Kelela’s Philosophy of Love

hen I sit down to talk with Kelela in July, there’s 6,000 miles between us—she’s in balmy Los Angeles, I’m in wintery Argentina—so we speak through our screens. In this case, though, breaking bread across the chasm-like gulf of physical distance by way of Skype feels fitting. Kelela’s sensuous electronic music is all about the interplay between soulfulness and technology, as her wistful, siren-like vocals float over surreally digitized soundscapes.

The singer’s forthcoming debut album, Take Me Apart, is a musical treatise on how passion sometimes gets in the way of life, with spacious tracks that illuminate the way we grow into, and around, the people we choose to love, like vines. The difficult work we have to do in leaving a relationship, or in making one work, is to disentangle ourselves and deconstruct the good and bad choices we’ve made along the way—we essentially have to take ourselves apart.

The record may be the 34-year-old’s first full-length, but it’s been a long time coming. A second-generation Ethiopian-American, Kelela was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the suburbs of Gaithersburg, Maryland. She grew up on a diverse musical diet that included jazz icon Sarah Vaughan, Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke, and TLC. After aborted educational stints at Montgomery College and American University, where she studied sociology with interest in sustainable development in Africa, she relocated to Los Angeles in 2010.

In L.A., she flirted with jazz and prog metal before settling into a more idiosyncratic lane, teaming up with alternative club label Fade to Mind to release her startling 2013 mixtape, Cut 4 Me, which garnered co-signs from the likes of Björk and the Knowles sisters. She migrated to Warp Records for her 2015 EP follow-up, Hallucinogen, and continued to pair up with intrepid soundscapers like Arca and Clams Casino. More recently, she has popped up on albums by Gorillaz, Danny Brown, and Solange, while her winning, no-fucks stage persona has made her a perennial music festival favorite.

Kelela leans heavily on the “black girl pop” universe that Janet Jackson, working with producers Jam and Lewis, galvanized in the mid 1980s. Janet, in turn, paved a lane for lithe ’90s vocalists including Aaliyah and Kelis, who paired with adventurous Pro Tools wizards like Timbaland, the Neptunes, and Missy Elliott in order to redefine soulful pop as whimsical headphone psychedelia inspired as much by Jodeci’s mechanized R&B as UK trip-hop acts like Massive Attack and Portishead. It’s this weird world of breathy, compressed soprano vocals, turbulent beats, and warped synthesizers that remains Kelela’s happy place.

Chris Cornell, Searching for Solitude

On a soundstage done up to resemble a demented interrogation chamber, Chris Cornell is shackled to a perforated metal dentist’s chair of a sort you imagine Trent Reznor has stored in his garage somewhere. Frances Farmer-grade Velcro restraints bind his wrists to a dull gunmetal crossbar that projects from the chair’s back; his temples sprout shiny plastic things that are supposed to be electrodes, but which more closely resemble bubble-packed Drixoral tablets with wires coming out of them. His baggy sharkskin suit is puckered with exertion and sweat.

On Stage 2 of L.A.’s Occidental Studios, the new Soundgarden video is being filmed. Jerry Casale, who used to play bass in Devo but specializes now in directing apocalyptic videos for guitar bands, gestures toward a P.A., who begins to wrap a thick leather strap around Cornell’s forehead, immobilizing the singer in a position halfway between Malcolm McDowell’s posture of repentance in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange and Cornell’s own patented Jesus Christ pose.

The video is for Soundgarden’s Beatles-tinged agony epic, “Blow Up the Outside World,” and Casale intends to blow up as much of it as possible on this soundstage. Beavis and Butt-head are going to like this one.

“Is it too warm for you in here?” a gofer asks Cornell. “Would you like a drink of water? Can I get you some cookies to munch on while they set up the shot?”

“Is there going to be a grip nearby?” Cornell cracks, avoiding her eyes to the extent that it is possible for him to do anything at all in three hundred pounds of bondage gear. “I mean, in case I need somebody to scratch my nose.”

The P.A. cinches the strap tight across Cornell’s scalp. He shudders with pain.

