Friday, November 18, 2011

Q&A with singer-songwriter Charlene Kaye; opening for StarKid Saturday

Singer-songwriter Charlene Kaye is both opening for Team StarKid Saturday, November 19, and playing guitar in the YouTube sensation’s live band. Kaye gained attention for her work with her friend and StarKid co-founder Darren Criss of “Glee.” Their duets, “Dress and Tie” (above) and “Skin and Bones,” have received a few 100,000 hits on YouTube. The tour, which serves as a greatest hits of StarKid's musicals, finds her reunited with some of her former University of Michigan classmates. I recently spoke to Kaye who talked about her upcoming album and how the all female Guns n’ Roses tribute band she joined helped prepare her for shredding on the StarKid stage.

Were you involved at all with the StarKid productions in college?
No. I was doing my music and I was always aware of everything they were doing because I was friends with Darren and because he brought me to the musicals. He was my portal to that world. I met everyone through him. We all kept in touch. I moved to New York and the "Potter” musicals blew up. Then I got this phone call from Dylan (Saunders of Starkid) who asked if I was interested in joining the tour. We were suppose to be in the studio all of November, but there was no way we could say no to this. My producer, Tomek Miernowski, who is also my bass player – he’s in the StarKid band too. So the two of us are doing two sets a night. It’s pretty grueling. We’re playing three hours straight. My fingers are getting a workout like they’ve never had before.

Did you have a background in musical theater before this?

Absolutely. My parents are musical theater junkies. I think that’s why I love Rufus Wainwright so much. There’s a certain nostalgia in me for the first albums I’d listen to driving to school – “Evita” and “West Side Story.”

Starkid also pulls you out of the front person role.

It is one of my first sideman gigs. I’ve only been a front woman. Before I went on this tour I was approached to be in an all female Guns n’ Roses tribute band calls Guns n’ Hoses. I’m going to be Slash. I’ve been practicing my shredding. I have to kill the part. Everybody in the band is a front woman. We’re working hard to make sure we walk the walk. That’s been consuming a lot of my time. I was recording from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday and practicing with my band from 8 to 11 and then after that I would practice Starkid. I had to learn 22 songs for this set. And then I would practice Guns n’ Roses.

Has it been a good exercise?

It’s making me more conscious as a guitarist and a musician. In actuality it prepared me for the Starkid set. My technique has improved.

How deep are you into making the next record?

Everything is almost all recorded and when we get back in December we’ll be finishing it up.

What’s it going to be like?

It’s different from my first stuff. My first album I recorded when I was a junior and senior in college. It was my first ever recorded effort. I used acoustic guitars, live drums, banjo, glockenspiel… very indie folk, Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens transparently-inspired as a result of the amazing folk culture that Ann Arbor is known and what I listened to a lot when I was starting to write music. I had an acoustic guitar attached to my body at the time. People have called it chamber pop to orchestral folk.

When I made the move to New York, I don’t want to say that was the biggest catalyst, but I started listening to different music. Hip-hop and I’d go to electronic show. I fell in love with pop music again the way I loved it in seventh grade when I listened to the Backstreet Boys and NSync and appreciated a good hook. I still pay attention to arrangements. I appreciate really intricate orchestrations. I love Rufus Wainwright. I try to incorporate that, but I’ve also got like Robyn and (Norweigian musician) Jarle Bernhoft.

Did your band have a hand in transforming the sound?
My drummer Dave Scalia played a big role in the metamorphosis of the new songs. He’s an incredible drum programmer. He’s got beats for days. The sounds he’s made color the record in a distinct way. His personality and talent is going to be all over that. It’s hard to describe pop music because it’s such an umbrella. Thanks to him and the experiences I’ve had and the artists I’ve been exposed to since my move to the city there’s an edgier quality…something rhythmic and hooky, and more carefree about it but also deeply felt. I hope it’s nothing like anyone has heard before. It’s nothing like anything I’ve made before.

Also my philosophy behind the new album, which is called “Animal Love” - in my mind it is loosely a concept album about the way humans process the emotion of love and how its related to our biological instincts and how we’re equipped when its lost. It applies to romantic love and a lust for life. The songs were written a lot quicker than first album where everything was premeditated and edited. This came back to a guttural feel, to create a hook and a melody that drives the song and the lyrics that propel it forward. The process was a lot quicker and I did a lot less editing. I think the title applies to that as well. Its’ a very raw, creative process. I didn’t want to be too intellectual this time. I wanted to have it be more of a release than rumination.

Will you be playing the new material during your set?

We'll be playing most of the new songs on the tour.


  1. Charlene and her band are so great! I met them all after the SPACE tour in New Orleans. I met all of Starkid too! It was the best night of my life. I will never forget this and how much all of them have inspired me!

  2. I got to see Charlene live for my first time in Charlotte on Saturday. She was AMAZING! I also got to meet her at the meet & greet... I told her about how I backed her, and she was so sincerely appreciative - I got 2 hugs and a handshake! haha
    This woman is inspirational, down to earth, TALENTED, and just all around awesome. I love introducing my friends to her music!!
    Thanks for this interview!