San Fermin's Charlene Kaye Returns With Weezer-Inspired 'Honey' Video, Talks New Solo Project KAYE
It's been a busy few years for New York City-based musician Charlene Kaye. After releasing her debut solo record Animal Love back in 2012, and a stint in several local acts including NYC's premiere all-female GNR cover band Guns N' Hoses (as Slash/Gash), she connected with baroque pop act San Fermin. After meeting via a mutual friend, founder Ellis Ludwig-Leone invited her to be the indie band's new frontwoman, following Rae Cassidy's exit, and Kaye joined the band full-time, touring consistently and collaborating with Ludwig-Leone on the group's acclaimed sophomore LP Jackrabbit (Downtown).
After a couple of years on the road -- and with stops at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and dates with St. Vincent, Arctic Monkeys, and alt-J -- Kaye returned to New York and turned her focus inward, finishing work on her forthcoming debut EP Honey under her new solo moniker, KAYE. Initially demo-ed on her laptop on the road, the effort marks the full breadth of her influences -- finding a balance between her love of both Destiny's Child and Nine Inch Nails.
And after sharing the project's first single "Honey" earlier this month, she followed it up this week with its impressive (and ambitious) visual counterpart -- a shot-for-shot remake of Weezer's seminal Spike Jonze-helmed clip for "Undone -- The Sweater Song," directed by her sister Liann Kaye.
Speaking to Billboard, Kaye talks San Fermin, life on the road, and the sonic growth and inspiration behind her new solo EP.
You have a new solo single “Honey” out now and an EP under the moniker KAYE on the horizon. After spending a few years touring as the frontwoman of San Fermin, how has it been to turn the focus back on this project?
During the couple years before I joined San Fermin, I already had been working on new music for a while, but never felt wholly satisfied with what I’d made. I was banging my head against the wall, worrying so much about it, putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself. So I took a step back to deliberately stop doing my own music for a while -- and that’s when the opportunity to be in San Fermin arose. Serving somebody else’s vision and throwing myself into Ellis's challenging, beautiful songs really gave me the space to rediscover who I was as a musician and why being an artist was important to me. Balancing the two hasn’t been hard so far. I like having a lot of irons in the fire.
What's it like touring eight people deep with San Fermin?
I love that it's a constant rolling party. It's never boring. Fortunately we all get along really well, to the point where we regularly make an entire bus/plane/train uncomfortable because all eight of us are maniacally laughing about some stupid conversation in the group text.
How did you write and work on ideas/record for the EP while being on the road? Did you have your own DIY laptop set up in the van or work mostly on breaks?
I get really inspired to write when I’m on the road. I always have my laptop with me and am writing constantly -- in the van, on planes, in green rooms, in hotels. Somehow when I’m at home it’s more difficult to consciously set aside time to write, but when I’m touring and seeing new places every day, it makes me see things from many different perspectives and want to capture the emotions those experiences evoke.
How do you think this new set has evolved sonically compared to your past solo releases? Did you have any specific goal in mind for the direction you wanted to take it in?
Being in Guns N’ Hoses [an all-girl tribute to GN'R based in NYC] and San Fermin have both been equally instrumental to my growth as a musician. In GN'H, I only play guitar, and in San Fermin, I only sing. Both of those bands have an intense, high-energy live show, and that definitely made its mark on me when I was writing this new EP. The sound came together easily when I started working with Elliot Jacobson, who produced the EP. We both have strong pop sensibilities, but wanted the guitars to have a fierce presence as well. So the result is that the drum sounds have a punchy, electronic and almost industrial quality about them at times, but the guitars moving around them feel very organic and very human.
“Honey” is a truly euphoric lead single -- what was the inspiration behind it?
I wrote "Honey" to remind myself that my spirit was indomitable, even if I didn’t believe it at the time. It’s thanking someone who’s disrespected and underestimated you for being a catalyst for growth. It was an exercise in acting how I wanted to feel, and it worked.
You just dropped the visual for the track, which is a shot by shot re-creation of Weezer’s clip for “Undone – The Sweater Song” and was directed by your sister Liann. How did you decide on this treatment and how did you guys prep/coordinate the filming in slow motion?
It was Liann’s idea to re-create the Weezer video. We were both huge fans of both Weezer and Spike Jonze growing up, and it started as a joke, but then we were like, “No, but seriously…” We had to shoot the video in double time for the final video to have that slow-motion-in-real-time quality about it, and it was pretty exhausting. The only snag in the plan was that we had a really hard time finding 15 big, wild looking dogs for the shoot. So we ended up getting puppies, which nobody was upset about. But it took a while to get a good take because instead of crazily running across the screen like the dogs in the Weezer video do, the puppies would just timidly come out of their pen, wander around aimlessly, and lick our amps and instruments. Every take, the same puppy would wander over to Allen, who would pick it up and sing the song to it while playing one-handed bass. It was real love.
What have you been listening to lately and any artists or albums that inspired the new EP?
When I wrote Honey, I was listening to a lot of rock but also a lot of hip-hop, and wondering why there wasn’t more cross-pollination between those two genres. Lately I’ve been revisiting Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and playing Fergie’s "M.I.L.F. $" on loop.
You have an EP release show coming up -- any plans to tour with KAYE later this year?
Yes, I’m playing Mercury Lounge on August 18, and I will be touring as much as I can after that!
You have a Pledge Campaign going for people who pre-order the EP. Can you tell us about some of the perks of pre-ordering?
Yes! Anyone who pledges is instantly privy to some exclusive perks -- behind-the-scenes videos, tote bags on which I’ll draw anything you want, first looks at videos and songs from the EP, exclusive Britney Spears covers…there’s also a perk in which I’ll do a jingle of your name in any genre you choose (metal, elevator jazz, polka, you name it) - I really hope a lot of people get that one.