What is Love? We asked our favorite local musicians to explain the most complex emotion
Every person has their own definition of “love.”
For some, love is just a word. For others, love is the carrying out of action. Overall, there is a consensus that “love” can be titled one of the most complex emotions.
There are thousands of songs in our everyday life that convey this idea of love according to individual perception. Most music platforms dedicate a whole segment to just love songs—songs of love for family, romantic partners, or even our most beloved pets.
Looking at Billboard’s list of the Best Love Songs of the 21st Century, “love” is the only commonality among this diverse lineup of artists including Death Cab for Cutie, 50 Cent, and even Rascal Flatts. Though ranging in genres, musicians have been tackling the topic of love for centuries (dating back to Mesopotamia with “The Love Song for Shu-Sin”).
To explore this further, we asked local musicians, some of our favorite creative minds of KC, to answer Haddaway’s biggest question of 1993: What is love?
Alanzo is an R&B artist from Kansas City, Missouri, whose songs are soulful and story-driven. He takes inspiration from gospel, hip-hop, jazz, and R&B. He blends and modernizes these influences in his debut EP, Pray at Midnight, which can be streamed on Spotify. An accompanying short film can be found on Alanzo’s YouTube.
What does love mean to you?
Love is a very complex thing. It can be a noun, an adjective, or a verb. It’s something that we do; it’s something that we feel. I think ultimately love is showing up for people in a way that sometimes is sacrificial to self. When we put the needs and care of others before our own, just wanting people to do good and wanting them to be their best. It can be in small acts of kindness, or it can be in the concern that we have for somebody, whether it’s a friend, a family member, or a spouse.
How do you express love?
I’m a verbal individual. I always try to show love by verbalizing it. At this point in my life, I always make sure people hear or see the words “I love you.” I think that’s important because everybody interprets actions differently, but I do try to put action behind it, whether that’s showing up for an event or a special project they have going on. I could show love by gifting them something or planning something for them.
How does love influence your music?
I do have some love songs, but in the songs I’ve released, they’re more so from the places where I kind of lacked the awareness or had the feeling I’m lacking love. Most of the songs, especially from Pray at Midnight, are mostly from the perspective of longing and wanting love. I’m praying, I’m asking—the main hook is “pray for me, don’t prey on me.” Throughout the EP, there’s this similar theme of longing for a true relationship with people, wanting to feel accepted, and wanting to feel the affirmation of those relationships to get through life. My music is more so reflective of the longing for loving relationships, whether it’s friendships or family or whatever, just wanting to have relationships where you are safe, and wanted.
OxyToxin is an alternative metal group from Lawrence. Pulling from influences like TOOL, Deftones, Rush, and Black Sabbath, OxyToxin combines dark lyrics with powerful, distorted instrumentation. Their album, Don’t Lose Your Head, is now streaming on Spotify.
What is love?
That’s a pretty difficult question. It’s kind of a funny thing. Because, like, that’s an emotion that, you know, gets a whole different set of responses from whoever you’re asking. Especially in the metal world, a lot of the love that you experience at shows or around rock concerts is like, “Hey, man, fuck you.” Then, “Yeah, man. Love me too.”
It’s really surprising how we’re thankful and conscientious. Mosh pits are literally looking out for each other. We’ve seen a whole pit stop when someone falls down—it was like a 30-person hit. It’s different when you ask about music. A lot of people don’t always have a positive view of love. They’ve had a lot of bad experiences. But I feel like it’s a space to share where you feel safe, and yourself, and just relaxed, and honestly cared deeply for the people around you.
How do you feel love from the Kansas City music community?
I think it just kind of comes down to one fucking brutal heart emoji.
Love isn’t only what is portrayed on Valentine’s Day. There are lots of different forms, and you just have to know how to appreciate that. There can be a lot of love in your life, even if you don’t realize it’s just capitalism. Don’t listen to the government.
Nisee Amore—otherwise known as Erica Baker—is a Kansas City-based R&B musician and a classically trained pianist with a Bachelor’s degree in music. She writes, performs, and produces her own music. She currently has three singles out called “Scary Lover,” “Love Is,” and “The Call.”
What does love mean to you?
