Inner Song

Inner Song

It took Kelly Lee Owens 35 days to write the music for her second album. “I had a flood of creation,” she tells Apple Music. “But this was after three years that included loss, learning how to deal with loss and how to transmute that loss into something of creation again. They were the hardest three years of my life.” The Welsh electronic musician’s self-titled 2017 debut album figured prominently on best-of-the-year lists and won her illustrious fans across music and fashion. It’s the sort of album you recommend to people you’d like to impress. Its release, however, was clouded by issues in Owens’ personal life. “There was a lot going on, and it took away my energy,” she says. “It made me question the integrity of who I was and whether it was ego driving certain situations. It was so tough to keep moving forward.” Fortunately, Owens rallied. “It sounds hippie-dippie, but this is my purpose in life,” she says. “To convey messages via sounds and to connect to other people.” Informed by grief, lust, anxiety, and environmental concerns, Inner Song is an electronic album that impacts viscerally. “I allowed myself to be more of a vessel that people talk about,” she says. “It’s real. Ideas can flow through you. In that 35-day period, I allowed myself to tap into any idea I had, rather than having to come in with lyrics, melodies, and full production. It’s like how the best ideas come when you’re in the shower: You’re usually just letting things be and come through you a bit more. And then I could hunker down and go in hard on all those minute nudges on vocal lines or kicks or rhythmical stuff or EQs. Both elements are important, I learned. And I love them both.” Here, Owens treats you to a track-by-track guide to Inner Song. Arpeggi “In Rainbows is one of my favorite albums of all time. The production on it is insane—it’s the best headphone and speaker listening experience ever. This cover came a year before the rest of the album, actually. I had a few months between shows and felt like I should probably go into the studio. I mean, it’s sacrilege enough to do a Radiohead cover, but to attempt Thom’s vocals: no. There is a recording somewhere, but as soon as I heard it, I said, ‘That will never been heard or seen. Delete, delete, delete.’ I think the song was somehow written for analog synths. Perhaps if Thom Yorke did the song solo, it might sound like this—especially where the production on the drums is very minimal. So it’s an homage to Thom, really. It was the starting point for me, and this record, so it couldn’t go anywhere else.” On “I definitely wanted to explore my own vocals more on this album. That ‘journey,’ if you like, started when Kieran Hebden [Four Tet] requested I play before him at a festival and afterwards said to me, ‘Why the fuck have you been hiding your vocals all this time under waves of reverb, space echo, and delay? Don’t do that on the next album.’ That was the nod I needed from someone I respect so highly. It’s also just been personal stuff—I have more confidence in my voice and the lyrics now. With what I’m singing about, I wanted to be really clear, heard, and understood. It felt pointless to hide that and drown it in reverb. The song was going to be called ‘Spirit of Keith’ as I recorded it on the day [Prodigy vocalist] Keith Flint died. That’s why there are so many tinges of ’90s production in the drums, and there’s that rave element. And almost three minutes on the dot, you get the catapult to move on. We leap from this point.” Melt! “Everyone kept taking the exclamation mark out. I refused, though—it’s part of the song somehow. It was pretty much the last song I made for the album, and I felt I needed a techno banger. There’s a lot of heaviness in the lyrics on this album, so I just wanted that moment to allow a letting loose. I wanted the high fidelity, too. A lot of the music I like at the moment is really clear, whereas I’m always asking to take the top end off on the snare—even if I’m told that’s what makes something a snare. I just don’t really like snares. The ‘While you sleep, melt, ice’ lyrics kept coming into my head, so I just searched for ‘glacial ice melting’ and ‘skating on ice’ or ‘icicles cracking’ and found all these amazing samples. The environmental message is important—as we live and breathe and talk, the environment continues to suffer, but we have to switch off from it to a certain degree because otherwise you become overwhelmed and then you’re paralyzed. It’s a fine balance—and that’s why the exclamation mark made so much sense to me.” Re-Wild “This is my sexy stoner song. I was inspired by Rihanna’s ‘Needed Me,’ actually. People don’t necessarily expect a little white girl from Wales to create something like this, but I’ve always been obsessed with bass so was just wanting a big, fat bassline with loads of space around it. I’d been reading this book Women Who Run With the Wolves [by Clarissa Pinkola], which talks very poetically about the journey of a woman through her lifetime—and then in general about the kind of life, death, and rebirth cycle within yourself and relationships. We’re always focused on the death—the ending of something—but that happens again and again, and something can be reborn and rebirthed from that, which is what I wanted to focus on. She [Pinkola] talks about the rewilding of the spirit. So often when people have depression—unless we suffer chronically, which is something else—it’s usually when the creative soul life dies. I felt that mine was on the edge of fading. Rewilding your spirit is rewilding that connection to nature. I was just reestablishing the power and freedoms I felt within myself and wanting to express that and connect people to that inner wisdom and power that is always there.” Jeanette “This is dedicated to my nana, who passed away in October 2019, and she will forever be one of the most important people in my life. She was there three minutes after I was born, and I was with her, holding her when she passed. That bond is unbreakable. At my lowest points she would say, ‘Don’t you dare give this up. Don’t you dare. You’ve worked hard for this.’ Anyway, this song is me letting it go. Letting it all go, floating up, up, and up. It feels kind of sunshine-y. What’s fun for me—and hopefully the listener—is that on this album you’re hearing me live tweaking the whole way through tracks. This one, especially.” L.I.N.E. “Love Is Not Enough. This is a deceivingly pretty song, because it’s very dark. Listen, I’m from Wales—melancholy is what we do. I tried to write a song in a minor key for this album. I was like, ‘I want to be like The 1975’—but it didn’t happen. Actually, this is James’ song [collaborator James Greenwood, who releases music as Ghost Culture]. It’s a Ghost Culture song that never came out. It’s the only time I’ve ever done this. It was quite scary, because it’s the poppiest thing I’ve probably done, and I was also scared because I basically ended up rewriting all the lyrics, and re-recorded new kick drums, new percussion, and came up with a new arrangement. But James encouraged all of it. The new lyrics came from doing a trauma body release session, which is quite something. It’s someone coming in, holding you and your gaze, breathing with you, and helping you release energy in the body that’s been trapped. Humans go through trauma all the time and we don’t literally shake and release it, like animals do. So it’s stored in the body, in the muscles, and it’s vital that we figure out how to release it. We’re so fearful of feeling our pain—and that fear of pain itself is what causes the most damage. This pain and trauma just wants to be seen and acknowledged and released.” Corner of My Sky (feat. John Cale) “This song used to be called ‘Mushroom.’ I’m going to say no more on that. I just wanted to go into a psychedelic bubble and be held by the sound and connection to earth, and all the, let’s just say, medicine that the earth has to offer. Once the music was finished, Joakim [Haugland, founder of Owens’ label, Smalltown Supersound] said, ‘This is nice, but I can hear John Cale’s voice on this.’ Joakim is a believer that anything can happen, so we sent it to him knowing that if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t fucking touch it. We had to nudge a bit—he’s a busy man, he’s in his seventies, he’s touring, he’s traveling. But then he agreed and it became this psychedelic lullaby. For both of us, it was about the land and wanting to go to the connection to Wales. I asked if he could speak about Wales in Welsh, as it would feel like a small contribution from us to our country, as for a long time our language was suppressed. He then delivered back some of the lyrics you hear, but it was all backwards. So I had to go in and chop it up and arrange it, which was this incredibly fun challenge. The last bit says, ‘I’ve lost the bet that words will come and wake me in the morning.’ It was perfect. Honestly, I feel like the Welsh tourist board need to pay up for the most dramatic video imaginable.” Night “It’s important that I say this before someone else does: I think touring with Jon Hopkins influenced this one in terms of how the synth sounded. It wasn’t conscious. I’ve learned a lot of things from him in terms of how to produce kicks and layer things up. It’s related to a feeling of how, in the nighttime, your real feelings come out. You feel the truth of things and are able to access more of yourself and your actual soul desires. We’re distracted by so many things in the daytime. It’s a techno love song.” Flow “This is an anomaly as it’s a strange instrumental thing, but I think it’s needed on the album. This has a sample of me playing hand drum. I actually live with a sound healer, so we have a ceremony room and there’s all sorts of weird instruments in there. When no one was in the house, I snuck in there and played all sorts of random shit and sampled it simply on my iPhone. And I pitched the whole track around that. It fits at this place on the record, because we needed to come back down. It’s a breathe-out moment and a restful space. Because this album can truly feel like a journey. It also features probably my favorite moment on the album—when the kick drums come back in, with that ‘bam, bam, bam, bam.’ Listen and you’ll know exactly where I mean.” Wake-Up “There was a moment sonically with me and this song after I mixed it, where the strings kick in and there’s no vocals. It’s just strings and the arpeggio synth. I found myself in tears. I didn’t know that was going to happen to me with my own song, as it certainly didn’t happen when I was writing it. What I realized was that the strings in that moment were, for me, the earth and nature crying out. Saying, ‘Please, listen. Please, see what’s happening.’ And the arpeggio, which is really chaotic, is the digital world encroaching and trying to distract you from the suffering and pain and grief that the planet is enduring right now. I think we’re all feeling this collective grief that we can’t articulate half the time. We don’t even understand that we are connected to everyone else. It’s about tapping into the pain of this interconnected web. It’s also a commentary on digital culture, which I am of course a part of. I had some of the lyrics written down from ages ago, and they inspired the song. ‘Wake up, repeat, again.’ Just questioning, in a sense, how we’ve reached this place.”

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