KELSY KARTER KNOWS WHO SHE IS, BUT YOU SHOULD KNOW HER TOO
Despite the title of her debut album being Missing Person, Kelsy Karter knows who she is. That’s not to say it wasn’t a journey to get to this point, though.
Missing Person, came about during a dark period of Karter’s life. A point where she struggled with her mental health, felt angry, and wasn’t sure she could find herself again. Throughout the album she crafts storylines, meshing together her self described ‘bad-girl persona’ with her tenderheart and offering a glimpse into her mind’s eye. From love and heartbreak to individuality and self-worth, her music is filled with juxtaposition that embody her as a person- delicate piano fades to electric guitar riffs, dramatic ballads take theatrical twists, and a voice that shifts from dominating to sweet as honey at the drop of a hat. Each song on the album displays a level of vulnerability and honesty that so many of us wish we could possess when discussing the hardships of our lives. Her music is almost therapeutic. Karter believes there’s a power in this, telling LADYGUNN, “Everyone is so sad these days, and the way we get tougher is by talking about it and working through it together.”
Growing up, Karter was in musical theatre. Though she never originally dreamed of being a singer, she came to realize that she could bring the drama and storylines of theatre and film to her music. Many of her music videos picture recurring themes, characters, and even end with the ever-classic, ‘to be continued’. The artist to watch, and rock-and-roll queen is as ambitious as ever and plans to release a music video for every song on her album. Most recently, she released “Goodness Gracious”, a rebellious and liberating love song. Featuring her boyfriend Adam Slack, the lead guitarist for the Struts, a spraypainted ‘Fuck Trump’, and a Covid-mask cameo, the video cheekily showcases Karter and Slack’s romance, all while highlighting Karter’s powerhouse vocals. Fun-loving, yet in-touch with the world around her, Karter holds a deep belief that empathy is everything. Thinking of leaders like Trump, she has no problem using her voice to condemn his actions, always keeping in mind the children behind television screens and the morals they’re being shown.
LADYGUNN recently had the pleasure of catching up with Kelsy Karter to discuss what it means to be a woman in rock, Missing Person and where she’s at now, and what’s up next for her.
I love your vulnerability and honesty. Even on insta yesterday you talked about saying goodbyes. Do you think there’s power in promoting vulnerability?
Ya, I think that people think that they have to be one thing. I’ve always played the role of the ‘bad girl’ in any situation and I hate the stigma of ‘oh, if you’re this thing, you can’t be this other thing’. I’m equal parts bad girl and a complete cry baby. When I decided to dive completely headfirst into my music for real, I was like if I’m going to do it I’m going to do it my way and be myself. It’s too hard to be what other people want you to be. I just started to see how kids resonate with honesty and vulnerability. In the music industry, everyone is trying to be cool. I don’t want to be the cool that’s untouchable and serious. I want my cool factor to come from my vulnerability.
“My dad used to always tell me, “Try to find comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one.” Everyone feels lonely sometimes and when you know someone else feels what you’re feeling, it takes away those feelings a bit.”
Being a woman in rock, do you feel like there’s a glass ceiling or stigmas up against you?
The general perception is that rock is a boys club. And that probably comes from the fact that it hasn’t been the most prominent genre in the past ten years. Everythings a bit more urban-based now. So, with rock not being as much of a mainstream thing anyway, and then having a girl do it, I can understand why it is the way it is. For me, it’s not something that scares me. I can hang. Probably why I’ve had some of the success in rock is just because I haven’t given a fuck. Keep your head down, work as hard as anyone else, and they’ll forget you have a vagina!
Who are some of your singing inspirations? Do you have an artist that’s an inspiration as a singer and a person to you?
David Bowie is a huge person I resonate with on a personal and artistic level, even more so than musically. I’ve always been obsessed with how Bowie took theatre and brought it to rock music, which is a huge mission of mine as well, through my music. Lady Gaga, spirit-wise, has a lioness thing about her that I see in myself as well.
