New Spell caught my eye about a month ago when they appeared in a playlist that I was going through. Their music really stood out to me. Their strong atmosphere, production techniques and creativity within their videography are really gorgeous and well executed. I knew I had to get in touch with them to get an insight in to them as musicians. I spoke to Leanne Kelly who makes up half of the band. Here’s what she had to say!
Tell us a bit about yourself — what elements of music do you get the most excited about?
I get most excited about anything new. A new song coming together, finding a sweet synth patch, or discovering an awesome new artist, album, or song. I also get really inspired by seeing artists perform live and by meeting other creative folks to collaborate, support, scheme, and dream with.
Who inspired you to start writing music?
I come from a family of music enthusiasts, so I’d have to say that they were really instrumental (pun intended) in inspiring me to start writing. One grandfather was an avid fan of traditional jazz, the other was a multi-instrumentalist. Both grandmothers sang, my parents played the accordion, my mom played piano, and my brother, sister, and I all started piano lessons around age five, so music was just a part of the culture of the family. And I was always singing to myself, so songwriting began pretty naturally early on and I’ve been working on it ever since.
What are you currently working on?
Right now my project New Spell is working on a three-part album called Of Time. We just released Part I, are putting finishing touches on Part II, and are getting ready to record Part III. At the same time, we are refining a relatively new electronic setup for performances, and are working with an incredible visual artist named Japhy Riddle and his production partner Brendan Bellomo on a music video. So there are a lot of things in the works and I’m excited about it all!
How many tracks on the new release, and what is the significance in releasing it in parts (Part I, Part II, Part III)?
“Of Time, Part I” has four songs, and we plan for Parts II and III to each have four songs as well. This whole project is designed to be flexible and to be able to shift and change over time, which is one of the more practical reasons we decided to release it in parts. I wanted to have room to keep writing new music, to allow for the production to reflect the new things we always seem to learn during the recording process, and to have the ability to play around with different release models since the industry is so in flux. There's also a thematic significance to releasing the parts over time. The 12 songs represent clocks and calendars, the lyrics all reference time, the parts each take a past/present/future lens, and music itself is a time-based art. Time is the connective thread through it all.
Give us an insight into the creation process of your music. Do you seem to follow a pattern when you write, or does it change song by song?
Most of my songs start when a melody springs to mind, sometimes with a lyrical phrase, beat, or bass line attached to it. This seems to occur exclusively when I'm busy doing other things (walking down the street, driving, taking a shower) so it’s always a race to hold the melody in mind long enough to record a quick voice memo - I have over 24 hours of song seedlings on my phone. From there, I try to expand the melodies on the piano, and if a song or section is compelling enough, Jake and I jam on it in rehearsal. Lyrics are where I struggle, so writer’s block tools are helpful (my favorite is using magnetic poetry to generate ideas), but if a song just isn’t coming together, I’ll eventually retire it, though it might be poached for parts later. For the past two years, a song that makes it through this process is then sent to our amazing producer Max Savage, who hears the essence of the tune and helps us bring it into its final form.
What is magnetic poetry, and how do you use it?
Magnetic poetry is a bunch of magnets with words printed on them which you can put on a refrigerator (or any magnetic surface) to create poems. I'm a fan of word games and puzzles, so I sometimes use the magnetic poetry words to workshop lyrical ideas - the creative constraint of having a finite number of words to pick from works for me.
You mentioned jamming with your partner in New Spell. Does jamming make up a large quantity of your work?
I know for many musicians jamming is a central part of the songwriting process, but I typically write and arrange songs on my own. I usually have an idea of what I want the basic drum feel to be, which Jake interprets and puts his own spin on. We jam until we feel the beat fits the song and then smooth out the different sections and transitions until there's a good flow to the piece.
What is the development for your new live set up? What synths can you recommend etc?
The biggest change to our live setup is using Ableton Live to replicate our new music, which is layered and wonderfully produced... and impossible to play live as a duo without some computer magic. I don't consider myself to be especially computer-literate, but now that I've gotten into it I absolutely love the program. In addition to the new computer rig, Jake now uses an electronic drum kit, and I have a Akai MIDI controller and Nord Electro keyboard.
