Brooklyn’s VÉRITÉ – aka Kelsey Byrne – is the perfect example of a songwriter that’s far too versatile for just one genre. Sure, there are the clichés – the rock n’ roll dad, the all-girls punk cover band – but in this instance, VÉRITÉ’s specific set of skills stretch beyond Hype Machine because she doesn’t believe in ceilings. It’s a mindset that most new artists are adopting and it’s pretty apparent if you take a look at South By Southwest, a festival that is predominantly overrun by club rap but is now home to a faction of adaptable pop, soul, and R&B voices (Kehlani, Ryn Weaver, Laura Welsh, Yumi Zouma).
With VÉRITÉ being the riveting talent that she is (refer to 2014’s Echo EP), we caught up with her in Austin and discussed her growth, transparency, and how it all relates to “cinéma vérité” – the origin of her name and a style of filmmaking that avoids artificiality and focuses on a candid form of realism.
With this being your first time at SXSW, what has your experience been like so far?
It’s been phenomenal, honestly. I feel like I prepared way more for the worst and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with every step so far.
What were you initially expecting?
Just like being terribly late or like things not sounding good. Stage sound is always iffy at festivals, but everything’s been great.
I know you’ve got a busy a schedule as you’re playing at least one show every day here in Austin, but what acts are you excited to see during your downtime?
Kind of whatever acts I can fit in (laughs). I’m going to try to see MS MR tonight and other than that, I missed Run The Jewels at Spotify House and I’m really bummed out so I have to find out when they play next. I’m trying to catch Mitski and just a few others. Really just whatever I can see as the major concern is to focus on sleeping (laughs).
With so many musical influences growing up, how did you develop your own style?
I think by not really putting too much pressure on finding it and kind of just letting it develop itself. I never really intended to write pop music. It’s funny because when I released “Heartbeat” for the first time way back in the day, people just thought of it as pop music so I went with it. But since, I think I’ve just been doing it without that intention and letting it develop on its own.
Do you think your style is still growing? Or have you found one you can call your own?
I think it’s never stopped growing. It definitely feels like it’s in a good place, but I would hope that in five years I could look back on this and see my music as the beginning of a long transformation.
With your producer Elliot Jacobson; did you know him when he reached out on Twitter?
I had met him once years and years ago, and we probably had one conversation, maybe, so it was really random and serendipitous. He was a new producer at the time so he didn’t really have a lot of credits to his name so it wasn’t this thing where I was like, “Oh! Huge producer! Help me with my music career!”. It was more so he is a professional touring drummer and session drummer and phenomenal musician, and he was looking to make a shift in production while I was in this weird dead space in my musical journey. It was just kind of a match made in heaven where we could see what we could create and it wound up working out really well. I love him to death.
I also read that when you work with him, you’re mostly doing it via email, and when you’re with him in-person, you’re more or less just hanging out. In terms of creating, what’s the benefit of separating work from everything else?
I think it’s just how we started and it’s a habit that we got into. For most of my earlier work, he was on tour and I was working at the time so it was the only way it could get done. Then there were these moments where we thought we should get together and be more productive, and what we wound up doing was just talking about everything and how we’ll email each other later (laughs). It just worked and I have no desire to change something that’s working because with each individual you collaborate with, you sort of develop this unique process with them and you find what works and go with it.
Do you guys ever disagree or see things differently?
Absolutely. I’m a very collaborative person and so is Elliot, and because of that, there’s very few hills that either of us are going to die on. So if there’s something that I feel very strong about, it never gets questioned, and vice versa – if he feels strongly about something we need to edit or change, then I’ll let him do so. We work really well like that.
You’ve also said you write from a stream of consciousness – do you ever find that you have an extended revision process or are you generally satisfied with what you initially write?
It really depends. Sometimes it needs very little editing and sometimes you have these bits and pieces of things that you know are going to stay. So it becomes, “How do I string these things together to make it a coherent and complete song or idea?”. For me, it really depends from track to track.
People generally attribute catchy lyrics to pop music and with your work, it’s more poetic as it seems to be a lot deeper in terms of its meaning. Do you think that’s something that sets you apart from other similar artists?
Maybe. I’m not really sure. For me, I think just focusing on melody is something I hope that sets me apart. I’m very conscious of making melodies interesting and intricate and catchy, and molding all of those things together – which can sometimes get lost in mainstream pop. I love mainstream pop and I listen to Top 40 for reference and inspiration all the time, but I think just focusing on that and being lyrically transparent is the goal.
Speaking of transparency – in one of your very first interviews, you asked a publication not to disclose your name and where you lived. What was the motivation behind that?
I think… that’s funny.. I think it was just so new. Everything was so new and I tend to be a very open book and I think I just wanted everything to be cohesive. So having multiple names and multiple things out there… there was just a struggle with that, like mentally. I’m kind of getting over it and accepting that I’m a human being and the fact I’m messy and not a perfect storyboard (laughs).
Well the reason I ask is because your full name has been published online since then and as more buzz is created about you as an artist, do you think it might become difficult to maintain a private life that’s separate from what you do as a musician?
No. I think it’ll always be very easy. I just have a lot of people around me that will never ever care… not “care”, but let it become a different thing. Like my mom jokes around and calls me VÉRITÉ all the time, and in a very sarcastic way I might add.
Well, every single track you’ve released has been met with praise and enthusiasm, so does success intimidate you at all? Or does it make you more confident?
A little bit of both. For me, as long as my intention in writing it is kind of very clear and honest, I’m cool – regardless of what the reception will be. Obviously there’s always a benchmark of where you hit something, you want to surpass it and remain very competitive, but just being satisfied with the art you make is important. I’m kind of learning that lesson.
Why do you think people are connecting with your music the way that they are?
I don’t know… I think, maybe, just because it is what it is. There’s really not a lot of gimmicks and the way I am singing on stage and what I’m saying is very much how I am in real life. There’s not a jump in persona. If anything, I would hope that maybe I’m a little cooler when I’m on stage, but probably not (laughs). But I do strive for that type of authenticity and hopefully it translates.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of building a career as a musician?
The fear of risk. It’s not necessarily about the risk; it’s more about the steps you have to take, like you’re leaping off a cliff and saying, “Well, I hope it works”. With me, I hope I’ve made it to a good point.