Kelleia’s musical essence pays homage to deep emotion and revelation. As a singer, songwriter, and producer with Los Angeles roots, she navigates through elements of soul, R&B, electronic, and world music with the sensuality of a lifelong dancer and the unteachable boldness of a modern siren. Her ethereal melodies and rhythms blend meticulous electronic production with her affinity for playing the harmonium and traditional instruments like the Korean Buk. A powerful presence imbued with a natural grace, Kelleia captivates her audience and charges a room, big or small, with breathtaking intimacy.
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you born and where are you now?
I was born in Long Beach, California and grew up in Fullerton. I now live in Los Angeles, in Silver Lake.
What was the moment that awakened you to start working on music?
I was in grad school in London in 2013, studying urban sociology. I had to make a decision on what topic and where to do my research for my dissertation, and I ended up choosing to go back to LA. In part because I knew that’s where I had to be to get my music career going. That’s when I began to choose music over anything else. During that year in London, my two best friends and I would go to a show almost every week, they were so plentiful and affordable; everyone makes a tour stop in London. We saw Melody’s Echo Chamber, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beyonce and during that year of shows, I realized I could do and wanted to do what these artists on stage were doing. My soul, my higher self, saw itself reflected in these powerful performers, and I needed to do this work of unearthing truth and embodying future possibilities through music. I needed to be the creatrix, and I couldn’t wait any longer to come to life.
How does that affect you to this day?
It helps me remember why I do this, why I flipped my entire life on its head to live out my dreams of being a touring musician. I tried the route of following societal and familial expectations of me to be in a normal, safe profession, but something wild within me woke up and head butted its way through to be seen and valued. The fact that I walked the “dutiful” path first makes me even more certain that I am right where I am meant to be. Now the two sides of myself, the inquisitive urban scholar and the creative music maker are sitting down at the table together in the form of a new music experiment where I use field recordings of city life as elemental parts of my song (e.g., creating a percussive texture from the sound of a chicken butcher slicing fat at an outdoor market in Mexico City). It’s extremely comforting to have the once disparate pieces of me start to work together more symbiotically.
Who are you as an artist and what genres do you experiment with?
I am a sonic storyteller of sense-igniting experiences that I transform into sensual music. I create within the genres R&B, alternative pop, electronic, hip hop, and world devotional music.
We see you traveled the world visiting some 30 different countries. How did this experience help you grow as a human being?
Every time I travel, I get a little closer to the core of my being. When I separate myself from my regular life and shift my daily routines, I begin to naturally prioritize what I truly care about and choose more consciously where I direct my energy. Having experienced how people live and thrive within various environments and cultures has allowed me to see the aspects of humanity that are common to all people. Everyone wants to be acknowledged, everyone wants to feel purposeful and have a purpose, everyone wants to expand, everyone wants to have a voice, everyone wants to be of service. I am an anthropologist and sociologist at heart and by trade, and traveling helps me connect with people and understand the context from which their proclivities and ways of beings have arisen so that the work I create has deeper significance and potential for solace.
Describe your live performance:
My live performance is intimate and always changing. I just spontaneously performed two songs last night for a group of my friends in Mexico City where I sang to backing tracks off my phone while dancing with a hammock as a prop. It was my most authentic, raw performance yet. No fancy equipment, just my voice and my body telling stories of my personal struggles and resolutions. When I perform, I embody a tender and strong enchantress and invite in the power of the independent feminine, a force that runs deep through my matrilineal heritage. For non-impromptu shows, I sing and add live vocal effects, use my TC-Helicon to live loop, and DJ my tracks with my Push. I play with a band sometimes (drums, bass), and I want to start playing live keys and synth parts. I’ve been enjoying experimenting with the limits of what I can handle well on my own in a solo set, and now I have a better sense of what parts I want to invite other people to play live.
How did you start working with producer Jonny Joon?
I met Jonny at Lucidity Festival in Santa Barbara in 2016. I was sitting drinking tea in front of one of the stages when he played a grimey remix of a Justin Timberlake song that literally got me out of my seat and dancing. He did another DJ set at a smaller festival I attended a couple months later, which reminded me that he was awesome and that I wanted to work with him. So shortly thereafter, I sent him a few song ideas and we set up times to meet and work on music. We made three songs together over the course of a year. I respect Jon very much; he is always working hard and understands how to play the long game in regards to having a lifelong music career. He is very generous with his time and energy when working on a project and treats me as an equal, which is very nice to say in this industry where artist-producer dynamics can often be colored by power imbalances between men and women.
Are there other collaborators you work with?
Currently I’m working with several musicians as well as producers and relish this style of organically creating with a wide array of friends. I like the balance between writing music solely on my own and writing with one other person with a tasty musical flavor that brings out a particular expression of my sound. I have a couple songs coming out this year that I made with Auralponic, an LA-based producer that I worked with last year.
I’m going to Seoul for at least a month in late September this year to finish writing my album. I’m extremely excited to immerse myself in the place and culture of my ancestors and for my music to be created using the colors of this palette. I’m going home, to my motherland, to study mysticism and spirituality, mythology and shamanism and folk stories, traditional melodies and scales of my people. I’m releasing a few more singles this year, and hope to have my album out next year.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Dark Beauty speaks to a cold yet alluring brilliance, like that of the Moon. Dark Beauty is a woman who has lived through pain and suffering and who has transmogrified enormous emotional hardship into a resolve for healing and caring for herself and others. She keeps shining through the dark night and wears her haunted scars unapologetically because all of it comprises her and makes her luminescence that much more significant. There is no light without the dark.