V117: Kelsey Lu by Dev Hynes

The classically trained cellist talks overcoming old wounds and scam artists with her musical collaborator.

This editorial appears in the pages of V117, our Spring Preview 2019 issue, arriving on newsstands January 10!

Kelsey Lu wears boots Balenciaga

DEV HYNES Hi Lu! What’s your current mood? Are you in London still?

KELSEY LU Yeah, I am in London. Moods are high, low, and all over. I’m a little manic today. I am probably a little hung over. [laughs] A little overwhelmed but in a good way. What about you?

DH Well I am in Dubai right now, and am playing soon [at Sole DXB].

I was held at the airport when I landed, and shit was crazy. Like, we were told not to wear women’s clothes. But amid some crazy energy, people are doing cool things. There are people expressing themselves in their clothes and, obviously, people are gay here. It made me think of Russia.

KL Wow.

DH It’s crazy it’s like… How can I phrase this without pissing a lot of people off? Places, I’ve found, with the strictest regimes seem to have the greatest pockets of creativity. But that’s a tangent. Anyway, album mode. Are you fucking pumped?

KL I am fucking pumped. I am excited to just have fun. I think the last tour I did, [I started] to feel not constrained by my cello. Not that my cello is constraining at all when I play. But I felt like I was using a new part of my brain, which [felt] like a new challenge to connect with people, the audience, and myself. So I am really excited.

DH I am excited for people to get to know you.

KL Yeah. I feel like I’ve been saying I’m almost finished for a year. Of course, it’s not linear. It’s not a linear sounding album. Did I tell you I know what I am going to call it?

DH What? Woah. World premiere!

KL Exclusive! Exclusive! World Star! It’s going to be called Blood.

DH I felt that. That’s fucking cool.

KL It was going to be Three Six Nine, after my astrological birth number and 69, my lucky number. But Blood felt more real.

DH I also feel like your lyrics are kind of like blood.

KL In what way, would you say?

DH I apologize for using a white male as an example, [but] Hemingway had this theory about writing short stories. It was about [familiarizing] people with the character without overly describing said character. So, using moments that are happening that make you instantly know the person—their feelings, mood, who they are, what they are going through—but doing it with less words. Your lyrics suck you into the mood; the music is the house that’s around you. [laughs] That’s what [your lyrics] remind me of.

KL That’s beautiful. You win. You won that…

DH [laughs] I got through it, I got through it. Do you have any favorite lyrics on the album?

KL [laughs] I have favorites for different reasons.

DH Even if its favorites, like a couplet or something. Like moments.

KL There is a song “Pushing Against the Wind” that I wrote after doing San Pedro [a hallucinogen]. I was up, writing and looking out the window, because I was still kind of high and there was this massive storm outside. I was watching these trees bend over; they looked like they were going to snap, the wind was so strong. It made me think of my dad. And seeing him work. He worked so hard all his life to provide for us. I wrote this song thinking about him and me breaking away from my parents and my life with them and how I grew up, I think. That was my intention with the ceremony—to heal from certain things. I just kept saying, “I want to find the words…” To find the words to get through whatever I was going through. So I wrote that song that night.

And one of my favorite lines from “Pushing Against the Wind” is: “Like a lamb swimming out to sea”—that image of a lamb swimming against a tide, struggling so hard to get past the break and into the open sea. The fear of being this lamb that’s in this open sea and not knowing when the next part of land is coming, but just like swimming hard as you possibly can. It’s not like a “Bam!” It’s not like a bar. [laughs] But visually it’s one of my favorites.

DH Cool. Was there a moment in making the album when it seemed like there was no end in sight?

KL I think it was pretty smooth. Except for this one point, which was a big lesson. I started working with someone, and I put most of my trust, and most of my budget, into them. This person ended up scamming me, basically.

I saw it in the beginning, I noticed the ego. Because it was big; it was taking up the room. Other male egos came into play and I was like, I will just work through it, instead of sticking up for myself. I didn’t listen to my gut. That literally cost me money. My lesson was to speak up when that happens. But sometimes in a creative situation you are like, oh I don’t want to fuck up the flow.

DH “I don’t want to be that person.”

KL Yeah, but sometimes you just have to be that person. It’s your work. [You are] the product at the end of the day.

DH For sure. Yeah, I recommend being that person now.

KL I am thrilled that that shit didn’t work out. We did a lot of songs that were going to make up a lot of the album. The record wouldn’t have been what it is now.

DH Right, totally!

KL It’s funny because I recently saw one of the musicians who was in those sessions. He’s a well-known musician. He didn’t remember the session, and he didn’t remember me. He was like, “Hi, I am so-and-so.” I am like, “Hi, I know who you are.” He was like, “Oh, really? Where?” I was like, “You know what, it actually doesn’t matter.” It really bothered him, and he kept bugging me, trying to remember. He wouldn’t let it go, so I was like, you know what, I will give you a little taste of what happened. I started to play the song, and he was like, “What? You’re amazing, we have to finish it.” And I was like, well, that is not going to happen and it’s really unfortunate. In this industry, there are a lot of egos, everywhere.

DH Wow.

KL I think that when you are given space, [your ego] is allowed to get bigger. I feel like I am just now finding the language for myself to move around [in that space] but also confront it. I honestly feel that [you can] put something out that doesn’t include [ego] and that feels really good… Have you ever had weird experiences like that?

DH Like weird musician shit?

KL Yeah

DH I am in a weird place with all of that. Obviously, on the list of musicians that get shat on, I’m not as [high] as white women, or as women of color. But I’m there on the list of people being shat on. Some days it doesn’t affect me. Other days it’s hard to rise above that. I saw something today that pissed me off. It’s kind of unavoidable. You know, I look to the elders and spirits. I follow people that inspire me. That’s always soothing.

KL Yeah it is. It is.

DH Sorry…I’m literally laying on the floor. It might be time. I just looked out the window and my visuals are playing.

KL What? Okay, you’ve got to go!

Kelsey Lu wears Balenciaga
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