Finding Significance in Small Stuff With Kelly Lee Owens

Kelly Lee Owens
Kelly Lee Owens Photo by Kim Hiorthøy
It's just past sunset in Kelly Lee Owens' London apartment, and she's palming a crystal while examining a pair of pigeons in the twilight when she's asked about “Bird,” a kalimba-infused track from her eponymous 2017 album. To Owens, it's a coincidence that gives meaning to an otherwise mundane moment. These sorts of serendipitous events, she says, occur to her "all day, every day.” But they’re not exclusive to her. Coincidences happen all around us, Owens insists, if only we look and make use of them. “Like anything, when you're open to it, it arrives,” she adds. “They're there for everyone; we just have to keep our heart and mind wide open.”

From humble indie-rock beginnings, the 29-year-old Welsh producer has become a techno-pop darling, remixing works by St. Vincent and Jenny Hva and earning the attention of Björk, who featured Owens on a 47-minute mix. Fashion house founder Alexander McQueen even used her track "Arthur" in a runway show. It’s been a big few years for Owens, and these have been undeniably big moments in her early career. But she still relishes the little things and gets a rush of joy each time she imbues small stuff with significance.

Take, for example, the hypnotic kalimba melody that sprinkles over “Bird” like a sun shower. Owens didn’t go out of her way to get her hands on a thumb piano — she found it in her friend’s studio, took it to a quiet rehearsal room, and recorded a sample on her iPhone. Meanwhile, the song’s title refers to a couple of birdsong samples she discovered and distorted into the track’s two other most prominent features, a droning bass line and effervescent hi-hats.

Then there’s the sizzling backdrop to Owens’ 2016 track “Oleic,” which, to the astute ear, sounds just like a prawn cracker melting in a bowl of hot soup.

“That's not going to inspire everyone,” Owens admits, “but when I heard that sound, it got me so excited. It's about being open to being excited about the tiny things. The mundanities excite me. There's beauty and potential in everything. You just have to stop and look.”
Owens' rise from indie rock bassist to standout female producer is largely the result of her openness to influence and inspiration from her environment and the people inhabiting it. While working as an auxiliary nurse in a cancer hospital, her patients — many of them terminally ill — encouraged her to get out and do what she truly wanted to do. That was about decade ago. Owens began to immerse herself in music, organizing local festivals and taking a gig at a record store. She hadn’t yet delved into the electronic scene but slowly found the light through indirect guidance from Björk (who, she recalls, fiddled through the record store’s techno collection) and the immediate mentorship of Daniel Avery.

When Owens left the hospital, she carried with her an energy that infuses her most recent album with a convalescent quality. “I didn't know when I was writing songs how I could relate what I did in a hospital, helping people in that way, to music,” she says. “I thought... they were so separate.” But ever since she released her debut album, “this word ‘healing’ kept coming back to me.” She gets messages from fans and comments from press about her album as a sort of therapy, with its currents, hypnotic rhythm, resonant bass, and otherworldly vocals.

Never one to shrug off a suggestion from the universe, Owens says she’s grown increasingly interested in this aspect of her music and has begun digging deeper to discover what there is to find and apply to her future work. “The mystery excites me,” she says, “as well as the mundanities.”

Kelly Lee Owens. 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at Floyd Miami, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 786-618-9447; Tickets cost $10 to $15 via
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Dyllan Furness is Miami New Times' "foreign" correspondent. After earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Florida, he crossed the pond and dove into music, science, and technology from Berlin.
Contact: Dyllan Furness

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