Following the release of her brand new single The New Strong, we caught an interview with artist and singer Kelsey Campbell, to find out more about the music, her journey so far as a creative, and her hopes for the future. Here’s how it went.
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Hi Kelsey – great to chat, congrats on the video release! For those new to your music, how would you define your style?
I absolutely just write and record what comes to me organically! A handful of times I’ve been asked to write for something, but mostly it is all me!
What you find online or YouTube or most streaming music apps is my original music. As far as style – it’s probably the closest to r&b/pop.
What can you tell us about The New Strong – what does this track represent for you?
‘The New Strong’ was written during a time in which I was experiencing so many life changes, relationship obstacles, and mental health struggles that I honestly could not afford to either address or explain publicly (it wasn’t always *popular* to talk about mental health. With friends. With coaches. With employers. Don’t believe me? Not the type to name drop but I have countless personal experiences in which I was gaslit and silenced… was never an event like it is now.)
It was just these ongoing experiences that brought me to a point where I had to be strong and no longer get talked out of ‘me,’ or be done.
Beautiful visuals – how did you come up with the idea for the shots seen in the video?
Two things I kind of always approach every shoot with is: 1) if I’ve chosen the videographer or Photographer, it’s likely because I love their work and would rather them run with their skills and vision than for me to micromanage.
I’m extremely creative and innovative as a musician and writer, but video is not my specific skill set, so I believe to limit them is to limit the final product. I wanted Stealth to run with whatever he felt based on the wardrobe and location.
We had the option to use a studio, but that would have been an added expense, and I wanted to really put New York on display. I really feel like we accomplished that.
Your sound has changed slightly over time, in terms of the production and genres you incorporate. What inspires you the most when it comes to writing and performing?
The world has changed. The music industry has significantly changed. Every melody or concept that came to me had to be explained, or I had to learn it on piano or guitar. I really didn’t have the means to bring music to life in any way outside of paying for studio time or investing time into an instrument.
Spotify and YouTube and SoundCloud (amongst others), are incredibly young platforms and I’ve been writing and singing since the age of ~6, so the journey from idea to performance was limited to what I had access to.
I remember purchasing my first laptop in 2009, I started spending time on garage band, where I just started piecing together sounds that aligned with what I heard in my head. I used to pay an engineer to do this, and now I could spend whatever downtime I had to do it myself. That new resource and freedom had a huge impact on my music.
Most of what I wrote and recorded from childhood to ~2009 was influenced by the producers and engineers I worked with. The music I created from 2009 moving forward was absolutely a product of what I imagined and could bring to life with the sounds, beats, kits and loops I found on my app.
I was never too concerned with how thick or layered a song sounded. As a writer, my main priority was just to get this song to sound the way I heard it in my head. Once I accomplished that I felt that a song was complete.
Engineers and producers work a little bit differently than that, but for me it was enough. On top of that, I was still competing and very much invested in a career that was a lot different than the music industry, so I didn’t have endless hours to invest into creating music. I just used the spare moments that I had.
Now, it’s a mixture of all of that. I have more time, in response to the resources that artists have, studios are much more affordable than they used to be in my opinion. So often times I will bring my own beat into a studio. Sometimes I will have a producer create some thing. I still record music that I wrote for the most part, and I let these things play out organically.
I’ve always had a strong sense of what I wanted my sound to be, but I like to let producers and engineers have influence because you never know if what they’re hearing might be something better than what you’re hearing. I’m not always open to that type of input, but it’s the best thing that could ever happen to music. To be open and to allow creativity to flow naturally. That’s how you create good music, in my opinion.
What would you say has changed the most for you as an artist since Mantra?
The entire experience of creating Mantra, recording it, shooting the video, and sharing it, taught me so much. I learned a lot about the music and video industry in my home state of Arizona. I learned a lot about hustling as an athlete versus hustling as a musician. I’ve done countless collaborations as an athlete, but the music industry is something entirely different.
I learned very early on that whatever you allow is what will happen. I’m not really that type of person, so from the get-go I had to put my foot down on a lot of things. As a ‘young’ artist (not necessarily in age, moreso in an official capacity), it shocked me the type of manipulation and power struggles that take place, even as an unknown artist. I guess part of me forgot that as an athlete I did have some credentials and, at least within my industry, I was relatively known. As a musician I was unknown and did not have that same leverage.
There were people I came across where it really felt they could take advantage of me, but after almost 2 decades as an athlete, that was not and would never be the case.
Pushing back as a female in the music industry does not necessarily make you a lot of friends, but my dream in life wasn’t to ‘make friends.’ It was to be a musician. There are people in this world that really do want to be liked and polite and invited to all the tables. I’m not wired that way. I imagine if I had pursued music as a teenager, like I had always planned, I would’ve had the same instincts, but I would not have had the experience that I have today.
The lessons learned were countless, and they are lessons that I applied to all aspects of the mini-projects I’m working on. In business, and in life. Put everything in writing. Understand that nothing is free. No matter what the person says that you are collaborating with, one way or another you are going to pay for whatever you are receiving. So you have to choose wisely, what you are willing to pay.
