Austin-based singer-songwriter Kae Astra isn’t pulling any punches with her latest video “Medicate,” which features soaring vocals, trippy synths, overreaching plants, and a farmer from a different time. Its verses describe the quest to heal inner pain, and the agony of empty solutions. “The verses explore the struggle of knowing there’s something beyond this negative state, but feeling paralyzed by it,” Astra says.
“I wanted to shoot something based on how the sounds of the music made me feel,” explains director John Valley. “I didn’t want to worry about a narrative arch or nuanced characters. I only followed the lyrics in a general sense. I didn’t try to decipher a specific interpretation of Kae Astra’s lyrics. For one reason or another I kept thinking about electronics and machinery all working in congress but not really going anywhere.”
“Medicate” takes on the feeling of laudanum, waves of euphoria building and crescendoing just out of reach. In the video, Astra pulls from outside the camera’s gaze, drawing floating objects in around herself. Her starry-eyed incantation has a depth of sound and subject that’s especially surprising, considering this is only Astra’s second single. Both “Medicate” and the previously released “Dreams” will appear on Astra’s debut EP, Fortune, slated for release November 1st via Austin imprint/management company Modern Outsider.
Watch AudioFemme’s exclusive premiere of “Medicate” and read our interview with Kae Astra below:
AF: At what age did you start writing music?
KA: I started taking piano lessons at a very young age, and started writing piano compositions around 8 years old. My parents are both Armenian and, like a lot of parents who immigrate to the states, strict rules were a popular thing in my household. I made a habit of breaking them. My mother was a stickler for the rules, and chastised me for not “practicing” what was on the page and expressed her frustration of my lack of wanting to “discipline myself strictly to the metronome and Suzuki piano book 2”. But, consciously and unconsciously that never worked for me. My hands seemed to drift away from the pages and into a world of their own. Fortunately, my piano teacher recognized this as a strength and encouraged it more. My teacher extended my weekly lessons to include both theory and composition.
AF: Were those first songs in a similar vein to what you write now?
KA: The first full “pop” songs I wrote were what you might expect from a 12 year old – terrible. They consisted of lost love, wishing upon the stars in the sky to make everything better, and other life or death anthems. I thought they were instant gold at the time. I had a lot to learn.
AF: Your music has such a haunting, otherworldly feel to it. Is your writing autobiographical or do you create other characters and worlds?
KA: The majority of my writing is autobiographical in one way or another. Occasionally, I pull myself out of my own head and try to live in someone else’s experience for awhile. Either way though, if the story isn’t drawn from real life, the emotion is always very much rooted in some kind of personal experience.
I tend to write a lot about grief. It’s an emotion I have experienced in multitudes over the course of my life. I don’t say that for pity, but hopefully so that others who have also been through inordinate amounts of adversity can find some solace in my work. I believe music and art is a very healthy release to channel out personal or shared pain.
AF: Your EP was produced by Austin’s own Walker Lukens and Curtis Roush (of The Bright Light Social Hour). Is this your first time diving into collaboration, in terms of production, mixing, and mastering?
KA: It’s my first time collaborating with other artists in this way. I haven’t had a producer anywhere near as invested as Walker has been. He has repeatedly gone above and beyond to not only help me shape these songs but also start to shape my career. Walker is a true curator of talent and knows exactly who to pull in for what.
Walker got Curtis involved to engineer and Danny Reisch to mix. I have felt extremely supported by him and everyone else that’s been part of the process. Aside from it being a fair amount of hard work, it’s been a pretty magical experience overall. He and everyone who has touched this EP have been an absolute dream to work with.
AF: How do you go about writing a song? If it were a recipe, what is the first ingredient you throw in the mix?
KA: I’m not sure that I currently have a “set” process at this point. It’s more of an art than a science for me. So, if there was a first ingredient, I’d say it’s emotion. I often find myself sitting at the piano and holding space for the emotion that I want to write on and I just see what flows out of me. Other times, like many artists, I may be driving or doing some other innocuous activity and, all of a sudden, a melody floats into my head and I quickly grab my iPhone to sing what I’m hearing into a voice memo before I lose it. Thankfully we have good technology that allows for that. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for artists in the past who had to just commit their ideas to memory.
One thing that does seem consistent for me is that the lyrics almost always come last. I usually know what I’m feeling and what I want to say, but struggle to find the exact phrasing to capture those ideas. My fiancée is a writer and wordsmith so I also run some of my lyrics by him and we have collaborated on occasion. I’m big on collaboration. It makes for more relatable art.
AF: Tell us about the video for “Medicate.” Is this the vision you had while writing the song?
KA: Honestly, I didn’t have a strong visual in mind for the video when writing the song. I wanted to evoke a feeling, which we definitely accomplished. I adore what the video became, and strongly trusted John Valley’s intuition and vision for the video. He is a genius at what he does. The visual dichotomies he came up with reflected the structure of the song well. The verses felt like the heaviness of hitting a really bad depression, and the choruses had that fleeting manufactured sense of some kind of manufactured euphoria.
AF: You currently live in Austin, Texas, which is known for its robust music scene. Where are your favorite places to watch music and perform?
KA: I love a lot of venues around town for very different reasons, and I love the genre diversity that Austin has cultivated within the scene. Cheer Up Charlies has been one of my favorite venues to both visit and perform for the past 7-8 years. The staff really treat their musicians well and always curate a killer line up. I also really love Empire Control Room, Mohawk, and Stubbs.
AF: Any local Austin artists we keep an ear out for?
KA: Carrie Fussell, Mobley, MAMAHAWK, Slide Show, Shy Beast, and (of course) Walker and Curtis’s projects are in my current rotation.
Kae Astra’s new EP Fortune will be out November 1 via Modern Outsider.