The Cover Story

Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter: “My objective is to challenge people”

Lingua Ignota is no more, now bear witness to the resurrection. Leaving her former moniker and outlet behind, the new Reverend has finally found inner peace, having exorcised her demons through one of the most uncomfortable records of the year. From speaking in tongues to confronting her own relationship with religion, this is the second coming of Kristin Hayter.

Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter: “My objective is to challenge people”
David McLaughlin
Rev. Herschel B. Rutherford

Kristin Hayter is happy. Right now, especially, as she’s curled up on a Chesterfield in her civvies, enjoying a gloomy autumnal morning at home in rural New England, just the way she likes it.

“It’s raining shit-buckets, which is great because I love to avoid the world at all times,” she says gently chuckling. After she’s done speaking to Kerrang!, however, she’ll be getting ready to head to Hudson Valley in New York with her boyfriend, to celebrate his birthday at the weekend. There, they’ll throw axes, hike in the woods, and enjoy some quality time on a boat together.

Laughter, happiness and scenes of domestic bliss weren’t exactly what we were expecting. Even if you’re only semi-familiar with Kristin’s story, those are perhaps some of the last things you might imagine would come up in conversation. She’s written with incredible bravery about her experiences in the past and that information is freely available online should you require some of the more harrowing details (TW: rape, suicide, abuse). But that’s not what this moment is about. This is a story of recovery and it’s an insight into just how much has changed for her in 2023.

“I’m actually doing quite well, which is incredibly bizarre for me because I never thought I would be in a place where I would be able to say that,” she says smiling. “I’m happy out here, living my country life with my nice little boyfriend. We just have a kind of regular life. I ride a horse and that helps my mental and physical health quite a lot. Every once in a while I deal with issues with my spine and my back pain, and that puts me in a bad space, but I always work through it. I’ve done a lot of work on myself to accept things that have happened and to move forward. So, in this place I feel well. There’s continuous work to do, but I’m really grateful to be where I am.”

The distance between here and where she’s come from represents quite the journey. It was only late last year, on November 2, 2022 to be precise, when Kristin announced her intention to retire the Lingua Ignota project that first propelled her into the public eye. As an artistic vehicle for expressions of traumatic experiences, “Lingy” as she sometimes refers to it, offered an outlet and a means through which to process and validate the painful truths of her past. Citing how inherently unhealthy it became to relive those horrors night after night, the moniker will be laid to rest with a couple of farewell performances at Islington Assembly Hall in London in a matter of days.

In its place, comes a reinvention in name, sound, purpose and vision, alongside this new lease of life. The era of Lingua Ignota has all but passed. Now it’s time for Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter.

If it didn’t bear her birth name and share similarly strident avant-garde sensibilities, you might struggle to recognise the work of Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter as the artistic fruits of the same mind that created Lingua Ignota. It might lack some of the scabrous venom of old, but in its exploration of religious themes there is at least a through-line from 2021’s SINNER GET READY and, well, whatever you might classify this music as.

Nevertheless, debut album SAVED!, is a disconcerting listen and total jolt to the system. Right from the off it jars and discombobulates, as I’m Getting Out While I Can introduces proceedings with tape warps, crackles and creaks. A piano plonks out an eerie melody over baleful vocals issuing warnings that distort, stretch and transform into choruses of indecipherable voices upon voices. Speaking in tongues is a feature of the record, in fact.

Long-time collaborator Seth Manchester’s manipulation techniques lend the recordings a sense of antiquity, too. As Kristin wails ‘all of my friends are going to hell’ it feels as if stumbling upon something forbidden, long-lost, or possibly even cursed. There’s an unerring and unsettling mood about the whole affair, something its creator describes as both “visceral and extreme”. If this were a folk-horror movie it might come with a disclaimer and a sick bag, so nauseating is the cumulative effect. Should you find yourself at a loss about how you’re supposed to process what you’re hearing, you’re not alone.

“I also sometimes struggle with how to react to it, even at this point,” she admits. “So that’s perfectly acceptable.”

