When Valerie Renay of NOBLESSE OBLIGE decides to release a solo project, she creates “music for fast moving clouds”.
Conceived in a moment of deep transition, ‘Your Own Shadow’ is an amalgamation of organically developed raw sounds, haunting vocals and tribal inserts, enveloped in delicious synth and simplistic melodies.
Whilst walking the path alone can be challenging, Renay rises to the occasion with innate power and the need to discover her real self: “The desire to explore my own limits and share intimate sensations motivated me to write these songs. I started this solo project to exorcise private demons. Writing songs alone is such a beautiful but lonely path, you are faced with yourself, your own fear, your own doubts but also the incredible feeling that everything is possible and options are endless. The choice is yours, you’re the pilot flying that plane. I needed to get those songs out of my system because they inhabited me like unresolved, fragile tales that I wanted to share, to understand better who I am.”
The exhilarating ‘Speed Of Blue’ was penned by Ian Pickering of SNEAKER PIMPS and Renay delivers it with a poise and passion, which bubbles underneath, waiting to be expelled. Her vocal, styled on that of Ian Curtis brings gloom and hope at the same time, while ‘Sailor’ soothes with its bluesy textures à la John Fryer on his BLACK NEEDLE NOISE project.
‘Hollow’ releases deep sadness, in keeping with ‘Darkest Lake’, where deeply hidden vulnerabilities come to the surface. This closing song is beautifully ethereal and delicate, floating lightly with the unlimited weightlessness of filmic qualities.
In contrast, ‘Kick Again’ and ‘Rough & Ready’ border on rebellious harshness, which suits Renay’s love affair with extremities. ‘Melancholia’ is poetically bare and delivered with minimalistic messages in French, where the choice of tongue adds to the romantic feel of the finished product.
A very different proposition from her work with NOBLESSE OBLIGE, Renay’s first solo product is amazingly fluid and harmonious.
“‘Your Own Shadow’, the title of the album refers to the feeling you have when you don’t recognise yourself anymore because you are made to feel small, insignificant, empty and lost” she said, “You know this is not the real you… Somewhere the real you still has fire and power but your very existence feels so meaningless. You forget how to be standing on your own two feet.”
With this opus, Valerie Renay definitely stands on her own two feet with a triumphant message of sensually charged, cinematic deliveries superbly put together and executed. Way to go!
Kelli Ali first came to public attention as the lead singer of SNEAKER PIMPS. Their debut album ‘Becoming X’ featured the hit singles ‘6 Underground’ and ‘Spin Spin Sugar’.
Since her first solo album ‘Tigermouth’ in 2003, Kelli Ali has recorded a further four records in her own name.
There have also been collaborations with a number of noted artists such as Marc Almond, John Densmore, Marilyn Manson and Bootsy Collins.
Her most recent long player was the electro-friendly ‘Band Of Angels’, a musical journey into the dark heart of a fallen angel. Kelli Ali returns to the platform for ‘Ghostdriver’, “a joint album and film project. A noir thriller and love letter to London.”
She kindly answered a few questions from ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about ‘Ghostdriver’ as well as reflecting on her career and continuing development as an artist…
You’ve described the ‘Ghostdriver’ album as “like no other album I have created before where Trip Hop, Electronic, Jazz and String elements will meet”. How did the concept come about?
The album will be the soundtrack to the film, so it’s been very much a matter of daydreaming my way into the story and then trying to create music (or ask others to help me as this is very much a collaboration) that brings the film to life even more.
Actually more than that – I’m trying to dream the album into being in a way. As I wrote the story and the characters, I know the heartbeat of the story.
Jazz is very much at the heart of the film and some of the musicians I’m working with are more electronic / trip hop in their approach, so I thought it would be interesting to marry these elements with a classical soundtrack style, to create an unusual vibe. I’m also enjoying singing a bit differently and exploring all kinds of new territory with this album.
You’ve said “‘Ghostdriver’ is a film and album from my deepest, darkest imagination, a noir thriller, a love letter to London”. What idea came first, film or music?
