Calling from a six-week writer’s residency in the small mountain town of Banff in Alberta, Canada, Lindsay Kay is feeling a creative high these days – while also enjoying a much-needed recharge. “This place is really fantastic. They literally cook all your food for you. You’re sort of living in a hotel, almost, so you don’t have to make your bed, even,” she says with a laugh. “It’s so wildly privileged… but it’s completely immersive. All you have to do is music. They fund you to come.”
Banff lies roughly 90 minutes away from Kay’s hometown of Calgary, and so, it feels a bit like a homecoming. She previously attended this same residency four years ago as she prepared her debut album, 2018’s For the Feminine, By the Feminine, an especially moving and timely collection centered on womanhood and the meaning of femininity. Every collaborator on the album, from producers to studio musicians, was a woman.
Now, she offers a glimpse into the great depths of her songcraft with her new EP, showcasing the same song in three different versions. “For D”/“I Had This Friend” is a study in songwriting, and each iteration is a puzzle piece to a much bigger story. “I was actually, funnily enough, at another artist residency when I first wrote this. I was in this really small town called Noyers-sur-Serein in Burgundy, a couple hours south of Paris. It was very different than here. It’s very small,” she recalls. “You’re sort of living in this tiny, medieval house. It was just me and one other woman in residence together – my dear friend [writer] Kelsey Donk. We were there for a couple of months working and writing. That was real seclusion.”
“I Had This Friend” moves from the rough cut of the original 2016 iPhone demo to something more visceral and tangible in the second demo to a finished product that marries creamy studio work with a still jagged presentation. While the final version remains unmastered, it still allows the listener to feel an emotional richness that drips from Kay’s voice and the steady heartbeat of guitar and piano.
“He worried all of the time / He’d never get any sleep / There was no time to be wasted / He had to earn his keep,” she sings. Her words paint faint, foggy images of a person who quickly, sorrowfully faded from her life. “In life, some people are there for a long time, and some people are there for a short time. This person was in my life for a shorter amount of time,” she offers with a palpable heaviness. “When I wrote this song in France, we were still dear friends and speaking pretty regularly. He was present in my life, and I felt inspired to write a song about him.”
“I cared about him very much, but I worried about him for all the reasons that I list in the song. He overworked himself. He sets too high expectations for himself. I felt I wanted to put that into words. Coming back to this song later, things had changed slightly. I was figuring out how to deal with that.”
Listen to AudioFemme’s exclusive stream of “For D” / “I Had a Friend” and get even more insight into Kay’s work below.
AF: What drew you back to the song three years later? How had things changed?
LK: I came back to the song this year. I was in Calgary visiting my family. I was thinking, “Okay, it’s time to start the process of writing new music and figuring out the next type of album that I want to make.” Sometimes, it’s a little bit easier to revisit old work as opposed to diving right into making something new. Writing songs is the hardest thing ever. [laughs] It’s so terrifying to have the blank page looking back at you. So, sometimes, it’s a softer landing to go back into the journals and the voice memos and see if there’s anything that can be mined from the past.
That’s what I was doing. I was going back and listening to a bunch of the music I wrote when I was in France and stuff I wrote that coincided with my last album that didn’t make the cut then. This song was one of those songs. It didn’t really fit in with the overarching theme of my last album, but I still felt the song had something special and sweet and nostalgic to it. I like the song.
In listening back to it, it’s interesting, of course. The first demo was in the present tense, and I thought to myself, “Do I have any sort of responsibility to keep the song the same to respect the way it was written the first time?” But it’s my song, so I can do whatever I want. There are no rules. So, I thought, “Well, we grew apart in a natural, normal way. Nothing dramatic or terrible about it, but how do I make this song true for right now?” The first thing I chose to do was put it into past tense, which took some finagling. It was interesting, because I had never done that before. I had never taken a present song and put it into the past. It was a cool thing to work on. I really enjoyed that process.
AF: How did the song feel to you then, emotionally?
LK: Honestly, I think it felt quite similar. I actually had a lot of the same feelings I had when I wrote it. It was just love and care for this person – despite the fact that I no longer speak to him very often. When I listened to the song, I was taken back to that feeling of care and concern. It made me think of our friendship fondly. I saw things slightly different, I suppose, which you can see in the lyric changes. It’s a little bit more critical view, perhaps, in the last version of the song. I had time to reflect on our relationship and our friendship. It still rang true in some way, at least.
AF: A month later, you recorded the final version. What did you want the song to evoke, musically?
LK: I wanted to record something very quickly, very messy, not too polished. I wasn’t initially planning on making an EP in this way. When I went into the studio, I just had access to studio time in Calgary. This was the song that was at the forefront of my practice and mind at the moment. I wanted to record it in the way I felt it was finished. After I had recorded the song, I was going back and listening to the different versions. Then, I had the idea, “Well, what if I put this all together with the iPhone demos and show the evolution?”
It all came together after. The song isn’t even mastered. It’s very barebones. It’s very live. I recorded everything completely live on the floor. I did the voice and guitar master take all together. It’s one good take. I quickly layered another guitar part on top and a bit of piano. That’s the whole song. It was literally a few hours in the studio. Sometimes, as artists, we get quite precious about our work, which I think is important – to want to refine and polish. It’s sometimes fun to let people into the more creative process as opposed to being really attached to perfection.
AF: Do you ever have trouble stopping yourself from tweaking and letting go of a song?
LK: Of course. For this project, it was almost an exercise in not doing that. I really actively did not do that with this. I was super lax on my technical expectations. It was almost an exercise in letting go of songs really, really fast. That was really helpful. With my last album, I had a lot of moments of wanting to continue to add more and tweak. It never really felt finished. But eventually, you have to learn to let go or have someone you trust by your side telling you when maybe it is time to let go. I had the same experience with music videos and editing them. There’s always more. There’s always something that can be added or removed or tweaked. It never is perfect. There’s an art in knowing when to let it be.
AF: What lyric of this song sticks with you most?
LK: I’ve been trying to actively think about how to incorporate writing about intimacy and sexuality in my work that’s not draped in symbolism all the time. I was skirting around this lyric, but then, I put it in blatantly. The lyric is: “He told me that he had been having hot sex with a woman that he despised.” That lyric is just pretty clear. It’s not necessarily uber poetic or nuanced. It’s clear and to the point. That’s something I’m trying to explore more in my writing.
That lyric felt powerful to me when I wrote it, and I felt excited about having that in there. I also like the lyric: “When I’m away and missing LA, I think about the day we shared some fries, and I watched him cry.” Sometimes, it’s nice to put in weird little details. Sharing a plate of fries with someone is such a normal, friendly thing we all do.
AF: Do you have an idea where you’re headed next in your music?
LK: I’m at the very beginning of the process. I was just in Spain for the last, almost, three months. I’m going back and forth between Los Angeles and Barcelona at the moment. I was writing there quite a lot. I wrote maybe four or five new songs. Now, I’m here continuing to polish those and write more music. A full-on shape has not taken form yet. There’s no clear path as to when an album will come or what it will look like. Right now, I’m firmly in the creative writing process. I’m trying to protect that space as long as it feels good and can keep it.