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Kelly Lee Owens
7/08/22 – FestEVOL @ Invisible Wind Factory
The revolution will be synthesized. London’s techno-pop provocateur makes her grand return. David Weir catches up with the FestEVOL headliner to discuss her roots, soundtracking and her eagerly-anticipated IWF date.
In these uncertain times with so much doubt surrounding the future of live music, any tour or festival getting the green light feels like a significant victory for gig-goers. And here at Bido HQ, nothing has given us more reason to rejoice than FestEvol announcing the upcoming August All Dayers at the Invisible Wind Factory. Topping the bill of the first instalment is a boundary-blurring artist truly hitting her creative stride. Riding high on the success of her critically acclaimed second album, Inner Song, KELLY LEE OWENS is also quickly becoming known as one of the most vocal acts in the fight for a fairer industry. Following the five-year anniversary of Brexit and what should’ve been the opening night of Glasto, David Weir catches up with Owens to discuss her North Walian roots, soundtracking the Anthropocene and her eagerly-anticipated headline date.
So, we caught your interview on Newsnight. There’s been an amazing response to the #LetTheMusicMove campaign from many acts – any stirrings from the government?
Yeah, crazy, both of the interviews were very last minute, but we made it happen. We’re currently still waiting. But appearing on a platform like the BBC, that’s a huge step up for everyone in regard to officials taking notice and making the public aware of what’s actually going on. There’s been so much happening, everyone’s been in survival mode. Music’s definitely been in the background, but it’s been in the forefront of many people’s minds in terms of helping them cope. We need to show people this is already affecting an entire industry. When we have the public’s support, then it’s more pressure again for the government to have to do something about it.
We’ve also been hearing from Music Declares Emergency and the #BrokenRecord campaign recently – is now the time for an industry overhaul?
Totally. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s this toxic concoction of the pandemic, Brexit, the streaming services that don’t pay us correctly; the music industry is broken. The artistry of it has been so downplayed consistently, where really without artists it wouldn’t fucking exist. It’s time to rip up the narrative and have things work for us. We’re obviously trying to support our crews the best we can, but it’s interesting that the last people to be spoken about in the whole thing are often the artists themselves. Maybe artists are just expected to have another job. I’ve worked since I was 14. I was working a full-time job alongside writing my first record; I worked part-time while doing some of my second. I know what hard work is and this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had to dedicate my entire life, my savings, all my energy and sacrifice relationships. This is not a joke. The way people perceive it is a joke. There are petitions, but this is what we’re discussing at the moment, how to actively engage. I think, as an artist, using our platforms to really speak to our fans directly is one way. Fans can also put pressure on their representatives and the government. Behind the scenes we’ve been trying to pressurise them and we’ve been largely ignored. So, having these conversations and making it more public is the next step.
FestEvol’s your first UK gig lined up then?
Yeah. In fact, it’ll actually be the first time Inner Song is performed live! I mean, the irony of calling an album that and it’s never been played out. I’ve gigged in Liverpool before with the Immix Ensemble. That was a very beautiful night for other reasons. See, I come from North Wales originally; we’re not that far away. In my late teens I went to a lot of shows in Liverpool, they were kind of my formative years in terms of getting involved in a live music scene and falling in love with that. So, for me personally, to have my first show in the North West is really special. We’re all going to be so grateful that we can be there together in that space now.
Let’s talk about your collaboration with John Cale on Corner Of My Sky. What did it mean to explore your Welsh heritage together on this track?
It was such an honour because I wanted to explore the connection with it, but I didn’t want it to be in a false sense. People like Gwenno are amazing because she speaks fluent Welsh. For me to make a whole Welsh language album wouldn’t be authentic. So, it was more about bringing other people in. I’d already recorded with John. To be in a studio with him, he produced me in just this old-school way and it was total magic. I remember hitting this high note that I’ve never reached before in my vocal range. He’s that kind of producer, where he doesn’t touch anything but he touches everything. I’m actually still working towards learning Welsh at the moment. There’s something quite painful for me about going home and visiting relatives in Glan Conwy, knowing that they all speak it but not being able to have conversations properly with them. Something about that loss has felt quite poignant to me in the last few years, as I’ve grown older. There’s something about those roots that are calling me.
There’s a strong movement at the moment to reclaim Welsh place names, isn’t there? Like the motion calling for Snowdon to go by Yr Wyddfa?
There certainly is. That was the thing growing up, it was normal to have the conductor on the train pronounce it ‘LAN-dudno’, which when you think about it is absolutely diabolical. That would never happen anywhere else. So, we’re rectifying a lot, which other people on the outside might not see, but it really does stand for something. Apparently ‘Wales’ is even an Anglo-Saxon word that means foreigner. The resonance of words, we know how powerful they are and I believe that they carry magic. Spells and spelling – you’re casting spells as you speak. ‘Cymru’ means more neighbours, kinfolk. It’s about a bond between certain groups of people, togetherness. Wales needs foreigners. We’re talking about the mountain, that’s one thing, but we’re also talking about the name of the entire country. Michael Sheen did a lecture and he taught me more about Welsh history than I’ve known in my entire life. My god, it’s impassioned, I’d encourage anyone to watch it. I’m lucky to be working closely with the Welsh government quite a lot in regard to the arts. I’m currently creating soundscapes for Welsh NHS staff on their breaks to meditate or just wind down to. So, when they do go for a break, they are able to break away from their reality.
You’ve already touched on how the landscape influences your music. This relationship and contrast between digital and industrial sounds, and more natural and organic sounds feels like a key component on Inner Song.
I’m just always inspired basically by what I call everyday sounds. Perhaps that makes it sound boring, but it’s not to me. Melt for example was very direct. I couldn’t go to the Antarctic; it would’ve been pretty ironic to fly out there. So, I thought I’d use free samples for the first time in my whole career. This was a different one. I was asking as the planet is dying, what does the grief of nature sound like? As climate breakdown is happening what are the sounds that come with that? I was interested in finding those and placing them into modern tracks in a space that is actually healing for people. But I’m still bringing it into people’s consciousness, having them connect to that, rather than dissociating from reality.
The Inner Song Remix Series also dropped earlier this month – how was it hearing what other artists did with your songs?
Incredible. I knew I could easily ask my mates, names that people might naturally expect, but then I thought, ‘Actually I want to work with people who are more underground. I want to walk the walk and give any small platform I have to others and uplift them’. I think there are more women than men on the remix album, there’s certainly artists of colour, the diversity and inclusivity aspect was really important. The fundamental part, though, is they’re all fucking amazing producers and artists. That was really exciting to me, having this fresh take. They’re all so different, which I love. I look at people like Björk and she’s always doing that. Offering her work to emerging talent. When I remixed her, she’d personally emailed her label to ask them to get me to do it. That’s the highest honour, really. Another thing that I’ve wanted to do is remix more women. There’s been St. Vincent and Jenny Hval, and one more coming out that I can’t mention. But that should be landing soon. It’s been a bit of a boys’ club; we can do better than that.
Kelly Lee Owens headlines FestEVOL on Saturday 7th August. Tickets available via Skiddle.