The film vision definitely came first. As music is such a natural part of my creative process though, I was already imagining the music the moment I had the idea of making a movie.
Is there a pivotal song on the album you can tell us about?
I suppose ‘LOVE’ was the first song that I really felt captured the essence of ‘Ghostdriver’. I’m still writing and recording so there may be others for different reasons. ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ is also quite an important track as it helped develop the mood for a key sequence of scenes in the film, which might not have come into being without that song.
You are recording the music alongside the film, with each aspect intertwining and influencing the other. How is that coming along?
It’s going very well, thank you. I began the writing process some time ago, as experience has taught me that things always usually take about two or three times longer than one would reasonably imagine 🙂
I’m blessed with some amazing friends who are involved with the film and album and have been superb in understanding what is needed for the album and have been incredibly supportive. This has made everything feel very Zen and meant to be. Sometimes in the past, I have really had to struggle with projects to get them even started. But this film and record seems to be blessed with friendship and good people, eager to see both projects done and eager to really do what it takes to make this a thing of beauty.
Leigh from the Bit-Phalanx Music collective has been an incredible support and helped me reach out to some of the brilliant collaborators on the album and other great people in involved in the actual film.
Because of his friendship, I haven’t felt so alone in the whole process.
Erik Stein from CULT WITH NO NAME has also been an incredible support, both starring in the film and collaborating on some of the music.
Because I have a very clear picture of the film in my head, it is amazing to see it coming to life. Making the music alongside the film as it develops is actually a very interesting and rewarding process. I feel that the two things (record and film) are feeding off and into each other.
What are the challenges you’ve encountered?
Challenges are always usually financial or organisational! Making a film involves an incredible amount of work and planning and cash!
My audience is beautiful but small so I can only ask for a certain amount from the Pledge Music funding process, a fraction of what it truly costs to make a movie and album. This means I have to make every shoot count and I have to think very deeply about the filming schedule and organization of both film and album.
However, I love the way that the financial limitations actually force me to be much more creative in making the film, instead of a big Hollywood style film that has a huge team of people making everything happen and money to burn on locations and effects actors and costume etc.
I have been much more inspired by the Noir, 1960s British and Warhol / Paul Morrissey films. Most of the actors in the movie are my dear friends and some of the locations have even been set up in my home. We’ve stripped entire rooms down to make studio sets!
This takes much longer to do of course and is much more consuming than rolling up to a film set already created and hired. But because of this I feel that the film has an authenticity and humanity that, dare I say is lacking from the glitzy big budget films that so many new film makers seem to try and emulate.
Anyway, I think it’s the challenges of a project that really teach you the most about life and who you are.
All art is a challenge, but in the luxurious sense. Not the same, obviously, as being born into a war zone or forced to join the army when still a child, or the many other challenges that life can throw at a soul.
Therefore, I try not to dwell on difficulties anymore and remind myself that my challenges as an artist are minuscule compared to human challenges that so many suffer through on a day to day basis.
You’re noted for collaborating, who have you got lined-up up for ‘Ghostdriver’?
COLOQUIX, ULRICH SCHNAUSS, DIGITONAL, ALEX DAI CASTAING, CULT WITH NO NAME and CHRIST. are my main collaborators so far…
You’ve collaborated in the past with a number of prominent artists like Marc Almond, John Densmore, Marilyn Manson and Bootsy Collins. What have each been like to work with?
Marc Almond was lovely.
THE DOORS were very influential to me as a teenager, so meeting John Densmore was quite a big deal, great to work with, very intuitive and relaxed.
Marilyn Manson was one of the friendliest, most fun and open people I worked with. I spent the most time with him and he was very generous with his time, taking me for breakfast and to some of his favourite record shops in New York.
Bootsy Collins was soooo gorgeous! He is a fascinating artist and a true legend. He has truly lived to see and learn so much and is incredibly giving and open. I was very fortunate to have worked with such a star and have very fond memories of our time in Germany, making the video for our single ‘Play With Bootsy’. He even gave me his suite when he left the hotel which was so incredibly cool!
