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Folk By Default: Everyday People.

February 11, 2015

FBDDD07Text by Vince Bellino. Images by Darragh Dandurand.

Kayla Raniero clutches a cup of Starbucks coffee while poking out from under a mountain of schoolbooks. At this moment, you would never know that Raniero’s brainchild, Folk By Default, is in the midst of its biggest shift yet.

Raniero is not just a musician but also a visionary and a voice for the queer community. After coming out as agender, thus identifying with they/them pronouns, Raniero realized there was an opportunity to do something beyond playing music.

“It has opened my eyes to the importance of using your platform as a musician,” Raniero says. “It’s important for me to just be a musician and show that I’m a normal person doing things … and just happen to be queer.”

Raniero never had a non-binary role model while struggling with identity issues. The artist wants to be that for people who might not otherwise have one.

Folk by Default has taken on many forms and ideas throughout its existence, morphing from a folk project to a pop-punk group to its current form, what Raniero describes as a solo folk punk project.

Folk by Default, however, refuses to fit into any single mold.

Playing with just a synthesizer, Raniero sings and challenges others’ perceptions and expectations of the music.

“I just get to go in and out of the genres, be whatever [genre] I’m feeling,” Raniero says. “I get to embrace punk culture without being strictly punk.”

Having moved here from Wilkes-Barre to attend Temple University, Raniero is reinventing Folk by Default again. The plan is to do that with big ideas and memorable songwriting.

“Every day, I write at least one stream-of-consciousness and whenever I see something interesting in a stream-of-consciousness, it usually turns into a song,” Raniero says.

The people who have seen Raniero’s evolution say that the act has always had a knack for songwriting since the start.

“Many high school-aged musicians naturally emulate their influences but have a difficult time finding their own style,” says Katrina Lykes, Raniero’s former voice teacher. “That was never an issue for Kayla.”

Over time, songwriting naturally became for Raniero a way to voice struggles as well as lend support to the queer community.

“A lot of those songs were written when I was closeted and struggling with self-esteem,” Raniero says.

Knowing how it feels to struggle with gender identity and being closeted, Raniero strives to make Folk by Default something that those who may still be struggling can relate to. Raniero reaches out to the queer community throughout Philadelphia to create a safe environment through music.

“It’s a fellowship of people who are different, who question standards and who value embracing the individuality of yourself and everyone around you,” Raniero says of Folk by Default’s fans.

Raniero found a group of likeminded people but Philadelphia has also given Folk by Default a place where they feel welcome.

“So far my music’s been received really well,” Raniero says. “People seem to like the individuality I bring to the table.”

The willingness to try new things to stand out has been one of Folk by Default’s staple traits since day one.

“Stage fright was never an issue [for Kayla] either,” says Lykes, remembering what Folk by Default was before it was just Kayla. “Folk by Default played everywhere.”

Raniero finds open mics wherever they pop up and plans to play every possible venue while settling into Philadelphia.

With a new single, Folk by Default’s first professional recording, coming soon, Raniero will continue to challenge perceptions and ideas about their music and the queer community.

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