In Conversation: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
It’s safe to say that 2020 hasn’t turned out the way that many of us hoped. Looking back on those New Year’s Resolutions, it’s palpable just how much innocence we used to channel in our daily lives, placing unique importance on tasks that perhaps don’t merit that much pressure.
Throughout the pandemic, the music and writing of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has been a real balm, a fluid, warming counterpoint to the colossal wave of anxiety that hit home at some point in March and has staunchly refused to recede. Her album ‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’ was released as the pandemic truly begin to take hold in our lives, and it’s slow, subtle beauty has been a joyful thing to unpick in these troubled times.
That’s not all, though. Curating a label compilation with some stellar names, she’s also published a book on the art of listening, in addition to her work as a yoga and meditation teacher. Indeed, taking a WhatsApp call outside her Californian home, the sounds that greet her voice are appropriately bucolic – a breeze rustles over the microphone, while in the background small birds let loose their calls.
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We begin – as every interview seems to begin these days – by discussing our mutual experiences during this tumultuous year. “It’s… everything,” she gasps. “It’s got it all.”
2017’s ‘Kid’ felt like a breakthrough moment, a defining statement in some regards. ‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’ then, could be read as a determined alternative path, a reaction of sorts. She doesn’t deny this, but equally doesn’t accept it. “Well, I like to think of creativity as a teacher, for me. And I guess in my experience of my relationship to creativity, it feels like there is a connection between each lesson, that each album offers to me. So that’s my personal relationship with it. But they also feel like their own subjects. It’s hard for me to say how others receive it, but I guess they feel connected, in my experience of it.”
In the press note Kaitlyn describes her new album as an “expression of love and appreciation of electricity,” in particular channelled by her now customary Buchla 100 synth. “I was also feeling appreciation for the way that electricity enables plants to grow, and the way that electricity is a part of our body and in our nervous system,” she explains. “I love learning about how bees use electricity to find which flower to pollinate. It’s something that is a part of our life in so many ways. And I was feeling just really… appreciative of how much it’s interwoven in our life, and feeling so grateful that I get to collaborate with it to make music.”
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There’s an improvisatory aspect to Kaitlyn’s work, a feeling that composition is means of having a conversation with oneself. “I guess this is why I call it a teacher – I get wonderfully humbled by how much I don’t have control over the situation. This album was a really good reminder of how beautiful it can be to allow that space in a conversation where I’m the listener and I’m listening to what the instrument wants to say or what the frequencies that are already there want to say.”
Is the creative process a means of tracing emotional instinct, then?
“It’s interesting because I keep asking myself that question in different words and a different answer comes up for it each time,” she comments. “It feels very similar to when I reflect on decisions that I made in my life, where I ask myself: how come I made that choice? Why did I express that preference?”
“I feel like that’s another aspect of electricity which is really fascinating, to me, is the magnetism that is connected with electricity. Where I felt very attracted to certain elements of the album in the literal magnetic version of that word. And I’m still learning why I felt attracted to that particular aspect of that expression, because there were so many expressions that kept coming out during the process. When I sit with it, the reason that keeps coming up for me is that the version that I released feels like my current, truest form of expressing kindness, and that was something that I was intending to share. It was something that I wanted to connect with others over, was feeling kindness. I guess it landed on that.”
‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’ for all its complexity “came kind of like in this big surge of inspiration”, she says. “I felt like I heard it and I saw it, and it was very challenging to explore. There was a vision of this body shapes, and when they’re together it looks in this pivotal way. Every time I would hear the album internally I would always see these shapes, and it was always my body making them. I felt like I knew what it felt like to make those shapes, but in the physical world I couldn’t actually make those shapes with my body.”
“So I found teachers, and it would rotate between working on the album and then learning how to make those shapes with my body. And they both felt like I was getting to understand more about electricity because the nervous system is such a big part of learning how to create shapes with your body, and the nervous system is electricity. It also felt like it was putting me through a transformation while I was working sonically on a transformation.”
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These shapes feature on the cover art and press imagery – advanced yogic positioning, tasks that reflect her creative beliefs visually. Electricity, both internal and external, and the ability to push oneself into places you have never ventured before. Throughout 2020 her work has been revelatory, and it’s heartening to heart that ‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’ has played an enlightening role in the life of its creator.
“I feel like I have found more expression of my joy, and I’ve found more sustainable methods to experience my joy. And I do feel a lot of changes. But nothing where it’s: aha, I’m finished! It’s like, more tools… and it’s a milestone, a mile marker.”
Creativity seems to permeate every area of Kaitlyn’s life. As we talk, she preparing for her next class, while her work on a 12 part book series – dedicated to listening – is ongoing. The Maritime imprint is steaming into open waters, while she’s also toying with a return to Orcas Island, the archipelago where she grew up.
There’s a lot to do, but it’s something she relishes with pure emotion. “I have a really hard time writing music in any other state than joy,” she insists. “I’ve tried before, and I really can’t write if I’m not feeling full of joy.”
“I remember one of my teachers at music school saying that, from their perspective, in order to be a good musician you have to be rich in other area’s of your life, so that you have stuff to write about. I remember leaving music school and that really stuck with me, about how important it is to spend a lot of time learning new things and experiencing all these other aspects of life, so that it keeps the inspiration tank full all the time.”
“To sit and be working on the writing mode for more than two hours is really challenging. It doesn’t feel productive. Whereas if I spend a lot of my day doing other things that bring me joy then by the time I get to writing I have so much to say that it just feels effortless.”
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'The Mosaic Of Transformation' is out now.
Photography: Chantal Anderson
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