Interview: Kelly Dance
Folk songstress Kelly Dance takes her inspiration from overseas adventures, bringing back plenty of stories to transform into new tunes. She made some time in her busy touring and recording schedule to tell us about her latest EP, Chinese sci-fi stories, and filming awkward music video performance scenes.
Congratulations on your new EP ‘All That’s Gained’! We heard the album was inspired by a magazine full of Chinese sci-fi musings, can you explain how that came about?
I moved to Hong Kong in 2013 and I kind of realised that I knew nothing about the new place I was in. I didn’t know what people were into, what they were reading or what they were listening to, [and] it wasn’t really something I could Google, so I went down to my local library. They have a whole floor of magazines and publications and periodicals and stuff.
I actually just literally stumbled across the science fiction section, and it sounded kind of intriguing to me, but I guess for me [the stories] were really just allegories and it sort of felt like an extension of my folk roots, you know? The thing that attracts me to folk songs is that they’re allegories by nature. They were written a really long time ago [and] they’re still meaningful to us today.
Similarly, with sci-fi, it’s [set] in the future, but it’s usually – almost always – a commentary about today, so I guess I found those stories helpful to understand what it was like to be growing up in China and it helped me make sense of the place I was [in].
So you went into the library to learn about where you were living and you came out with an album!
Pretty much, yeah! (Laughs) But apart from all that, [sci-fi] are actually just great stories, and it wasn’t just a magazine that I drew inspiration from. It was a bunch of stories from across the last hundred years, and they’re really beautiful stories. There’s one that Lucern was writing in the early-1900s, and his stuff is almost like a stream of consciousness. I just found it really curious and brave, and it inspired me to write some songs.
What made you want to switch from the heavier style of your 2013 track Head In The Noose to an electronic, effect-laden tune like All That’s Gained?
It’s interesting that you say that the last record was heavier. I feel like the stuff that I do is folky, kind of stripped back. My first record could have been based on spoken word (laughs). I guess what I tried to do with this record – and just to clarify, as well, the EP is four songs from a full record inspired by Chinese sci-fi which is about 13 songs – so I guess what I was wanting to do with this record was to keep that kind of lo-fi acoustic folk sound, and then incorporate some of those more futuristic sounds to deal with those themes.
What’s your favourite track from the album?
I think maybe All That’s Gained, the title track. I like it because it’s a very simple song – it’s only about three chords – and it kind of changes every time I play it, and I really like that. The version that you hear on the album is quite different to what I end up playing live acoustically on my own.
My sister lives in New York and I was just [over there] the other month and I played with a pedal steel player and a 12-string guitarist and it sounded really Nashville! I just like songs that can take on different personalities.
You’ve also just released a new video for All That’s Gained, the second music video you’ve ever done. How did the concept for the clip come about?
Yeah! All That’s Gained is inspired by a Chinese sci-fi story called “The Fat Years”, and I guess that story’s kind of about a bunch of things, but it’s mainly about youth, coming of age, and a rebellious spirit that I hadn’t really associated with China before living there.
The footage from that video was taken from a tour that I did in China – last year I toured about fifteen cities, and the footage from that video is from the music festivals. I just thought showing kids at the music festivals kind of captured that rebellious spirit that I wanted to convey in the song.
How were you involved in the process of coming up with the concept and making the video?
That is a good question…it was a collaborative effort, that video. Imogen Smyth Prado, who did my first video in London, she shot all the London footage – [that was] the footage of me actually singing, the playback footage. Then my friend Marie [Bouvéron], who was with me at the festival, shot all the China footage, and then my other friend Pat [Harris] sort of put it all together into a story.
To be honest, that video just grew organically. We knew vaguely what we wanted to do – we wanted to have me telling a story, and the story was about China – and in a way, the final product just came about through three different people.
How did you feel about the performance scenes in the video? Was it a strange experience for you to be on camera like that?
Yeah, totally, always! I’m hugely self-conscious and yes, it is, it’s strange. It’s strange particularly singing out in the open, and some of those shots are of me walking down busy streets and things, singing. It’s terrifying! [It makes] you look like a crazy person (laughs).
You’ve been living in Hong Kong for three years now, and you just toured China last year; how has the change in culture impacted upon your music?
I’d say it’s affected the songs thematically. I’m hungry to learn more about China, and I’ve realised there’s just so much I don’t know, and there’s so much to be discovered. I feel like it’s kind of an endless well of inspiration, I guess.
You’ve also spent some time in New York and played quite a few shows around Australia, what’s been your favourite touring experience so far?
You know, I’d have to say China! It was just so cool. I travelled mainly by myself, mainly by train, and I just really loved the people that I met. I would basically travel to a city and go straight to the venue and then the venue owners would take care of me – they’d put [me] up for the night, they’d feed [me].
My Chinese isn’t amazing so we would communicate using WiiChat which is the equivalent of WhatsApp or Messenger here, I guess. [We’d be] sitting at dinner and sort of texting each other [laughs] and trying to communicate, so yeah, I would say definitely China.
Do you have any time for tourist activities when you’re touring another country?
For sure, yeah, I always try. I mean, you do have heaps of time, so yeah, of course. In Beijing I went to the big city, and in Xiang I went to see the terracotta warriors…yeah, absolutely. Always.
Do you feel like those experiences might inspire more music from you in the future?
(Laughs) I hope so, absolutely.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’ll be releasing the full record, hopefully, by the end of the year. Then obviously doing a bit of a tour, hopefully here in Australia and hopefully also in America, and I’d like to get started on a new record.
Do you have any ideas for what that’s going to sound like yet?
(Laughs) To be honest, I don’t know. For me, it’s a process of discovery as much as anything.