Memphis Kelly has been raised as a daughter of Australian musical royalty, but her new project SAATSUMA has placed her in a league all her own
Memphis Kelly is no stranger to the stage. Growing up with an actress and iconic musician as her parents, Memphis - along with her sister Maddy - has been exposed to a life brimming with art, inspiration and countless opportunities. Despite having performed as a background vocalist with Maddy here and abroad for her father Paul Kelly, her cousin Dan Kelly, Australian blues star CK Stoneking, as well as singing the lead vocals along with Maddy for a short film her mother Kaarin Fairfax starred in, Memphis couldn't be more excited about her new electro-pop project SAATSUMA. Memphis collaborated with Melbourne producer César Rodrigues and says, "I feel like everything we’ve created, particularly in the past six months, is the truest, most honest representations of ourselves." Memphis has created original music before. Both she and Maddy formed a group called Wishful in 2012 and performed dreamy/indie/pop tunes. However, after good success at festivals and on radio, the group has since dissolved, and Maddy has gone on to explore new soundscapes with César. So far, SAATSUMA have released four songs Storm, Floating, Isolate and Stay - all of which have been incredibly well received - and the new album set for release in the coming months is sounding very promising indeed. Memphis took some time to talk about how much she has loved working on her new musical project, and adds some punchy feminist advice for aspiring young women in music.
What does music mean to you?
Music has always been a sort of security blanket for me, something I’ve always been able to turn to when everything else feels unstable. I’m so lucky to have music as a creative outlet to process my emotions. Having the ability to express myself openly through music, with its capacity to instantly enhance my mood and basically my outlook on everything, is pretty daaamn special.
What has your musical pathway been like so far? Has a life in music always been the only option?
I grew up writing and performing songs with my sister Maddy, playing lots of instruments and performing in different bands. Our whole family is pretty creative so music was always a huge part of our lives, which I’m so thankful for. Of course I went through my confused teen years, phases of wanting to be an astronaut, a marine biologist and a personal trainer (lol) but music was always the one thing I kept coming back to. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life, it’s literally all I think about and I plan on staying this obsessed with it forever.
How are you feeling about the new album?
It’s difficult to put into words how important this body of work is to me. The idea that we’ve just created an album - the first album I’ve ever written and produced - is actually the must unbelievably incredible feeling. The entire process has been an incredible learning experience. Both mine and [producer César Rodrigues] writing and production skills have improved immensely and coming from a far more considered, poised and deeper place than ever before. I feel like everything we’ve created, particularly in the past six months, is the truest, most honest representations of ourselves. We can’t wait to share this body of work with everyone. Like probs gonna cry 47,000 happy tears for a week straight when it comes out.
Tell us about your new single Stay.
I remember making the initial beat in my little bedroom studio when I lived in Northcote, and improvising the chorus melody into a sh***y zoom recorder. The words “I don’t want you to go but you won’t stay with me” just came out immediately. From my deep dark subconscious mind maybe? César and I liked the vibe and delved further into this notion of irrationality and desire; the idea of losing yourself in the blinding process of process of getting what you want.
How did you meet César?
Cez and I met a few years ago when we lived in a share house together. It wasn’t until we had both moved out that we decided to collaborate. We got together in our friend Joel’s studio every couple of weeks and made demos until one day something clicked and we were like, yeah this is a vibe!
What is your collective creative process when SAATSUMA are in the studio?
César and I moved into our very own studio last year and WE LOVE IT. It has made our writing process so much more efficient. The writing/production process is super collaborative, and varies from song to song, but usually one of us has a basic idea like a beat or chord progression and we just build upon the idea from there with synths and textures and samples. We use [software program] Ableton to create different scenes which helps us work out the flow of the arrangement and once that’s down we’ll tweak and refine till we’re happy. We’ve got a really great workflow in the studio and are always motivated and excited to make new stuff. It’s fun.
Tell us about your collaboration with artist Ajay Jennings. You seem to have done quite a bit together.
Ajay is one of my best friends and is an absolute creative genius. Since our friendship began we’ve always been super supportive of and involved in each others’ creative practices. When we started SAATSUMA it was an obvious choice to get Ajay as our design wizard/art director. He’s been with us from the beginning and has contributed so much to our visual identity and aesthetic. Ajay has curated a retrospect exhibition of SAATSUMA’s visual identity featuring a selection of his work and various other artist collaborations we’ve been involved in. It’s at SPURS Gallery.... and SAATSUMA are playing a live set and there will be an exclusive first listen of our upcoming album! It’s gonna be pretty spesh.
How important is community radio to you?
Not sure what we’d do without it to be honest. Community radio is such an incredible support network. In the mainstream media there’s a serious lack of diversity and representation for artists within minority groups. Community radio gives voices to these groups, providing a platform to have their stories heard and their art recognised.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
Melbourne of course :’)
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
Could prob fill a book because there are SO MANY inspiring femmes in music but I’ll try to condense. Corin, Squidgenini, Woodes, Sui Zhen, Banoffee, Rainbow Chan, Alice Ivy, Elspeth Scrine (Huntly, Listen Records), Jess Fairfax (MCAV, PBS), Chloe Turner (Listen Records), Mia Besorio (Acclaim magazine), Brooke Powers, Sov Trax, Bridget Hustwaite (triple j) & Ella Thompson.
What has been your favourite day this year?
Seeing Solange live at Primavera festival in Barcelona. That was okay I guess.
Any lessons you could offer to girls and young women in high school about music?
Don’t let this egocentric cis-white-male-dominated industry determine the music you make, how you make it, what you’re capable of, how you present yourself, and how much belief you have in yourself. You’re way more amazing and talented than all those guys combined.
(Brunswick) on Sunday 9th from 1-6pm. Ajay has curated a retrospect exhibition of SAATSUMA’s visual identity featuring a selection of his work and various other artist collaborations we’ve been involved in. It’s at SPURS Gallery.... and SAATSUMA are playing a live set and there will be an exclusive first listen of our upcoming album!
SAATSUMA perform in Melbourne this week.