In the press bumf accompanying the record, the bio, sent via Kristin’s own Perpetual Flame Ministries record label (which she co-runs with Vile Creature’s KW Campol), ends on the line “whether this is enlightenment or insanity is up to the listener to decide”. It reads like a tacit acknowledgement that this new direction may well prove divisive.

“I expect there to be a full spectrum of responses,” Kristin concedes. “I expect there will be people who will not get it or who will think that I’m trying to make a mockery of something. But that’s definitely not what I’m trying to do. My objective is to challenge people.”

Considering the religious iconography involved, the project’s name, her reinterpretation of ancient hymns and the spiritual themes threaded through everything, there might even be some serious backlash. In certain parts of the U.S. especially, religious devotion often manifests in the form of fury-filled placards and picket lines, after all.

“Hopefully not, but we’ll see,” she says with a carefree shrug. “I think some people will find it goofy and ridiculous. And I think some will find it terrifying and uncomfortable. I think it will bring up a lot of things for people. I’m curious to see how it’s taken. The incredible thing about glossolalia [the phenomenon of speaking in tongues] and things that exist outside of normative language, I think, is that you really can impose whatever you want onto whatever you are hearing.”

"Some people will find it goofy and ridiculous, some will find it terrifying and uncomfortable"

Kristin Hayter

Using glossolalia, Lingua Ignota helped Kristin give voice to the otherwise unspeakable atrocities visited upon her in the past, shaping these into self-styled “survivor anthems”. It reached and united a supportive community of likeminded souls, who found succour and resonance in those sounds and expressions. But for its creator, the “excruciating” toll ultimately proved a load too heavy to bear.

“I think it provided a different kind of language to talk about the experience of abuse and of trauma that maybe people hadn’t heard before,” she offers. “I put all of my energy into that, even though I was quite miserable as a person and not happy.

“There has been a lot of dismantling of my art and of myself [since],” she explains of the transition. “I had to absolutely dismantle myself, because my major pathology is that I feel that I have no intrinsic worth as a human being; that I just have worth based on what I can do. I didn’t feel that I had any value, but I felt like Lingua did. I’m proud of the things that were accomplished with it. But it really was time to put it to bed for me, personally.

“Doing this and taking back my own name feels like a positive step forward.”

Still, there’s likely to be some who’ll dismiss this as evidence that Kristin Hayter has lost all touch with reality. Some might not even bother to take the time to listen once they learn the surface details of her new thing. They’ll see that she’s now going by the title of Reverend, releasing a record called SAVED! and covering gospel hymns while speaking in tongues, assuming she’s moved to the countryside and become a religious nut. But that reading misses one key detail. This is a device, created to help with the one thing that Lingua Ignota never did and never could.

“I became really interested in the idea of religious transcendence and using that analogy for personal healing,” she explains of the project’s genesis and purpose. “In the evangelical tradition of Christianity, your relationship with God is dictated by your individual experience. In Pentecostalism, for instance, you can speak in tongues, you can be healed, and you can utilise extreme, unorthodox methods to develop a relationship between yourself and God. So, I wanted to see if I could develop a direct line between myself and God. I was earnestly attempting to be saved. And to get saved.”

Did it work?

“I don’t know if it worked or not (laughs). I’m not sure.”

"I wanted to create as raw an emotional state as I could"

Kristin Hayter

In researching the project, she’d attend a lot of worship services, witnessing people experience “true joy” in tandem with the uglier side of “something really hateful and othering”. She’d read up on how to speak in tongues, devouring everything from pamphlets available via questionable Amazon outlets to more legit academic sources on the subject. To prepare her mind and body for the performances, she carefully fasted and engaged in sleep deprivation techniques. At the end of recording sessions, Seth would noisily blast the sound of other people speaking in tongues through the studio speakers, as a means of warming her up for her turn.

“I wanted to create as raw an emotional state as I could,” she explains of the process. “What you hear on the record is from a 30-minute session when I had not really eaten or slept, and I was kind of repeating the same thing over and over until I let my brain go. It was quite dissociative, but it did feel cathartic.

Something was happening,” she recalls. “I was letting go of something. I think I have a lot to let go of (laughs). It was painful. And there were times when it felt like a bit of a failure, or it didn’t feel quite right. Other times, it felt very real and quite deranged.”