I think love is unconditional. That’s the first and biggest thing. I think a lot of people describe love in a way that’s conditional. Like, “I love you because you make me happy,” or “I love you because, you know, you’re my mom,” or something like that. When I think of love, I think of sacrifice. I think of being selfless. I think of being supportive of that person. I think of being unwavering. So like, you know, even if you’re mad at somebody—if you love them, that love doesn’t change.
What does love feel like to you?
I think love feels like appreciation. It feels like acknowledgment and support. It’s knowing that no matter what, this person is not going to give up on you. Even if it’s your parents, your brother, your sister, your friend—just knowing that even if you’re a very unpleasant person for this day, because you’re going through so much—that person is not going to judge you. Love feels like patience and giving—not giving in the sense of gifts or money, but just time or appreciation—but not having to be all mushy, because I’m not a mushy person. It’s just thoughtfulness, like remembering something I like. If you go get something from McDonald’s and you know I like fries, you bring back fries. Pay attention, you know?
Taylor Hughes, known by her stage name pure xtc, is a queer alt-pop artist who primarily works out of her home studio in Kansas City, MO. She toured in 2022, including opening for Dashboard Confessional, Dayglow, and Jenny Lewis at Boulevardia. Her EPs Nobody’s Home and shed my skin can be streamed online.
What does love mean to you?
In the broader sense, it’s just being comfortable with someone to the point where you don’t feel like you need to be talking to or touching them all the time. It’s like, I’m comfortable existing with you, and I know that we’re on the same level—all of that good stuff.
How do you express love?
I can see my wife in the background right now. She’s probably going to make fun of everything I say. How do I express love, baby? She’s like, “Your love language is gifts.” [laughs] No, that’s not it. She has a couple of songs now. I’m not really great with words, but when I can put analogies and rhythms to them, it helps a lot. The songs “Get Lost” and “Old Wounds” are both about her and they’re not even mushy. It’s just, like, real life. Like, “We’ve been through some shit, and I still love you, and you know.”
What does love feel like to you?
I almost feel like I’m in a therapy session. I’m so bad at explaining my feelings. It’s kind of like that—overwhelming, and bubbling to the top. Like, I want to squeeze you so hard. Like, I wish I could be closer to you, but I can’t kind of thing. It’s that all-encompassing feeling, and I didn’t even know it existed. So that’s the coolest part.
How does love translate into your music?
This one’s easy for me. I just kind of put myself back in the place when we first met and that exciting, everything-is-new feeling up to about a year in. I still felt that, and now we’re married almost a year, and I still feel that way. That’s really fucking cool. So I just kind of put myself in that headspace and start writing things down that make me think of it like smells, sounds, places—and I just kind of create a mood board in my head then describe it.
Colin Halliburton is the founder and singer/songwriter of The Roseline, a five-piece Americana rock band from Lawrence. The band has produced seven albums and has toured in Scandinavia twice with the likes of Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, and John Prine. Their latest singles, “Hot Dice” and “Saber Rattlers,” can be streamed online.
What does love mean to you?
Love is the strongest, most universal, and most abstract feeling a person could have. Love enables you to be the truest, most authentic version of your weird-ass self you can be. Love makes you sacrifice with no hesitation. Love makes you feel the most extreme ends of the emotional spectrum—from sheer bliss to utter despair. Love is also the reason we have a glut of bearded white boys with acoustic guitars. So…it’s a wash.
How do you express love?
I express love, depending on the variation, through thoughtfulness, touch, play, talk, and care. Also by parking a brand new Lexus with a giant red bow in our driveway on Christmas morning and blindfolding my wife and guiding her outside to surprise her with how much I love her.
I feel it through receiving all of the above and experiencing beauty in both the natural and artistic worlds. Also, through generous direct deposits into my bank account or Venmo (@colin-halliburton).
How does love translate into your work?
I translate it into my work through intention and by seeking an understanding of the concept through lyrical exploration and with full understanding that I will not find a definitive answer. I also love to ride around in a mobile fart box for hours and tell jokes with my friends before playing a show to 30 people (that’s being generous) and then waking up and doing it again. That’s love, folks!
