Modern Griots Interview: Alex Kelly


Source: Buffalo Rising

Three words could describe singer-songwriter Alex Kelly — fiery, funky and fierce. The fellow Queens, NYC native covers a range of styles in her music from electronic to dance to rock to pop. Her first step in setting her music career into motion was meeting  Robby Takac, bassist of the Goo Goo Dolls, who picked Kelly as lead singer and co-songwriter in the electro-pop band Amungus. The band together released The truth is…EP, which included singles like “Bad Kitty,” “Serious Chemistry,” and “Black Velvet Smooth.” After three years with the group, Kelly ventured on her own and released her solo EP, Sticky Butterfly, in 2010, which featured the song “Funky Hydrophonic” and well-received on Afropunk and Z100. Two years later, she released her full-length album, Orange Circle in May 2012. Working with pILLOW tHEORY lead Kelsey Warren, Kelly has  created an album that is a good mix of bold dance music, mystical meanings and social commentary. Following her performance at NYC’s CMJ Music Marathon this year, she will be embarking on her eight-city, East Coast tour this month and December. In the meantime, enjoy my interview with her below in which she discusses her music, her inspirations and meaning behind her album:

1)    How do you describe yourself as an artist?

I’d like to answer this one with a quote from The Book Of Lies that I’ve always felt really describes how I feel about being an artist: “I am not I; I am but a hollow tube to bring down Fire from Heaven.”–Aleister Crowley.

2)    I read that you are from Queens, too. How did living in Queens, NYC, and New York in general, shape you as an artist?

I remember things being really rough in Queens. In the 80’s, my mom rented an apartment from my grandfather, who owned a few small businesses in the area. I think that growing up there for the first 12 years of my life gave me a real drive to succeed. My cousin was robbed and beat up once for his sneakers. After going through things of that nature, I knew I never wanted to live in a place like that when I grew up. Things are a lot different now in Queens though. Like many places in NYC, it’s going through a period of gentrification.

3)    How has the musical experience changed for you from working with Amungus to a solo project?

With Amungus, I didn’t have the option of make any major decisions. Robby mostly gave direction as far as what he wanted to hear and how we should go about recordings, performances and what not, so the creative control element was something I really craved. Although being solo is everything I thought it would be in terms of actually creating my own music, I feel super lucky to have had Amungus as a foundation. Robby really helped me discover who I was as a performer and artist. Artist development is pretty much a thing of the past these days so I value having had that experience, as I often refer back to what I learned during that period.

4)    How did you end up working with pILLOW tHEORY’s Kelsey Warren on this album and tour?

Sticky Butterfly Source: Buffalo Rising

Kelsey and I started working together at the start of 2011. After our gigs we’d get feedback like “That was insane! You guys are so great together!” One guy even said he didn’t know whom to look at since we were both so animated on stage. I figured hey, if I’m up there dancing around in a tiny little dress and you still don’t know who to look at, Kelsey must be pretty good! We both decided it was time to make some new music that reflected a blending of the both of us, and the rest is history.

5)    Your performances remind me of Betty Davis and Prince – fierce and sexy. What artists and performers have influenced your performance and fashion style?

Ok, that compliment is extraordinary and thank you. I’m not a guitar player, but I grew up studying great performers like Prince, Michael Jackson, and Freddy Mercury. A great performance is the whole reason why going to a concert is better than just listening to music on your iPod. I always thought that if I could just embody a pinch of what those guys were doing on stage, I might be great one day too. It means so much to me to give my audience a real show, like put it all out there and hope that someone is inspired. To me, Betty Davis was a genius. Her lyrics were fearless and I resonate with that so much. She had great big balls and a sense of style that was unique. I can only hope to be as badass as that woman! My style is personal. I don’t like to follow trends. Recently it has become fashionable to wear shorts and tights (yuck!)  I cringe at seeing shorts in the winter. My style comes from how I feel so it’s more about my own world, but varies from the stage to real life. In real life, I’m more of a hippie chick. I rarely wear bras and live in my skinny’s and Tshirts.  Jewelry made of feathers with metal and leather really turns me on, but when it comes to the stage, it’s all about the sexy rockness.

6)    Who designed your albums for Sticky Butterfly and Orange Circle?

I work with a longtime friend and graphic designer, Don Zinteck out of Buffalo, New York.  Don has been with me from the very beginning, and he totally gets me.   Sometimes, he can even tell me what I want before know! That is the beauty of long-term creative partnerships. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have him on speed dial, man.

Orange Circle Source: Indecent Xposure

7)    What is the meaning behind your latest album Orange Circle? How did you come up with the concept for the album?

Orange Circle is the result of a series of events centering around the number 11. One day I started seeing 11:11 everywhere. It lead me to read a book called The Law Of One, which claims to have been written by RA of ancient Egypt. Now I know this sounds weird, but maybe this is just the kind of blog that can handle a story like this. The name of the album is an ode to RA, and all of the songs are allegories based on concepts in the book. I felt like I was being lead by some unseen force while creating Orange Circle. In fact, the theme of “One-ness” and the unseen force is still prominent in my life.  If you want to find out more about the meaning of the album, listen to it! See how each song makes you feel, as they are all quite different from one another. You can also read the book if you dare. You have been warned! (haha)

8)    My blog covers topics from a futurist/surrealist lens, which includes science fiction, fantasy, mythology, and other speculative works. Do you see yourself or your music in that light?

Uum, yes.

9)    What can fans expect from your tour?

Expect to be rocked!

10) Where can we find out more about you?

Go to Alexkellymusic.com or better yet, come to a show.

Watch her video for the single “Catalyst”

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