essentially in a small, queer neighborhood that's in a forest and field on like 15 acres or something like that. So we help each other out and we plan things together, and we share some financial burden between us -- but by and large, we leave each other alone. Except when we don't wanna leave each other alone, and we wanna hang out. I consider it very ideal. I'd be sad to live either totally alone or in a communal living situation where we're up... [Each other's asses?]
Before this, I used to live in, they call them "punk houses" -- which is slightly more intentional than the roommates you might have in college or something. Everyone has a bedroom and you share a kitchen, and then everyone yells about dishes and you try to take care of the place. And then sometimes it goes really well and sometimes it goes terribly -- and land projects are the same way, sometimes they go well and sometimes they go terribly.
But it's been very useful to me to have a shared social net with people. There's a lot of people who end up sort of reliant on mutual aid from our peers to make it through hard times, like if they lose a job or something like that we're not gonna let them starve -- even if we don't pool all our money and give it to each other equally or something like that, we still take care of each other when we need to.
Some communities are very transient, like where people come and go all the time; some are a lot more settled. Ours is a mixture of the two -- some people have been here for years and some people came here at the beginning of the pandemic because they had nowhere else to go. Many of those people stayed and some other people were like, "Fuck this, I wanna live on grid." Which I can't blame anyone who wants to live on grid, the grid is great. I miss the grid.
Yeah you were saying that being off the grid brings seasonal disasters or problems, or things you have to deal with out there...
Yeah. Like during the winter, my water lines freeze. Or worse, I now use a propane hot water heater that's designed for showers but you can run it to your sink or anything you want. They're very fragile and they're also very expensive, and if you don't drain it right before it freezes -- and sometimes even if you do drain it right -- then this $200 thing breaks. I consider myself pretty handy --
Well yeah, you built a cabin!
Yeah [laughs] -- but I'm not truly a plumber and I can't easily braze the pipes in the hot water heater. And so y'know, you have to figure out how to heat your house. I live in western North Carolina and it's humid. During most of the days, it's 90% humidity inside my house and I have to fight mold... And if I had an air conditioner, or if I could seal the place up and use a dehumidifier, I wouldn't have this problem. There's some basic structural stuff that I didn't know when I built this cabin that help long term problems like moisture... And it's tick season here and I now better understand why people build... I'm very proud of the lifestyle I lead, but sometimes I see myself as a cautionary tale to get people to appreciate --
That it's not something you want to dive into --
Unless you have to.
Well I see you guys have electricity out there. How does that work, do you have your own solar thing out there?
Yeah I have my own solar setup. Solar doesn't like to travel, DC power doesn't like to travel very far, so you have to run pretty thick cabling to run DC power any distance. You could build a solar setup where you build one solar setup that's contained, then converts the power to AC and then runs the AC to houses. That's a possibility, but we haven't done that kind of thing. You basically build a grid. Instead, each of us are on different solar setups.
Right now I'm doing this with solar -- although today my solar broke and I have no idea why. I'm annoyed because I fixed my solar setup seven or eight times and upgraded it four or five times, and learned more each time -- but today, I have no idea why. I think a connector is loose and I'm going to have to reinstall the connectors to find out if that's what's going on. But y'know, it also depends on what someone's trying to do. I'm a podcaster and electronic musician. I do remote work and things like that. So I need access to electricity more than some people. Some people barely use electricity at all. [...] If all you've got is a light, you barely need any solar panels at all.
That's a lot of things to keep track of.
Yeah. [laughs] To tie it into finance, one of the things that I try to tell people is that I'm not saying the world's gonna end before you hit retirement age -- but I'm kinda not telling ya that it's not gonna end before you hit retirement age. I find that in the same way that in the finance world you diversify your holdings, I think we need to not put all of our eggs into the basket that society will continue at pace. Just literally because the science says that the odds of society continuing at pace for the next twenty years are kinda low. But society is also very resilient, capitalism in particular is also seems to be very resilient. [...]
I would definitely not tell people what they should do in order to prepare for retirement is to go build a cabin in the woods, but I think that getting some skills in order to learn how to do that... I think putting some of your savings and time into the future in traditional finance makes sense, but also putting some into tools and knowledge and things you might need. Even if society continues at pace and I don't save enough for retirement, I probably won't be paying rent. I also know how to do things well enough and I've also built enough of a community, hopefully, that that's some of my retirement plan as well.
