Los Angeles-based musician and recording artist Kelsey Lu, born Kelsey McJunkins, is perhaps best known for her unembellished cello and vocal sound, possessing a distinct eerie flair in it’s tonality. Lu was born and raised in North Carolina, where she lived for most of her young adult life. Her mother played the piano and her father was a percussionist, while working as a portrait artist. Lu grew up surrounded by art and music, and recalls fond moments when her father would be working on a painting while listening to Afro-Cuban salsa.
Kelsey began studying classical composition at the age of six. Raised in a household of Jehovah’s Witnesses, though Lu attended a public school, she wasn’t permitted to socialise with children outside of the congregation. At the age of 18 years old, just as she was about to graduate from school, she decided to audition for enrolment at the North Carolina School of the Arts. She hadn’t scheduled an audition or sent an application, but sat on the floor and waited until she was seen; when the instructor arrived, she convinced him to let her play. Remarkably, she was given a scholarship and enrolled without telling her parents.
While studying, Lu was asked to play the cello during a Nappy Roots concert that took place at her college. Shortly after, she was invited to participate in the recording sessions of their new album to be released by Organized Noize, the imprint behind Outkast. During the process of collaborating with the label, she met André 3000, along with a number of other influential artists. This seminal opportunity would eventually allow her to move to New York where she continued to collaborate with artists across many genres.
“My sound has evolved through years of studying and training classically into what is now my lane. As I got older, I was exposed to new sounds, those sounds both consciously and subconsciously shaped what it is I make today. When I dropped out of art school, I found myself playing cello with local underground hip hop musicians and then eventually singing became more of an extroverted expression through all a that,” Lu told WestwoodWestwood.
After making the decision to drop out of university and move to NYC to record her one-take debut EP, Church, in 2016, there was an air of anticipation surrounding Lu’s work. Her sound caught the attention of some of the industry’s best-known names, and she went onto collaborate on tracks with Blood Orange, Lady Gaga, and Wet, and performed on an interlude for Solange’s album A Seat at the Table.
Where Lu’s debut EP Church focused on the incantatory quality of her solo playing, the arrival of her new album Blood, released earlier this year, marks Lu as an impressive singer and songwriter, as well as a composer. Including collaborations with Skrillex and Jamie xx, the compilation overturns the chamber-folk cello of her debut EP into a decidedly contemporary and distinctly hybrid sound. Throughout this summer, Lu is performing across the world, with shows taking place in London and New York on 23 July and 24 August respectively. Book tickets here.
Feature image via Kelsey Lu