I first met the ineffably lovely Charlene Kaye this May at The Fire. Since then, the singer/songwriter has continued to tour the country, continued to be name-dropped by (and seen alongside) one of cable TV’s biggest musical heartthrobs, and, most impressively, (in the span of five days) convinced her fans to shell out more than my annual salary to fund her next album. I recently chatted to her from her parents’ place in Las Vegas, where she was taking a few days of family time in the middle of a tour of the South and West Coast.
So how did Ms. Kaye convince her fans to put up $24,750 (at the time of publication) for her new album? No, she didn’t man a kissing booth and she didn’t do anything illegal (although it would have been a lot cooler, if she did). She utilized Kickstarter, a website that I didn’t even realize existed until last week. “I think it’s a great organization. So many of my friends were able to do so many things that they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” Charlene tells me of the website, which is self-proclaimed “The largest funding platform for creative projects in the world.” “I’m an indie musician,” she tells me “I don’t have a trust fund and I’m not a millionaire.”
Kickstarter works as a platform for artists to present their upcoming projects (whether it be a documentary, web series, or indie pop album) to the masses, whom they ask for financial support. For instance, On June 16th Kaye created a page to raise money for her sophomore LP, Animal Love (Is it just me or does that title make you think of The Slits?), with a goal of $20,000 and a 30-day run. This turned out to be a modest goal because, as I said, it took only five days to reach (with 25% reached in the first 15 hours).
Charlene’s favorite aspect of Kickstarter, however, is the incentive to pledge money: “You can give them things in return.” Among the things Ms. Kaye is willing to donate to you, if you are willing to donate to her are unreleased music, signed swag, a Skype chat with her, a chance to sing a song with her live in concert, getting to hang out with her in the studio, one of her personal guitars, a private house concert, and “a video of [her] mom personally telling you how wonderful you are for helping make [her] new record.” Already sold out are the dresses that she wore in the “Dress and Tie” and “Human” videos (at $1,500 or more a piece!) and the cardigan that she and Darren Criss (yes, that is the heartthrob, but more on him later) wore in the “Dress and Tie” video (FOR $2,500!!!).
The most shocking thing of all is that not a single one of these donations came from friends or family: “It was entirely funded by fans. There were no rich uncles involved.” She tells me that some fans even took up pet projects of sorts to help raise money to pledge to her. Someone got a part-time job, someone donated blood, someone even started their own Kickstarter project to raise money to pledge to hers. When I asked her how this turnout compared to her “realistic expectations” when the project began, she told me “I had no expectations. My expectations were blown to the ground in five days.”
So just because Charlene’s generous fans met her goal super duper prematurely doesn’t mean it’s all over. In fact, she re-set her goals and there are still 13 days to go (The project will be funded on July 15.) If you continue to pledge, she will just have the opportunity to make more cool music videos with her sister , she’ll have a better chance of coming to a town near you, and she’ll be able to give you more cool shit that allows you to display your devotion to this lovely songstress (“CK frisbees and kitchenware” are apparently being discussed). She is now proposing that if she is able to raise $30,000 or more, anyone who donates $15 or more will have access to director’s commentary cuts (from her sister) of all of her music videos AND “[She] will film a ridiculous video of [her] performing a song of [her] choosing dressed in a gorilla suit in Times Square with Joe Moses.” If this is sounding appealing (and how could it not?), check out her page and donate a few bucks.
But what should fans expect of this album that they have pre-ordered in a very postmodern way. Charlene’s last LP, Things I Will Need in the Past, was along the lines of an acoustic record from Chrissie Hynde at her most whimsical. Since then she has released a digital EP with her band, The Brilliant Eyes, which rocks a bit harder, but in a very classy way: part rockabilly, part cabaret, part speakeasy. But Animal Love will be her first physical release to embody what she currently considers to be her true aesthetic and she’ll be happy to have that souvenir to give to fans that come out to see her play: “I’m happy to finally give them an accurate depiction of my art, and not just an album I recorded during college.”
In the video on her Kickstarter, Kaye explains her vision of Animal Love: “It’s a concept album about how we as humans instinctively process the emotion of love, how it relates to our physicality, and how we are equipped to survive when it’s lost.” She later tells me “It pertains to romantic love, but also a lust for life.” She wrote the album fairly quickly, “Going with whatever came out instinctively.” “A lot of themes came to me while either waking or falling asleep,” she tells me “I’ll be in that limbo state.” As opposed to TIWNITP, which she describes as having “really organic sounds,” Animal Love is apparently going to get a little more intense and complex: “I’m using more electronic instruments… I’m really interested in this idea of the sublime and how to achieve that sonically.”
And what about Darren Criss? Why does this Gleeful young star keep turning up alongside Ms. Kaye? Well, they went to college together and have been friends ever since: “We met in the basement of some University of Michigan hall at an open mic night. He sang ‘I’ll Make a Man Out Of You’ from Mulan and I knew that I wanted to work with him in some way.” Since then, he’s appeared on her debut album and they’ve released a single together, “Dress and Tie.” They’ve also found themselves accompanying each other on various occasions and in various settings, whether it be a red carpet walk or the stage of a hip folk venue. “He’s been so supportive in getting my music out there,” she tells me “I was definitely exposed to a whole new audience because of him.”
So I realize that this is all a bit of a tease. I mean, to be hyping the countdown to the artist entering the studio, as opposed to the record dropping. However, Charlene isn’t taking herself off the radar just yet. On July 18th she will premiering her music video for “Human” (a song actually from her first LP) as a sort of swan song for the first portion of her career; I saw a “super-secret rough cut” (as she so eloquently put it) and it’s quite lovely and quite heavy. And on July 30th she will be returning to the Fire for an intimate solo performance. So if you find Ms. Kaye as charming as I do, help her kickstart a few more hearts and show her some digital economic love.