Local Current Blog

Producer Kriss Zulkosky talks about benefit compilation ‘Voice: Words & Songs for Those Who Are Silenced’

On Sunday night at Bedlam Lowertown, several artists will play a benefit concert and release show for Voice: Words & Songs for Those Who Are Silenced. The album, which features unique nearly-acapella performances by artists including Dessa, Haley Bonar, and Chris Koza, is meant to raise awareness and funds to fight sex trafficking.

Last weekend on The Current’s Local Show, David Campbell spoke with Kriss Zulkosky, producer of the album. Read Dave’s interview with Kriss below, and listen to the complete Local Show episode here.

David Campbell: This is a really interesting project. And this is sort of the second time you’ve done something with the goal of raising awareness about sex trafficking here in Minnesota and, specifically, fundraising for the Women’s Foundation. Where did the idea come for you to put this compilation together?

Kriss Zulkosky: You know, a friend of mine invited me over to her place a couple years ago, and it was a conversation where — she had a number of people there. And a number of people were representing the Women’s Foundation, there were people representing the law enforcement. And basically, they painted a real nasty picture of what’s really actually going on in the state of Minnesota. And I was overwhelmed and surprised that children from the state, from our cities, are actually being sex trafficked. And it just didn’t make any sense to me at all that this was actually happening here in Minnesota, and that I’d never heard of it before, and that when I left this conversation, none of my friends had ever heard about it either.

Was it that you’d never heard about it or never heard about it here?

I’d never heard about it here. Yeah. Violence against women, sexual exploitation, clearly, we know a lot about that. But usually, we think of it as something that happens in another country, something that happens to people who — even people who come to our country, a lot of people assume that the victims are foreigners. And they’re not. They’re everyone. Clearly everyone’s a victim in this situation, but they do happen to be children who were born and bred in Minnesota.

Specifically, as you were learning about this stuff, what facts about sex trafficking in Minnesota really motivated you to do some work towards trying to bring about a change?

When I found out that children ages 12 to 14 were being initiated into sex trafficking and forced to do things that they would never have chosen to do, it seemed like a daunting task. But if I had never heard of it, and if my friends had never heard of it, it seems like the music scene in Minnesota would be able to help bring a lot more awareness to everyone. I think the music scene here is so strong that it was really going to be helpful that way.

You recruited some interesting people to be on this. Some I would’ve thought, like, “Oh yeah. Of course they’re gonna do…” Like Charlie Parr, for example, of course he’s gonna do an a capella track. But there are some really interesting ones. We heard that Haley Bonar track earlier, and just the way that people use their voices to layer. Why did you try and restrict the artists to exclusively using only their voice?

Okay, that was a little serendipity.  So, initially, we thought that it would be easier for the artists in that they wouldn’t have to have too many people involved. Like, you wouldn’t have to have your full band or bring people in to record and take the time to do all that. We tried to make it as easy as possible. And I also wanted to make it easy because I do think that artists are not treated — artists do a lot. They give a lot. There’s a lot of benefits. They donate a lot. They’re kind of slowly bled to death. And so my hope was to do something as easy as possible, but I think that we inadvertently made it a little more difficult for people.

You gave them a really hard challenge.

Yeah. [laughs] It was very difficult. I can’t say that it was very difficult for anyone. No one complained about it. It took a little longer than I expected for people to get their songs in. The people who did get their songs in and were really excited about the project were, like, hands down, “I’m all in. I absolutely want to do this.” Once they learned a couple of the facts and what was really going on in Minnesota, they, too, were overwhelmed with it. Joe Mabbott, for example, was one of the first people I talked to. And after I’d sent out a few letters and people were interested in it, we were trying to figure out how we would be able to record them. And a lot of the voice, we were thinking people could even sing on an iPhone. They could do anything and just, like, bring it in and we could keep it super organic. But Joe was like, “No, bring them into the studio. I’ll mix it. I’ll master it. It’ll be fantastic.” And so the idea of voice, not only was it we were hoping to make it easier, but it made a lot of sense, too, because it seems like these victims are pretty much rendered voiceless. ‘Cause a lot of us were completely unaware of their existence or what they’re going through. And to be able to build a little awareness through that, it seemed like a very cohesive idea.

[Sex trafficking in Minnesota] kind of is news to me. Are most of the people you’re talking to about this like, “Whoa, really?”

Yeah. Everyone.

Okay. I don’t feel so bad.

No, you shouldn’t feel bad.

I was feeling really uneducated.

No, no. You should not at all. I think it’s a huge problem, and that’s why I wanted to do this. And that’s why I did the original one because I was so surprised that so many people we knew had no idea.

Since, generally, the human beings who are trafficked are women, I can understand why you’d want to have the voices of women on the collection. What made you decide that it was important to have the men as well?

I think it’s really important to include men because it’s not just a female problem. It’s not a feminist issue. Men have to stand up, too, and talk about demand. And if we’re able to curb the demand, then we’re going to be able to actually change the situation. The focus of the Women’s Foundation for the next couple years is actually going to help with educating and trying to stop men from continuing to do this. I mean, it is unfortunately — I can’t say that it’s not just men who are doing this. The majority of the people are. The johns are men. The pimps seem to be men. There are some women involved, but the majority of the people who actually need to stop the activity are men. And I think if men sing about that, and if they talked about it with their friends, their brothers, their cohorts, hopefully that’ll help change that.

If nobody’s buying, there won’t be anybody selling.

Yes. Exactly. Exactly.

Gotcha. So, tell us more about the Women’s Foundation. What are they really working toward, and how are the proceeds from this compilation and events going to help them out?

Basically, the Women’s Foundation started the “Minnesota Girls are Not For Sale” campaign. It was a five-year campaign. Their goal was to raise, like, 5 million dollars. And through just their efforts, basically, they’ve changed lives. They’ve changed the perception of what a victim is, what a perpetrator is. The Safe Harbor Law that was passed in, like, 2011 was based in Minnesota. And now, you may have heard just recently that Amy Klobuchar took that model and went to the federal level. And now, just recently, that’s been passed, too. And what the Safe Harbor Law is trying to do is change the definition of perpetrator into victim. And so if you have anyone under — I think it’s 16. It might be 18, but I’m pretty sure it’s 16 — who is arrested for prostitution, they’re no longer treated as a perpetrator. They’re treated as a victim.

‘Cause they’re a child.

Yeah. They’re children. And they’re basically given services to help them try to get out of that system.

Mm-hmm. Break free. So the question I had was, what can you do if you’re a john or you are someone who’s being manipulated into being a prostitute or any varying degrees of different roles that one could play on that side of things, and you want to get out? You’re done. You want to stop. You’re tired of it. You don’t want to do it anymore. You know it’s hurting your life. You know it’s wrecking your life. What do you do?

You actually — unfortunately, some people might not have access to a computer. Basically, the Women’s Foundation has a website, and it’s super thorough. There’s information across the board. It talks about all the facts that they have but also what you can do. There are hotlines that victims can call. Just recently, I think I read something where, in the last couple years, since the Safe Harbor has been enacted and people have been considered victims instead of perpetrators, the FBI has had an increase in telephone calls by like 20% from victims. And so it’s definitely changing things, and there’s hope for these people.