Chelsea Jade: New Music Morsels

Chelsea Jade: New Music Morsels

Following up her January-released song OptimistChelsea Jade dropped a second 2022 single called Good Taste, in February. Apart from Shark Attack, this new music is the first we’ve heard from the Dec/Jan 2019 NZ Musician magazine cover star since her debut album ‘Personal Best’. The singles herald a new album, and the now New York-based Kiwi artist chatted to Kat Parsons about Good Taste, album preparation, mouth guitaring, and feeling lyrically naughty. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

“I would prefer to be considered somebody who works hard rather than someone who’s talented. The more I can consider it an intellectual or an emotional curiosity, and not so much an ego muse, the more inclined I am to do it.”

With the hum of New York in the background, Chelsea Jade sits crossed-legged on her bed, nonchalant in a cosy-looking hoodie. Her calm and genial demeanour radiates as she reveals what she has been getting up to (and where) to over the last few months.

“I just moved to New York in January, via a two-week drive through the south of North America,” Jade explains. “Like Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, you know, the ‘South’. I had been living in LA, and then last year I lived in New Zealand for four months, because I managed to get in, so I stayed for as long as I could,” she laughs. “I mean, it’s so funny that pre-pandemic life just doesn’t feel relevant at all. I’m amazed that I managed to get out. Like, I’ve been on a plane during the pandemic!”

The mention of Covid inevitably leads her to reflect further back on her time spent in the US.

“My partner and I spent the majority of 2020 in an apartment where the only window faced the wall of another building. Still home and comfortable, but I think we were kind of yearning. It highlighted parts of our life in LA that maybe we were interested in shaking up.

“In LA, everyone moves through the city with a lot of purpose,” she continues. “There aren’t that many opportunities to kind of incidentally crossover with other people. Whereas New York is completely opposite. If you’re going to get anywhere you have to function with the flow of other people’s movements. We just yearned for more of those moments. George, my partner, was just talking about how he was sitting reading a book yesterday and these two women called him over like; ‘Hey, what are you reading?’ and started an interesting conversation. Everyone has an interest in everyone else. I quite like that about the city so far.

“I guess that’s where I’ve been,” she concludes. “And then to fill in the blanks of what I’ve been up to; I guess making an album to put out!”

Given all that movement, not to mention the real-world exposure to this global crisis, it seems inevitable that her writing process was different from any previous experience.

“It’s definitely changed. I actually found a silver lining; the majority of the pandemic has been largely suffering, but what I did like about the change in writing was that you could face whoever you were working with. Like, face to face, even through a computer. We were using this programme called Audiomovers and you just drop tracks into your DAW, and you could record and hear everything else the other person was recording. Unlike a session in real life, where often their back is to me when I’m working with somebody, it wasn’t that way. You know, it was nice to sit together! So in that way, it was different.”

NZM175 dec jan 2019 chelsea jadeSingle Good Taste was written and produced by Jade with Bradley Hale at his Minnesota studio. Mixed by Kiwi Justyn Pilbrow and mastered by Jack Shirley, the intricate rhythm of woven sounds that are almost off-kilter create a trance-like effect, giving a unique flow and movement to the track.

Good Taste took a little journey. I actually wrote a version of that song myself, so I had the bones of it, but I was dissatisfied with the production. So, I took it to my friend Brad Hale, who I worked with on Laugh It Off. I just think he’s interesting because he and I have a friendship and I have this idea that he has a secret dance inside of him that most people don’t ask him to perform,” she smiles thoughtfully.

“He’s got the sensibility of a piano player who’s playing for dancers. He has this innate sense of like, I don’t know; there’s like a rhythm that he is capable of. I don’t know if he can hear it, but to me, there’s a lot of texture in his ideas and he really fills the space. Even the silence has a texture, you know? It was the same in Laugh It Off. The rhythm that I’m singing over, the bass line is not a sensical rhythm. I like that he doesn’t think that things have to be a certain way.

“So, I took the song to him and we knocked it out in an afternoon. This was before the pandemic, on a trip to Minnesota. When I work with him I go to Minnesota because he has a studio there, but it’s just nice to be where he is. It feels like a very contained experience. It’s almost like being off the internet!”

