Musician Profile: Lindsay Kay - Los Angeles
Hi Lindsay! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
This question is always so hard! Ummmm let’s see… I’m a 26-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter, but I have found my home here in Los Angeles, a city that I truly love and loves me back. My music is quiet, melancholy singer-songwriter music built on a foundation of acoustic instruments. Working with other women is deeply important to me, and I will always hire a woman for a job before a man, sorry not sorry. Music and art (in all its forms) are definitely the great joys and passions of my life and what I spend the most time thinking about and doing. I love going to the movies, cooking, being with my friends and being by myself, trying new restaurants, spending time in museums… but I also watch a lot of Keeping up with the Kardashians. Life is about balance.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I was a very musical child and was fortunate to have an observant mother who fostered that inclination and gave me the opportunities to continue developing myself as a singer and musician from a very young age. I was a really shy kid, and I still consider myself to be very introverted, so opportunities to perform at a young age were extremely thrilling and invaluable to me because I felt I was able to truly be myself on a stage and express myself in a way that I was slightly fearful of doing in everyday life amongst my peers. I was involved in children’s choirs, show choirs, musicals, and dance classes when I was very young, and as I got older I began to write songs and became interested in the guitar. I took lessons off and on both on guitar and voice throughout my childhood and teenage years, and after hearing the music of Feist and Joni Mitchell and John Mayer, I started to get more serious about songwriting and used their music as sort of self-crafted masterclasses. I went on to be quite involved in the music programs in my high school in Calgary, AB, which had a pretty phenomenal arts programs for a public school, and it was there that I became very interested in jazz and had a teacher who really took me under her wing and taught me so much about the genre.
I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and studied Jazz Composition and vocal/guitar Performance (though I dropped Jazz Comp when I had about 4 credits left – I really hated the rigidity of it). At Berklee I was really focused on contemporary and improvisational jazz music, but in my last few semesters at the college I started to feel a massive pull towards more simplistic, melodic, lyric based music and songwriting again, and I decided that jazz was no longer the music that spoke to me or fit me properly. Jazz, for me, had really become more of a game of trying to prove myself and my abilities to the people (men) around me and less about actually loving the music I was making. There’s still a jazz influence in my music to this day that I suspect will never leave because of the sheer number of months and years I devoted to exploring that music and style, and I’m happy to have it there.
Apart from my formal education, I truly believe that every shitty day job I’ve ever had (and I’ve had many over the years) have led me to create, simply because I have come to realize that I hate spending my time doing anything that isn’t serving my artistry so much that it motivates me to succeed doubly as an artist. I worked at JYSK (the Canadian equivalent of Bed, Bath, and Beyond) when I was 14, Starbucks as a barista for years, Zara, farmer’s markets, nannying, the list goes on… and I was frustrated by each and every job, not because they were all terrible jobs necessarily, but because they were taking time away from my creativity, and that is such an internal struggle that every broke artist trying to do their thing knows.
Were you always interested in music or was it a love that grew over time? What made you choose to move from Canada to Boston for college?
I truly always loved music. The love has changed form over time and has taken different shapes at different times in my life, but it’s a love that has always been there. It’s a really comforting constant to have, and I’m not unaware of how lucky I am to have always known exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Many people have to search long and hard for their purpose, but mine was just gifted to me at birth, and I’m grateful!
Leaving Canada was something that I really felt I had to do in order to succeed. I’m not sure why exactly… it probably had a lot of do with being a restless, slightly angsty teen and having that “anywhere but here” mentality. I still feel like I am meant to be here, even despite the alarming current political climate. There is amazing art being made in Canada and the music scene is fantastic, so there is really no merit to that train of thought I had at 17, but it was what I felt I had to do and I’ve always trusted my gut. My choice to move to Boston specifically and attend Berklee was in part because they offered me some scholarship money, so that certainly made the school a little more attractive to both me and my mother, who bankrolled the rest of my education. I wasn’t particularly interested in living in Boston at the time (though after spending 5 years there I am a true lover of Boston and miss the city so dearly), but I knew that Berklee had a huge number of international students, and it had the largest student body of every other music conservatory I had applied to and the most diverse staff, so I knew I would learn so much not only about jazz, but about all kinds of music from all over the world. I felt confident that anything I wanted to learn, there would be someone there to teach it to me, which ended up being mostly true, and I am glad that I went to that school.
You currently have 2 EPs out and an album being released this year. How has your song style changed over the years?