Some might not know that Paul Oakenfold recorded one of your songs ‘Faster Kill Pussycat’ with the late Brittany Murphy? What was the story behind that?
We wrote it together when I was in Los Angeles. A while later, Paul sent me a version of the song with Brittany singing it. I always loved her as I love the film ‘Spun’, she is so awesome in that film. So it was really cool.
One of your most frequent collaborators are London duo CULT WITH NO NAME, what do you find connects you to their music in particular?
When I first heard their music, I was instantly drawn to Erik Stein’s elegant voice. For me I usually either love or dislike a voice immediately. Bryan Ferry and David Bowie have that appeal for me that Erik has, but Erik is much less theatrical and contemplative in his approach and his lyrics are brilliant which is also important to me in the bands that I love.
The brilliant partnership of Erik Stein with the amazing pianist Jonny Boux is the perfect combination. Each album is a treasure to me and I can play them at any time of day and instantly feel an elegance and calm enter my world.
This is not the first time you’ve used crowdfunding as you had a campaign for ‘Band Of Angels’. What are the pros and cons of platforms such as this?
I’ve actually made a few projects using Pledge Music. ‘The Art of Love’ CD / DVD and ‘Kiss Me Cleopatra’ remix albums were also made through Pledge Music. It’s been truly amazing to come together with my listeners to create these projects and without a platform such as Pledge Music, I have no idea if I could have continued to make records.
Pros are many, my listeners have a much better understanding of who I am as an artist, and how and why my work is created.
I can share so much more of the making of a project through the Pledge updates and there is a real sense of excitement and involvement with my listeners, that I never felt when I was on a label.
I can share the music and project with my true followers first and they know that they are experiencing something straight from me to them.
They allow me to follow these crazy visions like some kind of shaman so that they can experience an artist’s journey and I love that. It’s like, we all go on this journey together and at the end, we’ve all grown somehow because of our collaboration. I really couldn’t create these things without their help.
Also they keep me encouraged. If I know that only even a small group of people really care about what I’m doing, it’s enough to keep me happy in my work. I don’t need or want fame, but to feel like I’m doing all this work if no one gave a damn, would probably mean an early retirement!
‘Kiss Me Cleopatra’ was a particular highlight, what was that about?
It’s about gender and love and sex. The song is actually about a transsexual prostitute called Cleopatra. A praise to her beauty and the way that the tragedy of ostracism and prejudice can push people to the darker side of life, but how that can also enhance the beauty of a soul.
‘Band Of Angels’ was one of your more predominantly electronic albums. How do you look back on what it achieved for you artistically?
It was a massive turning point. It was the first time I had worked outside the comfort zone of working with a professional producer.
I ran into many challenges that I had not faced in my rather fortunate past of working with true professionals who made the technical aspects of making an album seem like a breeze.
In fact, I actually learned more about mixing and mastering through all the problems with the ‘Band Of Angels’ album, than a lifetime watching the masters could have taught me.
I had to mix and master that album twice. The last time I pretty much mixed it myself instructing the engineer at every step as no-one seemed to be getting the clarity or balance that I have come to expect from a record.
Having to really learn how to mix and listen from an analytical perspective as opposed to an emotional one was very hard for me at first. But it’s necessary to achieve the sonic quality of a good record and I feel I learned a lot from what was one of the most difficult recording experiences I have experienced.
You will be showing the ‘Ghostdriver’ film at a cinema in London with a Q&A featuring yourself and the cast. When will that be happening and what are your hopes and fears for it?
I’m very excited about the launch and premiere of ‘Ghostdriver’. I’m sure wherever we show, it will be a night to remember!
All the stars and musicians and friends and some listeners will no doubt be there, so it should be a very beautiful climax to this remarkable journey.
The location will of course be announced through Pledge Music closer to the date. However, for now I need to get on with making the film and album and focus just on that, in order to ensure my mind and heart are in the moment.
I have no hopes or fears, I am curious and open to follow this daydream of a journey wherever it takes me. It has its own life now and has already given me so much rich treasure of the heart.
