Interview With Kelela
Back in July we had the pleasure of catching Kelela perform live in Paris. The slick lineup at Social Club also featured Mykki Blanco, Boychild, a Kingdom set and a host of locals from the GirlsGirlsGirls crew.
Having only heard Bank Head prior to the show, and having played it about a thousand times, we had a faint but good idea of what to expect from Kelela. Within the first 5 minutes of her performance all our expectations were surpassed. What we witnessed was an emotional, angst-filled, dark, grimey take on classic R'n'B. Between songs we also got an insight into her personality, jokes, nervousness, someone playing to a full Social Club having only released one song. Bigging up her crew and politely asking for people to download her mixtape when it comes out, she was genuinely happy to be there and we, quite simply, were blown away.
Straight after the show we contacted her management and now, with her debut mixtape out in a few days, we're very happy to present you our interview with Fade to Mind's first vocal artist Kelela.
You've stated everything from Brandy to Blue Note to Little Dragon as influences, currently, what's influencing you inside and outside of music?
I just got back from Japan and Korea. A singer who goes by Hoody and a rapper (who also kind of sings) KittiB, played before Total Freedom and I in Seoul. We understood like 5 words the whole performance, but were sooooo feeling it. I haven't stopped talking about them since.
Outside of music, my friend Madeline Poole (Maryland represent) is a nail artist who can inspire me over the internet, if I'm lurking on her instagram. She is not only skilled at tiny, intricate drawings, but she's really good at generating new ideas. A lot of artists feel like their ideas are finite, like you can feel them tense up when it's not flowing. I have def' had my share of that feeling. But Madeline is kinda on some other shit: "this was a cool idea. I will now come up with another one." It's really inspiring to be around someone who is feeling that abundant about their work. I think it actually = more good work.
What do you like to do when you're not making music?
At this time, I'm not really doing much else... a lot of my activity is centered around music. :-/
You moved to LA to pursue music without many connections, how did you come to work with Fade to Mind?
I was recording "EFX" (with Teengirl) at Inc's studio. That session was set up by TOTAL FREEDOM (Ashland Mines) who knew both bands. He saw that go down and was like, "um, y'all need to holler at this girl." So then, Prince William (Will Boston) came over my apartment with about 50 tracks from the Fade To Mind/Night Slugs crew and I died. Finally came back to life so we could make a mixtape together.
I guess the backstory is I met my friend Leo Miller through my ex-boyfriend Tosin Abasi and Leo is best friends with Dean Bein who runs True Panther Sounds, the label that releases Teengirl's music. Leo and I did a lil song together and Dean, Nick and Logan (of Teengirl Fantasy) heard it and wanted me to feature on their next record.
'I do question who sent the R&B memo out... the whole “I’ve aaaaalways loved R&B” thing is a little weird, but I’M SO GLAD IT’S HAPPENING.'
We caught your show at the Social Club, where you said that Girl Unit and the rest of the producers on your mixtape 'go hard', what has it been like working with them? And now, would you consider that you too 'go hard'?
What I meant by that is that, on a basic level, they're really good at making beautiful/scary/amazing music. I use the term "go hard" literally and figuratively, I guess. They care a lot about the integrity of their sound and really try to speak through that. It also literally "goes hard" because of how present low-end is in their music.
Working on this mixtape has felt both graceful and challenging at different moments. It's my first time working on something like this and Fade To Mind's first time doing a vocal project. So, there's been a lot of learning on both of our parts (both musically and in terms of our process/method). I basically can't wait to share because we all busted our asses (physically and emotionally lol) to make it what we wanted to hear/see.
Bank Head, the only available track from your mixtape, has been incredibly well received, to the point that everyone sung every word in Paris, how does such a response feel having just released one song?
It's a new thing for me, so it's VERY EXCITING. I'm grateful to have been able to do shows in other countries over the last couple of months to full rooms of people who are listening to a lot of music they've never heard before. I'm clear that that's not a common experience for artists who have yet to release a body of work. Thank you, Universe.
Your sound is a darker and deeper take on the majority of R&B music, yet you supported Solange on tour, where do you feel you fit into in the current resurgence of female R&B vocalists?
I'm not sure where I fit in, but I am really happy that there is something happening in this zone of vocal music. I do question who sent the R&B memo out to all the upper middle-class white people (hipsters?) in america. The whole "I've aaaaalways loved R&B" thing is a little weird, but I'M SO GLAD IT'S HAPPENING. So, I will be riding that train 'til it stops (hopefully never, but I got my shit ready if that audience decides it's not cute anymore).
With it's strong visual identity and experimental vision, Fade to Mind seems to fit perfectly alongside the art world and the electronic music world alike, you've reaffirmed this, performing at the likes of the Tate Modern and MOMA, are you into art? Is it something you try to apply to your music?
I didn't go to art school and I never took it upon myself to discover/create visual art the way that I did with music, but I am highly affected by it and how it intersects with my work.
I have lots of tiny visions within my own vision of performance and what's cool about the art world is that it provides me with a platform to explore those ideas that don't have a home in the club or the venue. Being able to access all three performance experiences regularly is a blessing and I hope it never stops.
Kelela's debut mixtape Cut 4 Me will be released on October 1st. Sign up here to receive a download on the day.