I have learned that industries are different from state to state. In Arizona, you will pay three times as much for a video as you will in New York. The quality won’t necessarily be three times better. So as an artist, I learned that I had to be diligent. I do not have unlimited funding, so that hustle is one that will never fizzle out as long as I am independent.
Those are the big things. I’ve always been pretty steadfast about remaining true to myself. I’ve always realised that there are loopholes to everything. But I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned, and it is something that I have re-learned continuously throughout my life, is that you always have to be creative and you also have to constantly do what is true for you. You have to function and operate in a way that makes sense for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t look up to other people, but we are all wired differently. Throughout your life people will constantly try to talk you out of things that you feel and know innately are right, without having any proof. Your feelings and your belief are enough.
I’m talking within the creative context. When you are true to yourself, you are always in your element and it is within that element that you create the most beautiful outcomes.
Is live performance a big part of your plans?
I’ve always envisioned myself performing live, and to be honest, there’s so much you can do on a stage that doesn’t really work in a studio. With Covid and the social climate, and so many ever-changing aspects to our current reality, I’m not sure how live performances are going to play into my future.
Obviously with social media there are ways to still connect with people even if you’re not on an actual stage. Performing is such a beautiful part of being a musician. It keeps you honest. It keeps you on your toes. I performed countless times, both paid and unpaid gigs. I love that I still get nervous. I love that I still get that healthy little bit of anxiety before I go on stage. Those nerves that I get show me that I am at the right place, and that I am exactly where I should be.
Putting music on a streaming platform is exciting, but it doesn’t demand the bravery that stepping onto a stage does. By nature, I am somewhat introverted, so stepping on stage allows me to be somebody that I wouldn’t normally be if not for music. It allows me to be a performer. It allows me to play a part, a different version of myself. It allows me to do things, to connect with people, and to communicate in a way that I’ve never known as just a human individual. How cool is that?
Many people like to talk about how you should live with no regrets. Honestly, I do have regrets. There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently. Music, however, performing, creating something and being able to share it on a stage, music repeatedly gives me an opportunity for a ‘redo.’
I worry about everything. I am anxious about everything. But when it comes to performing, I honestly feel like there aren’t really bad days. If somebody wants to listen to my music, I am going to connect with them. I don’t have to worry about performing. I just have to be .
What’s your favourite lyric of yours, and why?
I don’t know if I have a favorite song of mine, personally. I tend to go through phases in writing and in recording. Obviously when I write music, it’s a reflection of whatever I am experiencing or have experienced. When I record, I often bring music in that is speaking to me at that season of my life.
The New Strong is not necessarily a song that friends or family told me would be a “big hit.” Yet, for some reason it was just a song that felt so relevant to what I was experiencing at the time that I took it into the studio. I wrote it during a difficult time, but I didn’t record it professionally for years. It just kept coming back to me and I felt like, if this is what I need right now, there is no doubt that other people need this.
One of my favorite songs is titled The One. It talks about how we are all right there. We’re about to accomplish what we’ve been working so hard on. We just have to go a little further. This song, like all of my songs, was written from a very honest space.
If you asked me in a month, I might tell you something different. That’s how music is. It’s infinite. Music is timeless. Music is always relevant. It’s a language that has no language, but speaks to everyone. Right now, I would say The One is a favorite of mine.
What’s something about you that most people don’t know?
Ironically enough, a lot of people don’t know that I am a musician. Unless you grew up with me, most people think I am just an athlete. I am a private person, generally speaking. The things that I am transparent about, I am extremely candid with.
A lot of people don’t know that I studied World Religions and Criminology in college. A lot of people don’t know that I worked for eBay for a year. These were all life experiences that I never would’ve had access to had I not been an athlete, and they really did give me insight and education into various worlds, all completely different from each other.
I’m sure there are a lot of things people don’t know about me. I’m hoping my music will impact people enough to where I’ll be able to share all of it with everyone.
What’s next for you?
I am about to initiate a soft launch of my nonprofit thrift boutique, ‘RePurposed by Kelsey,’ I am publishing a children’s book in early 2022, titled ‘I Am a Worldchanger.’ Acting and music are my main gigs and are continuous, but I am truly excited about the book and the boutique because they truly are passion projects.
I have never had the desire or ambition to run a business. I get a lot of ideas, and obviously I am a writer, but I never envisioned myself being an author, specifically. They were concepts that came to me during some of the height of Covid when a lot of things were shut down. I just began to explore.
The boutique is really about responsible fashion, and it’s not necessarily a completely new concept. I wasn’t trying to re-create the wheel or create another clothing brand that would impact the environment the way so many do. I just wanted to give another option for people that like to thrift, or people that were hitting hard times.
My objective with RBK is to truly have it function as a nonprofit. The book is really in line with so many children’s books that you see on shelves today. It’s diverse, it’s representative, and while it’s more specifically for young girls, I see this being the first of many similar, that could influence and inspire young men, as well as adults, and anyone from any demographic. The entire point of the book is to inspire young girls to have no limits. Sometimes we just need to see someone doing something, even if it’s something we see in our own mind.
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