This year will be big for Kelela. The DC-born singer-songwriter went from international studies major to Björk-approved R & B star (with a stint as a telemarketer in between) after the release of her 2013 electro-tinged Cut 4 Me mixtape. 2015 will bring both her first EP (this month’s Hallucinogen) and a full-length album later in the fall. Then she’ll be touring, which will include appearances at some of Europe’s biggest festivals. In between mixing her new record and prepping for shows, the academic LA-based singer caught up with us in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood. Here, she explains her writing process and likens her musical creations to “frozen tears in sound form.”
I usually write in response to something that’s going on in my life instead of intending to write about a specific subject. Only after I finished Cut 4 Me did everyone start saying, “Well, you kind of did make a break-up album.” My intention during the writing process was just to be honest and vulnerable. It actually gave the EP a different sound from what’s going on in R & B right now. My album isn’t as poppy; the vibe is more classic.
In terms of my clothes, I also like that mix of pop and classic. I love having a uniform that changes for each tour. It’s an extension of the music you’re performing at that moment in time and I’ve always loved seeing my favorite artists do that. It tells a continuous story. Right now at festivals I wear things that are comfortable (so I can move freely onstage) but also striking from afar.
Touring and traveling between venues makes little routines very important. I warm up to this cheesy recording I bought on iTunes by Christina E. Branz. She sings the scale and then I sing it with her. I do this while I’m showering before a show, preferably with a few drops of tea tree or eucalyptus oil on the floor of the tub. I have rituals, but I don’t really have a good luck charm. I just work hard and do my best.
30 MORE SECONDS WITH KELELA
Headliners at your dream music festival:
I’d keep it simple and small so my badass friends could open—and Björk and Beyoncé would headline.
Three new musical acts to check out now:
Lafawndah, Shamir and Chynna Rogers
The best Instagram account to follow:
If you could be any musician’s muse, you’d pick:
A secret password to get into your concerts would be:
P.S. We’re giving away a trip to LA to see Kelela perform in a Madewell Sessions show.* Enter our sweeps here for a chance to win a trip for two with a stay at our favorite boutique hotel, Palihouse West Hollywood. And there’s more: The winner also receives a $1,000 Madewell gift card and one year of Spotify Premium for you and a friend. (June 15th is the last day to enter, but why wait? The show must go on.)
*No purchase necessary. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. Open to legal residents of the 50 United States (including D.C.), 18 years and older. Void where prohibited. Sweepstakes ends June 15, 2015. To enter and for Official Rules, prize descriptions and odds disclosure, visit madewell.com/sessionssweeps.
Photography by Angi Welsch.