“When I give the signal, could you twitch a little?” asks Casale. “To make it look as if you’re really being shocked.”

Cornell strains to flip Casale the finger, but the restraints on his wrists limit his gesture to a mile spasm.

“Hmmmmm,” Casale says. “Perfect.”
If you were Chris Cornell, you would have two Grammys, six albums (seven, if you count Temple of the Dog), and three Pomeranians. Posters of your bare chest would be on the walls of teenagers all over the world. You would spend your mornings wake-surfing near your cabin on Puget Sound; your afternoons snowboarding in the Cascades. Your last album would have sold over five million copies in the United States; your current one, the splendid if art-damaged heavy-rock opus Down on the Upside, would already have sold two million in six months. With Aerosmith imploding, Pearl Jam threatened by willful obscurity, and Metallica slumping into boogie-band senescence, you would be the lead singer and principal songwriter of what is poised to be the Greatest Hard Rock Band in the World.

And sometimes—for days, maybe weeks on end—you would be afraid to leave your house.

It’s not that Cornell has been necessarily wounded by fame or anything—he’s not pulling a Billy Corgan. It’s just that he’s much more comfortable at home with his guitar than he is out in the world. He rarely enters the Seattle scene: When I mention Linda’s, the bar that used to function as the Elaine’s of Seattle rockdom, he has trouble placing the name. On the infrequent occasions he does go out to dinner, it is often as the plus-one of his wife of six years, Susan Silver, who manages Soundgarden as well as Crackerbox, Sweetwater, Sponge, and Alice in Chains. (He has been with Silver, who was his first real girlfriend, since 1984; they occasionally seem like separate parts of the same superorganism.) Random Cornell sightings in the Northwest are almost as rare as sightings of Bigfoot.

You’ll never read about Cornell in a gossip column. Until now, he’s never agreed to be the subject of a major magazine feature by himself, has never had his adolescent traumas limned by the teen magazines or been psychoanalyzed by the slicks. Though he’s probably granted more than a thousand interviews, his prejudices, neuroses, his views on music are less known than those of less accomplished guys—Scott Weiland or Layne Staley, say, or even Eddie Vedder, who technically doesn’t do interviews at all.
This low media profile is partially due to the fact that Cornell has always wanted Soundgarden to be seen as a band, and partially because guitarist Kim Thayil is so garrulous and opinionated that it’s easy to let him do the press work. (When I was supposed to interview Cornell for Doug Pray’s Seattle-scene documentary Hype! a couple of years ago, he slipped out of the building while the camera crew was still setting up its lights, so that Kim and the drummer Matt Cameron ended up being the only band members talking about Soundgarden in the film.) But it’s also because Chris is so obviously less himself when he’s talking than he is when he’s shut in some room of his own devising, a thousand miles wide. Although in person he’s rarely less than charming, to strangers Cornell can be so shy, so scant of words, that he can seem practically autistic.

I have never seen him smile more broadly than the moment he was told that an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics described happiness as a psychiatric disorder.

Cigarettes help. So do a couple of cranberry and vodkas on the terrace of his hotel room late at night, high above the Sunset Strip, and a view that stretches for miles.

“I’m lucky I get to go out and sing,” Chris says, fumbling for a cigarette lighter, “because when I’m at home, I don’t talk to anyone; I don’t go out socially. My one outlet is that I get to stand in front of five thousand people and sing ‘Outshined.’ When I’m alone between tours, writing songs, I might not speak a word to another human being for a week or two or three.”

Chris gives up on the cigarette lighter and begins toying with the leaves on a ficus.

“People just don’t realize how much fun it is to be depressed,” he says with a grin—this from the man whose moods may have had as much historical impact on the gloominess of Northwest rock as the surfeit of negative ions in the air.

Lindsay Ell’s ‘The Project’ Is a No. 1 Album

Lindsay Ell‘s much-anticipated debut album, The Project, had a big first week: The record debuted at No. 1 on the Neilsen Soundscan Current Country Albums chart.

