Kelly Lee Owens makes music with a direct, transportative purpose. The songs on her self-titled debut album are a pathway for escape. It’s there in the post-midnight thud of Evolution, the string-led sweep of Lucid and the bubbling quality of her Jenny Hval collaboration Anxi. Kelly spent her early twenties working in London record shop Pure Groove, where she met the producer Daniel Avery. He encouraged her to try vocals on ‘Drone Logic’, and this became a gateway to her own work. After sessions collaborating with James Greenwood (Ghost Culture), she soon began to exert full control, and her debut is entirely self-produced. Even from these more than promising first steps, it’s clear we’re witnessing an artist in it for the long haul.
Discover five senses from Kelly Lee Owens’ world and watch the video to her latest track Anxi below.
I have a connection with music’s healing power.
I worked in a cancer hospital aged 19, which might seem like the complete opposite to what I do now, but it’s not. I struggled with seeing patients simply being given chemotherapy, radiotherapy, that’s your lot. It’s not to disregard those treatments. But it’s also about the wellbeing of each patient. There are other means of therapy, and that includes music. People with cancer can be encouraged to do music, to paint, to make art. There’s such a relationship between creativity and wellbeing. It’s the Anaïs Nin quote: “Creation which cannot express itself becomes madness.” I completely relate to that.
I was lucky to be exposed to the inner workings of the industry after interning at XL Recordings.
I was thrown into this other world that I’d never explored before. But that’s me - I throw myself into these situations and give it a go. I was there for a few weeks. It was an experience of getting into the music industry and understanding how it worked from the inside. That’s helped me massively up to this point. I’ve seen people go down paths that I really wouldn’t wanna go down. I had to know what was important to me. Was it to have a big advance and to have a huge label, pushed with tons of promo, being forced out there? Or was it music that I wanted to grow organically. If I’d released music at the age of 20, who knows what it would have sounded like.
Listening to The xx’s debut exposed me to new sounds.
While I interned at XL, they were writing their first album. I helped press their first promo single. I looked at them – they were these really shy, gothic-looking creatures. I remember thinking, ‘What has XL signed?’ I hadn’t listened. And then I listened to the CD we’d pressed and was like, ‘Wow. I get it.’ I love the space and expansiveness in their sound. The day I finished XL was the day they finished their album. I bought everyone cake. Romy came up and was like, ‘Ooh, can we have some?’ I said, ‘Yeah, go for it. You’ve just finished your fucking album! Have some cake.’
I grew up knowing I’d have to find an inventive way to make music.
At school, I’d spotted there were 40 djembe drums stacked in a cupboard, that my music teacher was storing for a friend – not illegally, just on the side. The school didn’t know about it. I’d spotted them, and I was like, ‘Hey, do you think I could make an African drumming composition?’ She replied, ‘Err, yeah… If you know how!’ And I had these four sections of drummers, around 50 people, didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had a section of people who could actually play drums, and then everyone else. It was this improvisational piece, which we recorded onto Minidisc. Because that was what was new in technology at the time. I need to get hold of that recording.
When I’m writing songs, I can see sound frequencies.
I see sound, but not in a sense of synaesthesia. When I’m EQ’ing something, I know where the frequency is. It’s like if you’re looking for a rogue frequency, I know where it is visually. It’s hard to describe. I’m following my intuition and I’m following whatever feels good, but I also have these building blocks in my head. I create a sound and I know where to go next.