Introducing: Kelsey Lu: cello experiments turned into minimalistic, R&B-infused folk music

Introducing: Kelsey Lu: cello experiments turned into minimalistic, R&B-infused folk music

Mon Oct 1st

Raised in North Carolina, Kelsey Lu (although she prefers you just call her 'Lu') is the daughter of two devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. From a young age on, Lu was always encouraged to surround herself with music. While she started playing at an early age already, things became more serious when Lu turned 18. She enrolled at the North Carolina School for the Arts, but dropped out after a year in search of her own, more personal, path. In an interview with Pitchfork about playing the cello, Lu recalls:

"Sometimes I feel like I want to pick it up and smash it like a guitar. Those are feelings that I used to have when I was in an academic setting or in lessons or trying to play something and not being able to do the thing that I needed to do, and that was really frustrating. But now we have this language with each other where it’s like another limb, an extension of myself."

The move to New York shortly thereafter seems to have liberated Lu. Here, she truly began her own songwriting and experimenting with the cello, finding a distinctive own voice in the process. What’s so remarkable about Kelsey Lu’s music is how minimalistic in approach it is, yet how emotionally gripping and powerful her songs are. Even with just one instrument and her own voice, Lu has the ability to stop you dead in your tracks.

Her debut EP 'Church', released in 2016, is a perfect example. The title being a nod to her upbringing, it was recorded live at the Holy Family Roman Church in Brooklyn where she performed with just cello, loop pedals, her voice, and the room's natural reverb. It was this work that garnered acclaim from the likes of a.o. Blood Orange, Solange, Sampha, and Kelela.

Shades of Blue
Earlier this year, Lu followed up the 'Church' EP with new track 'Shades of Blue': a song that sees her musical palette expanded with guitar, bass, drums and a more layered vocal approach. Yet still, it feels airy and subtle, offering enough room to breathe, with a steady focus on Lu's singing. More than ever, Lu seems to have found a perfect balance between experimenting with her instrument, broadening her musical arrangements, and an accomplished sense of songwriting.

Accompanying the song is a mini film which has been described as “a visual love letter to nature,” which remains a strong theme throughout all of Lu's creative output. Watch above. 

Kelsey Lu will perform at Le Guess Who? 2018 together with a.o. Art Ensemble of Chicago, Neneh Cherry, Swamp Dogg, Anoushka Shankar, Georgia Anne Muldrow, GAIKA, Kojey Radical, Sons of Kemet XL, Hailu Mergia, Serpentwithfeet, Tirzah, and many more.