Expectation and fear are very much illusory processes that are part of being human but better avoided if possible, where art is concerned.
It is enough that we are in the position to make something like this happen at all. I will do my very best, put my heart and soul into the work. Hopes and fears left my heart a long time ago.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Kelli Ali
Special thanks also to Erik Stein
The signed ‘Ghostdriver’ Original Soundtrack CD is available for Pre-Order with a special pay postage only Buy Option for those who pledged on the project via Pledge Music from http://www.kelliali.com/
The 1980 Winter Olympics took place in beautifully picturesque setting of Lake Placid, a small village amidst Adirondack Mountains in New York State.
It is fitting that an ice maiden Julie Kathryn, who was born and bred in the very place, would call herself I AM SNOW ANGEL and would start experimenting with chilling auras of electronica as her preferred genre of choice. Having relocated to the Big Apple’s Brooklyn, she released her first self-titled EP, which heralded a change of direction for the previously folk interested artist.
The electronica experiment worked to such an extent, that Kathryn became “basically addicted to writing and producing music in this genre”. As the transition was purely organic, with I AM SNOW ANGEL starting to become a self-sufficient artist: writing, producing and engineering her own records, she also embarked on co-founding FEMALE FREQUENCY, a musical collective dedicated to empowering female musicians.
Her first long player ‘Crocodile’ was fantasy inspired, centring around the “predator and prey”, bearing gentle resemblance to Kathryn’s heroes, THE POSTAL SERVICE and paying homage to the classic Americana artist BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN amongst other influences. Sometimes described as appealing to the fans of ENYA, IMOGEN HEAP or KATE BUSH, I AM SNOW ANGEL has developed her own sound, using her personal electronic template of icy landscapes and cold melancholy.
‘Desert’ is her newest EP, where Kathryn is “continuing to explore the subtle complexities of desire, passion and longing”.
The announcement of warmer things to come heralds itself in the title track opening the sequence, an inspired atmospheric rendition with enhanced vocals, which I AM SNOW ANGEL describes as “part of the aesthetic” of synth music.
‘Fever’ certainly isn’t evocative of the snowy mountains of upstate New York, which itself announces a departure from the gloom of the cold and icy in favour of breezy and fresh, as if released from the chains of winter. “Body’s on fire but she shivers with the heat” nods to vintage ERASURE in the slightest of fashions, being über modern and sophisticated.
‘Keep You Out’ opens with a country-esque guitar sequel, giving homage to Kathryn’s roots. A slower paced, eerie number at first, bursts into a club ending, before ‘Dirty Love’; a SOUL II SOUL meets SNEAKER PIMPS style shines through this varied track.
The EP closes with ‘Losing Face’, which is a BJORK sounding story of desire, culminating in sensual sexual encounters, designed to prove “something I can believe in”, and instead leaving one empty and guilty.
The eclectic nature of the music of I AM SNOW ANGEL is staggering. She owns the writing, production and engineering process, much like GRIMES, and is a pioneer when it comes to helping women make their own tunes, whatever genre they may be.
The progression into synthscapes was something that happened naturally and Kathryn’s fans are truly grateful that the experiment wasn’t just a one-off. She was, after all, made to give life to the melancholy of electro. The style of electronica infused with country roots, creates an amalgamation difficult to resist and whether it’s the snowy Adirondack Mountains, or the heat of the “Desert”, I AM SNOW ANGEL shows off her brilliance and delivers.
The ‘Desert’ EP is available as a download from 20th May 2016 via the usual digital outlets
Artists express themselves using music all the time. However, only a true embodiment of a genuine performer can shock, move, enlighten and create consternation.
Chris Corner’s “public therapy” and “an excuse to play with who he is, exploring certain parts of his personality, which he doesn’t get to explore in everyday life” is what IAMX materialises.
The name of the project, I am X, was a continuation of SNEAKER PIMPS’ album ‘Becoming X’.
Notwithstanding, this time he had become the X. The X, who changes, evolves and becomes emancipated. Since his solo debut in 2004, Corner has produced and performed his eccentric act, enriched with artistic visuals, costumes and sets, gaining vast popularity in alternative electronic music circles.
