Since the release of her debut single, Lucid, in 2015, Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens has been subverting techno stereotypes. Rather than only making austere, club-focused tracks, her productions work to showcase the underlying humanity of the genre, using her ethereal falsetto to deliver compositions that traverse ambience, dance floor movement and immersion all in a manner of minutes.
Her unique use of sound has led to her being featured on producer Daniel Avery’s 2013 debut Drone Logic, as well as having her track Arthur accompany the Alexander McQueen FW16 show. With her self-titled debut LP just out, she took the time to reflect on tranquility in techno, lyricism as a response to music, and the truth in cliché.
Ammar: How did you first get into music?
Kelly Lee Owens: I always wanted to be involved in it but I couldn’t read or write music when I was younger, my voice was my main instrument. It was only when I moved to London in 2009 and started working at Pure Groove and I met some amazingly creative people like Daniel Avery, Ghost Culture, Gold Panda and Andrew Weatherall that I saw their processes of writing and production and I realised this was a way to express myself. When Dan asked me to do some vocals for Drone Logic and I saw him and James [Greenwood, aka Ghost Culture] working together, I became obsessed with writing, production and arrangement. I’m a bit of a control freak and so making my own record has been something that I’ve always wanted to do; if I’m going to put my name to something, I want it to be as much of me as possible!
Ammar: Is your writing process isolated then to keep that sense of control?
Kelly: I was trying not to listen to or be influenced too much by other music when I was writing. I made most of my record at Dan’s studio in Trinity Buoy Wharf; I got to use all of his amazing synths in that little shipping container by the water. Being from North Wales, I miss water and being on the coast so that was a really cathartic and wonderful place to make my first record.
Ammar: That sense of peace and catharsis comes through on the record – is that a mood that comes naturally to you in making your music?
Kelly: Yeah, especially in an urban environment. Listening to the album now I think it’s a mixture of both with the techno coming through as an urban, colder element and then the rest of it is this immersive, watery escapism.
“Being from North Wales, I miss water and being on the coast so Trinity Buoy Wharf was a really cathartic and wonderful place to make my first record.”
Ammar: The last two tracks have this amazing dissolution in sound, like a tide going out.
Kelly: I wrote the last track, 8, a week before the album was being mastered so it was very last minute. I wanted it to be free, my ideas flowed out and I made the track in three takes; what you’re hearing is me live EQ-ing the whole thing. That was the only conclusion I could leave the album on, being immersive but with a sense of openness for whatever’s next.
Ammar: Is making music a therapeutic process for you?
Kelly: It’s only really in hindsight that I can understand what I’ve created. I thought I’d write the lyrics for the record first because I used to write lots but actually the music came first and I had to figure out what the music was saying for my lyrics. On a certain day I would make specific sounds and that would be connected in some way to something that’s happened to me and then it was like a puzzle trying to figure out what the music wanted to say, if there were lyrics involved.
“I want to create an immersive space, like walking into a dream.”
Ammar: In terms of playing the record live, do you think the club can be a space where people can immerse themselves in a similar way as when they’re listening on headphones or at home?
Kelly: I want it to be that, definitely. I want to create an immersive space, like walking into a dream, something quite trippy but not so much so that you’re completely out of it. I want to connect with people that are there; it’s all about us as humans being together in one space experiencing something, and the fact that people have chosen to be there with me means a lot.
Ammar: Who are your inspirations outside of music?
Kelly: People who are strong willed. I admire those people because it took me a while to gather up confidence. Coming from Wales, there are a lot of strong females in my life, people who have been through shit and who don’t give up. I also worked in a cancer hospital in Manchester and there I met people who had lots of regrets and that’s my worst fear. All the clichés are fucking true – you should just go for it!
Ammar: Do you see yourself as a London artist or a Welsh artist – or does that distinction not matter to you?
Kelly: It’s only since leaving Wales that I appreciated it more and I’ve become more patriotic. I wouldn’t say I’m a Londoner, I’m definitely Welsh and proud to be Welsh. We’re also all realising how interconnected we are, we’re here together in this planet and we need to wake up and be nice to each other – that’s why places like London are wonderful, it’s a melting pot of cultures and music.
Ammar: How does it feel having released your debut album?
Kelly: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and just the fact that it’s come to fruition is something in itself to be proud of. If that can inspire other people to pursue their passions, I’ll be happy. The record isn’t mine anymore and that’s what’s exciting, it has a whole other life now and it’s whatever it means to whoever’s listening to it. It would be amazing if people can connect to it and if it finds a place in their life.
‘Anxi’ by Kelly Lee Owens is out now on Smalltown Supersound.