You’ve mentioned that films and theatre are a huge inspiration for you. How does that cross over into your music and music videos?
Well, I was a theatre kid, so everything in my life as a kid was acting. I didn’t even really want to be a singer. I’ve always sung and I’ve always played instruments, but my end goal was acting and directing. For me, I had this AHA moment when I realized I could marry these two things. I could take rock music and musical theatre and make them a hybrid, new, modern brand of rock and roll. It lets me be more theatrical with visuals and storytelling. I take so much of my inspiration from films as well. I watch a lot of movies and theatre and just love to draw from those places.
Were you in any musicals as a kid? Do you have a favorite musical?
Oh ya, that was my life as a kid and teenager. My favorite musical is Annie, but I never got cast as Annie. Obviously, that was a huge blow for me because who doesn’t want to be the lead. But now that I’m not twelve and, you know, can’t play a twelve-year-old orphan, I’d love to play Miss Hannigan. In the future, I would love to play Miss Hannigan on Broadway.
You talked about writing Missing Person at a tough time in your life- can you elaborate on that? How does it feel looking back at it now?
I’m definitely in a much different place now. A lot of the songs on the album were written in the darkest place of my life, I was very depressed and angry and when I listen to some of the songs I feel like I do get taken back to that place. I’ve had to train myself to detach from the music a little bit. A huge part of that was like a guilt thing for me. Some of the songs, there’s a lot of anger in them, and I don’t feel that way anymore. I questioned even putting some of the songs on the record because I know I’m not in that place anymore and I felt guilty for that. My best friend said to me, “Kels, they’re not your songs anymore, they’re for everyone else.” And when I released it, there was just this weight that got lifted off my shoulders and I was like, “Yeah, they aren’t mine anymore. They did what they were meant to do for me and now they’re for everyone else.”
I don’t consider myself brave for putting these out or anything. There’s selfishness in it because when I write a song, I’m writing from my own experience and just hoping people will resonate with it. I’ve seen what kids take from my music so I can kind of gauge if they’re going to connect with it and, for now, they seem to like it.
Do you have a life lesson you would pass on to your listeners at this time?
Be a good person, but take no shit.
Your music video for ‘Goodness Gracious’ just came out today featuring yourself and your boyfriend, Adam Slack (The Struts). It looked like so much fun, how was filming?
It’s funny, so because of COVID, I had to pitch to my label my idea which was, ‘Can I make a music video for every song on the album in a few days, using only the same people so that we can keep to COVID restrictions?’ They greenlit it, so we rented the equipment for it on a Friday and we weren’t going to shoot until that Sunday. But, my DP (cinematographer) basically said – hey we’ve got all this equipment for a spare day, do you want to shoot another song. And I was just like, “Hm, we still need a video for ‘Goodness Gracious’, should we just do it?” So, with no planning or budget whatsoever, we made it. But it was so nice because there was essentially no pressure. I always put a lot of pressure on myself because I’m starring in it, directing it, and it’s my song and I want to look good. I’m a bit of a mob boss on set which is stressful for me and everyone else, but there was none of that with this video. We just went and did a bunch of fun shit and be in love. I think it’s the most tender video I have. It also helps to have a boyfriend who’s also a musician that’s down to do it and gets it.
There’s this counter-culture in so many genres of music that creates a space for political commentary and for you, as an artist, to share your thoughts. I know in the ‘Goodness Gracious’ video, you take a moment to comment on Trump’s presidency. Do you think that’s a goal of your music, to provide a space for commentary?
Ya, I do. I always want to promote kindness and love because I truly think that is the answer no matter what. Even though in my video, I am essentially condemning that man, which I will happily do to anyone anytime any day, it does come from a place of wanting a peaceful world. I think kids are so impressionable and a huge thing for me is just thinking of that little kid watching at home, dreaming of becoming president one day, and that’s who they’re being taught values off of. And that just isn’t okay with me. So because I am in a position of some kind of influence, I want to make sure I’m doing my part in leading and promoting what I think is right, even to the small number of people who will listen. I’ve always been very outspoken as well, so it’s kind of hard for me not to vocalize these things. I’m not afraid of the conversation at all, they are so important to have. I despise the negativity and the nastiness that man promotes, it makes me stammer because I can’t express the fury that it brings me. My video [Goodness Gracious] is cheeky and happy, so I had to throw some dirt on it.
