Some people find Kali Ma to be enormously fearsome and dangerous to mess with, while others find her empowering. South London-based Lauren Dejey loves the labyrinthine perspectives and possibilities yielded by a goddess so mired in myth and magic, and draws on some big goddess energy on her debut EP Kali Ma.
“She’s both [empowering and fearsome], like every woman. Creation, destruction… We are so powerful and that can be scary to some people, but we also bring life and warmth which is the incredible duality of her and us. She is the antithesis of people-pleasing, being walked over, fitting in a box and being polite and quiet,” Dejey explains. “I found out about Kali only after I’d finished this EP, [but] I was so drawn to the power she embodies. What a Goddess.”
The five-track album rumbles up from the pit of Dejey’s broken heart to emerge triumphantly into the world. Her themes are not new: opportunistic exes, friends who let us down, feeling misunderstood or maligned. And yet these experiences unite us. These are the timeless stories we share through music, literature, poetry and dance. The universality of the album is meant to excite the imagination, as Dejey describes.
“In my opinion, [the album is] very much about finding inner power, so I think that translates sonically in a lot of ways…” she says. “If you were to visualise this collection of songs, I’d say to picture blood red, broken plates, scorpions, sharp shadows on your walls, misty sunsets and maybe strobe lights too.”
Opening track “Headache” is a seductive, piano-and-bass R&B ballad. Dejey’s voice is confident, melodious and multi-tonal. She sounds like fellow London-born Martina Topley-Bird sometimes, and the production – muddy bass, gothic atmospherics, and slippery, throaty interludes – is comparable to Billy Eilish. That mood takes a brighter turn on “Just Because You Said You’re Sorry Doesn’t Mean You Are,” a deceptively upbeat pop number that addresses that slimy ex who suggests meeting up when he’s lonely.
“Why The?” takes a haunting, minor key melody and adds industrial, gritty sampled noise as Dejey tries to untangle whether she is to blame for a toxic relationship: “I know this feeling would last for a while/But I can’t wriggle out the chains/And then they’ll say that it’s all in my mind.”
This writer’s personal favourite track, the glorious synth drama of “Like A Curse” is immediately compelling. If Dejey is truly losing her mind, as she confesses, then it sounds wonderful. Layered vocal harmonies build to a one-woman choir. It’s a gorgeous way to kick off a song, and it suggests there’s multiple personalities, multiple women all in one body, one song. Perhaps, more than any of the other songs, this is the one that most speaks to Kali Ma’s scimitar, sword and trident-bearing vengeful goddess. “You made me feel so small, you know,” Dejey croons, sounding totally broken. “Do you know how we’d go, do you know how far?” comes the snaking, sweeping harmony in response, and that juxtaposition between broken girl and furious woman is redolent of Kali Ma’s nurturing, maternal spirit co-existing with her brutal, raging elements.
Outro track “Yours” brings a benevolent end to the album. It is melancholy and sweetly captivating. Gently understated piano chords float into the ether, a sleepy trap beat keeps time, and Dejey’s multi-layered harmonies build into a blaze of synth-samples and the sound of a cassette tape being chewed up.
“All the songs were written during the first lockdown starting in March 2020 and they were pretty quick to write, except for ‘Yours,’” says Dejey. “That song was the hardest to finish because, for a while, it just didn’t have an ending. I was listening to Bring Me The Horizon’s new album at the time and was completely blown away by their energy so I sent the unfinished version of ‘Yours’ to my friend Matt Brettle and was like, ‘We need to create some kind of BMTH drum pattern,’ and he absolutely killed it. We went back and forth with tweaks for a while but that song has such a sonic journey. It’s definitely the most proud I’ve ever been of a song so far.”
Arrangement usually comes first for Dejey, setting the melody and the mood as a foundation to build upon. “I tend to have a vocal melody down and then I’ll sing gibberish until I find a rhythm I like, then the lyrics come naturally,” she says. “I find it crazy how unintentional I am with lyrics, but I always end up writing exactly how I feel at the time. Maybe it’s the lack of pressure – my subconscious just brings up exactly what I need to say.”
Dejey has got a DIY set-up in her room, where she records everything. The vocals on the EP were recorded as first takes, intended for demo use, but Dejey liked them so much she maintained them as they were.
“I just ended up loving the energy they had,” she explains. “It’s hard to recreate that energy the same way again, so I just left them in. I love that, because I can literally hear myself writing the song as I listen back. Each song varied with how long it took. Sometimes you think you’ve got a solid idea down in a day, then you listen again and hear a totally different way it could go. Using Splice for finding samples quickly is really helpful for staying in the flow of writing which massively helps my productivity for sure. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to start out with production.”
Having whet our appetites with this gothic, hooky pop, Dejey assures us there’s plenty more on the horizon. “I’m currently working on some new ideas, which I’m really excited about,” she says. “I’m also planning a gig or two, which would be my first show in like, three years? Playing music live? Wild!”