The main thing that changed my life as a songwriter is routine and discipline. As a young artist, there’s this sort of mythology surrounding great artists about being struck by inspiration at random times and creating work only when the muses hit you over the head with brilliance. You hear these stories about Bob Dylan writing iconic songs in 15 minutes and Tom Waits having melodies and lyrics come to him in the car as if a gift from God. I spent so many years waiting to be hit over the head, and it pretty much never happened, so up until about two years ago, I wrote really infrequently, and because of that, I wasn’t learning and improving as quickly as I could have been, because like any craft, you need to learn by doing, and doing often. I would write songs really quickly and just settle for whatever I put down on the page the first time. I rarely edited or reworked songs. But then I took these incredible two years between December of 2015 and October of 2017 to write this album I am currently finishing recording, and I delved very deeply into my songwriting process and finally began to understand that structure is the key to my creativity. Inspiration very seldom strikes me out of the blue – the muses show up only when I show up, every morning at the same time, and with the help of Steven Pressfield’s amazing books The War of Art and Turning Pro, I began really showing up every single day to do the work, without excuses. That, combined with the knowledge that Leonard Cohen took several YEARS to write “Hallelujah”, led me to becoming very intimate with the idea of editing and re-editing and re-re-editing songs until I truly felt that my album had no filler material. Each word and each phrase was intentional and there for a reason.
Could you tell us more about your new album and the songs that have been released so far? We heard it was an all female produced album! Was this an important decision for you to make for your new work?
I began writing this music a little over a year before the Me Too Movement had begun, and before the Women’s Marches had happened, but even still, there was a tangible energy in the air amongst women at the time. I felt this restlessness and this unspoken pain within myself and surrounding my friends, and naturally my music started to center around themes of femininity and womanhood as I was writing it. About 3 or 4 songs in, I started to realize that a concept album was taking form, and that I had to see that vision through. The more I conceptualized the recording process, the more it became clear that I couldn’t have men working on this album with me. I was singing about very vulnerable experiences completely specific to feminine beings, and I didn’t feel a male musician or a male engineer could understand or interpret the music the way I needed it to be realized. I decided quite early on that I wanted to create this album top to bottom with an entirely female team; every role, from studio musicians and engineers to album artwork design to PR to everyone on the music video crew, has been filled by a woman/female-identifying person, and I can absolutely say that it was the right choice for me and for my songs. I really believe you can hear the difference – it feels connected and authentic in this very nuanced but very real way. The first single, “Invited,” is out now on all major streaming platforms, and the song explores the way in which men demand space, time, energy, attention from women, in ways both small and large, subtle and aggressive. I’m very excited to release the full-length album in a few short months!
What does your song writing process look like?
It’s quite rigid now, but I did a lot of trial and error for a long time trying to get the best results. When I’m in writing mode, I get up at 7 am, go for an hour long hike (I’m fortunate to live quite close to a nice hiking trail in LA) and listen to a podcast, make breakfast and coffee, sit down and read the NYTimes art section while I eat, check a few emails, write my “morning pages” (fill three pages in a notebook with free-form writing… this usually ends up taking on a journal/feelings vibe most mornings for me), then begin writing music. I’ll either try to start something new, or I’ll continue working on whatever I left off on the day before. The starting something new is horrible – some days nothing comes and you bang your head on the desk for hours. Picking up where you left off yesterday is much easier. I’ll write for two hours, take a 30 minute lunch break, then pick back up for another 90 minutes. The time fulfillment is important because I have very little self-discipline, so if I kept the writing time open ended each day “depending on how I felt” I would always feel like quitting and wouldn’t put in the difficult work necessary to get to the good stuff. A lot of times ideas come right when I’m on the brink of wanting to give up.
As a musician, you have to be open and vulnerable with your words, lyrics, and performances. Do you find that you are an open and vulnerable person in all aspects of your life?
Definitely not! It’s something that I’m really working on and have made some strides in within my friendships and relationships, and it’s constantly on my mind! But it’s always been a challenge for me to make myself vulnerable, despite being a deeply emotional and empathetic person, or perhaps because of that. I think this is why I have always loved songwriting and performing so much, and probably why my music is pretty exclusively melancholic and sad – I am finally able to say all of the things I don’t feel able to say otherwise. I have no problem voicing my joy and happiness in daily life, it’s the more difficult things that I am always hesitant to share. Writing songs and singing them in front of people gives a voice to my thoughts and pain.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Sorrow. I think there’s a real luxurious beauty in sadness.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I am very good at it, which feels amazing and fulfilling while in action, but there will always be people who are much better at it, so there is forever room to improve and a striving for betterment, which keeps me interested and excited. It’s a life-long practice – a marathon, not a sprint.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face in your music?