Ell is only the second solo female artist to debut at No. 1 on the Current Country Albums chart in 2017. The Project also ranked in the Top 10 on the all-genre Top Current Albums chart, landing at No. 7 there.

“The Project is the record I’ve wanted to release since I was a little girl, but as an artist, sometimes it takes time to figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it,” Ell says in a press release. “I’m so grateful to my entire team for standing by my side throughout the whole process. Every single fan that has come to my shows, stood in meet-and-greet lines and sang songs that they’ve learned through YouTube videos is what keeps me working so hard.

“Having a No. 1-selling album is incredible, and I’m overwhelmed by the support,” she adds. “I’ve finally made a record that’s me, and I’m just happy fans are loving it as much as I do.”

The Project was produced by Kristian Bush; Ell’s latest single from the record is “Waiting on You.” Ell celebrated her No. 1 debut on social media as well, tweeting a thank you to her fans.

“This. Is. Crazy. I don’t even know what to say,” Ell writes. “I’m beyond humbled & grateful for every one of you. Thank you. We’re No. 1!!” Ell is currently out on tour with Brad Paisley.

An Electromechanical Sound Machine That Makes Music With Rocks

A rolling stone gathers no moss as they say, but this collection of stones manipulated by electromechanical devices are capable of performing George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” thanks to artist Neil Mendoza. Titled Rock Band, this kinetic sound art installation is actually four different instruments including a xylophone, a buzzing base, two spinners, and a pair of slappers. Mendoza describes how each device works:

Xylophone: Inside each of the tubes is a small pebble. When the Teensy receives a note for this instrument, it triggers a solenoid (electromagnet), to launch the pebble up a tube and strike a key. For the design of this piece, I wrote a piece of software that calculated the size each key needed to be to produce the appropriate frequency and then cut them out using a water jet cutter.

Bass: This is the small marble circle in the front. When the Teensy receives a note for this one, it causes the plunger of a solenoid (electromagnet) to vibrate at the frequency of the appropriate musical note against the rock.

Spinners: These are the two large objects on either side and are percussive. Inside each of these, there are two magnets attached to each end of a shaft. On the outside, there are two magnetic rocks, Hematite, that are attracted to the magnets on the inside. When a note is received, the shaft spins and one of the rocks is guided away from its magnet and launched through the air. It lands on a piece of marble that has been cut to size to fit in the machine.

Slapper: These slap the rocks with pieces of fake leather and provide some light percussion.

All of the machines were built at Autodesk’s Pier 9 workshop in San Francisco as part of their artist in residence program.

The Eagles Add More Shows With Vince Gill

After wrapping up their Classic East and Classic West festival shows, the Eagles have announced that they will (briefly) hit the road again this fall. Both Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, son of the late Glenn Frey, will again play with the band at each of the four upcoming shows.

The Eagles’ newest tour dates will take place in late October — from Oct. 17 through Oct. 27 — in Greensboro, N.C.; Atlanta, Ga.; Louisville, Ky.; and Detroit, Mich. Short stints on the road, like this one, will likely become the norm for the Eagles, the group’s guitarist, Joe Walsh, tells Rolling Stone.

“We’ve got some new blood. We all know the songs pretty good, but we just have to run the drill,” Walsh explains about the first string of shows since Glenn Frey died in 2016. “It’s like being an athlete and doing the reps to get into shape. The new guys [Deacon Frey and Gill] have to get to the point where it’s automatic or it’s transparent.”

According to the Eagles’ manager, Irving Azoff, the idea of adding Gill to the band’s lineup came about during December’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, during which Gill helped pay tribute to the Eagles.

“In my mind, I always thought I’d have made a good Eagle,” says Gill. “But in a million years, I never would have seen this coming. It’s pretty surreal. I turned 60 recently, and to get to be a part of this amazing legacy of songs, that’s the greatest part of all this for me.”

Following Frey’s death due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia, Henley insisted that there was no chance the band would reunite but later hinted that Deacon Frey would be the only suitable stand-in for his father.