I sat down for a Zoom meeting with artist Kendra Sells to discuss her (at-the-time-forthcoming) solo album All In Your Head. This was our conversation.
TR: This album is a departure from your group BluMoon. What made you decide to do All In Your Head as a solo album?
KS: Really, it was just the pandemic. It was really scary at first, you know. I was just like, “Oh my gosh, if I am 10 feet away from anyone, who knows? It’s gonna happen.” I’m diabetic, so at the very beginning of the pandemic, I was taking everything so seriously, really not meeting up with anyone. And, you know, it’s just a hard time, especially being a musician. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t know, anything” you know, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” And so I was just writing the music, and I guess putting the songs together for myself, just to do it, because I like to make music and it makes me feel better. “I’m just gonna make some music”. And so I normally just write on my guitar, but I got Ableton and a little mini-keyboard. I was just able to kind of build a song head to toe, which I’ve never been able to do before. I guess that’s mostly why, because I was just like, “Oh, this is my first time ever trying this, I just want to see what I can do”.
TR: Is it nerve-wracking going from being in a band to releasing your own solo material? Pursuing that kind of art, but without people around to kind of give you feedback?
KS: Not necessarily, because I guess that’s where I started, for myself, as a kid. I would use like, what is it? Audacity? Yeah, recording my keyboard through the mic. So that lets you know where I kind of started, and I guess I left that for a moment. But I’m still with the band… But I’ve just done tons of solo shows and all of that stuff, so I guess I have been used to being by myself. If anything, sometimes being in the band makes me feel more like “ah, is this okay? Is that okay? Do you like this? Are you okay with that?” And I don’t have to worry about that. It’s just me.
TR: Was it jarring to stop doing shows during the pandemic?
KS: Yeah, for sure. We had a whole tour lined up and some really sick shows here in Austin. I felt the lack of shows in me physically. I feel really good when I’m on stage, when I’m singing, when I’m with the band. And when I’m performing, that makes me feel so great. And I haven’t had that feeling in a while.
TR: Does it take the wind out of you creatively to not have the excitement of performing?
KS: That’s not something that I have known that inspires me creatively. I haven’t suffered in that way.
TR: What does your songwriting process look like?
KS: It really varies. I feel like my favorite thing is, some days, I’ll just walk into work in the morning, you know, I have my little caffeine mellow, and I’m just walking down the street and it’s sunny and I’m just mellow. Just thinking whatever it is I’m feeling and sometimes I like it, and I’ll record. I have so many freakin’ voice memos. I feel like I’ve written some of my favorite things that way. And other times, I’ll just sit with a guitar hung around. Or I’ll hear something in another song and kind of dissect it and rearrange it. It’ll inspire me in that way. And I’m like, “I really like this, but I hear other things with it”. And that will inspire me. Yeah, just kind of varies.
TR: What is some of the music that inspired the album, like if you had to pick like three recordings that were just like, yeah, without these, there would be no all in your head.
KS: Hmm. Well, that’s an important question. Maybe like anything by Kimya Dawson. I feel like her, just the DIY approach, like, you can do that in your bedroom, you can do that, with whatever you have. You don’t have to have this or that. That really, like for sure just gave me that type of courage to even approach this in the way that I’m approaching it. Because, at first, I was just gonna put this on SoundCloud, and be like, “Look”. But then I met with Quiet Year, and they were like, “hey, let’s release this together”. But anyway, yeah, Kimya Dawson. I feel like anything she’s done has really inspired me in that way, like sonically. It’s kind of hard to say because I really do pull a lot of influences.
Tirzah, her project Devotion, that kind of inspired me. of Montreal inspired me, Kevin Barnes. He’s kind of the same way…
TR: What is the worst music you’ve ever heard?
KS: Okay, that’s so funny you’re asking me that. Because, literally, if I’m drunk, I will love anything, I will dance. But something that I don’t like… and I know there’s something…
Okay, no offense. But this guy- I’m not gonna name where I work or anything- but he’ll come to my place of work, and just post up outside of it and perform because “yeah, you’re at my show”. You know, that’s what he’s decided. And I call his genre “2008”. I don’t even hate the songs, but I hate the songs in this way. And a lot of people do. But, um, you know, like that song “You’re Beautiful?”
TR: I’m kind of imagining James Blunt or John Mayer.
KS: Yeah! And nothing against those artists, but something against white men doing those artists in this specific way. That and in the year 2021. It’s just the audacity for you to come to where I have to be, like they asked you to be here and make this your show? Yeah, that’s the only thing I can think of right now.
TR: I feel like the song Wondering//Bad Doctorzz would resonate with anyone who’s ever been to a medical professional. Was the track inspired by personal experience?
KS: I really should look, because I remember when I wrote it, I feel like I wrote it in the middle of the night. But I need to see when I wrote it because I know it did come from a specific moment. Butas of now, it’s just been every experience where I’ve gone to the doctor. I can barely see, I need glasses, and I’ve gone to the doctor, like, three or four times to get glasses, and they just won’t give me glasses. It’s weird. It’s a combination of so many things like that, being gaslit, being told there’s nothing wrong, being all of this, especially being diabetic. I just realized everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, our healthcare system sucks” in the same way that they’ll say, “Oh, the justice system is corrupt”, but there’s not the same amount of scrutiny. Why isn’t pressure put on the healthcare system in the way that it is on the justice system?
