At a very young age, singer-songwriter and producer Kelsey Kerrigan would escape to a creative dimension to dissect recordings, and, later, write songs. Few outside her private sphere knew her promise as a songwriter, singer, and producer. It would take chance meetings with music icons Glyn Johns (The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash) and Ryan Adams for Kerrigan and her family to understand the depth of her gifts and vision. Now, Kerrigan emerges with a masterful debut of romantic post-punk.
“When I was 9, I used to sit in my closet in the pitch black with headphones on, listening to these meditational CDs. The music was really moody, with lots of production. I would get lost imagining all the different sounds, all the counter melodies,” recalls the LA-based artist. “I always loved production.”
Through a combination of good fortune, prodigious musical gifts, and hard work Kerrigan has made an uncompromising and masterful debut album. It entrances with clever emotiveness, blissful new wave atmospherics, smart hooks, and sweetly seductive vocals. This inaugural body of work was produced by Johnny T. Yerington (Ryan Adams, The Virgins) and Gus Oberg (The Strokes, Albert Hammond) at Electric Lady Studios.
Kerrigan’s path revealed itself after high school. When it came time for college, the debate at home came down to Kerrigan wanting to attend a two-year production program at Los Angeles Recording School, but her father preferring she be more cautious and enroll in a traditional college. The stalemate ended with a visit from legendary producers David Anderle (Frank Zappa, The Doors, Love) and Glyn Johns. Upon hearing Kerrigan’s music, they were flabbergasted and Glyn Johns gushed, “Don’t let anyone touch your music!” Kerrigan earned her right to attend to LARS.
Her fate would shift even more when Johns invited her to the famed Sunset Sound Recorders. There she met Ryan Adams, who on the spot, asked Kerrigan to perform some of her music. She fumbled a bit, but he sensed her raw talent and would informally mentor her for the next two years. “He really believed in me,” Kerrigan says. “I would send him really rough recordings, and he took it seriously and told me to keep going. It inspired me to dive fully into songwriting.”
While in school, Kerrigan kept up a grueling schedule of nine to 10 hours a day of songwriting while earning her degree in in audio engineering and production at Los Angeles Recording School. She was enrolled in the two-year production program. Initially, her decision to pursue production was so that she could make better demo versions of her songs, but the art of production would become integral to her musicality. “A producer’s job is to decorate time and space,” she says.
Immersed in the craft of production, and the art of songwriting, Kerrigan began to discover and refine her aesthetic. She became inspired by the lush textural instrumentation and clever arrangements of new wave and post punk artists such as The Smiths, The Cure, Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Tears For Fears. These artists became signposts, and would also help her reference her distinct production treatment.
The opportunity to possibly record her album would come at an inopportune time. “One day, Ryan texted me while I was in class. He said: ‘My friend Johnny is here in the studio only for a few hours. You have to come now,’” she recalls. “I just got up and left class. When I got there, Ryan said: ‘If there is anybody who should produce you, it’s this guy,’ and then he got up and left.”
Ryan was spot on. Johnny T. Yerington and Gus Oberg assembled a cadre of perfectly cast musicians, and all studio personnel studied Kerrigan’s playlists of new wave, post-punk, goth and punk. The resulting album is a stunner. Thematically, the album has a dark humor and emotionality. “When I am inspired to write, it’s often about being interested in someone I can’t be with, fated love. There is torment there because I can’t be honest either because I don’t want to hurt somebody or I don’t want to get hurt,” she confides. “The songs are where I can always put my honesty.”
The album is a lean, no-filler release brimming with an invigorating pop sensibility thoughtfully complemented by quick-wittedness and sincerity. The elementally elegant, “Good Times” recalls almost a Morrissey-esque quandary where the good times are heartbreaking, but still the good times never felt and sounded so good. The winsome beauty of “So What” grapples with a friend’s suicide. The piano ballad “A Good Reason” with simple stateliness frames Kerrigan’s singing, allowing the expressive dynamics of her voice to gloriously course through the song unencumbered. The shivery beauty of “Haunted House” vibes symphonic goth with layers of spidery counter melodies.
Sharing what she’s learned from her artistic adventure Kerrigan says: “Believe in yourself, do what makes you happy, make things you love, don’t forget where you came from, and don’t forget you were helped.”