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October 2020
Feature

Kelly Lee Owens: "I wasn't afraid of owning the melancholic shit"

Kelly Lee Owens has had her summer plans thrown into turmoil, but she’s at peace with what comes next.
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Published: 10:04 am, June 08, 2020Words: Martyn Young. Photos: Kim Hiorthøy.
Kelly Lee Owens: "I wasn't afraid of owning the melancholic shit"

Kelly Lee Owens' second album 'Inner Song' should have been out this June. There should have followed a summer full with transcendental beats, kaleidoscopic visuals and club dance floors full of people lost in the music and Kelly's beats and sounds. Instead, we find ourselves in quite a different situation. The music remains but the situation in which people will eventually hear it promises to be very different.

Like everyone else, Kelly is at home on lockdown, but she's at peace with her own situation despite the frustrations of having to postpone the album release to August. "I keep coming back to the centre point of ultimately I'm safe, and I'm in a very privileged position in comparison to so many people in the world," she begins. "That doesn't invalidate the fact that you will go through a range of emotions and a rollercoaster ride. All of that is valid," she continues. "I'm just riding the waves like everyone and trying to get rituals in place."

There's perhaps a misapprehension that the enforced shut down to life during the coronavirus pandemic is a welcome interlude for stressed out and busy musicians that affords them the freedom to create and express themselves. This may be true for some, but the headspace she is in following three years of making her defining work is somewhere very different. "I've already been through my intense creative phase, so I was ready to be out there and out in the world connecting in a live setting with my own stuff," she explains. "A lot of people are like, 'Oh, this is amazing. I've got so much time to create!' and that's just not where I'm at right now. I think that's important for a lot of people to recognise. Just because you have all this time does not mean you need to go back into this almost capitalistic brain of I must be doing things, I must be creating. How about just, if you can, just being."

"Just because you have all this time does not mean you need to go back into this almost capitalistic brain of I must be doing things, I must be creating"
Kelly Lee Owens

The album that she spent so long working on was built up under her specific process of finding and utilising samples, many from nature and the elements to create something rich in dynamics and emotional depth. It all started from a cover of Radiohead's 2007 song 'Arpeggi' from their acclaimed album 'In Rainbows'. The way she switches up the sounds is representative of Kelly's subversive skills as a producer. When I think of 'Arpeggi', I think of synths. I was like, why didn't they put synths in this? Why did they use guitar?" she laughs.

"That track could only be the beginning, so that was the first track that I did for 'Inner Song'.This is a stripped-back version. It's quite dark, but it bubbles up. I was coming out of emotionally heavy and difficult times. It was a rebirth. "If you put it next to '8' on my last album which was the last track, this first one is bubbling up from those depths and coming back up for air. It's quite symbolic in a lot of ways for me."

There's a looseness and freedom to Kelly's music that gives it such energy and dynamism. "I work quite quickly because I don't have any fixed ideas, so it gives me the freedom to continue to create what comes in the moment," she says. This time though, there was also a desire to be more emotional and put her emotions and feelings to the fore. "The only theme is that it's an honest portrayal of my personal situation in the last three years or so, she proclaims. "There's a lot of loss but also hope and rebuilding and rewilding of the spirit, rewilding of the soul."

In contrast to her first record, Kelly's vocals and lyrics are more prominent here. You can hear the sound of her blossoming as a writer as she deals with big, bold themes, both personal and global, with songs that tackle climate change and the elemental power of Earth. "The lyrics are more straight to the point," she states. "I needed the messages to be heard literally, clearly. The vocals have got more confidence to them, and that informs the production as well."

"If you think about a day in your life and the range of how many different emotions you go through, then all that can happen within one track. 'On' is the perfect example of that, and it's what I always call a hybrid," she continues. "I can go into the honesty of that feeling of letting go and moving forward. Then it can transform you into that feeling of acceptance and the music changes, and it's like let's literally move forward and create shapes and sounds. The sounds push me forward. The emotion ties it together and allows that flow of ideas."

"It's a time of deep introspection, and I think that can only be a good thing"
Kelly Lee Owens

There's an idiosyncrasy to Kelly's electronic music that makes her stand out. "There are things I do that drive people mad," she laughs. On this album though the defining quality is one of honesty and an embracing of emotions that unite us all. "I had to be really direct, truthful and transparent this time," she contemplates. "I wasn't afraid of owning the melancholic shit. That's life, and it's the beauty in the melancholy and how things can change from sadness to being transmuted into something beautiful and hopeful. I was working with that sonically and emotionally."

There's a feeling that the album might have more resonance arriving at a time of personal and emotional reflection for people. "People are going to be attracted to music that has truth and honesty to it," says Kelly. "There's nowhere else to hide right now. I would hope that people could connect to the more emotionally-led moments of my music."

She goes on to describe how the album's themes of the fragility of our ecosystem and the way we interact with it have taken on an added poignancy. "There's a lyric on the album that says, 'Never pausing to take it in, always avoiding your sense of dread'," she explains. "I wrote that before all this happened but this is what's going on. We're forced to take a pause to look at all these things we've been avoiding. As difficult as that it is there's such beauty that can come from it. Emotional intelligence, connection and respect for each other and globally for the planet. It's a time of deep introspection, and I think that can only be a good thing."

While things in her electronic whirlwind have been put on hold for the moment, there is solace in knowing she is still safe and secure and has completed a record that is a career highlight. One day, hopefully soon, people will enjoy it physically together, but for now, Kelly's description of her work is apposite for the time. "I'm not afraid to go to melancholy and depths of emotion which then transmute into forward motion and hope via dance. I think that's what I do best is bridge two worlds together and show that they're not exclusive and all part of the bigger picture." 

Taken from the June issue of Dork. Kelly Lee Owens' album 'Inner Song' is out 28th August.

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