“When I was younger I was really obsessed with Prince. That is the one short man who I don’t care how old he is, he can get it any day of the week.”
This isn’t even the best statement musician Alex Kelly provided during our interview at Saint’s Alp Teahouse. When she isn’t fantasizing about giving Prince that kiss he’s been asking for, Kelly is a full-time, hard-working, very busy solo artist with an upcoming CMJ showcase, for the first time ever.
“I usually come to see other people. I’m really excited about it,” Kelly admits. “I’ve never done it, but I’ve always wanted to it. Every time I come to see my friends I’m like, ‘I should be doing this.'”
Like most artists at CMJ and in New York in general, Kelly has been on quite a ride with her musical career, beginning rather indirectly with middle school cheerleading practice.
“I was best friends with girl named Amelia. She’ll love that I said her name in this,” Kelly starts. “One day after school we broke into a church. We were supposed to be at cheerleading practice and we broke into this church and we started eating their communion bread. There was no grape juice or anything, but the communion bread was there and it was pretty cool. Then I get up on the pulpit and the mic was on, so I start singing. The acoustics in the church were so amazing when I started singing and it sounded so cool. My friend was like, ‘You gotta come with me to my mom’s church and sing.’ She got me join the choir and it all started from there. It just became this thing where I never wanted to do anything else.”
Kelly has come a long way since her first time at a mic, and along that road she’s picked up a variety of often very different influences to mold her personal musical style. Ranging from Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston to Prince and Madonna and, later on, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, Kelly notes that several musicians have had a lasting impact on her art and the way she makes music.
“I write and make my own music. Everything is me,” she says. “I write poetry and short stories. I love that stuff. I love crafting words, and I love putting double meanings. To me it has to be that way. Jim Morrison is definitely one of my influences throughout time. When I first heard The Doors that changed me. I felt something in my brain. I think I first fell in love with the writing. Jim was so metaphysical, and I love that. Whenever I’m writing something, I’ll write it but I’ll make sure you can interpret what I wrote in several different ways.”
For Kelly, the process of writing music is a solitary one. In every aspect of her composition, she isolates herself with her work in order to get the purest form of her feeling into tracks.
“My process is, I go into a room, lock myself in there, I like to be alone. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I will just have a topic and I’ll free write,” she explains. “Mostly I like to be alone and allow whatever is in me to come out. For me the music actually comes first. I’ll just make anything and everything. Combine whatever sounds and pings and tings and pops and synths. I’m freestyling with my music, but it comes from a feeling.”
The music Kelly creates comes from a balance of free-flowing emotion and carefully calculated components through use of certain tools. Some of these tools are standard industry tools. Others are unique and rarely used, but Kelly makes the most of them.
“I have cards that I use sometimes,” she shares. “It’s a little box with a bunch of cards in it. You shuffle them all and take one out and it says something like ‘Think big.’ So if I’m writing a story about love, I’ll change my writing style to reflect that style. Dude, you gotta listen to me, this deck is awesome.”
Without a doubt, Kelly greatly enjoys making music full-time and having time to dedicate completely to her process, but she has worked very hard to get to where she is and won’t easily forget that.
“I don’t have a day job, luckily for me. It took a very long time to get to that point,” Kelly says. “This business is very unpredictable, and I worked very hard for a very, very, very long time under circumstances or positions of uncertainty. The sacrifices that you have to make in order to make that choice and to do that tend to be very extreme. I’m glad to be doing this, but I’ve had to make some choices in life at this point that I never thought I would have to make. When the opportunity arises for you to make that leap, don’t judge how it’s going to happen. Enjoy your dreams as you can have them.”
Though she’s finally made it to that point, Kelly’s hard work continues. As a full-time musician, rather than taking a train in to work, Kelly works from coffee to sleep on her own time and with her own discipline. From answering emails to picking out show outfits, she stays busy, and while the rest of her days and weeks may be consumed administration and management, music is still first.
“For me making music has always gotten special time carved out,” Kelly maintains. “On my weekends even though I’m working to do this, I’ll split my time between vocal practicing or if I’m working on a record or if I know there’s something that’s in me that I just wanna get out.”
Having just finished an album, Kelly is now spending most of that time writing new music for her next studio session at the beginning of next year. In addition to releasing the new album, Kelly has also seen the realization of various other musical milestones.
“So many things have happened since we made it,” she says of the new record, Orange Circle. “Tour, we just wrapped two videos that look sick. I can’t even believe it’s me in these videos. It’s like that thing that’s always been in your head and it’s just been an idea, and now I finally see the manifestation of that. It’s awesome.”
Kelly’s tour consists of two legs, one in November and the other in December, covering a portion of the east coast from North Carolina to upstate New York. The tour kicks off November 10, but Kelly is performing next week for the CMJ Music Marathon. Catch her at Sullivan Hall on Tuesday. Seriously, catch her, because she’s climbing fast.
Where: Sullivan Hall 214 Sullivan St.
When: Tuesday, October 16 @ 7:30 p.m.