Blasting into 2021 with a refreshing, one-of-a-kind style, we are super excited to speak to US-based Feral (aka Kelsey Ferrell).
PW – Hey Kelsey! Welcome to Pastel Wasteland. For those who aren’t familiar with your work quite yet, how would you introduce both yourself and your sound?
Hello Pastel Wasteland readers! I’m Kelsey Ferrell, otherwise known as Feral, and I’m a 22 year old musician and stand up comedian who moonlights as a barista in Santa Cruz, California! I would say my sound is a cross between Riot Grrrl and Singer-Songwriter. I have the attitude of Riot Grrrl, but I can also write a real sad indie song. I like having that versatility, but sometimes it’s hard to label. Occasionally I’ll just say my genre is TMI because the music is so personal and blunt!
PW – I must say, I found your unabashed, no-holds-barred style completely refreshing. Who would you say your main influences are, both in music and other art forms?
The song “Fuck and Run” by Liz Phair completely changed my life honestly, I find that song to be a constant source of inspiration. Liz Phair and Alanis Morissette really are role models for me. When I find myself wondering if a lyric is too raunchy, I remind myself that they’d write it anyways and that imbues me with the confidence to do the same. I also get a lot of influence from Pom Pom Squad, Mitski, Bleached, The Regrettes, Slutever, Dazey and the Scouts, Bikini Kill, Hole, Camp Cope, and Colleen Green. In addition to music, I also perform stand up comedy, so I do draw inspiration from comics like Sam Morril, Nate Bargatze, and Amy Miller. My songwriting and comedy writing can blend together often; I always like for each of my songs to have a zinger in them. Making an audience laugh is the best feeling!
PW – Let’s talk about controversy and explicit content. One could argue the industry is still stuck in old ways, in terms of the way artists are expected to act, and having to restrain from using too much swearing etc. What are your thoughts around this, and what do you hope to see in terms of change in the future?
Well, I think there’s definitely a double standard in the industry (and regular life) where it’s harder for women to explicitly express themselves, whether that be through a well placed swear word or frank discussion about sex. There’s a lot of respectability politics out there that act like you’ll be banished from any other career if you choose to make art that explores this taboo content, and I think that’s incredibly unfortunate. Art has always explored sexuality, grief, anger, and other “uncomfortable” topics.
When we look at art history we appreciate that generations before us have delved into this content, but we fail to maintain that respect for contemporary creators. I think in some ways we’ve gotten past that; look at the Riot Grrrl movement or WAP by Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion. But these songs and artists still have been under heavy criticism for their material; there’s always haters.
On the one hand, I’m glad we’re not in the Victorian era anymore. On the other hand, progress in society isn’t linear (as the philosopher Walter Benjamin argued) and thus the progress women have made in being “allowed” to be explicit is not guaranteed to last or continue. Admittedly, being radio-friendly isn’t such a big issue anymore with streaming services opening up the chance for explicit content to thrive, so that particular hurdle has been cleared.
Overall I’d like to see an industry, and a world at large, that allows people to express themselves fully. We only get this one life and one chance to speak our minds, so why shouldn’t we release our deepest angers and most intimate thoughts through art? Is that not the healthiest way to express feelings like anger? Why is it necessary for human life to be controlled by the suppressive cultural norms of “professionalism”? Do we really want to only be professional beings 100% of the time? I certainly would like to be free to be me, and I hope my future employers, whoever they may be (and they might be reading this one day after googling my name), to appreciate that I’m a multidimensional person like everybody else, and that I’m both a fully qualified UC Berkeley graduate AND a rock star.
PW – I loved the open conversation about crap sex and boys with ego problems in ‘Loser’. What can we expect from you in 2021 in terms of releases, and what other themes are you looking to explore?
Thank you! Loser is definitely a special track and it has opened up a new direction for me that I’d like to explore more. I think a lot of my past work has invoked that tongue-in-cheek lyrical quality too, but Loser embarked on the zany and absurd parts of human relationships whereas before I’ve primarily written about the grief relationships cause in their absence. In 2021 I have 2 more songs planned to be released: Native Speaker on February 14th (I call it the ultimate song of yearning for Valentine’s Day), and Church on March 26th (It’s about having sex in a church. Did you really think after Loser I’d pull a 180 and write a religious song?).
