'It was so inspiring; it sounds dramatic but being around death inspired me to live'
‘I can’t see a red curtain’ reads the text as I take a seat beside one. The penny drops. I’m in the wrong place. By a long way. New coordinates are set and I race towards Marylebone to meet Kelly Lee Owens, the enigmatic (but, it turns out, highly efficient) artist behind one of the most talked about debut albums of 2017’s first quarter. On her chosen destination I text back about how ‘dead posh’ it is. ‘It’s dead boring’ is the instant reply. Breathless after our miscommunication, I am glad Kelly took control, which she’s always done remarkably well, it seems.
“I had to get a job back where I grew up in Wales when I was 13,” she tells me. “I think that’s illegal but never mind, I was a waitress, but I was kind of running the show. Maybe I just took over. I remember having anxiety dreams at 14 about running restaurants, which is just weird. My family were saying, Kelly you have to earn your keep. At the time I thought it was unfair, but I think it’s set me up for life.”
She says she finds herself relinquishing control these days, openly admitting that it isn’t her strong point. “I’m so impatient,” she cries, a bundle of positive energy. The wait for her self-titled debut album – an extraordinary techno-tinged, immersive odyssey that’s rich in depth but dance-floor-ready – can’t be easy for her.
To best comprehend this eponymous, complex body of work you must follow Kelly’s journey, which began in Manchester. “That was the first place I felt there was a load of weirdos that I could connect with and feel on a level with in regards to music. I wanted to move away and I had worked in a nursing home before, in Wales, so the next logical step was to do something similar. I worked at Christie’s Cancer Hospital and somehow got a job there,” she says.
“It was so inspiring; it sounds dramatic but being around death inspired me to live and the people I met were so amazing, full of strength. In a way it cuts the bullshit, all the things we overthink in our minds and these situations that we create, you know – it strips all of that away. What always struck me was people would tell me what they would regret and it was always things they didn’t do – I didn’t try…, I didn’t say… – I just couldn’t forget that. It is so simple in a way but if you can just think of yourself towards the end of your life saying that to yourself, what would you regret?
“It really did have a lasting affect on me – music is healing. I think that we need to marry those two worlds and I still think about it a lot.”
When pushed, Kelly reveals that now more than ever her time working for the NHS is informing her current state of mind and her approach to music. “We have more power than we realise to heal ourselves and music for so many people is therapeutic,” she tells me. “When I started doing research into sound frequencies, I found that certain frequencies shatter cancer cells. It’s only specific type of cells and they do need to research it some more but it works.”