"My dad calls me 'Captain Chaos,'" says Kalyn Heffernan, the Denver rapper who fronts Wheelchair Sports Camp.
The musician, activist, youth educator and former mayoral candidate has a busy year ahead. She has two new albums in the works: one with her band, the other the soundtrack for Phamaly Theatre Company's production of Alice in Wonderland. Along with WSC drummer Gregg Ziemba and her ironworker father, Heffernan is putting the finishing touches on a permanent installation in the soon-to-open Meow Wolf building. And when she's not creating art herself, she's teaching classes at music-education nonprofit Youth on Record.
Heffernan needs to have some serious organizational skills to pull off everything she does, but as a lyricist, she enjoys working with chaos, taking those who dare to listen on a turbulent — and sometimes hilarious — ride, with devastating lows and exhilarating highs. "Art is so weird: trying to take all these wild moments in life and put it into something. Holy shit!" she says, later adding, "There is something real juicy about controlling chaos."
As a rapper who takes on everything from gentrification and police violence to disability politics and the violence of capitalism, she has mastered that form of creative control. And she demonstrates it on "YESS i'm a MESS," the first in a series of releases leading up to the next Wheelchair Sports Camp album.
The song has been in the works for a long time. Four years have passed since Heffernan came off a bad case of writer's block and penned the lyrics to a beat by her longtime collaborator Jerod Sarlo, aka Qknox, whom she describes as "the best producer in town." Shortly thereafter, she debuted it at a New Year's Eve show at the Oriental Theater, and she's been performing it live since then. She recorded in the summer of 2019 at the Music District in Fort Collins and recently re-recorded her vocals with help from R&B singer Michelle Rocqet of the Milk Blossoms.
"YESS i'm a MESS" is a brutal song about a breakup, heartache and depression, the kind of track Heffernan sometimes just listens to; it's not her band's usual politically charged fare. But the song's cathartic effect in the middle of a pandemic — as the country deals with depression, grief and rage, four years after she wrote it — couldn't be more timely, and she's glad she waited so long for the release.
"YESS i’m a MESS / YESS i’m depressed / Yess i’m in debt / But i got outta bed / So it can’t be that bad can it / It can’t be that bad," she raps, as her band brings levity to the despair and a sense of triumph to her grief.
On February 23, Heffernan dropped a riveting music video for the song. Artist Chris Bagley shot, edited and produced it, largely during his residency at RedLine Contemporary Art Center, and artist Moe Gram designed the sets. The video, in which Heffernan is flung around, dunked in a tank of water and hung from her feet in mid-air, drives home the message that life is chaotic and sometimes getting out of bed is the only sign that everything hasn't fallen apart entirely.
"Being disabled, I have a pretty intimate relationship with bed: being in bed and being stuck in bed, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally, which I’ve done all three," Heffernan explains. In the video, her bed is littered with a colorful mess that's as playful as it is binding.
Perhaps the song's video will serve as a comfort — albeit one brutally delivered — for others who struggle with depression and topsy-turvy emotions. And for all of us, it's a reminder that when everything feels bad...maybe, just maybe, there is a little hope.
"This song has a lot of darkness and a lot of light to it, which I wanted to play between," she says. "There’s always both."