As I said, the primary theme of my work has been and continues to be grief. My 2016 breakup with my high school sweetheart has been the trough of inspiration for me for years– and I show no signs of getting over it, which sucks for me, but rocks for people who like my music. So the next two songs are about him and the devastation that breakup caused me. But I still like to include a joke in every song so they’re more than just sad! As I continue to write in 2021 I’m trying to just continue to push myself to be honest and fearless in my songs.
Sometimes I get self conscious and wonder things like: Should I really be singing about these topics? Will I get written out of the will if my grandparents ever find out I do music? Is there such a thing as too many cunnilingus references? But then I remind myself that that’s just social conditioning trying to prevent me from being my true self, and I get over it because I’d rather be me than play it safe.
PW – Honesty and authenticity are hugely important when making music, however many people make the choice, consciously or unconsciously, to dilute their work to fit into a more commercial arena. What roadblocks and challenges have you come across with your open and honest approach?
Personally I am a huge believer that real art and art that lasts is authentic, not commercial. But it’s tempting to dilute your work to be more popular or acceptable by industry or society standards. Sometimes I wonder if I would get more reviews, more playlist opportunities, and more interviews if I just made sweet, fun pop music. I’ve gotten rejections before from blogs and playlists for being too explicit and too comedic. Hell, I’ve even gotten romantically rejected by guys before for being too raunchy of a person!
So yeah, there’s definitely roadblocks and challenges to my style. Ultimately though, it’s just not punk rock to tone yourself down for the comfort of other people. Who do we remember in history? The people who played it safe their whole life, or the people who took risks? It’s always the people who took risks! I’m inspired by people who pushed the envelope, from John Milton to Pussy Riot. That’s the company I want to hold. So yeah, maybe I won’t be the most popular artist, and maybe my music’s not for everybody. But it is true to me and I value my integrity more than I value success or popularity.
PW – 2020 was tough in several ways. What has the last year taught you in terms of both your career and life as a whole?
2020 was tough for sure, especially living in the U.S. with our stupid fucking president. The pandemic in particular has really limited all aspects of my life, but especially music and comedy. Not being able to perform sucks! But I think I’ve learned to adapt pretty well in adverse circumstances and be diligent about getting my music out there. I released some demos and covers in March 2020, then got pretty hungry to do something more substantial.
So I worked minimum wage in food service to fund recording 3 songs in November 2020 and now obviously I’ve begun to release them! 2020 was all about switching focus to have my music work under the circumstances. That meant pivoting from live shows to recordings, as well as pushing myself to contact press and promote myself! The larger life lesson is similar: find a way to do what you love even when it seems like the world is working against you.
PW – What is your favourite way to relax away from making music?
I like to write in my diary, bake, read (especially memoirs), swim, go on walks, hangout with friends, and watch reality dating shows. But nothing is as therapeutic as writing a song that perfectly expresses how I feel!
PW – In terms of the creative journey, in this kind of industry, it can be tough to feel like we’re moving forwards sometimes. How do you battle these feelings when they come up, and do you have any advice to other people who might be struggling in a similar way?
I totally get that feeling. It can be frustrating when your art seems to be stagnated in the public eye. I try not to get obsessed with how many Spotify plays I have, and I especially try not to compare them to other artists, but it’s challenging. Sometimes I wonder if I really have that “it” factor. Honestly I just try to focus on the really genuine moments I have with fans to keep myself confident. There’s been times when people have approached me and said “hey, your music really moved me.” And I live for those moments. I like to remind myself that even if I don’t have thousands of streams or followers, I have made an impact on people. If you can sing a lyric that somebody will never forget, that’s pretty powerful. More powerful than being boring enough to play in the background of a coffee shop. So my advice to other musicians is to focus on the moments, not the numbers.
PW – And finally, where would we find you on social media, and do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Before we finish, I’d like to just give a shoutout to my producer on my 2021 releases, Jim Greer. We recorded at The Rondo House in Berkeley, California and just had a blast together. He really elevated my tracks and I’m forever thankful to him and want to make sure he gets credit where it’s due!
If I can leave your readers with any last words it’s to please stream Loser! And Native Speaker (February 14th) and and Church (March 26th). Put my music in your TikToks, throw my songs on a playlist, and share them with your friends. I know I just said that it’s not all about the numbers, but obviously I’m trying to support myself with my music and this is an inevitable reality of that. So if you dig it, spread the word. And if you really dig it, don’t be afraid to message me on Instagram or Twitter and let me know! I love hearing from fans.