Analogue Music | Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

By Matt Conner

It's as if she's merely a conduit.

To hear Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith explain her creative process and artistic principles, it becomes clear that she sees her place within a grander narrative. She is both giver and receiver, with an ever-present curiosity that illuminates new sonic ideas that she then shares in the hopes of helping listeners reach their own understanding—whatever that means for each person. Artist as conduit.

She states a bit of this in "Expanding Electricity," the closing track on her latest album, The Mosaic of Transformation. Midway through the song, she asks,"How can I help to serve you so you can do what you do?" Yet when we ask her about this very line, she backs off of the one-sided nature of the query. She's not providing any end result previously packaged on her end. Instead, she says, she's captured a beautiful moment where she's feeling the dual direction of an energy in nature, one that moves both in toward and out from.

If you're familiar with Smith's work, all of this will sound familiar. For years, the California-based artist has created new age soundscapes that provide an escape (or embrace) for the listener. We recently had the chance to ask Kaitlyn about her creative process, why she doesn't resonate with the idea of discipline, and how she's incorporating body movement into this new set of songs.

Analogue: You close the new album with "Expanding Electricity" which asks the listener, "How can I help to serve you so you can do what you do?" Is that your goal as an artist, to serve?

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: It's interesting because when that lyric came out, as someone who is capturing the sound, it's like I'm simultaneously the one doing the action and I'm also the listener. The lyrics felt like it was about this energy that I feel in nature sometimes. It's this really sturdy kindness in nature, this energy that will go on without you but each thing is also serving the next thing. So it was building off of this energy that is simultaneous feeding each other and feeding off of each other. That's what that line was about. I guess that line was me receiving that from nature and also going out. It was supposed to feel like both directions, if that makes sense.

"I really relate to what I read about how Michelangelo used to find sculptures in stone. He would keep sculpting at it until it was revealed and then find the details. Oftentimes it feels like that for me."

Analogue: Without the live show these days, how can you tell if others are receiving what you'd hoped? Are they letting you know that?

Kaitlyn: I've never really thought about that. It's not that important that I know if they're receiving it in that way. It's that sense that when I see a beautiful sunset and post it on Instagram, I don't necessarily need to know that others saw it. I hope they saw it, but it's okay if they didn't. It's just wanting to share. But I do love connecting with people so much. It means so much to me when people reach out on Instagram and I love meeting new people. When they write, I always try to write back and I always appreciate when they share their experience or even the fact they feel compelled to reach means so much to me.

Analogue: Coming into this, I was hoping to get a sense of your process. How often does a song begin for you where it begins for the listener?

Kaitlyn: Actually, never. [Laughs] I'm trying to think if I've ever gotten a song that began at the beginning. I don't think I've ever had that happen before, which would be really neat if it did. But it's usually always the climax first. Whatever is the apex is usually what happens and then I go down on both sides or build around it simultaneously. Usually the intro and the outro are the very last things I do.

Analogue: Are those easier to find than the climactic moment or is it the other way around?

Kaitlyn: Yes, and I've used this metaphor a lot, but I really relate to what I read about how Michelangelo used to find sculptures in stone. He would keep sculpting at it until it was revealed and then find the details. Oftentimes it feels like that for me. I'm waiting to get the first nod that there's something hidden underneath there, like an archaeologist finds something and then fine tune it.

Analogue: Is that a disciplined process for you, to go mining for those things?

Kaitlyn: That's not a word that resonates with me.

Analogue: Discipline or mining?

Kaitlyn: Discipline.

Photo Credit: Chantal Anderson
Photo Credit: Chantal Anderson

Analogue: What makes you cringe at that?

Kaitlyn: Oh, no, I don't cringe at all. It doesn't come from 'Okay I have to do this and this to get to this.' It mostly comes from this really deep curiosity and love of finding the thing that's hidden. So I guess the reason I say it doesn't feel like a discipline is that there's not an aspect that feels like I should do this. It always feels like I get so enveloped in the process of learning it.

Analogue: So does that mean you're ever-curious or ever-attentive? As in always postured in that direction?

Kaitlyn: I feel like curiosity is something that feels like it's always there. I feel that detective energy or archaeologist energy is something that I feel in all of life. That feels just like a quality of my personality, but it doesn't necessarily always happen with music. I go through breaks and it will be for something else in my life.

Analogue: I read about your vision for incorporating body movements to the music. Was that just for this set of songs? Is that something you've always done.

Kaitlyn: It's just through these songs. I've always had a little bit of a physical practice, like with yoga, but it was always a very different thing. It was always very different from the musical process. This was the first time I was connecting understanding the electricity in my body and the nervous system and the electricity that I'm making music with—the nervous system in music.

Analogue: For those who aren't sure what we're referencing, can you explain how you connected those two things for this project?

Kaitlyn: I have lots of different explanations for it because it feels so layered. So this will be just one of the explanations, but I wanted to have a really tangible practice of understanding a transformation so I could write this album. I wanted something I could see every day how my efforts were transforming something. So I chose a symbol for what I thought was impossible because so much of the theme of this album is understanding the nervous system and understanding blocks and how electricity can get trapped and then released.

To me a big mental block is the thought that I can't do something. I wanted to pick something I thought was impossible and have a daily practice with trying to do it, to see what happens from that transformation. So I chose hand-balancing because that's something I always thought was impossible. Now it's going to be a life-long practice because I fell so in love with it. It's something that doesn't really have an end to it. The more I learn about it, the more I find there is to know about it. I think that's perfect because it's how I feel about music. It feels like it's endless.

Analogue: Do you have a tangible moment or track that you can point to and detail how these things came to life for you?

Kaitlyn: The song "Carrying Gravity" was a really tangible experience of trying to create through sound in the beginning these melodies that feel simultaneously hope and discouraged. Throughout the process of the composition, finding steps in the process to break through that discouragement.

One of the main reasons this project began—one of the main seeds of inspiration for it—is that it came out of a really low point in my life, a really dark point. This is before having any intention of making another album, but I was trying to use sound to try to understand my emotional state and do healing. I was trying to do sound healing and just listen to how frequencies can bring up different thoughts and different mental blocks.

From that, I started to learn that sound and your emotional state can affect how you're listening and perceiving something. This album became more of an experiment for myself. How much can I understand about my emotional body and my physical body-all of the different bodies? I never actually released that version of this album because I made 12 different versions of this album and I tried to release the objective version—the least personal and least emotional of it.

Analogue: Did it feel too vulnerable to give away that iteration?

Kaitlyn: No, I don't mind feeling vulnerable, but it mostly just didn't feel like it would be the kind of thing to share. It felt very self-serving to share that version of it, where I wanted to share the version that felt like it was coming from my heart rather than an emotional trigger or memory or something I needed to work out personally.

Analogue: How do you know when to stop? You said you had 12 versions...

Kaitlyn: I didn't know that it was going to be 12. It just landed on that. But I knew mostly by spending a lot of time listening back to it. I would take notes on how it made me feel emotionally, and I wanted to get to the version that I stopped having memories and triggers and emotional reactions to it and was able to just listen to it. So I stopped at that version.

VISIT: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith