Two years ago, Kelsey Bulkin turned 31. Two years ago, she gave birth to her son and left Made In Heights, a project she created with her close friend, Sabzi, to go solo. Two years ago, Kelsey Bulkin got a do-over.
Her debut EP, Leucadia, is a coming-of-age. Kelsey wrote and recorded the EP entirely herself. Its namesake is her hometown, a surf community along the Southern California coast. Anchored by R&B beats and Kelsey’s dreamy vocals, the influence of a sunny beachside town seeps through: conjuring imagery of warm sun, rolling waves, and sunscreen. “Leucadia is the beginning,” she tells me in her lilting Californian accent, “It’s my first try at standing up exactly as I am, without any masks.”
We connected over Facetime to chat about her son’s creative vision, the children’s TV show she’s desperate to create, and making it on your own.
Hey Kelsey! First things first—do you like ASMR?
I do! The last one I watched was a cleaning one. It actually combined a couple of things that I love. It was just cleaning a surface with all the cleaning tools that you can get… this sounds so weird!
Noted—Kelsey Bulkin likes ASMR cleaning videos.
God bless the internet.
Amen. So, you became a mother two years ago.
I had a child, and I’m having another child which is this music! I ended up listening to a lot of women talk about this. I’m noticing that it’s a trend. Women say that when you become pregnant a lot of things shift. They started taking on really individual work. For me that was producing myself and telling stories that are really close to my heart. Stories were living there for a very long time, that I either felt like I couldn’t share or didn’t know how to share. It was so scary and wonderful and complicated.
Did it incite going solo in your career?
I’d always wanted to go solo. I think I’d played into the belief that I needed other people for a long time. Then once I got pregnant it just gave me a lot of courage to say if I can do [motherhood] on my own, I can do music on my own. To be really honest, it coincided with a huge discovery. I started noticing that the men really close to me called themselves producers for doing a lot less than I did. I realised that for so long I’d been playing small. I’d been saying that I don’t have enough skill to call myself a producer or a director or a solo artist. It was this sudden revelation that I don’t need anything more than the confidence to call myself those things. And it’s true.
I completely agree. I feel like overworking is something that creative people, particularly women, do by default.
Bingo! There’s still so many slippery slopes between men and women working together. For a lot of reasons, women feel protective. I got to a point where I really don’t have time for bullshit, for power moves. I didn’t have time for asking something to get done and then there’s this whole power play that happens. You know how Ali Wong says ‘I wanna lie down.’ I don’t want to do that anymore. It was really about time that I show that I can do it. To own the things that I do and stop hiding it.
With you coming into your own as an artist and a mother, where does collaboration sit within that? What’s your vetting process?
It has definitely evolved from what it used to be. It’s very organic. It has a lot to do with energy; with what someone is trying to do; with what their intentions are. I think I’m way more sensitive to that now than ever before. Someone doesn’t have to have a huge portfolio of work or a big name for me to want to work with them—if I see someone’s intention and I like it and it looks like fun, like something I can play with. It’s almost like when you’re a kid and you walk onto the playground and look around to see who you’re gonna play with. It is about the activity and who looks like they’re having the most fun doing it. That’s the person I’m going to play with. I work really well with people which is why I collaborated for so long and continue to collaborate. I have a lot to offer in that world. I’m very good at aligning a lot of different ideas. Which actually is what helped me become a producer. Because really what a producer is, is someone who is good at bringing together a lot of different energies and making decisions. And then the most important decision which is putting it out and making that happen. So I love people who can be a part of that deep process of putting that together. It is kind of like having a baby with someone. Which is nice because then you don’t have to do any work afterward! I’d love to work with people way outside of my genre. People that you just would never think of.
Who’s on that list?
There’s a meditative musician, his name is John Carol Kirby. His music is really beautiful, meditative sounds. I’d love to work with people who do sound recording stuff, like Animal Collective. I’d love to make work that is spoken and sung and very strange. I love to dance, so I’d love to make something with Toro y Moi. I was watching his latest video and I was like, ‘You’re cute! Let’s make a dance track and just dance together!’
