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Singer-songwriter Kalen’s six-song debut EP, Falling From The Sun, is rock noir. The bruised beauty of her lyrics, her dark and shimmering compositions, the haunting expressiveness of her singing, and her dynamically cinematic producing skills imbue the music with a visual layer of intrigue. It is a moody blend of blues, trip-hop and rock with bits of dub step and world beat that’s artfully accessible. “Having been in a funk band for so long, I love a purposeful groove. I love writing licks and rock riffs and incorporating those into more ballad-y and introspective music,” Kalen explains.
The New York-based singer first gained notoriety fronting the avant-funk band Ladybug Stingray, a band that combined performance art with abstract dance grooves. With that band she performed from coast to coast, from NYC’s Webster Hall, to Brooklyn’s The Knitting Factory, to LA’s Whiskey A-Go-Go. She also headlined The Wassaic Project’s summer festival twice. As a solo artist, she’s channeled the adventurousness, theatrics, and dynamics of Ladybug Stingray into a distinct personal aesthetic that’s groove based but also ambient and boldly emotional.
Kalen is fan-funding her solo bow via a Kickstarter campaign. Her solo work has been favorably compared to Grace Jones, Peter Gabriel, and Portishead. Reviews of her solo career have been impressive. Streetcred Music Critique enthused: “Kalen paints us a picture with her brilliant lyrics. She is a talented young artist who can wail the blues like a veteran.” Ishrat Ansari, owner and booker of West Village landmark, Café Vivaldi, insightfully remarked: “Kalen is a very promising singer-songwriter who brings in influences in her writing and music ranging from Pablo Naruda to Eric Satie.” Daily Vault enthused “She has an excellent range and handles ballads as well as she does roof-raising tracks.” Fusion-jazz luminary, and Zawinul Syndicate member, Gary Poulson recently said: “Kalen has ‘otherworldly’ vocal prowess. She has the rock energy of Janis Joplin, the soul diva gospel chops of Alicia Keys, the ethereal expression of Kate Bush, and she can rap like nobody’s business.”
Kalen writes conceptual but digestible songs about love, life, politics and the absurd. “The whole EP, Falling From The Sun—the image of crumbling things—is not negative, things need to fall apart before being rebuilt,” Kalen says thoughtfully. “The EP is about personal things and a commentary on the world. It’s involution and evolution.”
The atmospheric and harrowing “Rabid Girl” is stunningly theatrical. Here Kalen elongates her voice from brawny low tones to silky highs, and her vibrato is delicately controlled but deeply affecting as an emotional exclamation point. Kalen’s phrasing manages to be sassy but also sorrowful. The track details a young and beautiful drunken girl unraveling in New York City. Kalen’s writing is visceral, blunt, and artful with arresting lines such as: “Awake beaten tomorrow/To relive/And re-die/Beaten tomorrow” and “Her hangovers must come like war/Helicopters slicing their way to the jungle floor/But never to carry her to safety.”
“I was on Delancey Street and there was this gorgeous wasted rabid girl. It was terrible. She had to be restrained from running into the street. I went home and wrote the lyrics. The whole thing made me feel nauseous; that song is a piece about how raw reality can be…it took me bearing witness to this girl, that I was able to recognize a younger self in her,” Kalen explains. She is currently working on a powerful video treatment for the song where women confess their rabid stories. “To empower, you need to start with honesty and build off that foundation,” she says.
Falling From The Sun also features highlights like the sensual and spiritually open “It Takes A Lifetime” and the smoldering bluesy “Hit The Road.” Though each track inhabits its own unique emotionally cathartic world, there is a longing and danceable undertow that makes the EP cohesive. On a larger scale, this strong sense of self bespeaks Kalen’s cultivated artistic presentation. Her music is stark with splashes of raw vulnerability, it’s sublime, cerebral, and manages to be both disturbing and comforting at the same time. Her onstage fashion is just as dramatic. She cuts a striking image with power piece jewelry, torn clothing, chunky boots, and cherry red lipstick. “It’s a gypsy, flamenco look, like Billie Holiday but modernized with rock n’ roll,” Kalen explains. “I love the ripped clothes, the chains, and the flowers and femininity. I love bringing them together, marrying the gentleness with the edginess. These things make women special, we can be romantic and bold”
Kalen grew up in New Hampshire and started studying piano at 7. “It was a great experience, I loved my piano teacher, he saw in me a desire to improvise. I wrote my first song when I was 11, it was called the ‘Storm’ in D minor, the saddest of all keys,” Kalen says laughing, “My piano teacher and I produced it together with sound effects. It was a marriage of peaceful minor chords, and dramatic lightening smashing. Ever since then, I’ve been interested in the beauty and the drama.”
That initial formative experience prefigured Kalen cleverly irreverent approach to self-producing. The EP is a detailed and nuanced recording with strings, accordion, piano, guitar, and edgy experimentation. It was recorded both in her apartment and at Tainted Blue Studios in New York. “My engineer (Matt McCorkle) and I set up stereo mics and recorded hammering mallets on pillows to get muffled hits. I also did stuff like recording pinching sand my between fingers, sliding sand across wood, and recording the sea. There is a lot of sound design on the EP. We combined that, along with electronic arpeggios and layered it with organic instruments and vocal harmonies. It was a conscious mix,” she reveals. Overall, the multiple layers of the soundscaping are as powerful as the level of musicianship. The players are nationally recognized A-list players, such as Jaleel Bunton, Ben Zwerin, Wayan Zoey, Zack Hagan, and Leo Heubach.
Kalen is a session vocalist at Tainted Blue Studio and for Equal Sonics. She is currently writing and co-writing songs with some of New York City’s best rising writers and producers, developing her catalog and licensing her music for film, TV and multi-media. On the rare occasion she has the time, she plays keys and sings in NYC based bands such as Missing Ships and Stone The King. Kalen is also working with nonprofits, like Girls Inc., doing workshops about empowering young women. “It is inspiring, to use the skills I’ve developed as a songwriter to help other people create songs as vehicles to express their dreams, doubts, fears and loves,” she says.
Falling From The Sun is the result of someone with inimitable style, with such a distinct and strong vision she was able to write, direct, and star in her own sonic movie. “I just wanted to be involved in all aspects. I had Pro Tools at home and I keep getting deeper and closer to the songs,” she says summing up the process, before adding with a laugh, “I’m just super-curious and super-stubborn. I feel there is nothing I can’t do, even when there is.”