‘Metanoia’ is the sixth studio album by IAMX, and one that proved the most difficult to turn out. The artist suffered a streak of depression, deepened by cold winters of his seven year base, Berlin. The isolation led him to consider leaving the music altogether, but Corner quickly realised that “it wasn’t the music that was hurting me, it was just that I had to reprogram myself to approach things in a different way, and it became very clear to me that I still wanted to make music more than ever”.
Freshly regained enthusiasm saw Corner moving to Los Angeles to create a laid back, no rush, no pressure record, very unlike ‘Kiss + Swallow’, ‘The Alternative’, ‘Kingdom of Welcome Addiction’, ‘Volatile Times’ and finally ‘The Unified Field’. This time, he wasn’t trying to make an album because he felt it was expected, or create a meaningless pop record, which always made him feel dirty. He realised that, by addressing his issues and stripping down to show his true self, with the mental challenges and emotional problems, he could create something special, which underlines the fundamental change in himself.
‘No Maker Made Me’ creates a religious controversy in the chorus from the onset, a powerful opener to this enriching production; “You f***ing sinner” being proudly executed over the uncaring, gritty synth.
The mood changes, however, with the oh-so-musical ‘Happiness’. A longing synth ballad, chasing the one, elusive element of human existence that’s worth living for. It fluctuates between the soft, harsh, loud and melodious.
‘North Star’ entices with excellent, gentle synth, which slowly becomes harsher, stronger and dirtier, bursting into a trance inspired dance of insanity. ‘Say Hello Melancholia’ tempts seductively, entraps into a powerful love affair of “paranoid dreams waiting in line”, a softer, slower tune; poignant lyrically and subdued mellifluously.
‘The Background Noise’ skilfully portraits the uneasiness of mind, where everything seems well on surface, in a normal life, but something bubbles underneath: something sinister, which “isn’t sitting right, something keeps me up at night… the background noise”. It’s a definitive IAMX tune, describing the thorny nature of Corner’s troubled mind. The theme continues with piano based ‘Insomnia’, a cry for healing to “save me from myself”.
‘Look Outside’ with its touching strings, ethereal melody and gentle drums cushions the blows of life. Corner raises the glass to his new Los Angeles home, which has embraced his madness to bathe him in the tranquility he’s been searching for.
‘Oh Cruel Darkness Embrace Me’ shifts the mood into a synth laden utopia, covering the subject of hypocrisy in the middle classes in the “f***ed up world”, while ‘Aphrodisiac’ bursts out with a high pitched vocal over uneasy electronica; it’s classic, arty IAMX. This heavy dance track requires serious head bopping and floor stomping, before it sharply cuts off into ‘Surrender’. This distinctive, lethargic and leisurely track, like a waltz, winds itself around the ballroom dance floor, lit with a million glass lights, sharply shining their luminous glow and calling to “surrender”.
The production is culminated with the piano laced ‘Wildest Wind’, an extravaganza of everything that’s best in a well written electronic song. This pining, yearning desire, excellently labelled with intricate sounds, is at times reminiscent of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Sibeling’.
Since Corner is “seeing things very clearly now”, seeing “the music nourishes me”, his musical purpose is stamped all over ‘Metanoia’, the regained purpose, which he had lost for a while, and what a comeback it is.
Turmoiled, lost, then reclaimed and strong, that’s what IAMX is, a different take of the X perhaps?
‘Metanoia’ is released by Caroline International in CD, vinyl LP and download formats
IAMX play London’s Koko on Monday 9th November 2015 as part of an extensive world tour
KELLI ALI is probably best known as the voice of SNEAKER PIMPS’ hit singles ‘Spin Spin Sugar’ and ‘6 Underground’.
Their 1996 debut album ‘Becoming X’has been held up as a landmark recording of the Trip Hop genre. While the original line-up of Ali, Chris Corner and Liam Howe made only one album, each have been successful in their chosen paths since.
