Throughout her career, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has challenged the hoary cliche of electronic music being artificial, disposable, and ill-equipped to represent a world beyond the dance floor. On previous albums, most notably 2016’s EARS, she employed her signature modular synths to represent natural worlds teeming with squelching, creepy-crawly life. But with The Kid, out Friday, Smith turns her focus toward an even more universal subject: the human life cycle.
Over two LPs of cosmic synthscapes and soothing vocal incantations, she lays out the four stages from birth to death as based on the Hindu dharma, oscillating from the spaced-out ambience of “To Feel Your Best” to triumphal tour de force pieces like “To Follow & Lead” (the latter exhilaratingly sounding like tUnE-yArDs attacking a Buchla). It’s a dynamic record, one that shatters any preconceptions of experimental electronica as overly abstract and obtuse. We caught up with Smith to discuss the creation of the album, the challenge of analog technologies, and her deep-seated mistrust of smart fridges.
Where did the album title come from in your creative process?
The album is all about reconnecting to your kid energy, the playful energy. I saw how easy it is to get taken away from that as we get older.
A really noticeable shift, especially in the visuals around the record, was from the organic imagery of EARS to a more galactic, outer space theme. Does that tie into the idea of reconnecting with your inner kid?
The inside of the album artwork is kind of broken into four different sections. It goes along with the four stages of life and each side of the double LP, so each side is a different stage of life. The inside part is more of a kid energy, and the outside part is more the energy of the eternal essence of things, that doesn't really have a beginning or end.
You’ve mentioned that the album is inspired by the philosopher Alan Watts. What's your relationship to his work and how did that permeate its way into The Kid?
I've always loved his energy. I love his concept of life is "play" and that your work should always be play. I try and live my life that way, and that's a big intention in this album. There was a talk that I was listening to, right when I was making this album, that was saying that it's our human nature to record ourselves to prove that we exist. Whether it's looking in a mirror to find a reflection or finding a partner to find a reflection or actually recording ourselves through writing or audio or video. That was just very fascinating to me, so this album has a lot to do with reflections, and I play with that a lot musically and visually for the live show.
Listening to the album, I was really struck by your line about "modern use being obtuse." I'd love to hear more about that idea.
It's kind of how I feel about a lot of modern technology and modern devices where it's trying to add convenience to our life, but it's kind of just more annoying than convenient. When I wrote that lyric, I was at my parents' house on Orcas Island, and everything in their house beeps. If you leave their refrigerator open it beeps, when the laundry is done it beeps, when the dishwasher is done it beeps. If you put something too close to the front door and it doesn't close all the way it beeps. All that stuff is trying to be convenient to remind you to close the door and not leave things open or put on your seatbelt, but it ends up just being really annoying.
How do you view play as a strategy to combat that ever-permeating presence of technology?
I guess the sentiment that I was trying to get at for that is, for me personally, it's more enjoyable to not do anything the convenient way. I have more fun when I'm involved in a process and when things are too easy and too handed to me then I kind of get a little bit bored. I guess it's like, the sentiment for the whole album, and something I'm always trying to embody is just to fall in love with the process. Like, that's the joy of life—the doing activity, and not the end goal.
Was that initially what drew you to using modular synths?
For some reason I'm attracted to when things are hard for me, that's where I get a lot of joy. I think that one of the things that drew me to modular synthesizers was that it was not easy. It was a lot of problem-solving and it kept that part of my brain very active.
So what would you say was the most challenging aspect of creating The Kid?
It went through so many different stages. Probably mixing because I think I have for each song about eight different sessions where I had to just constantly keep on bouncing down to new tracks because it was just insane how many tracks there were. Now I've got them down when I open the session—it's something like 70 for each one—but before it was just insane amounts of tracks. I think because I wanted to play with the constant trading off of different instruments like how you would in an orchestra and trading off between the voice to the instrument to an orchestral part to an electronic part.
Is there anything about The Kid that I haven't touched upon that you'd be interested in sharing?
I guess one really big part of it for me is, I made the album because, unfortunately, I lost someone in my life who wasn't aware of how important they were to the world. That's just something that I wanted to put a lot of feeling and thought into. It's such an abstract thing, but it's kind of the way that you charge something by holding it. The feeling I wanted to put into the album was just how important every single person is and I wanted to make the album for anyone who ever doubts how important they are.
The Kid is out October 6, and you can purchase it here.