I think people put pressure on artists to be these perfect specimens, but I want to make it very clear to people that I didn’t dream of being a role model or perfect citizen. Like I’ve literally been the opposite, my hands aren’t clean. But I think we have a responsibility to know what we’re good at in the world and contribute that. And I know I’m good at speaking up for what I believe in and inspiring others. And I want to do it through my music. And these things do affect people I love. I have family in America. I’ve spent half of my childhood here. I feel just as entitled to an opinion as a ‘regular American’. But even besides that, we all know what right and wrong are. We should all have opinions and empathy. I want to make sure that even if it’s only one kid, I can influence one kid to choose good.
One of your songs I really enjoyed was ‘Stick to your Guns”- it was almost like a feminist anthem to me. Can you elaborate on it a bit?
That song, I wrote, following my ‘Harry’ fiasco. So we did that, and we kind of jumped the gun in the sense that my album wasn’t actually ready. There was this perception amongst some people in the industry that were trying to influence me and they were saying like, ‘Well, what shocking thing are we going to do next?” And I was just kind of like well here’s my songs and here’s my music. I felt, I don’t want to say violated, but it could have gone there. I was just very uncomfortable with a lot of the suggestions, and like I said before this is a bit of a boys club, so I tried to play the game and act tough but I couldn’t hide the way that made me feel. I’ve always been a tomboy, outspoken, and puckish- I like to make my decisions on my own terms. But the perception of me after that stunt was like I was down for anything and that just wasn’t the case. I felt pressured. It was like one of those things when you’re a little girl and you dream of being an entertainer one day, and then you start to hear these stories of you’re going to be made to do this and that. And that’s what I was in, and the little girl in me was just kicking and screaming. So I talked to my family and they said to me, ‘Well, you’ve always stuck to your guns Kels.” Even when I’ve strayed, I’ve always found my way back so that’s what I did. The next day I went and wrote that song.
Bruce Springsteen always says that the verses are for you but the chorus is for everyone else. Even though the verses directly apply to my situation, the chorus is for anyone who has ever felt exploited or uncomfortable. That’s something we have to encourage each other to do [stick to our guns], especially women in today’s world, we have to lift each other up.
What’s up next for you, any upcoming projects? Any collabs?
I’m finishing up filming for ‘You Only Die Once’ this week which I’m really excited for. In my video for ‘Devil on my Shoulder,’ we had a monkey and we ended it [the video] with a to be continued. We’re finishing the storyline in ‘You Only Die Once’ and the monkey’s coming back, I’m so excited. There’s also talks of releasing a live version of the album which would be cool. We also are considering a reimagined version of the album which was kind of an accidental thing. My friends and boyfriend, Adam, and I were just messing around with some of the punkier songs and reimagining them into something more ethereal and weird. They came out really cool so we were like oh maybe we should re-release this. Most excitedly, I’m going to England next week and I’m starting album two. I don’t want to jump the gun yet as far as announcing collabs, but I’m definitely seeing some in my future. There’s some really fucking cool shit about to happen.
Do you see yourself in England for the foreseeable future?
I do, yeah. I’m making some changes and now that’s my next stop. I’ve lived a very nomadic existence. My family is the same, we’re like a family of pirates. I do think it’s a strength to be able to be this way. And it definitely helps me be able to tour and make music. My boyfriend and I were long distance for a year which either makes you or breaks you. It made us stronger in the end. And now I can just move there. For me I learned to have an unattached feeling to every place because I had to find a way to cope with my family being everywhere, but I admire people who have a strong connection to their home.
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photos / Kristin Gallegos (IG: @kristingallegos )
story / Kinsley Cuen