Having a social structure in place that will be there for the long-term is definitely something that helps anyone, whether you're going on a traditional path or a more nontraditional path.
And I think some of the things that are in place, like Social Security that pays you nothing, are there for if you don't have any family and you're just an old person out in the world, so that you can not be in the street. Actually, that brings me to the anarchy thing -- I know out 0.1 things about anarchy. I know what Wikipedia says about it and I don't think it's your job to educate me on anarchy, so don't worry. But what I was reading was a lot of things about history -- like the French Revolution and Europe in the early part of the 20th century. I'm wondering, what does "anarchy" look like in the United States in 2021? Like, you say you're an anarchist -- what philosophy does that entail for you?
It does tie back into the history stuff for me. I would say that anarchism is a political ideology -- okay, it's two different things. It's like the signifier and the signified. The signifier, anarchy or anarchism, is a Western tradition developed in the 19th century, primarily in Europe originally [unintelligible] Proudhon, who was into people's banking and this alternative to capitalism that was not actually communistic -- it was mostly called mutualism. This is sometimes a good intro point for people, depending on what you're interested in. Anarchy or anarchism became what people meant when they talked about communism in the 19th century, and what most people were doing was they were fighting to abolish the state and capitalism, and maybe necessarily feudalism or serfdom in Russia or whatever different hierarchies you had. Eventually it was this idea of like, "Well I've got an idea, since we're all people, we can be in charge of ourselves -- but we also recognize that it means taking care of each other."
Most of our traditional lifeways are about taking care of each other, but it included a specifically anti-authoritarian bent. I think one of the reasons it's so dangerous and maligned is that anarchism is this marriage of the individual and the community that's very threatening to power structures. You can call anarchism "libertarian socialism" for example, and they're not totally synonyms, but they're rough synonyms in that you have -- and actually, the right wing libertarians in the United States, some of the older ones consciously took it, because "libertarian" used to be a way of saying "libertarian communist" or "libertarian socialist."
Basically we disagreed with the state communists about whether or not we should have a state -- state communists claim they'll eventually get rid of the state, but they never do it. And that's what we said ahead of time -- if you take the most ardent revolutionary and invest him with absolute power, overnight he'll be worse than the czar himself, which is a Coonan quote roughly. And we were right -- if you take the most ardent revolutionaries and put them in charge, they become Lenin and Stalin and all these fucks.
So in some ways, it's a continued tradition that I am part of; I come to anarchism through my own personal background of figuring things out and then meeting an anarchist and being like, "That makes the most sense of anything I've heard so far." Before that, I was lackluster interested in social democracy, like the Green Party and thing. [...] And then there's the thing that's signified, which some people call "anarchic": societies in which we don't have a state and we don't have capitalism, which were probably the majority of human societies throughout history. A lot of people who don't come from a Western tradition specifically might identify as anarchic or be excited about it through, say, their own indigenous framework if you're in North America or your own background. Some of that ties up to Western anarchism and some of it doesn't. I'm interested in these larger structures of people trying to fight for what actual freedom looks like. Freedom is relationship between people. We tend to think of freedom as this isolated thing in the United States -- like, I would be seen as "free" because I live alone in the woods, but that does not make me free. The fact that if I lose my job my neighbor will feed me, lets me make more decisions than if I was totally free and alone. By being more social, I have more options -- freedom is something that my landmates give to me by having my back, and it's something that I offer to him.
As for what anarchy is in the 21st century in the United States, it's something that's growing. I've never seen it grow anywhere near so fast in my nineteen-going-on-twenty years of being an anarchist. I've never seen it grow so fast and so beautifully with people learning -- because the other thing anarchists do is we believe direct confrontation to systems that need to be opposed is the best way to do it. It is the thing that doesn't put someone else in charge of you. Some anarchists vote, some don't vote; some anarchists participate in other activist projects and some don't. But one thing we all tend to agree on is that directly confronting problems is the way to do it. The more we do that, the more we practice freedom -- and it's intoxicating, it's lovely. The first time you watch police retreat from you, you don't forget it because we're so used to not having any power.
