Although Kaylee Elizabeth’s debut album is just dropping this Friday, June 11th, the Seattle-based singer/songwriter is not exactly new to music. Kaylee is one-half of sister-brother folk duo The Native Sibling. After the band’s last album, 2019’s Hammer is Heart, Kaylee began working on songs that were a little more personal than the work she did with her brother. She also swapped out keys for guitar, which she had learned to play as a curious teen. The album, Playing With Fire, was recorded by producer Andy D. Park, known for his work with Meg Myers, Pedro the Lion, and Noah Gunderson, and a band that included Deep Sea Diver’s Jessica Dobson, Sean Lane, Michael Porter, and Zander Hawley; it already has three singles and two music videos. I recently got a chance to chat with Kaylee Elizabeth about her new music, her faith, and some of her favorite artists.
Izzy Cihak: Your solo debut, Playing With Fire, comes out in the very near future. What can be expected of the LP? How do you think it compares to the music you do with your brother in The Native Sibling?
Kaylee Elizabeth: I think if you’ve listened to the singles – it’s pretty indicative of the album sonically, which I think has some good variety of feel and mood. My producer, Andy Park, and other musicians in the studio have a lot to do with that, which I also think is something to expect – that they all have their own voices on these songs. I like hearing Jessica on those synth leads and Michael with the intertwining electric guitar melodies. Sean also added so much of the soundscape with his created instrument, The Bike, which really draws my ear in. For me, the most distinctive thing about this album is its singular voice. Writing these songs on my own was the biggest departure in the process for me and was necessary for me to have another outlet apart from the band for some songs that are more centered around faith and what I’ve been learning personally. It felt like it was necessary to say what I wanted to. I wouldn’t say that this music is too far of a departure from The Native Sibling, however, and it really just is a continuation of my learning and growing as an artist.
Izzy: Is there anything that you think is especially important for fans and potential fans to know about your aim as a musician, or your process of creating music, as a solo artist?
Kaylee: I think that my aim as an artist has always been the same: to glorify God with the gifts that He has given me. I think I’m a bit more explicit about that with this solo project. As a follower of Jesus this has always been my intent in creating and sharing my art, but I think music is particularly beautiful in how it can connect people from such different backgrounds and beliefs. These songs have been a healing balm, prayers, and reflections on the last few years and I hope that they are a balm for others as well.
Izzy: While we’re talking about it, do you have any particular favorite solo debuts of music history? I’m not sure if it’s exactly your thing, but I think my go-to solo debuts are Morrissey’s Viva Hate and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot.
Kaylee: I’m going to take a little different spin on this question – but one thing that I have noticed is that there are some women in the last handful of years that I really am inspired by who were first in bands with their brothers. Sara Watkins, for instance, has some really beautiful solo music and her album Young In All the Wrong Ways is really important to me. The song “Invisible” is absolutely stunning. Abby Gundersen is another woman that is making beautiful instrumental music in her solo career after touring with her brother Noah for years. So, those are a few solo debuts that I think are worth bringing attention to in this moment.
Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite era of music, or one that you find yourself most frequently returning to? Playing With Fire has gotten a few comparisons to the ‘70s, but I’m very specifically hearing things that remind me of the mid-late ‘70s.
Kaylee: I have a place in my heart for so many different periods of music and it’s interesting to hear people say that the album is reminding them most of the ‘70s. That’s cool, but not necessarily something I was going for. The best way to answer this question is to let you into my musical journey a bit. It started with classical piano study, so composers like Debussy, Ravel, and Chopin are still very important to me. My parents introduced me to Neil Young, The Beach Boys, and The Eagles at a young age and I still go back to their music often. Then there’s all of the formative artists that I discovered in high school such as Brandi Carlile, Samantha Crain, Damien Rice, The Civil Wars, Ben Howard, and Glen Hansard. Bands such as The Cranberries, Dawes, and Fleetwood Mac also come in. So – in general it’s less about a period of time, but more so about the songs and performance that draw me into new music and keep me coming back to others.
Izzy: You’ve already released some really cool music videos for “Passing Through” and “Not Be Told,” so I’m curious what it is that inspires the visual elements of your work? Are there any visual artists of whom you’re a particularly big fan?
Kaylee: Thank you – I’m so glad that you’ve enjoyed what we’ve put out so far. All of the visuals for this album have been very collaborative and I’ve leaned into the Seattle community for all of this, which has been really growing for me to work with a lot of people for the first time that I’ve known or known of for years. It’s really a hometown effort and I’m grateful to be surrounded by talented and kind folks. For the album artwork I collaborated with May Xiong who has such an ethereal and moody feel to her work – it seemed well suited for this album to lean into the moodiness and May came to my mind very early on to collaborate with. For the “Not Be Told” video, Hillary Grumman, who founded Undercurrent Dance, choreographed and is dancing in the video herself. She’s been a friend and I’ve admired her work for years, so that was a total treat for me to see where the music led her and encourage her to explore the fabric in the video as well. Again, there’s a quality to the work that draws me in, but that goes across many forms.
Izzy: Finally, what are you hoping and planning for 2021? Is there anything you’re especially excited about? I feel like I’ve been getting tidal waves of tour announcements every day for the past three weeks, but I talk to just as many artists who seem to want to wait until next year to get back out on the road.
Kaylee: Most of my excitement is surrounding this music being released. Once it’s out – then the songs really take on a life of their own. They can become meaningful to others, which is so humbling. I’m excited that someone can listen to it on the bus to work, trying to get their kids to fall asleep, etc. These are the moments that songs become the soundtrack to our lives and help us through the moments we don’t have our own words for yet.
As for live shows – there are definitely things in the works, but it’s a strange time to navigate. Don’t want to say too much beforehand for that reason. I am very much looking forward to performing these songs and will be doing an IG live on the album release day (June 11th) at 5pm as well as a full-band livestream July 17th. More details on that later performance to follow.