Spotlight NY Artist: Charlene Kaye

Anybody who knows me will probably remember the days I spent in high school going to concerts and constantly needing to explain to people, “Oh, you’ve probably never heard of them.” Well, this is sometimes still the case, but not when it comes to Charlene Kaye. After seeing her perform as the opener of Starkid’s Space Tour in 2011, I have been a dedicated attendee at Kaye’s New York shows at venues such as Gramercy Theater, Irving Plaza, and most recently, Cameo Gallery. Any time anyone asks me about her shows, I excitedly recount her energetic stage presence when she plays a fun jam, the amazing soul she pours into her piano, and of course, her admirable dedication to covering 90s and early 2000s hits by artists like Aaliyah and Pink. If you haven’t heard of Kaye before…we clearly haven’t had more than a four minute conversation. She has recently stepped in as the lead singer of the eight-piece, Brooklyn-based band San Fermin, who just finished up a five-week tour opening for alt-J. But her solo work still continues. In preparation for her second solo show of 2015, I reached out to Kaye to give Her Campus’s readers a sneak peek on what she’s been working on.

Photo by Emily Knecht

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Charlene Kaye and I'm a musician based in New York. I front my own band, and I also sing lead vocals for the band San Fermin.

What are you listening to right now?

The day the new Chairlift song “Ch-Ching” came out, I listened to it about twenty times. I love all the stuff Justin Bieber’s released lately. I think it was such a cool move for him to team up with Skrillex. It’s such forward-sounding pop music, but the songwriting is still solid.

What are some of your favorite TV shows right now?

I love huge, sweeping epics with tons of characters and multiple storylines. Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey fit that bill perfectly, so naturally I’m obsessed with those shows. As for comedies, I’ve been loving Fresh off the Boat and Last Man on Earth.

You released your last solo album three and a half years ago, but have been touring with San Fermin for the past year and a half. Is there a reason you haven’t put out any new music since then?

Before I joined San Fermin, I was in a very emotionally volatile place. I had just gone on two massive tours with StarKid and a couple headline tours of my own, but when I started to write again for the next record, I felt myself stalling out. I had just gone through a major breakup and was processing that experience, but couldn't write about it in a way that felt natural. There’s a David Allen quote - “You can do anything, but not everything.” I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to say or what I wanted the songs to sound like, so the first batch of demos ended up sounding like everything and nothing at the same time, both lyrically and sonically. I felt so defeated at times that I actually considered other career options - I taught guitar and songwriting lessons in addition to doing some freelance web and graphic design. Doing that and being in San Fermin was crucial - I needed to take a step back to rebuild my own confidence as a writer and as an artist.

You’ve been a solo artist for years - Were you hesitant to join San Fermin, a band where you didn’t write any of the music or lyrics?

Yes, I felt very trepidatious about it at first. I thought, is this something I want? Will this be fulfilling for me? Also, the female vocal parts with melodies jumping all over the place and lots of time signature changes were intimidating, to say the least. But when I met Allen and Ellis, and hung out with them a few times, it became clear that this was a project I wanted to be a part of - not just because I loved the music, but also because we clicked as people. I can’t believe that was over a year and a half ago. We’ve been touring almost constantly since then and the experience has brought about a seismic shift in my awareness of the world and of myself as a performer. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be in San Fermin, not only for the amazing shows and the traveling but also for the friendships I’ve made with my bandmates, who are now like family to me.

Your last solo show was in April, when you debuted a lot of new stuff you’ve been working on. How would you describe your new music?

I try not to think about genre when I write, but looking at the songs now, it’s interesting to hear the two distinct styles I was first influenced by when I started really loving music: R&B and rock. When I was younger I was obsessed with Destiny’s Child, *NSYNC, Missy Elliot, and TLC. At the same time, I loved Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, Incubus and Queen. There’s this one song on the EP called “You" that kind of sounds like late 90s Gloria Estefan, but we were in the studio and my producer Elliot (Jacobson) was like, “How would this sound if Led Zeppelin played this?” So we made the bass tone super fuzzy and nasty, and it seems like throughout the EP there’s a theme of bubblegum melodies with really punky, aggressive sounds. Probably a pretty accurate reflection of who I am as a person, ha!

What can we expect from you in the future of your music career?

Right now, all I care about is making something that I’m proud of and that means something to me. I’ve wasted a lot of time in the past worrying about how I came across and being overly sensitive to what people think. I used to be terrified of getting older, but getting older is awesome. I’m 29, and I feel like I know myself better than I ever have. These new songs reflect so much of what I’ve absorbed over the past few years, and I can’t wait to get them out there.

Where can we find you on social media?

Instagram: @charlenekaye

Twitter: @charlenekaye


You can check out Charlene Kaye this Thursday night, November 5th at Pianos NYC! More event details can be found here. Also be sure to check out Charlene Kaye on BTR Live Studio and San Fermin's music video for "Jackrabbit."

Make sure to keep an eye out for my upcoming article about San Fermin this December!