Hadiza, originally from Iowa and now based in Kansas City, is a queer experimental musician who performs solo and is one-half of the duo Collidescope. Hadiza has produced several singles which can be listened to on platforms such as Youtube, Bandcamp, and Spotify.
Would you consider the relationship you have with music almost like a relationship you would have with any other person you love?
Even before thinking about, “What do I want to say about love,” I thought of the word “understanding.” Thinking about my own music, it is very personal and there are layers. The reason why I was compelled to flesh things out in style form is that I felt a lot of difficult emotions, including emotions tied to heartbreak from a relationship. The music becomes a form of therapy and being able to understand myself—to process and cultivate my relationship with my past selves—my childhood selves, my teenage selves, who are not very happy with me. Coming to terms with reality, especially through a romantic relationship, can be harsh.
Why do you think romantic relationships, when we get our hearts broken for the first time, are so revolutionary?
Oh my god. I feel like as I’ve gotten older, and in embracing my queerness, there was a string of relationships with men that were really not good. I think about the beginning of each of those relationships, and I don’t mean to be dramatic, but coercion comes to mind. I think about the one relationship I had in high school, and I think about that heartbreak and the relationship with that heartbreak—it wasn’t just a break-up so much as it was, for me, a dark-skinned Black girl in Iowa with African immigrant parents, who was definitely bullied by boys for my skin tone and having that coded in my brain like it didn’t make me desirable. I definitely fell through some traps of wanting acceptance.
Before I even knew the correct terminology, I found myself at lunch, being bullied by a specific group of boys. I knew there was stuff playing against my authentic reaction, so if I reacted angrily then I’d be the bitter Black girl and no one would talk to me. I tried to be cool and nonchalant about it and tried to let it roll off my back, but I knew that it hurt so bad and it wasn’t even something I could fully go to my family about. Even my friends would participate in it, and you know you’re trying to be cool about it when they’re saying “darker is just not cute.” That was me just trying to contort myself into acceptance, even though it was super painful.
I knew without having a deep analysis of colorism, but knowing I definitely experienced it, I went on the internet to find forums dealing with the effects of self-hatred that come with that.
How do you heal from something like that?
[laughs] I don’t know. I know music has really helped, especially when I started getting really serious about it. Yeah, just having a command with a voice, in however many ways you want to interpret that, can be super healing because you can kind of go back to those situations and guide yourself through them.
Miki P is an alternative folk musician who performs solo as well as performs as a part of the three-woman group, the Swallowtails. She has produced two albums as well as several singles that can be streamed on all major platforms.
What makes you feel secure in your feminity and womanhood?
I think I’m starting to see it in the mirror a lot more. I think I’m seeing more of my mom in my face, and the things I do that remind me of things she would do, and I think, “I’m turning into my mom,” which, to me, the epitome of womanhood is her. A lot of that has been going on, and I’m putting my foot down a lot more.
I feel more myself when I’m by myself, and I’m in my own corner of the world, and in my lane and not so much trying to be validated by people.
I feel like the music knows me better than I know me, and every song I’ve ever written just unfolds as I write it, and then I can say, “Oh this was about this thing that happened to me,” or this part of my life, and I really kind of approach it in my own time. I sat down at the piano last night and wrote a song for the first time in like two months, just because life has been so hectic, but I needed to write it, and it’s not even one I’d consider doing anything with, but it got out something that had been heavy on my heart. My relationship with music is reciprocal, I think I need it, and I think I’ll always be kind of reaching out for the right melody, the right words, or the right chords, and it’s just me choosing to be alone, to sit down with my instrument—that’s the relationship. It’s very therapeutic for me. I love the idea that my music is always unfolding, and you can just catch songs in the air, but you just have to sit with it long enough.
Do you think you’ve experienced real love?
I definitely have experienced real love. Every relationship I’ve had has been with another musician, and I’ve always created with my partners—that’s like a whole other level. I feel like, in that way, I’ve had that secret language with all of my partners, and I’ve always felt like I’ve had something special with everyone I’ve ever been with, but now it’s kind of about loving… me.
I was with someone who I thought I was going to marry, and they probably checked a lot of boxes, but I wasn’t ready to do that—to fully be with someone else. It took me getting a little lost to realize that. I fully believe it takes everyone finding themselves before they can truly commit to someone else. It’s such a big thing.
Define true love.
True love to me is very child-like, almost, because I feel like a lot of my ideas and a lot that I’ve combatted in the last couple of years is everything that was established when I was, like, 5 to 10 years old, so what comes to mind is honestly just a lot of Disney—this kind of fairytale. I live in that dream world a lot too—those kinds of unrealistic spaces—with love. I think that in some of the special relationships I’ve had, I’ve been able to approach them like a child. I try to imagine what our personalities are like on the playground and whether we are about to get along. For me, it’s someone who likes jump rope or has a really good imagination, and we can kind of create our own little world.
The Greeting Committee
Addie Sartino is the lead singer and lyricist for The Greeting Committee, an indie rock band based in KC. The group has produced two albums and has just released a single, “Anything But You,” which can be streamed on all major listening platforms.
What usually captures you when you fall in love?
I’ve been in love more than once. Every time is different, for sure—and different extremities. You know it’s happened in my current relationship where it’s like, “There’s no way I could love you more than I love you right now.” And then a week later, we go through something and I’m like, “Oh, my God, I love you even more so today than I did a month ago.” I think about how they give me a different lens on life. I think that’s a feeling that definitely captures me. I still don’t think I fall in love super easily. Or maybe it’s that I don’t find it that easily. Finding someone who really piques my interest is very difficult. I would say I’m really particular. But once that person hooks me, I’m in.
I think the biggest thing I’m gaining from my current relationship is what it feels like to trust somebody, and what it feels like to feel safe and secure. That’s unfamiliar to me—and a lot of patience to slow down and enjoy what’s happening. I would encourage people to fall in love with what’s in front of them, not with the potential of what could be there because you’ll always be chasing that. And that is so unsettling. That’s not what real trust is.
I think that in previous relationships I’ve been in where I have really tried to make it work when it wasn’t the best situation, it was absolutely a reflection of my fear of abandonment, my fear of being alone, my fear of being rejected. I think if you truly love yourself, you won’t accept that, and I don’t think anybody loves themselves. I think it’s something we’re always working towards. I can’t confidently say I love myself right now. I can say that I’m working on it. It’s like I’m almost hitting a new high score every day when I see myself make choices that reflect my heart, my security, my health, and my boundaries. So it’s absolutely something that if you don’t have a secure attachment style, you will have to work towards picking what’s best for you. Right? Not picking out of fear.
Baby and The Brain
Jo Mackenzie has produced two EPs and several music videos, as well as music for Hulu, The CW, and Abercrombie. She is one half of the duo Baby and the Brain, whose debut album, Brainbaby, is currently available on all major listening platforms.
What does love mean to you?
I feel that our definitions of love change as we grow older. When you’re a kid, you’re experiencing love through family and perhaps not a significant other. I think love may become more stable over time. Right now, my definition of love is about deep appreciation and trust and feeling safe with someone.
How has it changed over the course of your life?
The first thing that comes to mind is the difference between love for friends, family, or a significant other. Or even a hobby, like making music. For me, falling in love with that has been about finding different places where my love can fit as it changes.
How do you translate love into your work?
I like to believe that love is there, subconsciously, all the time. Writing songs about people or for people is the way I express my love. I feel that saying “I love you” is so much more difficult than putting it in a song. There’s safety in the music. When I sing it, it carries a different weight for me. Writing songs about people and things I love is how I express it.
Big Fat Cow
Noah Cassity is the lead singer and songwriter for the alternative folk band, Big Fat Cow. Their album, Glutton For Punishment, is available on all major listening platforms.
What is love?
I think love in general is, like, the most healthy thing that we have. It’s the medium of the entire world’s ecosystem as people and also this hyper-specific thing. It’s probably something along the lines of a mirror. Well, the healthiest love is a mirror—one that you are able to use to show the faults within yourself and improvement for the betterment of the people and the things around you.
There’s a quote by Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.” I think that if you’re willing, it’s selflessness and being humble in love. If you’re loving somebody, I think you have to be willing to be humble about the fact that you are an imperfect person. In order to improve, you’re going to use that as a measuring stick to look at your issue within yourself and what resolution you have to choose and actively choose to better those things for people you care about.
