Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about Charlene Kaye, a rising New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, who spent her childhood in some rather far-flung places across the globe — living in Hawaii, Singapore, Hong Kong and Michigan all before she turned 18. And although she spent time in a number of different places throughout the bulk of her childhood, there was always one consistent thing: her parents’ old soul records and 90s grunge radio, both of which have heavily influenced her own work and career.
Initially starting her career as a solo artist, Kaye is best known for a five year stint as the frontwoman of acclaimed indie act San Fermin, contributing to 2015’s Jackrabbit and 2017’s Belong, which were supported with touring internationally, including sets across the global festival circuit. While touring with San Fermin to support Jackrabbit, Kaye started her latest solo recording project KAYE, releasing a handful of singles and KAYE’s debut EP 2016’s Honey. Last year, Kaye left San Fermin to fully concentrate on her solo career.
The rising New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer started off the year with the Kirk Schoenherr-co-produced single “Closer Than This,” a bold and self-assured feminist pop anthem indebted to Cherelle, Patrice Rushen, Madonna and Control-era Janet Jackson that thematically touched upon lust, desire, longing, idealization, fantasy, self-preservation and centered around a narrator, who gives herself only on her terms. “Too Much,” Kaye’s second single of the year, continued a run of boldly feminist anthems centered around narrators, who have asserted themselves on their own terms — while being a decidedly electro rock affair that brought St. Vincent and Garbage to mind.
“Howl,” Kaye’s third and latest single off the year, is a slow-burning and sultry track that finds its creator delving deep into the darkest recesses of her psyche with an unflinching and fearless honesty. And a result, the song’s narrator manages to be boldly self-assured yet insecure, fearless yet afraid to accept a loss of control, as well as accept who she may really be — someone who may not always be willing to sacrifice or settle, if it doesn’t serve her needs or what her particular vision is. “Cheryl Strayed has this quote—‘You can’t fake the core. It’s a god we must obey, a force that brings us all to our knees,'” Kaye says in press notes. “It got me thinking about how we’re always told to listen to our gut, our intuition – but what if our purest impulses are evil or self-serving, that may cause harm to those we love? What is the cost of choosing oneself?”
Interestingly, the release of “Howl” comes with the announcement of the title of her forthcoming and highly awaited full-length album — Conscious Control. “I named this album Conscious Control because my big lesson of the last few years has been abandoning my rational mind to guide my decisions, even if they made no sense at the time…throwing myself into uncertainty for the sake of getting closer to myself, even if it comes at great personal cost,” Kaye explains. “Letting this ethos guide my songwriting as well has yielded the boldest, deepest work I’ve ever done.”
Co-directed and edited by Kaye and Deborah Farnault, the recently released video for “Howl” not only marks the rising singer/songwriter and guitarist’s directorial and editorial debut, the video may arguably be the most disarming and visceral visual piece Kay has released to date: the video follows the rising artist around the California desert with a gorgeous, 40-foot long purple cape, luxuriously billowing behind her, digging into the sand and howling like a feral animal, and shredding on a mirror-covered Flying V guitar that she created. And much like the accompanying song, the visual evokes a unique feminine vulnerability and strength while being cathartic — a howl of grief, rage, self-loathing and passion, shot with a gorgeous fashion forward sensibility.