Corner took the title of that SNEAKER PIMPS’ debut quite literally and is now IAMX while Howe has carved out a career as a successful producer, working with most notably MARINA & THE DIAMONDS.
Following her own path of independence as a solo artist, KELLI ALI has released four acclaimed albums ‘Tigermouth’ (2003), ‘Psychic Cat’ (2004), ‘Rocking Horse’ (2008) and ‘Butterfly’ (2009) as well as a joint album ‘A Paradise Inhabited By Devils’ with Swiss pianist OZYMANDIS.
Her stylish, neo-gothic demeanour has also attracted the attention of willing collaborators as diverse as PAUL OAKENFOLD (with whom she penned the song ‘Faster Kill Pussycat’ for the late actress Brittany Murphy), BRYAN FERRY, MARILYN MANSON, MARC ALMOND and BOOTSY COLLINS.
Like her former colleague IAMX, KELLI ALI’s new album ‘Band Of Angels’ has been crowd funded via Pledge Music, thus providing artistic freedom and connection with the audience in one fell swoop.
The result is a beautiful hybrid of electronic and classical music with Ali’s distinctive voice as its emotional centre, expression that is reflectively KATE BUSH, GOLDFRAPP, BAT FOR LASHES and JULEE CRUISE in various measures.
‘Band Of Angels’ is an adventurous album too with MOTOR, CULT WITH NO NAME and occasional CLIENT collaborator KINDLE as co-conspirators in realising Ali’s daydream vision of dark angels and vampire bikers, “a journey into the dark heart of a fallen angel” as she eloquently puts it.
A neo-industrial drama accompanying Ali’s wispy layered vocals intros ‘The Art Of Love’ before orchestrations and mechanical rhythms kick in for a lush mini-opera. ‘The Hunter’ is sweet and mysterious in that KATE BUSH fashion, KELLI ALI’s voice hitting angelic qualities as willowing piano joins in to add another resonant dimension.
KINDLE provides the first of his electro-metallic contributions to ‘Silent Requiem’ over a lovely building soundscape before the album suddenly blisters into a bit of techno! Here, MOTOR provide the electro stomp on ‘Kiss Me Cleopatra’ that was evident on their recent ‘Man Made Machine’ album which also saw DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore and GARY NUMAN make guest appearances. It’s a delightful lift that is still coherent with the earlier overtures, thanks to that consistent factor of Ali’s spirited larynx which recalls ‘Spin Spin Sugar’ in all its frisky and passionate glory.
The laid-back mood returns on ‘Falling’ and while not a cover of JULEE CRUISE’s ‘Twin Peaks’ hit, it does possess shades of those Lynch-ian snow capped atmospheres. But piano and string ballad ‘Fear My Shepherd’ has even more of a Twin Peaks vibe, Angelo Baladamenti’s influence is all over it although closer scrutiny reveals it to be the work of the album’s central producer Luke Battery around a hymn-like solo composition by the girl from Birmingham.
‘In the House Of Love’ ups the pace again and takes on a more aggressive stance as octave shifts, virtual Goth choirs and tinkling ivories join a positively feline delivery from Ali which gets filtered ‘Felt Mountain’ style to add a touch of extra eeriness. ‘When Darkness Falls’ is similarly feisty, swathed in synths and drones while driven by digital drum machine. Despite the melancholy, her falsetto vibrato is almost euphoric.
Post-punk electronic balladeers CULT WITH NO NAME appropriately are partners on the album’s closing numbers ‘Band Of Angels’ and ‘Eternity’. With Ali having sung on their 2012 album ‘Above As Below’, a reciprocal arrangement in recognition of their mutual appreciation society was inevitable. The title track is laid bare but Ali’s voice shines over this, the most classically oriented piece on the album. A lengthy introduction to ‘Eternity’ sets the scene for the album’s natural conclusion on a percussive ballad where Ali adds some more vibrato before a wonderfully expansive climax.
At ten tracks, ‘Band Of Angels’ doesn’t outstay its welcome and the variation in sonic textures and tempos makes for an ambitious but cohesive listening experience. Full of depth and quality, it is worthy of time and investigation.