It’s frustrating thinking how you’re supposed to go to the doctor to feel good and so many people… it brings them so much anxiety to go to the doctor. I shouldn’t feel so many negative things about going to someone that’s supposed to be helping me, in the same way that police are supposed to be there to serve and protect.., So, I guess just the fact that it fucking sucks is what inspired that.
TR: Something that really struck me about the release is not only that you were releasing on cassette, but you were also doing a physical booklet. What made you choose the cassette format, rather than anything else, or why even release a physical copy in the first place?
KS: I just love having physical copies, and whenever my friends release them, I’m like, I want one. I also have this weird paranoia that one day, the internet is gonna stop working or music streaming is going to just… cease, and there’s gonna be so much music that I won’t be able to hear anymore. That’s why I went to do something physical. And then with the cassette, Quiet Year just said “we could do a cassette” and I was like, “Okay, well.”
TR: Do you have any nostalgia for cassettes? Did you have them around as a kid?
KS: Yeah,I had some nursery rhyme ones. And me and my siblings would record the radio. We’d be like “Oh, my favorite song is on!” and you’d record it.
TR: What is the significance for you of having the zine as an accompaniment to the cassette?
KS: I feel like music is always up for whatever interpretation, but I just wanted to dig deeper into what I was going for with the EP…my willingness to embark on this thing that I’ve never done before. The zine itself is a really important process that I feel that I could have easily tricked myself out of, or let someone convince me to not do. I feel like that’s something that so many people do for themselves. I really wanted to be more open and transparent about the process and how I feel in the process. [the zine] has lyrics and little journaling type things, like open ended questions or whatever, you know, just to really kind of get people just thinking more about themselves in those ways. I just feel like so many people sleep on their own potential, and I feel like that’s just the saddest thing. And I just feel like for so long, I was kind of doing that with myself. And so I just wanted to be transparent about that journey. It’s not just an overnight type of deal.
TR: How do you feel about physical releases and physical accompaniment for music dwindling as streaming becomes more and more omnipresent?
KS: I’m honestly not worried about it. Because it’s like, if it sells, it sells, and if someone wants it, they’re gonna buy it. And people do buy it, I buy it. Other people buy it, and if they’re going to stream, then they’re going to stream it. If you’re into the physical, the physical is there for you. It’s not, in my eyes, a waste to have that option. It does more for the artists to sell the physical copies then to have it streamed. I think it hurts to stream, but I think that it does you a favor to have physical copies because that’s going to make more money from people that care.
TR: Do you feel like your listeners are missing out on anything by not engaging with the physical version and only engaging with the streamed version?
KS: Yeah, I think so. I think of any album that I’ve ever bought, I know all the songs, I love that album, I listen to it from top to finish, you know, multiple times. Not that you can’t do that with streaming, I do the same thing on streaming, but it’s just the fact that you open it up, put it in, press play, it’s literally drawing you into the whole experience of listening to it.
TR: With your zine, and with your videos, too, it seems like a lot of your artwork is present. Do you feel like there’s overlap in what you hope to achieve creatively with your music and your visual work?
KS: I have a lot of work as far as accepting myself as an artist. With music, I’ve been down this road. I am a musician, goddammit! It feels like it’s only been two years… and with art, it’s gonna take me a bit longer. But I have done album covers and t-shirts and other stuff here and there.
Art is more something that I enjoy doing for myself. And I don’t love to do it for not myself. Music I don’t only do for myself.
TR: How early into the pandemic did you decide that this was something that you wanted to do?
KS: I guess I started the songs in May, but I think maybe it was July when I was like, “Oh, I should, you know, release this”. I anticipated it coming out much quicker. But I just wouldn’t finish the songs….I just kept going at it, like, “Oh, I need to do this, and I need to do that.” And I didn’t come to a stopping point until about November.
TR: What has been the process since November?
KS: Well the songs on my end were all recorded and tweaked and all of that, and then I sent them over to my friend Jerry to mix and master. It took like four months for that.
I really didn’t know what I was doing on Ableton. So I just kind of asked him I was just like, “hey, if I did something that was like really stupid or it just didn’t make sense like, Can you help me now?” And he was like, “Well, you know, like a lot of your sounds are kind of just like stock and I have a lot of cool ones”, and so he just fluffed it up, you know, just made it sound better for sure. Not, that sounded bad, but he gave it the final finishing touches, he did like some live drums on Wondering//Bad Doctorzz and on Call Me When Ur Dead. He plays for a band called Glasshealer.
TR: What do you think is after this? Do you have any thoughts on what the next step is going to be for your solo work?
Unknown Speaker 24:33
I want to do some b-sides if I finish them within a time that I feel comfortable putting them out, because I don’t want it to be next year. I’m just looking to gig more with the band. We’re all vaccinated and places have their procedures and stuff for outdoors. We have a song that we’re working on. We’re trying to record. I think we might be just looking at doing some singles for a minute.
TR: Do you think it’s going to be hard to get back in the rhythm of performing with people again?
KS: During the pandemic we did a livestream thing, it was fine. The production of it was kind of funny. Our key player that we were gigging with before the pandemic moved to Florida, so we’ve had someone else sit in, but he’s dope and does a great job. I just missed performing without the fear of COVID. I’m ready to be in a situation where it’s energy and people are there and it’s hot, you know, it’s just, that’s what I love.
— Tín Rodriguez