What are some other dreams that you’ve had? Or has music been your first and only love?
I actually really want to make clothing. I want to help people, especially women, become financially independent. So, whatever that looks like. I do a lot of that on my own time. It’s so easy now if you’re a woman who’s figured it out, to start your own business. I feel like there are so many women who are older than us, especially in our mother’s generation, who just need some help getting started. That really inspires me and I think that’s a way to really change the world, to make women not dependent on men for money. I want to travel. I want to write a children’s book.
Oh my god.
I actually have a secret dream of having a children’s television show. Something that’s like music and culture and news, but in a way that children can understand. Something super fun. I think Toro y Moi would be in that too.
Anderson .Paak would be keen too I think!
Oh yeah! Chance the Rapper would be into it too.
Does your son love music?
He loves music! I’m not playing anything seriously yet, I’ve just been playing for friends. But he can’t come to any of my shows anymore. He will take the microphone and not give it back. He’s got this Frank Sinatra/Beck delivery where it’s just one note. He’s got a clear sense of who he is as an artist and he’s like… two.
It’s always good to start on your artist vision early. Okay, so I want to know about the burning Mercedes on the cover of your ‘West Coast Drama’ single.
Oh yes! The car is my friend’s. He only buys old Mercedes. This one day on his Instagram story he was documenting how he was driving his car and it lit on fire. He had all this footage of this burning car. So I asked him to send it to me and I just took a screenshot of it and asked if I could use it for the cover. He said “I would be honoured! At least it will live forever!”
What’s the best part about being in your thirties?
Oh being in your thirties is the best. It’s not like you have to do anything, you just don’t care as much. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m beginning to understand why old ladies are so lovely. I think what’s so hard about being young is being easily offended or irritated or thinking everything is about you. As you get older, you realise that everyone is trying very hard. Life is more about endurance than it is about speed. You just have to sit back and enjoy everything and appreciate everything. I know that in my thirties I’ve started to take note of all the people who’ve made me who I am. I’m starting to get that all these people are just constantly trying to be better people everyday. Those are really heroic acts. You’re no longer looking for something so flashy. It’s exciting to be a woman getting older and still creating music.
I feel excited about a lot of people in our generation. Because we have all this technology and all these platforms to express ourselves in our way, our own narrative, without going through a label necessarily. We’re going to learn so much more about ourselves and each other as we age. I really hope that we can start to dispel a lot of fear around aging. I hope we start to realise that we only get better as we age. That we only become close to each other, which is really all that we want to feel—like we’re not in this alone. We put a lot less pressure on ourselves, on our relationships. Just being here is a miracle. For women, you begin to love your body. You begin to see your body as a really powerful vehicle and tool for expressing yourself and pleasuring yourself and not being ashamed of experiencing pleasure in all ways. There’s that too. It’s very cool to see women talking about that.
Yes! What a wonderful way of looking at getting older. Was that the trajectory of your EP, Leucadia?
My EP is the beginning of that. It’s my first try at standing up exactly as I am, without any masks. To be honest with you, I’m so over my EP now. I made it and as soon as I was done making it, I was ready to make something else. But I know that part of artistic work is letting everything I’ve created come along with me. Never disowning something I’ve made just because I’ve grown out of it. So Leucadia is the beginning. It’s named after my hometown, which is like this magical surf town. I talk about some stories like falling in love, losing a friend who died in a car accident. I also talk about motherhood which didn’t happen in Leucadia, that happened later now that I’m living in LA. I think having a child and starting to produce my own music brought me back to the core of who I am and where I come from. It set this new intention, which is why I really want to own every part of my experience while I’m here on Earth. Everything that I think and feel. I don’t want to curate a specific feeling for people. I just want to share and make what I have to offer very genuine. And to continue to do that. My hope is that people find at least one thing to connect with on it. It’s about making myself available. I feel like I’m just starting to understand that.