Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter Kay Kueen, who discusses her new EP, A Place Called Home is Not a Place,â€ as well as her origin in music and plans for the future.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Kay Kueen: My dad is a musicologist and my mom was an opera singer, so music runs in my family. I grew up listening to lots of classical music and started playing piano when I was 4. For a long time I was on the path of being a classical music composer, so Iâ€™ve written music for orchestras as well as commercial music.
I was always into rock and jazz, though, and sang in several local bands in Beijing, including a Shiina Ringo cover band. After I came to the States in 2008 I found myself more and more working elements of my rock and jazz bands into my classical music, and writing more for myself as a singer.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Kueen: When I have immediate ideas in terms of song structures and arrangements, Iâ€™ll type those down in my phone. When vocal melodies come across my mind, Iâ€™d record them with my phone too. When Iâ€™m writing something like an orchestra piece, I write a sketch or short score using keyboard to try out chords, and then expand and orchestrate using a scoring program. When Iâ€™m producing songs, the vocal lines and the chords often come into existence together, they canâ€™t be separated since the chords contain the signature colors for the melodies. Then I arrange the whole song in an audio workstation, usually Logic. The songs often have a basic theme first, but the detailed lyrics actually always come after the music.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Kueen: The content of my songs goes in phases. They are always about a personal experience, an emotional state, or how I feel after watching/attending something. There is always a subject or a character in each song, such as wolves on the Siberian Plain, a carnival, a samurai, a dream interpreter etc. The songs in this EP are influenced by surrealist artists. Each song has a lot of objects and images in it, each of which has a story behind it. Right now Iâ€™m working on a new set of songs thatâ€™s more influenced by modern social events, culture, and common psychological issues within different groups of people.
One of my main interests is psychology. I like studying the human subconscious, dream analysis and early age trauma, and am also interested in life science, biology and cosmology. Iâ€™m a big nerd about astrology and how cosmic activities affect human social psychology. Basically any mysterious topics get me excited. I also like watching psychological thriller movies while eating my homemade soup. All those things have inspired by musical languages and colors.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Kueen: Iâ€™m a nocturnal animal and lone ranger in general. I like wearing dark and simple colors. I like something sensual, spiritual, cosmic, otherworldly, mysterious, and intense. So my music has similar vibes, and lives between genres such as electronica, alternative rock, dark wave, avant-garde folk, trip-hop, neo-soul, vintage art pop etc.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Kueen: The arrangements of the studio versions are often different from their live versions. I do basically all the studio arrangements myself. My husband Brendon records the guitar parts, and my long-time collaborator producer Mark Lee does all the mixing and mastering and has a lot of input on the programming/production side. I always need to do new arrangements for the live shows. Iâ€™m lucky to work with musicians that bring their own awesome ideas after hearing the recordings. The show that I did last week, the band included guitarist Brendon Randall-Myers, drummer Mark Utley and bassist Tristan Kasten-Krause. I feel like musically we understand each other and cope with each other easily.
Review Fix: What inspired your latest single?
Kueen: I wrote Atmospheric Zebra after I left composition school and was basically homeless, moving between temporary places in the States while going through an intense breakup and other personal crises. The songâ€™s lyrics are a bunch of unrelated objects that form the shape of a larger object, inspired by Daliâ€™s surrealist paintings. I named the song for a zebra because of the animalâ€™s black and white looping pattern, which â€“ like a treeâ€™s growth rings or a time tunnel â€“ represents Nietzscheâ€™s idea that with infinite time and a finite number of events, events will recur again and again infinitely. In the music, these loops are represented as multi-layered repeating patterns in the background of the song. The second part of the song kind of falls apart, then puts itself back together for a last chorus, echoing the way I felt my own life moving into chaos and self-destruction, then putting itself back together again.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the rest of 2019?
Kueen: Since thereâ€™s only one month left for 2019, Iâ€™m mostly just focusing on releasing this EP and maybe doing another New York show before the end of the year. Iâ€™m also working on producing new songs for next yearâ€™s releases.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Kueen: I have many plans for 2020. After releasing this EP, Iâ€™d like to perform more shows in the beginning of next year. I plan to release a few new singles next spring, along with a couple music videos. And next fall I plan to release a new album thatâ€™s more of alternative/prog rock vibe, and hopefully will set up a small tour. I also have a career in China so my schedule often goes with the plans there. I might still have concert music and crossover projects to work on too.