I sat down for dinner with Astra Kelly on July 24, 2012 at Salad Style, which is located in downtown San Diego, California. She had the Seared Ahi, while I opted for the recommended Soba Noodles. This is a great place for a healthy bite to eat, in my opinion, and it proved to be a very suitable environment for our discussion.
First, let me just say that Astra is such a cool person. I first got in contact with her back in 2011 when I was interested in learning more about the industry, recording studios, etc., and she welcomed me into Capricorn Studios with open arms to meet the crew, ask questions, and hang out after work on occasion. She's Capricorn's studio manager, by the way, and she is extremely knowledgeable.
What about her music, you ask? Astra describes herself as a powerful female singer/songwriter who plays a mean acoustic guitar and sings from the heart. Definitely take a listen to her ReverbNation when you get a chance if you haven't already found your way there.
To give you a brief history, Astra released her first album in 1996, and since then she has released a total of 6 albums, not including some of her guest work on other artists' albums. Originally, she is from the suburbs of Chicago, where she came to rock the city's late night scene throughout the 90's, around the same time the Smashing Pumpkins hit and broke out of the same locale.
The itch to go on tour grew on her, so she took off in 1999 and put over 82,000 miles on her tour van over the course of nearly 2 years. Traveling all over the United States, she handled booking and promoting throughout the tour, and her cat proved to be great company throughout the journey. Things were going very well until the entire tour came to a crashing end - literally.
One evening, on her way to a gig in Colorado, Astra hit black ice and rolled her van several times, not coming to rest until she was upside down on the train tracks. The way she remembers it, "I wasn't sure that I was even alive...I kept pinching myself and looking around, and at one point when I was out of the van, I looked back inside and I could swear I saw myself inside."
She remembers smelling gasoline and thinking the van was going to blow up, but amidst all the stress, she says at one point she distinctly felt something higher protecting her, and it was really incredible. "I'm not sure what it was, but something reached out and held me, and I knew I was going to be okay."
Eventually, a vehicle soon pulled over to help her out. They called a tow truck and started collecting all of her gear, which at that point was all over the road, the ditch, and the train tracks.
"My stuff, all my stuff, was just everywhere. Posters, CDs, my guitar, pretty much everything had exploded out of the van during the accident and was all over the road. It was surreal, and under the light of the full moon I could see everything."
The next thing that happened was incredible: the train came down the tracks at full speed and crashed into the van, dragging it over a mile down the tracks before finally coming to a stop.
This was the rest of our discussion:
Steve: Did the accident influence your music?
Astra: Yes, it made me more open to the intuitive nature of creating music. Although I didn't do anything with music for a few months after that - the tour was over, and I was opening up to new ways of being creative.
Steve: Like what?
Astra: I bought 40 acres of land in Colorado to start a music festival.
Steve: No way! That's awesome - what's the status of the land now?
Astra: I pay it off next month, actually. There's never been a music festival, though.
Steve: That's really great. So, tell me more about the tour before things came to a 'crashing end' - what genre of music were you playing?
Astra: My first album was what I like to call "Acoustic Soul". Since then, I've branched more off into "Rock" and "Melodic Rock". The material I'm working on now for my upcoming album, Parlor Songs, is more electronic-based, with beats, acoustic guitar, bass drums, and even some 1940's singer style influence.
Steve: Cool, I can't wait to hear it. I take it you're in the process of recording this album now, then?
Astra: Yes, we've been recording since the spring and are working on finishing a few mixes now, so we can start promoting it.
Steve: Do you play guitar and sing at the same time during recording, or how does that work for you?
Astra: I'm at a point where I want to focus more or less entirely on singing, although I played all the guitar parts in the studio. I'll have my guitar player handle them live, though. My long time bass player and drummer also played on the tracks and DJ Coda Collins handled the beats.
Steve: What do you think about when you're singing?
Astra: I don't really think that much about it anymore. There's an energy that happens, a spiritual, emotional thing. I feel the melodies and music in a transcendental way, and I want people to feel it in their gut, heart and soul when I deliver.
Steve: That's really good feedback. What about the technical aspect of singing?
Astra: Well, when I first started out I was loud all the time and accompanying myself with really hard strumming acoustic guitar. This was good, because it really made a strong impression on my audiences at the time and was really powerful. Now, my sound has evolved into the more dynamic, melodic style that I am working on now.
Steve: Dynamics are understandably important, and it sounds like they're especially important for the meaning of your upcoming album, Parlor Songs. What's the goal for the new album, then?
Astra: The scope and depth of this project is amazing and has taken me on an incredible journey already. Right now I'm just charging toward the release of the record, but then hope that it takes me overseas and around the world.
Steve: Is there a specific goal for the music itself and how you see it coming together on the new album?
Astra: Yes, it's a concept album. It's all about various stages of love and heartbreak. Altogether there will be 9 songs, plus a prelude and an interlude. Each song has a different drawing of a heart that corresponds to it. I also collaborated with 5 other local songwriters on some of the songs; I wanted to share others' stories and not just my own. I was very specific at who I chose to work on each song.
Steve: Can you give me some examples?
Astra: Sure. "Shoot Me Down" is about fighting in a relationship and dealing with someone who is always instigating. "Rolling Along" is about being in an abusive relationship and finally finding the courage, strength and acceptance to get out. "The Weight" is about feeling the weight lifted once the heart has healed after a break up. "Fetch" is about the unconditional love we receive from our pets.
Steve: Sweet. It'll be interesting to see how the whole thing fits together, and what order you place the songs in the end. Will there be a debut?
Astra: Friday, September 7, 2012 at House of Blues here in downtown San Diego. It'll be part of the Local Brews Local Grooves event - 14 bands, 2 stages, and craft beer. Tickets will be $5.00 at the door.
Steve: That sounds pretty awesome. I like music and craft beers!
Astra: Haha, yeah, I hope you can make it.
s Steve: Definitely. Before we finish up here, I have to ask you about the record art on the wall of Capricorn Studios. What's up with that?
Astra: I did it, actually. I have done 4 broken record paintings total and sold 2. I get the records from Feel It a couple doors down from the studio, he gives me all the scratched records he can't sell. Then I break them up in my bathtub and get to work. Just so you know, people think records break cleanly, but they don't - they shatter into a million pieces! You have to force a record to break, so the more brittle and old they are, the better.
Steve: Nice, well you'll have to keep me informed about your artwork so I can continue to share more pictures of what you're doing.
Astra: Will do. I'm going to launch a kickstarter custom art sale to fund the release of Parlor Songs.
Steve: It looks like we're about to get kicked out of here since it's getting late. Thank you so much for your time - we will have to reconvene for a follow up after your debut.
Astra: That sounds great. Thank you!