Cellist Kelsey Lu Makes Mesmerising Pop Music
Listening to Kelsey Lu's music is a truly spiritual experience. The Brooklyn-based artist makes deeply emotional songs that are best consumed in the solitude of your bedroom, where you can openly sob along as Kelsey plucks at cello strings and sings soaringly about love and longing.
Kelsey visited Sydney recently to perform in Paddington's Uniting Church for Red Bull's Sound Select; a fittingly dramatic setting for her mesmerising voice. We caught up with IRL Kelsey after the show to talk about her classic training, creating transportive music and collaborating with Solange.
Hayley Morgan: Kelsey Lu, you make music of angels. Where did you get your voice?
Kelsey Lu: Why thank you, I guess I get my voice from my ancestors that came before me. At times when I'm singing, I feel like there is something taking over.
And when was the first time you used it and people liked it?
When I was a junior in high school. So I was about 15 years old, and I told my mom I wanted to audition for the school talent show. She asked if I was going to play my cello and I said no I wanted to sing, she laughed. I sang 'At Last' by Etta James and she couldn't believe I could sing, and neither did anyone else who heard me at that show.
You're a cellist, when and why did you first pick up that instrument?
When I was in my violin lesson at about the age of nine. I saw it propped up in a corner and I was so transfixed by it's beauty and constant demand of visual attention that I brought it home and that was all I wrote.
It's an unusual choice, did you ever think it would push you into a "pop" world that involves Solange and Dev Hynes?
For many years I was studying classically and didn't think I would do anything else. But then, when I went to college, I started experimenting with different sounds and styles of playing. I remember improv-ing over Radiohead and feeling a 'this is it' kind of feeling, but it was just a natural flow of self exploration.
So when did you decide to drop the discipline?
Well, like I said, it started in college. I would go to the practice room or one of the small music halls and sit at the piano and play my cello like a guitar, and experiment with sounds. I stopped playing classical music as much as I used to probably because I was more into music outside the lines of an academic setting. There were also some traumatic feelings that classical music connected me to, so I instinctively stepped away from it for a while, but it's never really gone away, it's always there.
Your live shows seem to gravitate towards alternative venues. In Sydney you played in a church in Paddington, which isn't your first church performance, what is it about these locations?
Well considering my music is what one would call "different" I believe it deserves a space in which it can be really taken in as it is, wholly. And, when you step into a church, you don't necessarily want to while the fuck out, or maybe you do? I dont know, but usually you immediately feel like you have to be quiet or attentive to something. It kind of takes you to another world — whether that be inside of yourself or inside of something else — it just takes you somewhere. and I feel like my music does that same. So it only makes sense to have the two come hand-in-hand.
Everyone is dying to know, what is it like to work with Solange?
She's so powerful! Haha! She is extremely powerful and also the most kind and open. That experience was one I will never forget, it is stamped into my brain forever.
Who's the next dream collaboration? Anything in the works?
I would love to collaborate with Lonnie Holley. He was introduced to me by an old friend, Jonathan Kirby, who was trying to get us together for an event at a Museum in Winston-Salem, NC. It didn't work out, but I am intent on it happening at some point in the future. I would love to work with more female artists though. I doooo have something in the works that IS a complete dream, it's for a friend's project... Actually, a couple of dreams! I love my friends, and feel so lucky to have such beautiful souls around to be able to work with and spread the love. Kelela's album is coming out and I'm playing some cello on a couple of tracks, and then my girl LaFawndah is working on her project and we have something cooking up which I'm beyond excited for.
What do you believe in?
The power of Love the Universe and of Self.
Photography: James J. Robinson