I often feel like I’m not doing the right thing as a musician or like I’m not following “the path to success” that other musicians have laid out before me. I think the reason for this, I’m realizing, is that I’m really an artist first and a musician second, and most musicians I know are musicians always, and I have trouble relating to that mentality sometimes. I struggled for a long time with playing a lot of gigs that I had no desire to play, or going on the road when I didn’t want to… always saying yes to everything because I was told that this is what you have to do. You play 1000 shitty gigs before you get one good one. You play for 4 people in a new dive bar every night of the week because “you never know who could walk in and hear you.” Ugh, it just doesn’t fit me. And although I still have doubts sometimes and perhaps feel like I’m not putting my energy in the right places, I’m starting to see that there isn’t one way of doing things. I don’t have to go to a sports bar every Thursday and play my quiet, emotional music to a loud room of dudes yelling over me to “pay my dues.” I’ve done a lot of that because I’ve felt obligated or like it was just part of the process, but as I’m getting older I’m settling into myself and my life and realizing I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. Being happy and feeling fulfilled artistically is much more important to me than checking boxes off of some sort of arbitrary list. So I am trying to simply focus on making good work, and only going after the opportunities that truly feel right.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Because no one can understand a woman’s experience like another woman, and that understanding truly shows in the work and collaborations. I really believe that men have convinced us that we need them in order to create. For example, only 2% of people working in music studios are women, and as such, the obvious choice and the path of least resistance is to hire a man to engineer or produce your album, because they are everywhere and we hear about their work and their accomplishments far more. They’re just so visible, and we’ve been trained to think that existing creatively or really in any space without them is impossible or inconceivable, because how many truly all-female made projects do we see? Or even just majority female-made projects? In music especially, overwhelmingly the creative teams are made up of men. Was it much more work to search high and low for the amazing women who worked on my project? Yes! It took a lot of time to find the right folks, simply because I was drawing from a smaller pool and still needed to find the right musicians who were qualified musically and not just because of their gender. Perhaps it would have been much less effort to revert back to working with any of the men in my circle, but it was so much more rewarding to put the time into finding all of these special women and to really feel free and vulnerable in the studio without any fear of being undermined or challenged because of my gender. It freed up so much energy and space to just focus on the work. It is important to me that women work with other women simply to challenge this myth that we need men to make something, and the uplifting and understanding that occurs is so special and needed, certainly in my life and I think in most women’s too.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Solange Knowles is one of my very biggest inspirations – and OF COURSE her sister Beyonce. I don’t know how Ms. Tina made those two women. What a true goddess. Roxanne Gay, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith, Greta Gerwig, the 2 Dope Queens (Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson), the list goes one… And honestly, I am most inspired by the amazing creative women in my life! My mother, who started a company from the ground up while pregnant with me, and fostered its growth and success as a single mother, and my female and female-identifying friends who I am so blessed to have hold space for me and my work, and who provide an outlet for discussing art and being young and hustling and what the future holds. Watching them make something from nothing is very inspiring to me.
How do you manage your time?
I try to just go week by week, otherwise I get quite overwhelmed. In the past few years I’ve really tried to become more of a morning person, because I have realized that mornings are my most productive time, and my evenings are pretty much useless in terms of accomplishing any real creative work. The sun goes down and so does my motivation! So I try to be conscious of that and also make sure to schedule in time to rest and be by myself to recharge, which is becoming increasingly harder.
How do you deal with moments of self doubt?
Postmates-ing Shake Shack, crying, calling my mom, watching One Direction videos on YouTube to calm down, then just going and doing the thing anyways even if I feel anxious, which I almost always do if it’s something worth doing. I haven’t managed to nail this yet clearly.
What are you trying to learn right now?
What I really want my life to look like.
What are some of your favorite places in LA?
The Hollywood Farmer’s Market (I’d be lost without my bread guy!!), my apartment (I live in this old Hollywood building that Paramount used to own and housed their movie stars in… it has a definite vibe and so much history and I love living here), Cleo (fav restaurant), Book Soup, The Cal Mar Hotel in Santa Monica, LACMA and the Hammer Museum, The Hollywood Hills (for aimless windows-down driving), The Central Market (breakfast sandwich from Eggslut!), the DTLA public library, any of the Laemmle Theaters, Little Tokyo (for your sushi and sheet mask needs.) …the list is endless. I love LA! Too many great places to name.