Sometimes an artist’s greatest trait is their individuality – their utter craziness, that to ‘normal’ folk makes them appear totally bizarre. In my opinion, having this trait is necessary in getting to the top, having the ability to think out of the box, to reinvent yourself over and over again, all of the greats had it – Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Prince to name just a few. With how fast we consume music and how crowded the industry is, maybe now is a more vital time than ever to dip into that inner quirky soul. A music artist who has recently embraced all of this is Kelsy Karter – an utterly loveable ‘oddball’ with one hell of a story.
Born in New Zealand and growing up in between Australia and the USA, by the time Kelsy was a teenager she had seen more of the world than most do in a lifetime. Surrounded by a family of musicians, it’s no wonder she’s ended up with a music career.
“When I moved to America, I had already spent a lot of my childhood here. It’s all a bit blurry, I spent so much time in different places, I describe myself as a pirate at this point. All my dad’s side of the family are musicians – the nerdy classical Jazz type. My Mum played the piano and my Aunties were singers as well, but my Dad was my main influence, he taught me how to play instruments and understand music.”
Despite growing on Jazz and soul music, the genres failed to grip the artist in the same manner that classic Rock and Roll did.
“I sort of discovered it on my own – The Beatles, Elvis, Queen. James Brown was my favourite artist, he inspired me to become a performer not just a singer.”
Thanks to a flourishing dancing career, the artist lived out every kid’s dream – touring the world with Disney. Although, it wasn’t exactly a dream to her, it turned into an experience that opened her eyes to the sort of career she didn’t want.
“I danced for other artists and I really hated it more than life itself. I was so miserable, one day I just thought ‘fuck this’, I didn’t want to be the back up of someone, I want to be that someone. It clicked; I knew I should be a musician. When I sang, people would always tell me my voice was unique, but it was the one thing I was unsure about, acting wise, put me in front of anyone and I’ll put on a show but singing was where I got really shy. One day I realised maybe I’m good at this.”
Sadly, Kelsy’s first steps into the industry were plagued by a management team at odds with her image and sonic output.
“I was miserable and making music I didn’t like. I was young and doing as I was told. Being told this is what your going to wear and this is what your going to sing – it was like something you’d see in the movies. It was against everything I stand for, I’ve always been an independent thinker and a bit of a rebellious spirit, so I left and pressed the reset button, starting over from scratch.”
A sure sign of having a good management structure around you is when they are matching your thought process – however eccentric.
“When I joined them, I was begging them to think outside of the box. I didn’t want to do anything that was normal. In the studio I didn’t want anyone that was straight down the line, I wanted to be surround by weirdos – people you’d feel uncomfortable around, there the people that understand me and bring the best out of me.”
Nothing proves this approach better than the promotional campaign for the artists first hit – ‘Harry’. A song dedicated to Kelsy’s love for Harry Styles turned into one of the most ingenious PR stunts in recent memory. A fake face tattoo of the infamous One Direction frontman reached headlines across the world, even the BBC published an article on it. Overnight millions were aware of who she was, and just how much talent she had.
However, ‘Harry’ came to fruition during a dark time for the artist, a painful break up and a family death sent the singer into a spiral of depression. Inspired to write the song in a cheeky manner as she simply didn’t want to cry anymore. No one could have predicted the impact the single would have. Although, going from relative obscurity to a trending entity overnight doesn’t come easy, as Kelsy acknowledges:
“I was always that kid jumped first and did what others were afraid to do. My management knew that and embraced it. We thought what would the great rock stars, that I loved so much, do? I wanted it to be so unique to me, but I really didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think anyone would really care – it’s just a face tattoo, rappers get them all the time. But I wasn’t that, I was a young, pretty girl and that seemed to be why people were so shocked. It was pretty jarring afterwards, I lost ten pounds in a week – chain smoking and not eating. There was a lot of bullying, death threats, tens of thousands of Harry’s fans thought I was going to come after him.”
Since the dazzling heights of ‘Harry’, Kelsy has built up a loyal following, aided by a series of singles that further cemented her alternative rock sound. ‘Devil On My Shoulder’, ‘Liquor Store On Mars’ and ‘What U’ all draw on her earlier rock inspiration, adding a personal touch – unafraid of shining light on her own mental health issues, the artist has become a beacon of light for many.
“Being open and talking about issues honestly – I’ve always been the person to speak up for what I believe in, I’ve tried to apply that to my music, and I think that’s really helped me grow. Before I had a fanbase I thought I just want to be rich and famous, take care of my family and all that. Then you start to get fans and they become your brothers and sisters; it gives me a sense of responsibility. I really love them.”
Throughout our chat, Kelsy consistently reaffirmed her passion for acting and directing, never hiding her ambitions to one day venture into that world. This burning desire is shown in her music videos, all of which come from her creative input. The most recent production for ‘Devil On My Shoulder’ even features a famous Monkey who previously starred in The Hangover and Night in the Museum.
“I watch a lot of movies – acting and directing is my first passion. Film is my favourite thing in the whole world. I had this idea for a monkey for some time, I wrote the song about anxiety and the voices inside your head, it seemed the perfect moment to connect the idea. Working with that monkey was one of the best days of my life, he was like a person – we’ll work together again. I definitely want to direct feature films in the future, so my music videos represent mini films.”
With an album on the horizon, life shows no signs of slowing down, but then again, life isn’t something Kelsey going to complain about anytime soon.
“I’m honestly living my dream, on a professional level and a personal level. When your work is something that you love, it’s just a dream. I just want to spend my life touring the world, with my favourite people – I’ll be like Mick Jagger. As soon as I can tour again, I’ll be out there.”
It’s refreshing to speak to someone who appreciates every second – it’s a truly lovable trait. Although it’s been a turbulent journey, right now the artist looks on the verge of something massive. Keep your eyes peeled.