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Kelly Lee Owens

Layers of Escapism

Jul 06, 2017 Photography by James Loveday (for Under the Radar) Issue #60 - Father John Misty
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“I didn’t really know, in a way, what production meant until I started working with Daniel Avery on Drone Logic,” explains Kelly Lee Owens. The 28-year-old Londoner grew up in North Wales, but traveled about, studying in Manchester and then moving to London to focus on music. She discovered her love for dance music thanks to working in a record store called Pure Groove with Avery, leading to her contributions on the techno producer’s 2013 record Drone Logic. Following their collaboration, Owens dropped two white label 12-inches alongside her Oleic EP. But this year is the first time Owens is releasing a full-length.

It’s almost surprising that she’s only now releasing her first LP, but it was really Avery who opened her up to the world of production. “Sitting in on the sessions was when I got really into analog production,” explains Owens. “It quickly became an obsessionespecially with analog, it’s very tangible and works within the Logic program as well. I realized very quickly that I very much knew what I wanted and what I wanted the sound to be.”

A body of work fully envisioned by Owens, her self-titled debut is a “sonic diary” that oscillates between dark techno, ethereal pop, and Krautrock, always leaving you wondering what’s next. Owens’ breathy vocals paired with pulsating beats reveal an album riding the emotional spectrum. Inspired by Björk’s Vespertine and the thousands of tiny beats and home recordings that she compiled over two years, Owens’ first record includes a plethora of unconventional sound bites (in the past she has used all sorts of weird noises, including a cracker melting into soup). “On the first track there are tiny Japanese bells that I found that I literally whacked into a pencil and a rubber microphone [to create unconventional noises]...I added reverb and that’s kind of the outro to that track,” describes the up and coming producer. “It keeps it interesting for me, if nothing else.”

Instead of starting off with lyrics, Owens wrote the music firstit was her way of experiencing her emotions. “I needed that therapeutic sense of wanting to talk about specific situations that have affected me and relationships seemed to be a theme that came up,” she says. “A lot of songs reflected specific relationshipsmaybe that was just my way of processing stuff. Also, interestingly, it led into a relationship with myself.” While the idea of connections was weaved into the record, it thematically wasn’t a conscious decision for her. “I put myself in the deep end and just hoped for the best and things start coming together,” says Owens.

For the album’s first single “Anxi”a track that exhibits layers of emotions, particularly anxietyshe recruited Norwegian artist Jenny Hval and her haunting vocals. “[Anxiety] is just part of who I am, it sounds kind of cheesy in a way but we all have these different elements to ourselves, and I think it’s important to talk about these issues and bring them up in tracks instead of just being like, ‘this is a happy song!’ or, ‘this is purely a sad song,’” says Owens. “There’s just so many layers to myself and the underlying anxiety which I felt in the last few years living in London. I think it’s not talked about enough about how anxious and scary the world still is.”

And in some ways Owens’ album serves as escapism, not only for herself, but for her listeners as well. What makes Owens’ music so impactful is that she isn’t afraid of the melancholy or sad element that comes with the music she crafts. “Music is my emotion,” she says. “It’s an okay place to be.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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