Name: Kelsey Warren of Blak Emoji (formerly of Pillow Theory)
Age: “I never disclose my age. I’m older than…sigh, yeah.”
Lives In: Brooklyn, NY
Ethnicity: “I’m black black black, lol. African American? I always feel strange saying that.”
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked
For this edition of We the People, I’m psyched to share a Q&A with vocalist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and father, Kelsey Warren.
Q: How many people are in your current band, Blak Emoji?
A: Four people: Sylvana on keys, Max on acoustic and electric drums, and Brian on electric and keyboard bass.
Q: What was it like to form a new project after so much time with Pillow Theory? What was your motivation for doing this?
A: I had a great time with Pillow, many ups and downs. I just felt sonically trapped after a while. I think it’s more difficult for a predominately hard rock band these days to explore without getting criticism. Bands aren’t taking the risk as much anymore of embracing other genres while still being yourself. Deftones is an example of a band who does an amazing job staying true to their sound while also moving forward sonically and breaking new ground. Their latest album is a testament to that. Super excited for the new Queens Of The Stone Age album produced by Mark Ronson – another example, plus Josh is the man. It just got to a point where I desired to write more pop and electronic music and dance more, yet still have that edge. I also wanted to record more alone or with a few new people. Like a search for a comfortable, more introspective process. Basically, I needed to break out of the straight jacket I put myself in. Best decision ever.
Q: How did you find your current band members, and do you run into logistical issues with schedules, practice spaces, etc?
A: I’d seen Sylvana around but had never officially met her previously. I knew she was a badass keyboardist and vocalist, but I also loved her vibe and energy from what I saw. We had one rehearsal and it just clicked so effortlessly and easy. Like I felt I found someone I would be making music with for a long time in many circumstances. She makes it fun without trying.
Max was recommended a few days before our first live show ever. The drummer I was planning on using stopped showing up at rehearsals, and I was in a serious jam. A friend said that I should go to a club to check out this drummer he was playing with. He said he had an amazing feel and was a quick learner. I went to the gig and called him after the show to see if he was interested in playing the debut Blak Emoji show. Never looked back after that. Max has the knack to complete the missing puzzle piece of sound. He’s more than just a drummer, he’s definitely a sonic architect and he compliments my ideas extremely well.
Max bought Brian in after we’d gone through a few bass players. They’ve played together a lot so they already had that classic rhythm section vibe going on. Brian is that bass player with all the chops but knows when to keep it simple and really sink into the groove of a song. Subtle and melodic. And he’s killer on bass keys. And fun. All four of us together work, but what makes it is the music and the laughter. We just crack each other up, which is the best.
Q: How does the songwriting process work with this project, like who brings ideas to the band and how do they become songs, or do you instead write all of the parts and the other members learn them, or some other kind of method? And how do you personally write songs? Is there a specific thing you tend to start with, such as a guitar melody, and then build on, or is it a different experience with each song? How much weight do you place on lyrics?
A: I write the songs in many different settings. Most work is done at home, but inspiration can spark at any given moment. I always record ideas in my phone if I’m out. You can always sing parts into your phone, which is great. Also, it helps to have an app or two to flesh out songs, and that’s been my latest drug. I helped write for a new project predominately on my Iphone 7 via the iMPC app. There’s no such thing as one way to write with this process for myself. I’ll write on piano, guitar, keyboards, experiment with sound, make beats, use GarageBand, Logic, just vocals or whatever the mood and song calls for at the time. A lot of times I come into rehearsal with a song or idea and start playing. Everybody has amazing contributions and I like to have a structure but leave room for the musicians to add their own flavor. Great music minds just make the song that much better. Lyrics are very important to me, whether they are deep or tongue-in-cheek. I have to feel the meaning in order to give off a great performance. Sometimes they come first, sometimes last.
Q: Do you draw any kind of line between yourself as a musician and your personal self (I’m thinking like how Tom Waits adopted different personas for his albums, none of which seemed to be who he really was at home, or how Lou Reed was notoriously grumpy/private with interviewers, vs someone like Adele who seems to put her private life out into the public eye)?
A: That depends on the song or the year, lol. The INTRO ep is pretty much my life, or was at the time. I’ve been guilty of both. Sometimes it’s about me, other times it’s not, which is cool, you know. Leaves a bit of mystery unless I say, hey, that song was about such and such. It’s therapeutic to write about yourself but it’s also fun to write about other people, events or just make up characters. Some songs are just stems from poems. I think I’d personally be bored deciding to solely write one way or the other.
Q: How old is your daughter? Does she ever come to your shows? What does it feel like to play for her?
A: My daughter just turned 14. Yes, it’s the best when she gets to see me and the band play. I’m extremely happy when she’s there in the audience. She comes with her friends which is even more of a compliment. She doesn’t have to be there if she doesn’t want to, so I’m blessed that she comes when she can. A dad’s dream man. I guess I’m still in cool dad status. I’m not sure how much longer that is going to be, though.