Mirroring this personal and artistic dismantling was Seth’s post-treatment of the raw material, inspired by Smithsonian Folkways recordings and musicologists like Alan Lomax. After everything was captured at Machines With Magnets in Nantucket Rhode Island, the pair would subsequently mess with the tapes, unspooling, demagnetising and stomping on them, then recording what was left onto a fresh reel, only to repeat the process all over. That gave every track its own distinct grit, texture and haunting quality, free of digital augmentation. It was an exercise in creation through destruction, breaking something down to be reborn anew.

“I’m not intending to bring people to Jesus with this record,” she reiterates, just in case it needed to be clarified. But for someone from a Catholic upbringing who used to describe herself as an atheist, this allegorical choice is nonetheless a fascinating one. When she found herself almost drowning while filming the final baptism scene for the All Of My Friends Are Going To Hell video, there was even a moment when she considered that maybe this was “some sort of sign”.

“I became an atheist when I was pretty young and adhered to that for quite a while, right through to my 20s,” she begins, charting her personal quest for spiritual enlightenment. “I think via having a bunch of hard, dark experiences, I’ve been looking for something to believe in. I’ve also worked a lot of 12-step [programmes] for co-dependency and AL-ANON [Alcoholics Anonymous] and that kind of stuff. Part of that is finding a higher power.”

A long, unexpected pause follows as she gathers herself for a moment. It’s perhaps the only point in our conversation when Kristin seems a little disconsolate; almost lost for words.

“I honestly don’t know what I believe,” she concludes, ruefully. “I think my work is trying very hard to engage with that question in a sort of desperate and insane way. I would really like to know what I believe, but I don’t believe that I’m there yet.”

The difference between seeking those answers now and being too “mired” in her past before, is that she’s on a pathway to discovery. SAVED! may not be literal. But its purpose absolutely is.

“In a lot of ways, I wanted to show healing,” Kristin explains of her intentions. “I don’t even like the word ‘healing’ because it’s so pop-psychology and so, like… ugh! But I wanted to show the kind of ugly, complicated process that it can be. So, I think that finding this analogy of getting saved and using that to talk about my own experiences is kind of the intellectual fortress that I’ve built to protect myself through that.

“The attempts to find God have been in absolute earnest,” she insists again. “I really was trying. I think out of desperation, to find something to believe in.”

In lieu of better terminology for whatever it is Kristin Hayter is going through right now, this healing appears to be working. The hell she’s been through increasingly exists in stark contrast to the place of peace and contentment she’s landed. It’s a remarkable transformation. But that kind of progress doesn’t happen by accident. This is a happiness hard fought for and won.

“I have a therapist who is very real with me and it’s the kind of therapy that I need,” she explains, reflecting on the help she’s had getting here. “Working with him consistently over the past three years has been incredible. I changed my medication and went on a different one that I hadn’t tried before. It was initially bad, but it’s changed for the better.”

Letting go of the past helps immensely, too. That’s not necessarily about facing forwards or looking too far ahead into the future, but about appreciating the here and now more.

“Just being able to focus on the present day, the good things in my life and finding value in myself as a person has been really helpful for me,” she adds. “I feel quite content. My life is very chaos-free now. It’s something I will work to preserve. I won’t allow anything to supersede that or come between that again.”

That “again” says so much. Kristin knows all too well what life is like when the chaos reigns and she’s determined to not go back there. Whether “The Rev” is a staple part of that or something more transitional that helps draw a line under the past, freeing up future reinventions, remains to be seen. The only definitive is this moment in time and what it can offer.

“As far as going forward? I don’t really know,” she confesses. “I’m giving myself the opportunity with this, to see if I still really want to do music. But it may be that my season of music is kind of over and I might want to live a quieter life going forward. I really, honestly, don’t know. As I evolve personally, I’m trying to see where things take me. I’m open to whatever happens.”

Being here is enough for now. Kristin Hayter might still be searching for something to believe in. But believing in herself for the first time, seems as good a start as any.

Lingua Ignota is playing two final shows in London on October 13 – 14. Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter’s debut album SAVED! will be released on October 20 via Perpetual Flame Ministries

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