Even if you haven’t heard her music yet, you probably know the hysteria Kelsy Karter created simply by getting Harry Styles’ face tattooed on her cheek. Travel to Mars with her on her new track Liquor Store On Mars.
When something goes viral online, it typically needs to gain huge momentum for the story to make a small city’s local newspaper. When Aussie singer Kelsy Karter decided to get a tattoo of Harry Styles’ face on her cheek, she did just that. Not only did the stunt go viral online but it also made international headlines from both new & traditional news media, going so far as to reach my local city’s newspaper. This type of coverage could be stressful and overwhelming for a new artist, but Karter felt the song deserved the hype because she knew it was good.
Everything Karter does is well-thought-out, designed & planned to be impactful; as a lover of all forms of art, the great tattoo plot was a nod to the stunts well-loved rock stars would pull back in the 70s and 80s. Her love of acting when she was a kid has given her a vivid imagination and need to express herself creatively and uniquely. Even if the tattoo was fake, it was the best PR stunt anyone had seen in ages.
Now the crazy hysteria is over, Karter has garnered a loyal following of fans pre-Harry-tattoo and post-Harry-tattoo. It’s easy to like her sound; her strong vocals were made for gritty rock-n-roll songs and her familiarity with jazz has deeply influenced her work. Her new track Liquor Store on Mars showcases how powerful Karter is both with singing and songwriting. If Harry was about the fuzzy feelings & joy one feels when they are making declarations to a lover, Liquor Store on Mars is the song about the complete opposite feeling: heartbreak and loss. Desperately trying to avoid reminders and memories of a past lover, Karter sings, “I hope there’s a liquor store waiting on Mars/With cheap cigarettes you can light with the stars/Cause that’s how far I’ll have to go/to see you and not say hello.” It is the song everyone & anyone can relate to.
Kelsy Karter is making a name for herself and solidifying her spot in the rock-n-roll genre. 1883 had a chat with the rebellious rock-n-roll star about the inspiration behind her new song, her upcoming EP, what it was really like to make international headlines just for getting a tattoo of a certain One Direction member on her face, and which Harry Styles song is her favourite.
Kelsy, what made you want to pursue music as a career?
The short answer is all members of my family are jazz musicians so I was around it my whole life. As a kid I didn’t want to be a singer; I was an actor and a theatre kid which meant I was singing. One day, I just decided that I loved singing and wanted to follow it. I’m not entirely sure what the catalyst was, but I do know as a kid I said I was going to be an entertainer and here I am.
I see a lot of nods to the 70s in your music and your style; it really looks like you were just plucked from the ’70s and placed in 2019. Is there a specific icon from that era that inspires you, either with your music or your style?
My dad instilled a lot of the classics in me when I was a kid. I love early jazz and soul music, like James Brown and Sam Cook. When I was a teenager, I discovered Bowie and The Rolling Stones and Queen was kind of liberated from it. I have always been drawn to that era and the innocence of it. It’s become a part of me and my life, so when I started to do music I just decided I was going to be myself and that came out. One of my biggest inspirations is definitely Mick Jagger. I love his fashion, his stage presence, and his music. Anna Karina, a French actress, is another inspiration for me. She was a rebellious actress back in the 60s and had this femininity around her that I really love and try to aspire to be like. There are definitely more male-dominated inspirations in my life than female, which is kind of weird.
Your new song Liquor Store on Mars is out today. It showcases your vocals so well and I really love how layered and intimate it feels. You can really tell there is some real emotion behind the song, which makes me wonder: what was the inspiration behind it?
Thank you! I went through a really painful breakup last year. You know when you break up with someone and everywhere you look and everything around you reminds you of them?
Yes! Totally know that feeling.
See, everyone experiences it. It was like, oh! There’s a chair! He sat in chairs! [Laughs] Everywhere I looked, he would be right there in front of me. I walked up to the studio one day with my best mate Michael and I was crying and upset because it felt like I couldn’t get away from it. I told him I have to move to the moon because I’m constantly reminded of him. So, we sat down in the studio, came up with the song title, and we wrote it. It’s odd because right before we broke up, our dog died. I’m not a religious person so I like to make up my own little stories about what happens when someone dies, what happens to life after death. I got a tattoo for my dog of a rocketship and she went up to Mars in her ship and that’s where she is now. We kind of put two concepts into one.
Obviously, we have to discuss the Harry tattoo because it was everywhere. As a lover of PR stunts and a lover of people getting tattoos just for fun, I absolutely loved it. What made you think, I’m going to get a fake tattoo for this song!