My favorite synth is my Juno 60, which is an analog keyboard from 1983. I went into this tiny local music shop one day and completely fell in love. The owner wasn't even sure he was going to sell it, but I was so giddy about it, he relented. Of course, there are tons of great synth plugins, but I love the richness of this instrument and being able to tweak the knobs and faders until the sound is just right.
How do you feel about the current musical climate?
There are a lot of positive and negative elements going on right now in music. That artists can record, release, and distribute entire bodies of work from their own homes is incredible. In that regard, it’s a very exciting time because there is a ton of great music literally at your fingertips. At the same time, there is such an overabundance of musical choices that it’s hard to cut through the noise. And when the payouts on streaming platforms are so low, and there are questionable practices allowing big labels to maintain their monopoly on what listeners are exposed to, it can be disheartening and discouraging. But all in all, I think the thing to remember is that we’re all part of one big musical family. I’ve been sensing a shift in the way we as musicians and music-lovers show up in support of one another and this gives me hope.
What are you going to do to tackle the small streaming income as an artist in an evolving industry?
Personally, I know that I am eager to look for licensing opportunities, but the reality is that I have several day jobs so that I can support my musical pursuits - and I am not unique in this. Of course, as a musician, I want to be heard so I think it's important for my music to be where the listeners are, regardless of the payout. I think the hope is for some of those listeners to become invested enough in an artist to go to concerts, where it is possible to earn income as a musician. And in an age when we are all so plugged in all the time, there is just no substitute for the energy, camaraderie, and inspiration of a live show.
How do you think that a site such as Music Gateway, can impact how the industry works?
Sites like Music Gateway can help bring musicians around the world closer together. Technology now allows artists to collaborate across the globe at the click of a button and having websites that can facilitate these connections is really appealing. In addition, sync licensing is a great way for artists to earn money for their music and to be heard by a wider audience, and the Sync Portal is another potential avenue for musicians to get their songs pitched.
What brought you to Music Gateway, and what do you mainly use the site for?
I joined Music Gateway because I had done some freelance composition, music editing, and vocal work and was looking for new platforms to find for-hire work. I mainly use the site to pitch my existing music catalog to licensing opportunities and to access the Sync Portal.
What has been your career highlight so far?
My musical path seems to be a bunch of small but steady steps forward, so I just try my best to take it all in and to continue growing as an artist. I'm really proud of where I am now in my career, but… if I had to pick something, one highlight would be the time André 3000 came to our show in San Francisco. Outkast was in town for the Treasure Island Music Festival, and I guess he wanted to check out the local scene. I didn’t get to meet him because I was on stage at the time, but his lady friend bought our CD!
What are your plans for the future?
In the short term I plan to finish this current album and to keep seeking out opportunities to further my career. Long term, I just plan to keep making music, always. Touring the world would be great too…
If you could impact the world in one way, what way would you like it to be?
Music has the power to inspire, to unite, and to heal. If I could impact the world in one way, it would be to make music that can do those things. To bring more beauty into the world through song.
What is your relationship like with your producer? How do things come together and how do you communicate what you want?
Max and I are collaborators and friends. We met years ago when New Spell was playing shows alongside his band The Stages of Sleep. One night after a show, he told me that he was also a producer so we called him when we were ready to start on this project. It's been the perfect fit. It turns out that we have very similar musical tastes and we're usually on the same page stylistically. I send him iPhone recordings of our songs, he gives direction during recording sessions, then arranges, produces, and mixes everything. We make creative choices and iron out any differences of opinion via email or during production sessions together. I often tell him that through this collaboration I feel like I am finally making the music that I’ve always dreamt of making.
Can you advise any members of great ways to bring a third party into a music project?
Find someone who believes in your music, who understands your music, and who is excited about working on your music. Be clear about your intentions, your expectations, and your hopes. Communicate about annoying things like money beforehand and don’t take one another’s time, efforts, and talents for granted. Trust your gut above all else and make sure that you respect the third party’s taste in music.
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