I think we have a huge crisis, especially today, in our world where we have like an instantaneous ability to communicate. We’re not actually taking the time to address our imperfections, and the imperfections of the world—the fact that the world is not a perfect order. We’re not thinking twice before saying things. We’re not thinking twice before we’re acting. And we’re just kind of, I don’t know—we’re bashing our heads repetitively into our phones, and expecting a different outcome. We are losing sight and destroying a lot of what makes life great.
Stephanie Bankston and Brook Worlledge
Boxknife is a four-piece queer dark pop band from Kansas City, MO. The group juxtaposes dancey, synth-driven tracks with brooding lyrics while exploring themes such as mental health, addiction, and mysticism. Their debut EP, Manifestering, is available for streaming on Spotify.
What is love to you?
Stephanie Bankston: Oh, love to me. I think about the people I loved in my life. Most of them have been children. I’m a teacher. I feel like the test of it. Let people just be who they are and learn to want to be around them anyway. Like, support them and accept them.
Brook Worlledge: Caring about people without any kind of return expectation. That applies to romantic, platonic, familial, and community love. Wanting the best for someone—regardless if there’s anything in it for you. My love language is music, which sounds insane because my music has so much self-loathing in it—acceptance and giving voice to the parts of myself that I (or society) have deemed unworthy of love. I find that acceptance comes from giving a voice to the pieces of me I worry don’t deserve that love.
How is love portrayed in your music?
Bankston: We love each other. I don’t know that all bands have that. I mean, I think it’s special when you do. People are always coming up to propose things, and they write a lot about mental health and, like, these internal conflicts that everybody has but nobody really talks about or sings about. In a way, that’s showing people love like, “We love you and we see you even though you are bipolar,” or, you know, nerdy, or whatever. It’s like a safe space for everybody to just get out their feels and share a space with someone who’s going through the same thing. It sounds cheesy, but it’s, like, love for just humanity and non-normies, you know?
How do you accept love from the KC music community?
Worlledge: We’re just uplifting and supportive of each other. There’s a lot of shouting out for each other, showing up for shows, and of course, putting their money where their mouth is. We’ve had covers of our tracks on YouTube, which encourages new people to play with each other. That’s similar to what it is that we, as a band, share with each other on stage. You can tell when we’re on a bill with other groups who love us. So long as we’re all putting our full energy into these gigs and doing it alongside others who are doing the same thing—that’s a launching point for a shockwave that matters to hundreds.
Stephonne Singleton has been making music in the Kansas City area since 2015. Using rock and R&B influences, they have created a sound that transcends a single genre. Recently, they have been on a journey of self-love and discovery. This has brought them to a new sound that will make everyone “twerk with a purpose.”
What does love look like to you?
I think right now in my life, love looks like myself. It looks like me. It looks like really seeing myself and accepting every single journey that I’ve taken myself through in life. Recognizing that I’m the sum of all of these incredible experiences and interactions that inform my music, my voice, my style, and my outlook on life. I’ve really been focused on a lot of self-love. And I’m really just happy to be there. And I think it has helped me be more open to the love of others and even think about relationships again. So yeah, it looks like me looking at myself in the mirror and saying,” Man, I’m glad you’re here.”
How do you use your music to express love?
I believe I was using it as a writer to express discontent for love—my discontent with what I thought love was and what I was shown throughout my life, and what it turned into for me when I started this journey of self-love and mental health and therapy. God, therapy is so incredible. Go to therapy. It changed my life. I started trying to get to the bottom of love. Like, what does it really mean? What does it mean to me based on what I know I’m worthy of but also what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve known to be wrong? I think it’s self-exploration and just really taking the time to love yourself and to love a traumatized version of you. To heal that—that is just the truest love. And we seek it from so many people. I write so much about unreciprocated love, and I think that has a lot to do with just being a Black homosexual man. You know, it’s also something that I figured out didn’t have to be the case because I can always make sure that I reciprocate for me. So, I think when you let go of that expectation of other people, providing that for you, you’re able to receive what they are able to give, and then you’re able to be loved in a different way.