“When I’m swimming naked in the ocean or alone in a cabin in the woods or dancing at a rave at 4:59 am.” These are the moments musician Kelsey Lu is at her freest. A cellist and singer who sounds like nothing and noone you’ve ever heard before, her music follows a similar track out to the edges: honest confessions and eerie, ethereal instrumental passages that carry the listener into the depths of the unknown.
Lu, who released debut EP Church in mid 2016, discovered that sound in the course of following the women who inspire her: Billy Holiday, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Whitney Houston, Lauren Hill and Erykah Badu, among others. “Through them I found my own voice within allathat,” she explains. “I found it through pain, practice and a certain sense of extreme vulnerability.” In single, Dreams, she sings, “Just wanna get my mind off of you, out drinking every night hoping I’ll run into you, I know you’re no good boy, I can’t get enough of you.” They’re words relatable to anyone who’s felt the pain of loving one they shouldn’t, but in Lu’s echoing, mournful tones, they might have come from another dimension.
Actually, Lu was born Charlotte, North Carolina – brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and in the constant presence of music. “There was a lot of love in the house, and cicadas were a frequent soundtrack, or at least the soundtrack that stood out the most to me aside from the waves of jazz that would come pouring out of my dad’s studio,” she remembers.
At 18, she left home to pursue her own musical career, enrolling at the North Carolina School of Arts where she began refining her sound amid a deluge of new influences. Now based in New York, beyond that voice and the strings of her cello, Lu creates sound with a loop pedal, enhancing that ethereal quality and allowing her to perform alone. While wholly mesmerising in solitude, Lu has amassed an impressive repertoire of collaborations with the likes of Brooklyn band Wet, Kelela, and Blood Orange – lending her vocals to the track Chance on new album, Freetown Sound.
As for the future, Lu has her mind set on a legacy: finishing her debut album, “continuing fighting for justice, to infiltrate the patriarchy and find new ways of taking down the walls of hatred that have long held the minds bodies and souls of many captive, to spread love and empathy. To become a cloud that rains waters of life.”
Kelsey Lu performs alongside Bec Sandridge and Jack Grace tonight for Red Bull Sound Select’s first event of 2017 at Sydney’s Paddington Uniting Church.Tickets are $3 with RSVP, or without is $10 entry at the door.
“Music was very prevalent with my mom playing piano and my dad paying African hand drums and there being instruments kind of laying around.”