Klein picks up parts of darkness and transforms them into the light. Her unpolished signature style draws influences from gospel, RnB, opera, prayers, and TV shows. In her music, stage direction, and videos, the South London-based experimental musician and songwriter persistently gets to know her demons. And the more she knows them, the less power they have. Her new album Lifetime is a diaristic and unsettling narrative that grows even more abstract than her previous productions as she learns to trust herself and accept her past.
“So, I made a record! It’s called Lifetime,” — she says loud and clear, as if she had to embrace a creative achievement and believe it for herself. “I spent more than a year solely focusing on this record and taking parts of things I made a few years ago but ignored before. Now they were actually fleshing out into this record. First I wasn’t sure if I was capable of making the record I wanted to make. I was like, ‘Oh maybe if we get these people they can help me do this. This person could help me play these drums and do these whatever’. I thought that a lot of other musicians were way more skilled and professional than me and had a studio and I had all this stuff and I thought oh they could help me and I could just tell them what to do. Oh my God, if you could see the list of people I wanted to help me make the record! I’m sure I’d probably have Adele on there!”
Self-released Lagata (2016) and cc (2018) as well as Klein’s Hyperdub debut Tommy (2017) are among her most known work recognisable as avantgarde collages from lo-fi field recordings, broken down samples, and asymmetric loops. Her videos with DIY aesthetics are abstract, diaristic, and unsettling — they come across as if Klein is trying to cleanse her spirit by putting out her distressing experiences. Or maybe they are not only hers. Maybe the reason so many of us feel connected to the uneasiness of Klein’s songs and videos is because they reflect our collective trauma.
In all her productions, Klein uses puzzle-like techniques and simple tools to modify her field and voice recordings. “In Lifetime I’ve taken the same approach [as with my previous albums] but I pushed the idea more. I recorded a lot not overthinking it. I recorded guitar sounds in the studio which I ended up saving as ‘crappy guitar sounds’. I kind of like using my crappy keyboard and the shitty recordings on my phone. Also my harmonica, which I normally keep a secret. And my violin, which I keep hidden away. All the stuff that I was kind of always embarrassed by. And I was just using it and making it interesting. I was trying to make certain songs sound like I had a ten-piece band. It’s been really fun.”
Klein agrees that Lifetime is a more direct work compared to her previous releases. In the album, intimacy has been treated with earnestness, with a desire to “paint the whole picture.” The picture Klein is painting is one of personal demons: an anthology of psychological analysis delving deep into moments crystallised in memory. Her signature collage style is apparent not only in her music but also in the way she describes her process: “I play around with the juxtaposition because I feel like nothing is ever only black or white. The album starts off very dark and very intense. And halfway through it gets nostalgic. I’m also talking about fifteen years as I think there’s a painful timeframe from my family. It sounds sad but it’s actually not. Sometimes when you express your life other people would be sad but you know I’m actually happy like this. I wanted to use the record as a form of preservation. Like picking parts of darkness.”
Thinking back on her family background and her complicated relationship with religion, makes me compare her vocals and samples to the gospel. There is something spiritual about her experimental music. But does she think of her music-making process as a gospel practice? “It feels like gospel in the sense of James Cleveland, of of the best gospel musicians [James Cleveland is one of the main figures behind the modern gospel sound that incorporates traditional black gospel, soul, pop, and jazz]. It’s stripping completely back to the core. There is a bit where I sound like a baby opera singer. Everything about it is so old. I sound so old. I sound like my great-grandma. Then halfway through it becomes more modern intentionally. My mom always used to say that I was like my grandma’s child. I feel like a part of me is super old. I feel I’ve got such an old soul.”