This is actually one way it ties into the financial stuff because in some ways, as working class people working to get your finances together, you're doing it to exert power over your own life, and that is absolutely worth doing. And there are other ways to exert power over your own life, usually by coming together with other people to take that power back for yourself. And then we just have to be very careful that when we take power, we don't exert power over other people -- instead, we stand alongside other people. You can't put a gun to someone's head and make them be an anarchist. You can only put a gun to someone's head and say, "I get to be an anarchist, stop oppressing me," right?
What you said about directly confronting oppression or things that are wrong in the world, I pictured the people that stormed into the Capitol in January. [Referring to the incident on January 6th, 2021 when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Complex] In their minds, that was probably something that they were thinking -- that they were directly opposing this injustice that was about to be wrought on the country, and they were gonna march in and show people. I imagine they are on the other side of a lot of anarchist leanings...
I hate fascism and it's a part of my work artistically, politically, and personally to confront fascism and authoritarianism -- but one thing that fascism also believes in is direct action, but in the service of authority. Usually a specific leadership authority but also a nationalistic authority of "America for white people" or whatever fucking bullshit... So direct action is a strategy, but not necessarily like uhhh....
Like a belief?
Yeah, exactly. We have a belief about it as an effective strategy, which deserves to be challenged sometimes, but it is something that is also used by the far right.
I guess my question is, and there's not really an answer to this, is who gets to decide what deserves the direct action?
Yeah, no, it's super messy. One thing I feel like we need to try and remember when we talk about direct action is that direct action is not just fighting people. It's not even just conflict. Like, Food Not Bombs is a long-lasting mutual aid project in North America and all over the world. It started off as anarchists and pacifists, which is why it's called "Food Not Bombs," and they were like, "People are hungry so we're gonna feed 'em." Their core tenet is solidarity, not charity. So instead of this top-down thing that's "We have so much and we deign to give it to you on are terms," theoretically the ideal of something that is mutual aid is "We are hungry and you are hungry, and we are reasonably good at cooking -- although historically Food Not Bombs is not good at cooking -- and we will feed you." There's a difference in that attitude fundamentally -- and that is a form of direct action. There's a lot of direct action like eviction defenses in Portland last summer, like a family was gonna get evicted and tons of people showed up and blocked the streets. I believe, I wasn't in Portland, but I believe they held it long enough that the family was able to go to court and get something else done.
A lot of my own direct action is in forest defense, where we physically block people from logging; we set up road blockades and tree-sits and things. In this case, the direct action ties into another framework in which, while we're suing them in the courts, they could be logging, and what if we stop them from logging while the lawsuit is continuing? Because otherwise we could win the lawsuit and the forest is gone -- or that family, could have been like, "Sorry we shouldn't have taken your home, but now it's condos...."
Might makes right shouldn't be a tenet. There is a danger in direct action to exert something like might makes right, but I believe that a strong anti-authoritarian lens on it helps that. It's never about.... What they did on January 6th was "We want our guy in charge." And that is always about, "We want half the country to be forced to obey this person they don't like" -- and that would never be an anarchistic direct action.
Well, that's good! I hate to wrap this up because it's a very interesting conversation, but I hear bath time and the totalitarian rule of the four month old -- so if you could say one piece of personal finance advice from an anarchist perspective.... What would you tell the bros on Personal Finance Twitter that say, "Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and if you're poor, go fuck yourself" -- what would you tell them?
That's hard... Besides telling them to go fuck themselves?
[laughs] That's also a good answer.
Being financially stable isn't about being just yourself as a financially stable person. Instead, having a community that is strong and having other people around you also be financially strong makes a stronger financial even from a purely capitalistic point of view. But when we work together cooperatively, we are capable of being more stable and stronger.
You can find Killjoy's writing, socials, music and Patreon here.
Photo credit: Margaret Killjoy.
Listen to her prepping podcast Live Like The World is Dying on Spotify.
To learn more about budgeting, band finances, and more, order Money Hacks for Metalheads and Old Millennials in paperback and ebook formats: https://amzn.to/3lCsFdq