Hell yeah! [Laughs] I can’t take all of the credit, I didn’t just say “Hey guys! I’m going to go do something that will be the most jarring experience of my life now!” I wrote Harry around the same time I wrote Liquor Store on Mars. I was so done with writing sad songs and crying and being sad, so I went into the studio and asked the guys if we could just write for fun. At the time Harry was my lock screen on my phone so it was kind of like a fun idea to get my mind off of all the shit I was going through and it ended up being a sick song.
Since I put my love for Harry out there, his fandom really took to it and started following and becoming fans of me which was cool. We spent six months getting more music done and we knew we had to find the right time to release the song. When we decided we wanted to release it, it was his birthday and we knew we had to do something big. I’m not one to just kind of stand in the wings; there’s no obstacle course too hard for me, I’ve been like this my whole life. I’m definitely someone who would rather ask for forgiveness instead of permission. We wanted to create buzz around this song that, in a way, was similar to what my 70s rock idols would’ve experienced but in a modern way. So we just thought, what if the little Australian girl’s got a tattoo on her face. There was 8 of us on my team that cultivated the whole plan for the tattoo. I was really just a subject who was on board for the ride. One of the guys at my manager’s office sparked the idea and then we all took it and made it the beautiful garden and that it became.
How did you handle the backlash? I feel like you’re someone who takes everything in stride.
Oh yeah, I don’t give two shits. I don’t care what anyone says. I knew that the song was great. I don’t think I would’ve done it if I wasn’t confident the song was good. I was iffy about the art side of the tattoo, but I was really confident in what I created. To be honest, I was never really bullied as a kid. I watched my older brother get bullied as a kid, but I never had it happen to me. This was kind of like my time-to-get-bullied experience. It was really jarring the first couple days before the song was out and it was just the tattoo living on the internet, I had a couple of meltdowns. It wasn’t all just from fans, too. Some peers of mine, like other musicians, and I felt like my managers for a second were like WHAT HAVE WE DONE? just because it was coming from all angles. Then, obviously, Harry’s fans are very loyal to him and I was the crazy girl who got Harry tattooed on her face. The mentality was similar to “We have to save Harry,” you know?
Yeah, they are pretty protective of him.
All of the news outlets were talking about it, too. I honestly didn’t care about what the news people were saying because it was shocking, but the fans were very brutal at first. When the song and video came out, the hate started to turn into respect and it eased. I still get hate for it sometimes, but it comes with the territory of being in the public eye in any sense. I’m definitely built for it. Now that we’ve had that experience where it was the most of everything coming at you all at once, I’m ready for anything.
If you can survive Harry’s fans, you can survive anything.
I get it though! They thought I was a nutso! I mean, I am a little bit but I wasn’t coming after him! [Laughs]
It was all for love! It’s all worth it!
Exactly! When we did the reveal video, I wanted to do a video telling the story of why we did it and what we did and everything that was involved with it. When that came out, that is when the fans started to see my personality and see I’m a human who might be a little less crazy than they thought I was. That’s when the fans that were iffy turned and become more intrigued by my music and who I was.
It’s a good song. No one can deny that it’s a good, catchy song! What’s your favourite song by Harry? Would you ever want to work with him?
Oh, hell yeah! I want to work with him, I want to tour with him, I want to do a duet with him. I don’t need him to put his velvet arms around me, though! [Laughs] I like From The Dining Table, I love Kiwi and his cover of Girl Crush. I like his song Medicine that isn’t out yet but I love it. Some fans have asked me to cover it, so maybe I will.
Your debut EP is coming What can you tell us about it and what does that collection of songs mean to you?
Oh gosh, last year was a really rough year for me. I just didn’t really know what I was doing and I really just wanted to be somewhere else. It’s basically just kind of telling the story of that. In all aspects of my life, it was a really cathartic year and shit was going down in all different places and it’s about the stories of those things and how I dealt with it.. told in a Kelsy Karter way. It means a lot to me.
What else is coming up for you?
We’ve been touring most of the year in the U.K. with The Struts and then the U.S. west coast tour. All I think about every day is just getting back out on the road; my biggest plan has always been to be on the road. Right now we are making all of the visual content and music videos. I love making and telling stories visually and I’m a super visual artist since I come from an acting background.
Are you having a music video for each song for your EP?
Yes, I am!
I’m assuming you have a lot of creative input.
Oh my gosh, Kelsey. Yes! I direct and edit all of my own stuff. I’m working with some new people at the moment which is going to take everything to the next level. Creative input is 90% me and I have a visual brain, so ideas are always going to come from me. I have incredible professionals around me to help me bring a lot of great.
Some parting words? Anything you want people to know about you?
My parents are my best friends, I drink too much coffee & smoke too many cigarettes. Also, I just want to add that it is SO NICE speaking to a fellow Kelsey! I never run into them!
We can call this When Kelsy Met Kelsey.
Yes! That is wonderful.