Long before musician Kelsey Byrne became Vérité, the electropop chanteuse and songwriter hailed for her hypnotic, moody, and ethereal sound, she was a middle school punk in a perhaps too-literally named band like No Smoking or Shattered Windows. “It was just us learning covers and me being very militant and ordering these girls to play drums when they didn’t actually play drums,” she laughs. “I think that sort of laser focus has carried into every iteration of me making music.”
You don’t get to be a successful independent artist without some sort of laser focus, after all. While Byrne has been playing music most of her life–her father is a musician himself and she played covers in his latin rock band as a teenager in addition to graduating college with a degree in studio composition–she learned much more about the music industry once she left school. She had to: she worked at the Applebee’s in Times Square for three years to pay her rent and made music in whatever time she had to spare. The work paid off, and she recently celebrated her four-year anniversary of quitting after a total of 10 years in the service industry. For a long time, she says, she was the everything of the Vérité brand: business manager, PR rep, you name it. But she’s able to do most of the creating now, and she says 99% of the lyrics on her latest release, 2017’s Somewhere in Between, are written solely by her.
Somewhere in Between is a sonic journey through Byrne’s own experience of apathy, depression, and boredom. She understood she needed to write music but for a long time didn’t understand the reason why or how she could even do it when she didn’t feel anything herself. “All of the writing I was doing was just feeling things in different ways, an analysis of my reality and the environment my head was in,” she says. “It was written in a cold, detached place but it was still a very honest reading of where I was. It was a really interesting experience to go back and start performing the songs and reinterpreting them live. That’s the beauty of making music, it’s always open to reinterpretation and different meanings to different people.” In this vein, it’s fitting that Byrne recently re-released her song “Bout You” as a remix with New Orleans-based rapper Pell, his verses adding a new, additional perspective to her song about doing whatever one wants romantically without fear of fallout.
Byrne is also in the process of writing new work both on her own and with others, curious about challenging herself to work outside of her comfort zone (that is, being alone in her room and going to bed at 9pm). She’s recently been inspired by the work of Tyler, the Creator, N.E.R.D., and Francis and the Lights; released a haunting cover of Sufjan Stevens’s “John, My Beloved”; and will begin a North American tour accompanying Irish band EDEN on March 1.
All of Byrne’s releases thus far, from Somewhere in Between to her three prior EPs, were produced independently. While this wasn’t always the goal–”I think in the beginning I definitely believed the goal was to work hard enough and build enough to attract interest in a major label [and] that someone could magically swoop in and have all of the puzzle pieces fit perfectly into place and catapult the project into this third dimension of success,” she says–priorities change. Now, her goal is to remain fully independent, to retain complete control over her work, not having to answer to a label’s desires for a mass consumption-friendly single or getting stuck in a studio for two years because a label doesn’t know how to proceed. “I realized [a label is] kind of unnecessary for what I’m doing. I’m not trying to pander to writing a radio single, I just wanna tour and release music and make more of it on a level that’s good enough for me,” she says. While the initial desire for a label is in itself a fairy tale for some, by being able to quit her waitressing job and make music independently full-time, Byrne is actually living a fairy tale of her own design.
But for this fairy tale, there was no magic wand. Everything Byrne has she had to initially develop and save and create and care for on her own first. It’s something she wishes more young artists would do, and speaks about it frankly. “I think in the music industry today, as you look at the landscape of young artists, there’s always this sense of artists just wanting to create and I totally understand that and empathize with it [yet] recognize it as this idealistic reality that doesn’t actually exist,” she says. “I think if these people shifted their perception a little bit and just accepted that yeah, I get to make music, but I also really need to learn this business in order to have the music be a sustainable thing,” she says. “I want to see more of that in the landscape of artists because I think it’s really empowering and it allows me to have full creative control of my project, which is ultimately the goal.”
Byrne has been lucky enough to come into her own at a time when pop music is not only accepting of alternative-inspired voices, but a time when music blooms through a digital landscape that can allow an independent artist to thrive in its reaches. While she has never wanted to make music that’s trendy, her style of music is very much on trend, this genre of pop that’s artfully minded and dark while still being melodic and accessible. So whether this is a trend that sticks around for a while or not does not concern Byrne. “I’m just gonna keep doing what I do and I recognize that not everything I do will react well,” she says. “So long as I get to independently release music, there will always be something that someone likes, hopefully.”