Wonderland talks to Kelly Lee Owens about how to do a DIY release and what it’s like hearing your own music on the McQueen catwalk.
Photo by Daniele Fummo
Strong minded and driven, Kelly Lee Owens didn’t wait around for anybody’s approval to release her music. It sounds far-out, but these days it’s a hell of a lot easier for new musicians to put out their work without the backing of a major label; the Internet being a pretty substantial catalyst, of course. Social media allows you to reach other niche-fans in all four corners of the globe, and there are now net-labels who specialize in only mp3 releases. All of these outlets require far less financial input than signing to a major label and allows the artist so much experimentation and freedom in their work, it pushes real counter-culture forwards, and of course, is ultimately what we like to see! Taking it one step further, Kelly contacted The Vinyl Factory in East London to get a tangible copy of her ethereal first single, Lucid (which we thoroughly recommend you get your hands on). The Vinyl factory is like a pressing-plant, events curator and all-round go-to center for for independent artists; you should definitely go check them out if you’re thinking about releasing your music. This complete control over the creative direction led Kelly’s chilling techno-esque ode to 80’s NYC downtown cellist and songwriter Arthur Russel to be curated in for the Alexander McQueen catwalk collection in February. Honestly, we believe they couldn’t have picked a more fitting tune. The clothes and sounds gracefully marry into one audio-visual extraordinaire; Kelly’s featherlight vocals matching McQueen’s gliding chiffon fabrics as stoic models storm down the catwalk to the tribal beats and pounding sub-bass. Watch for yourself, below:
Just as you’d expect, Kelly keeps on churning out tunes that just get better and better… As striking and original as her previous releases, Kelly’s latest work 1 Of 3 is expertly crafted with synths and her own vocals, telling a story of relationship rebounds and finding yourself again. Have a listen here:
We loved this girl’s go-getting no-bullshit attitude and unreal talent so much, we decided to invite Kelly in for a New Noise to chat about her McQueen experience and the realities of putting out your own records.
So, Kelly, you’re a DIY artist and you actually put your own record out. Tell us more about this process and why you decided to take this route. We really like this idea that you are in total control of your output, it kinda harks back to a pre-millenial, more creative, less commercially driven London.
My initial process involved writing Lucid, having it mixed and mastered and putting it up on Soundcloud. Thereafter, people actually liking it boosted my confidence to finish more tracks. Once Lucid had been online for a few weeks I realised I craved to hold a physical copy of it in my hand and to have it really exist in the world. So I contacted The Vinyl Factory and had them press copies, then I distributed the 12″ discs around different record stores. I decided on this route because I wasn’t going to wait around to be told that my music was good enough to be put out, so I just did it and I continue to do it. I’m a grafter. I’m happy to do what I have to do in order to get things moving. You can’t expect anyone to do anything for you in life… I mean, why should they, you know, if you’re not willing to do it for yourself first?
You use the hashtag, Notag on Soundcloud, can you explain more to us about not wanting to be branded and exploring the grey areas in genres?
I don’t like being put in to boxes. I don’t like to be restricted. It’s boring. I understand it’s in human nature to want to categorise things to help us understand something, but I want to keep surprising myself as well as other people… Which is why I try not to be labelled too much. I think people shouldn’t ever restrict themselves to make other people feel comfortable. You have to stay free and make that your thing.
‘Arthur’ is f**king stunning, it literally just blew our minds and our desktop speakers. We totally weren’t ready for that. How did Alexander McQueen’s team find you and how did you feel when it was chosen for the catwalk soundtrack?
Thank you! The Alexander McQueen team emailed me and asked to use the track. They have an incredible music curator on their team and he had heard Arthur. I said yes because I really respect them as a fashion house and Lee himself – he was someone who never compromised on his vision. I’m inspired by people like that.
The first time i saw the collection was at the same time as everyone else – on the live stream and then everything made sense to me. They encapsulated an ethereal quality. I have obsessions with astronomy and nature and so the see this otherworldly, strong feminine aspect in the clothes… I was thrilled they chose my music to represent that collection. I think our two worlds collide nicely!
What kind of imagery do you have in your head when you start to lay down a track?
I think my escape is in music and I want other people to feel that too. That’s why I love people like Arthur Russell and his work ‘World Of Echo’, it’s really transcendental. Most of the time I prefer to make music that will allow you to be taken somewhere else. Other times I’ll write smack-you-in-the-face techo tracks. Depends how I feel and if I want to be in the present or not. I’m going to quote Anais Nin, where she says:
“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvellous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. When ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
What is your working process like when you start to make music?
It’s very quick. My creative flow happens at a thousand miles an hour. I produce as I go along. I can’t put down a rough demo or idea for too long. I have to get down the exact sound or idea that’s in my head and make it work in that moment in order for me to move on to the next layer. I write, arrange, perform and produce everything and James Greenwood (Ghost Culture, Phantasy Sound ) engineers for me.
He’s the only one who’s quick enough to get what I want down fast enough, haha! He’s much speedier at using Logic than anyone I’ve ever met and we’ve known each other for six or seven years now, so it works well. He also works with Daniel Avery, as well as having his own incredible project – so it’s a tight knit family vibe we have going on in that studio.
When I’m writing and producing I try not to listen to other people’s music too much. I want it to sound like the best version of myself, otherwise what’s the point? Actually I’ll quote Alexander McQueen here :
“I never look at other people’s work. My mind has to be completely focused on my own illusions.”
I think that’s pretty accurate.
Is there any meaning behind the name ‘1 – 3’?
It’s only usually in hindsight that I can see all of the meanings in each track I write. With this one it started out about a specific person/relationship, but then took on more and more meaning. At the end of the track the lyrics are “Just a muse, for you to use. Now i see I’m one of 3.”
It literally means at that point I’ve realised I’m not the only one. It’s an important realization at that moment. I feel things can’t hurt you as much when you know the truth. Truth gives you power. When you have the truth, you can chose what you want to do with it.
What kind of stuff do you listen to whilst growing up?
Growing up I was always interested in anything music related. As far as listening went, pop was the thing in the 90’s. It was kind of forced in your ears every time you put the radio on, so I listened to that until I was about 12 – that’s when I discovered music like Nirvana and Kate Bush and that’s when things started to change. I felt a pull towards these artists and weirdos.
When I was 17 I started going to Manchester a lot and met the most amazing people and bands. I would help out at gigs and festivals and labels just to be involved and find out everyone’s story. I collected ideas and kept in mind the things I wanted and didn’t want to do. I only found the confidence to make my own music through working with Daniel Avery and Ghost Culture.
What’s in your record box, give us your top five tracks for us to go and explore…
I’ve worked at Pure Groove, Rough Trade East & Sister Ray, so.. there’s always A LOT in my record bag. Some of my obsessions at the moment are:
Massive Attack – Dead Editors. That BASS. Their production skills KILL me. It would be a dream to work with them.
Kelela – All The Way Down. She has a great balance of pop /R’n’B with interesting production and great vocals going on. I’d love to rework her tracks.
Fela Kuti – Go Slow. You. Can’t. Help. But. MOVE.
‘Malika’ performed by Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte. It’s an oldie but goodie. It’s beauteous.
I have a unopened 12″ here which I picked up in LA, it’s a bootleg of Bootsy Collins/Jerry Harrison produced by Arthur Russell. It’s either going to be amazing or completely awful. I trust Arthur did something good with it though. I’ll go listen now and so should you.