Pulling inspiration from 60’s soul singers, legendary icons such as David Bowie and those pop punk bands we all grew up (Green Day, Blink 182 etc) amongst many more, Kelsy Karter’s debut album Missing Person is a rollercoaster of emotions. It is full of both soft and tender moments, carefully lined with all the kickass attitude you could need. We caught up with our new favourite rock chick, to find out more about her brand new album, the challenges of getting into rock as a woman and why it’s so important to be yourself.
How has 2020 been so far for you?
It’s been kind of all over the place, there’s been some super high highs and super low lows. Obviously, the quarantining at the beginning of the year was incredibly difficult for all of us, but as for my own personal experience, I’m quite an ADHD person and if I’m not like doing something, I get anxiety, so mentally, it was a little bit difficult for me. But then, as my album was already finished before quarantine, we could get it ready. So, then there’s been all these highs happening, and it’s been a really awesome time, then my boyfriend left for the UK, so then it was a sad time, because I didn’t know when I was going to see him again but, I got to hang out with friends and have some really cool things happen, so it’s just kind of been up and down.
A lot of artists have released music during the lockdown, which must be quite weird, how would you describe the experience?
Well, obviously, when you release an album, you want to be touring the album. So, the biggest thing for me was the question of “What do we do? Do we release it during the pandemic?” I’ve been holding on to this album and these songs for a long time, but I was like, let’s just get it out there. I’ll write another album, you know, we’re all good. Luckily, I had a couple of the first singles ready with music videos to go out right before lockdown. The one thing that was keeping me going through lockdown was that I was releasing music and I found it was an opportunity to connect more with fans because I had nothing else to do.
Lockdown has given people time to be more creative and while you already had your album done and ready, were you able to be creative in other ways over lockdown?
Yeah, definitely. I think that what the pandemic has done is forced people to create new ideas and do things that maybe they wouldn’t have thought of, or been willing to do, or procrastinated, or too scared to do. This has kind of forced people to do that and get curious again, which for me, writing music is obviously a huge passion of mine, but I come from a theatre background, and film and TV is like my favourite thing in the whole world, so I’ve found that I’ve been writing scripts. We’ve got this project that we’re working on, which is really exciting, it’s a series project. So, there’s like new things, just outside of music where I’ve been exploring that world again, which I’m really excited about.
“when I got signed to my record deal, they let me have complete creative control, because they believed in my vision so much and that was like the coolest validation”
You’ve also directed your own music videos, what’s it like having that additional creative freedom?
At first, I did it because I was almost forced to, because I felt like nobody really delivered what I wanted as the vision for myself. I was an independent artist, resources were sparse and I didn’t have the money to achieve what I wanted to achieve. I’m also a little bit of a control freak, so if someone else was working on my stuff, I would almost be doing it with them myself anyway, so, I decided to just learn how to do it. I didn’t go to school for directing, but it has always been my passion. I love acting, I love film and it was something I definitely saw happening later in life, but through my music I get to do it now, which is really exciting. The biggest thing is when I got signed to my record deal, they let me have complete creative control, because they believed in my vision so much and that was like the coolest validation to get. You hear horror stories about people getting signed and then being told you’re going to dress like this and act like this and say this like this, and I didn’t have to deal with that.
Watch Kelsy Karter’s video for Goodness Gracious below:
We saw you tweeted Shia LaBeouf asking if he would direct a video with you, has he replied?
He hasn’t [laughs] But you know what’s funny? I didn’t know that he was doing that kind of thing and two of my best friends are both in love with him. So they were like, you’ve got to try and work with Shia. I was like how? They showed me some videos that he had done and I was like, I’d be down for it, so I just tweeted to see if anything happened…but no I have not heard from Shia.
Hey @thecampaignbook direct one of my music videos w me?— Kelsy Karter (@KelsyKarter) November 2, 2020
Time Magazine described you as following in footsteps of the likes of Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne. How does it feel being compared to the likes of the prince of darkness and such big rock stars?
Um honestly, the coolest thing in the whole world!
I’ve kind of fought against the stereotype of being a female in music at all, I was really young and doing music I hated and just listening to people that thought they knew better than me. I wanted to be in rock music, but I was told repeatedly “you can’t, rock is dead and you’re a woman, so don’t even think about it.”
Then when I had a very cathartic year; depression, I was broke, a death and a breakup and all these things that were happening at once, I kind of had an ‘aha!’ moment where I was like, you know what, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it my way. I’m not going to be miserable doing it someone else’s way. So, that’s the day that I decided I was going to go headfirst into rock music and I didn’t care what anyone thought. I didn’t care that people told me I wasn’t going to be successful doing it and that was a huge day for me. To then get something like Time Magazine saying that about me, I remember where I was, when I read it, and I just remember thinking, “oh my gosh, this is me doing what people said I couldn’t do,” and that was obviously a great feeling.
“I think the way that we find our uniqueness is simply by being ourselves.”
