Popping Up: Charlene Kaye
Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
Charlene Kaye is, quite frankly, an animal. The 25-year-old New York transplant can move seamlessly from heart-wrenching, operatic piano ballads to toe-tapping dance tunes, commanding the stage with her soaring voice and a smattering of feathers and glitter. The glam touches shouldn’t be a surprise; Kaye became fascinated with Queen front-man Freddie Mercury’s style during the writing of Animal Love, her forthcoming sophomore album due May 1. “He was a huge inspiration to me — he took himself seriously as a musician and had an amazing work ethic,” she tells Idolator. “But he also celebrated the pageantry of glam rock and had fun with it.”
Head below to find out why Charlene Kaye is on our radar and see the world premiere of the video for her new single “Hummingbird Heart”.
FULL NAME: Charlene Kaye
HOMETOWN: The singer was born in Hawaii, raised in Arizona, educated in Michigan and now based in New York.
SOUNDS LIKE: If Prince and Jenny Lewis had a love child that was raised by Freddie Mercury.
DREAM COLLABORATION: Rufus Wainwright and/or any of the above.
ARTIST SHE’D LOVE TO COVER: “I’ve covered more Sondre Lerche songs than I can count, during my old open mic days and currently.”
BEGINNINGS: Kaye got started on the piano at age five, playing classical music for years. In the 7th grade she changed gears, getting into punk rock and teaching herself Blink-182 songs on her mom’s nylon guitar. She played only for herself through high school, with her sister (Liann Kaye, who directs most of Charlene’s videos) influencing her taste with a lot of classic rock — Zeppelin, Van Halen and Queen. In college, Kaye started writing her own music and became a part of the scene at The University of Michigan, eventually moving to New York a few years ago to grow as an artist.
THE GLEE CONNECTION: Another Michigan alum is Glee star Darren Criss, a good friend of Kaye’s. The pair teamed up on two songs, “Skin and Bones” from her first album (2008’s Things I Will Need in the Past) and the single “Dress and Tie”, which came out last year. Kaye also has close ties to another Criss project: Team StarKid, the Michigan-born viral video sensations who created A Very Potter Musical. Kaye went on tour with the group last fall as opening act and lead guitarist in their backing band.
Charlene Kaye feat. Darren Criss, “Dress and Tie”
THE KICKSTART: Kaye bypassed the label route and opted to DIY her career, opening a Kickstarter campaign last summer to raise funds for Animal Love. She set a goal of $20,000, but quickly hit her mark in less than a week and went on to net $33,000 from fans. Many artists say they have “the best fans in the world”, but Kaye has the proof — in cash. Thirty fans donated more than $600 each, with a few hitting her highest levels of donation to snag coveted memorabilia from her videos.
Charlene Kaye, “Animal Love 1”
ON GOING ELECTRIC: Her first record Things I Will Need in the Past used only acoustic instruments, but this time around — with band mate and producer, mixer and performer Tomek Miernowski — Kaye dove into more electronic textures, working with drum samples and synthesizers. The electronic influence shows in Kaye’s layered vocals and chaotic guitar riffs. “The irony is that, despite the use of this supposed machinery, this album feels more human to me in ways the first one doesn’t.”
SHE’S NOW A RISK-TAKING SCREAM QUEEN: Because of her classical background, Kaye says she felt boxed in to precise arrangements on her first album, right down to the clean and even vocal melodies. But on Animal Love, Kaye “let go,” allowing herself to be more intuitive, take risks and break the mold. “I did a lot of new things with my voice —t here are some songs where I’m just screaming. I think ultimately, that feeling is what I wanted to capture the most on this record — complete catharsis, going from the sensible to the sublime.”
WHERE YOU CAN FIND HER: Kaye will play several shows (including gigs with her all-female Guns N’ Roses cover band) in and around New York leading up to her album release show at Gramercy Theater on May 1.
HER HUMMINGBIRD HEART: On her newest single, “Hummingbird Heart,” Kaye captures the pivotal moment when she became certain she wanted to quit waiting tables and make music her full-time job. “It’s about that drive to succeed,” she said, “And also about show business in general and what I imagined I was in for — all the dark, destructive parts in addition to the exhilaration and glory of it all. Living for the love of a crowd, seeing them all go home at the end of the night, starting the process all over again. I think every touring musician experiences that to some extent, but you do it again and again for that spark, that fleeting connection and the hope that you’ve made an impact somehow.”
We’ve got the world premiere of the album version of “Hummingbird Heart”, along with its tour-based music video, shot during this fall’s S.P.A.C.E. Tour with Team StarKid. Click HERE to download the track, and check out the video below.
Charlene Kaye, “Hummingbird Heart”