Image courtesy of Kelsy Karter.

kelsy karter is the aspiring rockstar making music for zayn

Watch the surreal video for her latest single, 'Sad Sad Summer.'

by Ilana Kaplan
25 July 2018, 2:29pm

Image courtesy of Kelsy Karter.

While Kelsy Karter may have captured hearts with her doo-wop pop-inspired single “Too Many Hearts To Break” earlier this year, she quickly realized making pop music wasn’t for her. “I just realized I didn’t want to live in the pop world,” the 24-year-old musician says. “I want to be a rockstar, and I think we need more female rock stars so I’m happy to fill that lane.”

To build on her sound, the New Zealand-born, Los Angeles-based singer spent the past several months collaborating with Cage The Elephant, Alex Da Kid, and Micky James. While she felt pressure to churn out a hit, it wasn’t until when she stepped back that she was able to have some clarity.

Now, instead of living in a pop universe, Karter is embracing her self-described “blue-eyed rock ‘n’ roll” sound. Premiering below is Karter’s latest single “Sad Sad Summer,” a soulful power ballad detailing all of the reasons why she felt so bad on one particular day in the studio. Inspired by a video of Andy Warhol eating a burger and fries, Karter created a visual similarly eccentric and captivating for the track, featuring her eating cereal and watching TV. “I usually have a narrative, but I wanted it to be ‘less is more,’ with this song,” she tells us.

In a Q&A, Karter talks about writing a song for Zayn, moving out of the pop realm, and why she wants to work with Harry Styles.

What made you want to be a musician?
Well I actually never thought I would be a singer. My whole childhood I acted — I was a theater kid. But my family are jazz musicians, so I was immersed in that kind of music and those instruments. My dad was a huge influence for me. He was a saxophone player. He was an influential and smart man. He gave me my roots. Music gradually became something I did. Singing was the one thing I was shy at doing, and then one day it clicked. This is the thing I should be doing.

Tell me about the story behind “Sad Sad Summer.”
I was writing that day, and I went into that day of writing wanting to come out with a hit. All the A&Rs want a hit song. It was really frustrating because we were trying to write and nothing was inspiring. Sometimes you leave the room and you’re like, “Nothing is working today.” I was not having it. I was like, “We’re writing a song today.” I had a session booked that day, and it got cancelled and I was upset about it. We pushed through it. I was crying on the floor. I was like, “I have to write a fucking song today and nothing is going to stop me.” Then we were like, “Let’s write a song about how shitty we feel right now.” I was in an Elton John kind of mood, and I sat down at the piano and started writing. It was an honest moment for me where I was saying everything that was going wrong in my life right now and hoping it came out right. When I stopped trying to write a song, that’s when the song came out. All these things going wrong in my life...I just thought I’d talk about all of the reasons why I was feeling sad. That’s what the song is about: constantly trying to chase happiness. It was a sad, sad summer for me because all this shit is going on.

How do you think you fit into the pop music world?
I don’t think I fit into pop music, and I think that’s an asset. Rock ‘n’ roll is a big influence of mine. The music to come is more on the alternative side. We’re calling it blue-eyed rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t think I’m meant to be a pop star: rock is more where I feel like I belong. I just love the culture and the music, and I’ve always carried myself with that kind of attitude. So much of pop music is linear today, but so much music from the past is being reinvented as well and I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of influencing sounds that kids haven’t heard before. I just know that I’m meant to do this.

You’re a big Harry Styles fan. Tell me about what you love about him.
What I love about him from a professional standpoint is that he was the poppiest of pop stars, and then he went off on his own and made a classic rock album. For someone like me who wants to live in that world who hasn’t been in a boy band, he has opened the door for me. He’s introduced the kids to the kind of music I want to make. For that, I’m really grateful. I also just want his career. I feel like I’m a female version. I actually moved to America to act, and music became my main thing. Rock ‘n’ roll is my passion. I really want to work with him. Let’s work, Harry. Where you at? Mark my words: I’m getting a song on his album.

That brings me to my next One Direction-related question. You wrote a song that’s on Zayn’s next project. How did that happen?
When you write songs to pitch to an artist, very rarely does the artist you envision for it pick it up. Within three months of pitching the song to Zayn, he wanted it and picked it up. I’ve heard his version, but it has yet to come out.

What do you think sets you apart from other aspiring female rock stars?
I’m the hardest-working person on the planet, and I pride myself on that. My parents really brought me up to be a hard worker. I was really rebellious my whole life as well, and I thought it was a bad thing because I knew I was causing people problems and getting in trouble. But I’ve really been able to channel that into my music and into my movement now. I think that’s something people lack: that ability to be daring, bold, fearless, different and unique. That’s always been who I am. I think that will really help me because I don’t have to try. The second I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t was the second I started to have success.

sad sad summer