Over time it seems that some of the most successful artists are those who are more unique?
Exactly. I recently changed management, but my old manager used to say to me “be you, be everything that’s unique about you. Be that, because uniqueness will always win over.” I think the way that we find our uniqueness is simply by being ourselves.
Your music has been described as pulling in influences from rock, punk and Britpop and every song is so different. How do you decide what kind of approach to take musically?
Sometimes I walk into a session and I know exactly what I want to create and maybe I’ve heard a drum pattern that I like, or maybe there’s a song that the mood of it, I know I want this feel for the next song. Every time it’s different and a lot of the time my goal is to have that juxtaposition of badass and tender and I try to combine and bring elements of both of those things into every song. I have to attribute my collaborators for a lot of it because my producers are so incredible and they’ll do things with songs that I would not have even thought of, like that guitar harmony, or that drum change – it’s just such a collaborative thing and every time it’s different, but I do kind of stick to whatever is right to the song. I don’t want to ever follow some like pop method or you know mimic what someone else has done. Whatever serves that song, that’s what I care about.
What bands and artists do you take your influences from?
Well, my dad kind of brought me up on jazz and soul music, so I remember when I discovered Sam Cooke, who’s a soul singer from the 60’s and just the effortlessness of his voice and the way he sang was just so inspiring to me. I learned from people like him and Nina Simone and jazz singers, and then when I found James Brown, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, these people that were just these lfree, colourful characters, that’s what made me want to be a performer, like a rock star. But when I was a kid it was like Green Day, Nirvana, Oasis, Avril Lavigne and Blink 182, all that pop punk stuff.
What’s funny now is that on my second album, that I’ve just started, I really want to go more into Britpop meets punk, like 80’s punk as well – I definitely want to go even dirtier for the next album.
Missing Person was written when you were going through a challenging time. How do you feel now that the album is out and that you’ve come out of the other side stronger?
I feel incredible. It’s weird, because if I could tell myself something from that time, now, it would be “it will get better”, and if I could talk to myself, now, as me, I’m like “yeah, it did.” I think that’s a lesson in life, everything is a circle and sometimes you’re going to be up, and then you going to slide down the circle and then you might be in the middle. I used to have to kind of ride the wave. And with the songs and the music, for sure, over the last few months, I’ve had a lot of anxiety over releasing the album, because there’s a lot of anger in some of the songs and I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not angry, or sad, or depressed anymore. So, when I hear some of those songs, I feel I have to consciously disconnect from them, otherwise, I get taken back there. I said to my best mate, should I even release these songs? I’m not in these places anymore, I feel guilty for saying it out loud because I’m not there anymore. And he said “Kels, these songs aren’t for you anymore, they’ve served their purpose for you and now they’re for everyone else.” And the day that the album released, it just felt like a fucking weight off my shoulders.
It’s funny, because it’s the songs that I did question putting on the album that are the songs that people are resonating with most.
If you had to pick a favourite song off of the album, which would you choose?
Liquor Store on Mars. My best friend Michael and I wrote the song in early 2018 and I then become friends with The Struts, and the guitarist Adam and I were exchanging unreleased songs and he fell in love with that song. Everyone on, my team loved the song, but I was like, there’s something else, it needs something else. When Adam expressed that he loved it, I was like, well do you want a solo on it? So, he ended up writing the solo for that song and featuring on it, which was awesome. It made the song what I wanted it to be.
Watch the video for Liquor Store on Mars feat. Adam Slack (of The Struts) below:
Your also toured with The Struts last year, how was that?
Amazing. Absolutely amazing. I mean, they’re the best, best guys and my best friends now. They’re such an awesome rock’n’roll band and we’re similar, because the biggest thing for me is bringing theatre and rock music to the stage in the modern day, and they do that as well.
How did you find your first time playing in the UK, how does it compare to playing in the US?
I love the crowds in England, I think, because I’m like Australia/New Zealand it felt like I was similar, I wasn’t so foreign I guess. When you’re an opener, you can never guess what people are going to think of you, they might hate you. They’re not there to see you, but I was really embraced by the crowds there, probably because the music was similar and, you know, I’m like you guys, and I think that there might have been that kind of connection. With America, people are a lot more uncensored, in your face kind of thing, which if they love you, that’s fucking great, if they don’t love you, it’s not great. But for the most part, I’ve been embraced everywhere I’ve toured.
Have you got anything planned touring wise at the moment?
It’s all a question mark, our mindset right now is don’t make any plans… it’s been so unpredictable and so up and down. My agents are on deck as soon as we can solidify dates, but no plans as of now.
What do you think we should take away from 2020?
More hugs, please.
Hug the people you love as much as you can, because I will never take that for granted, ever again. I’ll literally walk into a room and see one of my best friends and I can’t hug them. I can’t go see some of my family, I can’t give them a hug – I’ll never take that for granted. More hugs, please!
Missing Person is out now, listen to the album below:
Header photo by Sarah Pardini