The sexy, vibrant track is full of little nuggets like thick vocal layers, multiple guitar lines, and a singular trumpet slotted subtly into the outro.

“So, the electric guitars and the trombone, I actually did that after our session. I really wanted electric guitars. I first asked Liz [Elizabeth Stokes] from The Beths. She was in LA and I just recorded here in my studio apartment. Then I went on tour with Muna and they were good with a chunky-sounding electric guitar. So, I also sent it to them, and they played on it too.

“Then I was like; ‘There’s still something missing… well, I can’t play the guitar, but I can make my mouth sound like a guitar.’ You can hear me going like, ‘Wowowow’”, she mimics an electric guitar sound. “I’m playing the guitar with my mouth! The trombone is like a [American] football anthem. You know, like a big band/marching band.

“I also have to give a shout out to Luna Shadows,” Jade continues. “She did all of the textural vocal stuff. We had a vocal recording session and I ended up using the demo vocal for all of her ideas, and all of the engineering for the rest of the vocals. It’s arguably what makes it a pop song. Like laughing and little giggles, that sort of thing?

“Yeah, I guess on face value it might seem like a minimal song, but there’s actually a lot to it,” she chuckles.

The video for Good Taste was created by Aotearoa-based animator Frances Haszard, with the aid of NZ On Air funding.

“There’s a fluidity to her animation that has always appealed to me; it feels weightless. It’s presenting movement in a way that I wish could exist in real life, if real life lacked gravity. So elegant. I think it’s really beautiful! I went to her early on before the song was finished. Handing off something as large as a music video was really nice for me. Everything about it is black, white and grey, but she still made it feel colourful.”

For those that have listened to the repertoire of Chelsea Jade, lyrics are an important aspect of her songs. Carefully constructed lines such as: ‘got gravel embedded in my hands, caught myself falling for a concrete plan’, (Life of the Party, 2018) and ‘vision in mosaic now, feeling like a tantrum shook me down’, (Good Taste) create an emotional clarity. Jade explains how she approaches her writing and how she uses her songs to express her own feelings with more candour.

“You know, it’s not necessarily in my nature to be the most direct thinker,” she smiles. “I feel like I always take the long way around. I think of writing pop songs as an attempt at being more direct. Inevitably, combined with my nature they become a little more abstract. Honestly, sometimes I think it’s a good discomfort when I feel that way. I remember playing a song to my friend and feeling like I should be hiding physically because it was revealing something about me or whatever.

“I think it’s good if I can feel that discomfort and not have anyone else feel discomfort, that’s probably striking a good balance. I don’t have any vendettas when I’m writing. We’re just trying to understand the situation. I think Good Taste is an interesting example of that. To me, it’s probably the most direct singular type of experience writing I’ve ever done. When I talk about it, I feel a little bit naughty or something.

“There’s the fear of overwriting or like, being too cerebral, that’s something that I think about a lot. Like, how can I maintain my writing style and be, you know, as emotional as I am cerebral?”

With past endeavours like Teacups and her first solo project as Watercolours, which earned her a Critics’ Choice Award in 2012, Chelsea Jade has established herself as an unstoppable creative force. Constantly working, she has written with the likes of The Chainsmokers and Wet and opened for fellow Kiwi soloist Lorde. Now signed to Carpark Records, with a plethora of experience and insight into the industry, Jade has clarity about who she is as an artist.

“It’s funny, I think I would consider now reinvention [as] not my priority at all. I think that there was a touch of fear in doing it at all in the first place. I think now my mind just wants ways to categorise things so that I can contain them and then fully understand everything that’s in there. Being worried that it’s perceived as being cohesive or whatever. I started to understand about myself that I am a through-line. Having my own name is just an acknowledgement that the process will eventuate as something because I’m the one that’s working on it. I really reject the ‘era’ thing. I think that a lot of artists I know, we’re just always working and always making and always rolling on, and I just want my whole life to be a body of work.

“You know, it’s fun to be embarrassing. It is. In fact, it’s better to be embarrassing. Just as long as you commit to what you’re doing. People never get the best things off the bat. They always need time. So just honour your own vision.”

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