Q&A: Kelli Scarr

8 Jul

By Ashley Eliot

When a headliner drops from a bill, it’s typically a nightmare for everyone. You know that phrase “everything happens for a reason?” Well, Kelli Scarr proves that true. After the headliner canceled on a show her band Salt and Samovar were playing, the promoter somehow corralled Moby into performing last minute. And if it wasn’t for that show, who knows if Moby would have been able to witness Scarr’s musical talents. After that, Moby contacted Scarr about singing on his 2009 album Wait For Me. And from there, she toured with him and his band.

Scarr has quite a tale, from her days of performing in indie bands to film scoring to performing with Moby, and now she’s dived into the solo pool, releasing her first record Piece on July 27 on Silence Breaks Records. Keep an eye out for this Brooklyn-based lady and catch her on July 23 at The Park Gallery in San Diego and July 24 at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles.

Ash: Growing up, you were in several bands, opened for Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene at one point, how would you say your musical style has changed since?

Kelli: I think I have mellowed out a lot and have realized that what feels best is just being me. It’s a simple formula, but it feels pretty liberating.

Ash: You have experience in film scoring. How did you get into that field and what is one important thing to remember in composing a score for film?

Kelli: I was lucky enough to be close friends with an amazing filmmaker (Matthew Nourse) who basically took a risk by having me score his debut feature film (The Pacific and Eddy).  I drove cross country to San Diego and lived on an organic avocado farm in the middle of nowhere for a month while they were shooting the film.  The music was heavily influenced by my time spent out there; the environment, the story and the entire crew making the movie.

I don’t know if I am in a position to offer any kind of “things to remember” as a film composer, but one thing I will say is that a lot of times we are scared to work in new roles because we don’t have adequate experience. Something that I have realized is that when it comes down to it, most people don’t have a clue what they are doing in art.  It is the passion and sense of purpose that drives us and connects us and allows us to create. Just be open to that.  There are no rules.

Ash: You caught the ear of Moby while playing a concert at Maxwell’s in New Jersey with your Brooklyn-based band Salt and Samovar. How did he approach you and what was your reaction to his interest in working with you? Was it intimidating?

Kelli: He and I have never really talked about what exactly happened, but from what I can remember, we were playing an anniversary party for musicsnobbery.com and last minute the headliner canceled. Somehow, Chris (from musicsnobbery) was able to get Moby to replace them. I played the set with Salt and went straight home because I was grumpy from this cleanse I was on. The next day I get an email from Moby telling me that he really liked my voice and that he would like to hang out. After flaking on me several times, we met up in his Soho wonder studio and I played him some of my tunes.  He was really impressed with my Piece demos and asked if he could be involved. I paused for five seconds and said, “HELL YES. Uh, I mean, ya I guess so.” He is such a warm, humble and down to earth person that it was nearly impossible to be intimidated.

Ash: Tell us about performing and going on tour with Moby. Any funny stories that you can share with us?

Kelli: It was a real treat to tour with Moby. Staying in five-star hotels and flying on private planes is not a bad way to earn a living as a musician. He treats everyone in his band and crew extremely well.

There are lots of funny stories, but for the sake of sparing my reputation, I will say that Moby is really good at scaling the walls of airport buses. He is a bald Spiderman, if you will.

Ash: You and Moby recently did NPR’s Project Song where you had to write and record a song in two days. You came out with “Gone to Sleep.” Going into the two-day session, how did you prepare and what was your mindset? Also, give us some background on the song.

Kelli: To be honest I didn’t really prepare. My mentality was a bit similar to how I felt before taking the SATs. Either I knew it or I didn’t.  I just prayed that I had the tools to step up to the plate for Moby and to impress Bob Boilen.

The background of the song was the image and words that Moby and I chose from what NPR layed on the table. Its amazing what resulted from those initially limited sources.

Ash: When did you realize it was time to take the leap and go solo? What do you want your listeners to take from the album Piece?

Kelli: I have pretty much been writing and singing my own songs for the past 10 years. It wasn’t until I started creating the tunes for Piece that I felt really open and proud of the songs I was writing.

Ash: What two songs off the record mean the most to you and why?

Kelli: “Baby Boom” because it was the first song I recorded (a lot of the original demo still exists in the album version) and led to my subsequent decision to make this record.

“The Wonder” because it’s a song about my son Liam. I love how deeply it resonates with other parents.

Ash: You’re a California native but now live in Brooklyn. Would you ever move back to CA? And what do you love most about Brooklyn?

Kelli: This is a hot topic on the playground. To stay in New York, to not stay in New York … that is the question. You know, the only struggle I have with living in Brooklyn is being far from my family. Other than that, I love living here and I love raising my kid here. This is the city of endless opportunity and excitement.  It was love/hate for several years, but now I am just addicted to the energy. It also helps that I have a big backyard. Barbecuing is very important.

Ash: You will be playing the Wanderlust Festival on July 30 and 31. Have you been to the fest before? Any artists in particular you are looking forward to seeing?

Kelli: I have never been before but I am more than looking forward to it! I am very excited to dance my ass of to Moby’s DJ set with all of my bestest, oldest California friends. I am also excited to see John Shannon play live. John has been one of my biggest musical mentors. He is a channel.

Ash: On the Wanderlust Festival Web site it says that you describe your music as Lutheran Church meets Walt Disney, can you elaborate on that?

Kelli: This is when my manager/record label gets pissed at me for posting that description in jest on my MySpace four years ago and never taking it down. Its not all that complex, really. I grew up going to and singing in a Lutheran Church and I spent way too many hours watching Disney Movies. The melodies and chord progressions that I default to tend to be heavily influenced by those two things.

Ash: After your summer tour, what do you want to accomplish next with your music? A music video perhaps?

Kelli: I actually just finished shooting a video with one of my best friends, Julie Miller. It is for the song “Driftwood.” I don’t really want to give much more away right now, but I promise it is straight up enchanting.  Matt Nourse (of Pacific and Eddy) is also working on a video for “Break Up” that I can’t wait to get my eyes on!

I’m really looking forward to touring more in the fall and then making my next record. I have a sick band and we will be recording it in the dead of winter at an amazing studio in Woodstock. Having stuff like that to look forward to is pretty much all I could ever hope for.



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