Singer-songwriter and cellist Kelsey Lu on her new remix EP, debut album Blood, and her religious upbringing
Artistry and presence are just two of the words that come to mind after I witnessed Kelsey Lu perform live at Kilo Lounge on 18 December. A classically trained cellist, singer, and songwriter from Charlotte, North Carolina — Lu's music is so ethereal and sublime that it defies classification. Possessing the artistic confidence of a seasoned entertainer twice her age, it's no surprise that she's collaborated with the likes of Solange, Blood Orange, and Florence and the Machine, just to name a few. Her latest release of remixes for her debut album, Blood — that's out this month — also features a diverse list of producers from Dixon to Omar S to Skrillex.
I had the chance to chat with Lu to find out more about her music-making process, distinctive style, and why hope will always be her music's main theme.
Congratulations on the new EP of remixes! You've got an impressive and diverse list of producers. Did you decide on who to pair with each track and do you have a favourite among them?
Well, Dixon actually approached me about it, which is really sick. Other than that, I picked everyone. I don't really like choosing favorites, but I was really surprised that Omar S. said yes. I was super honoured.
Awesome! Do you think being a classically trained cellist impacts the way you write and perform music?
Yes, I feel like my cello is so much of an extension of myself. When I write, I usually write around the cello. It influences a lot of the melodies and the way that I see and swing between notes.
I've read that your parents are devout Jehovah's Witnesses and they tried to conceal hip-hop music from you. Strangely enough, I feel like your music has a really sublime and meditative quality to it now. Family and religion can be complicated. What effects do you think they've had on your music-making process now?
It's more so about bringing whatever that's true to me than what's necessarily trending right now. I was kind of sheltered. A lot of my interest in music came with secrecy. I would listen to the music I liked without my parents knowing. It was mostly oldies at first and then a lot of classical music. In that sense, my vocabulary of music was widened beyond just listening to what was playing on the radio or trending in pop culture.
Thank goodness! You've collaborated with some heavy-hitters such as Solange, Blood Orange as well as Florence and the Machine. Who was the most challenging and why?
I don't think any of them were challenging. They were all just pretty seamless, because we got along so well on a personal level. Making music together just sort of became pretty natural and it was a safe environment to create in.
Your styling makes as much of a statement as your music. What's your relationship with fashion?
I didn't grow up wealthy, so I didn't get to buy the things all the time. The stores were a big thing for me. I enjoy finding things that speak to me personally and have another life within them. In fashion, the things that I swing most towards are things that are couture. I love fashion so much, because it lends itself to expression in so many different ways. I really enjoy looking at up-and-coming designers, because it's really exciting.
Hope was one of the key emotions that you were conveying with Blood. Do you know which emotion you wish to convey in your next one?
Hope is always going to be a theme no matter what. Lately, I've been leaning more into romance and games of love. I've always discussed political issues, nuanced within my lyricism, so that'll always be there, but hope will never not be a theme.