There’s a moment on VÉRITÉ‘s latest single Colors. In it, the young New Yorker – real name Kelsey Byrne – follows an unbelievable arpeggio chorus by letting loose on a single phrase: “Make me feel at home.”
It’s certainly a demand she doesn’t need to make of the blogging world, as over the course of just a year she’s become something of an internet darling. And why not? Every single bit of music she releases, from Strange Enough to the just-released Sentiment EP (streamed at the bottom of this page), is littered with pure pop moments that most chart-botherers don’t see in a lifetime.
At home is something she seems on a couch in Brixton one May afternoon when we sit down with her, comfortable to talk at length about anything even though the mountain of anxiously-torn orange peels in front of her might say otherwise. After playing her first proper UK gigs and festivals, the unassuming young lady is ready to step out from behind a name that means ‘truth’ in French, ready to share her own. (Which, incidentally, includes a closet love for Fifth Harmony. So there you go.)
The last year for you has been pretty crazy for you, we imagine. Sum it up for us in a few words.
VÉRITÉ: Fucking crazy. It really has been! It’s been a whirlwind. It’s definitely been a trip.
Since your first song it’s been positive. Was that the first musical venture for you?
V: This was the first thing for this project. I’ve been a musician for a hot minute so there’s definitely the old skeletons in the closet! Who doesn’t have them, right? But this is the first thing that has been an accurate representation of myself. So that, to me, is the most important.
Dare we ask about the skeletons?
V: Oh, just the all-girl middle-school punk band! And I’ve been multiple keyboardists. But now I’m stoked.
Is it weird having people sit in front of you and talk about deconstructing your music in such a short space time?
V: It’s just nice that people care about it, honestly. It’s funny because you obviously get a lot of the same questions but I’m just thrilled that people listen to it and like it and want to take the time to have a conversation about it. So I’m good. There’s no part of me that ever feels ‘not good’ about that.
Which questions are you sick of answering? We might knock off a few here while we’re at it…
V: There’s similar ones like name questions! But if people are interested and want to know, I’m going to tell them.
Well your real name is out there, but you’ve been quite guarded about it. Why is that?
V: I don’t know! I like the idea of a little bit of a veil.
It’s funny that your single sleeves put you and your face front and centre. But you hide your name.
V: Yeah, that’s like an odd psychological thing! We can go into my OCD side if you want… like how I’m neatly stacking these orange peels (laughs). It’s little irrational things that I have. The whole VÉRITÉ persona isn’t that far from who I am though. It’s directly translated from French to mean ‘truth’ – I speak zero French – and cinema vérité is a documentary style that tries to represent candid realism. When I saw it I thought, this makes sense. Then you just have to commit to the name. I remember walking into the studio with Eliot [Jacobson] and saying “I’m gonna call it VÉRITÉ”. He just said, “Lady Gaga. Pick a name and no one will question it.”
It is a very apt title – the music is basically your truth. Apart from your real name, ironically.
V: It’s funny because I posted an Instagram photo of a Starbucks cup that said “Kelsey” and didn’t realise people didn’t know my real name. There were all these people saying “Kelsey! Kelsey!”. It’s an inevitable part of the process. Obviously if it were up to me I’d have 100% control of what information goes to the public – that’s like the dream – but it’s unrealistic.
It’s an odd one. In the blogging world everyone wants to be the first to find those nuggets of information, or comb through Twitter and Instagram to find that slip-up…
V: Yeah, it’s inevitable. I can’t lie, that’s my problem! I really wanna be cool and aloof and mysterious, and then you’re having a conversation with me now and it’s not that.
But that’s part of the charm though. That whole persona and mystique comes out in your music. When we first heard your stuff we didn’t really care who you were or where you came from, because what we could hear was incredible.
V: That’s beautiful. That’s such a compliment. That’s kind of the dream – to have the music speak for itself, and then people are interested in who I am. I don’t want to be the driving force of the project, and for the music to translate as it is.
Of course, the other idea could be that you’re secretly an axe murderer and this is all identity fraud.
V: Oh shit. We gotta get out of here!
Let’s talk about your writing process, and doing it remotely with Eliot. It sounds a bit like a long-distance relationship…
V: Sort of, but we all in live in the same city! So it feels like a long-distance relationship but for me, from inception, I’m a collaborative person. But the freedom to work remotely is a real luxury. So I’ll write from my bedroom at home, and I can have five-six ideas and cycle back and forth. Whereas in a room with someone there, there’s a pressure to make something work.
So if you started working with a major label and they sent you in for writing sessions, would you find it harder to bare your soul in what you create?
V: I don’t think I would take sessions that would compromise what I want to do. That’s been one of the best things about being unsigned, I have full creative control over what I do. If and when a label comes from, they’ll hopefully support and create that vision.
You mention not compromising what you want to do. What do you want to do?
V: That’s interesting because I don’t have a long vision in my mind. Eliot and I started with nothing – we just sent emails back and forth with the craziest things that we were listening to. The music has kind of just developed on its own. I continue to operate from that perspective. I trust Eliot and Zach [Nicita, producer with MS MR] so I can send them all the raw ideas.
It sounds like you know what you don’t want at least.
V: Absolutely. Especially when it comes to production. I’m not a producer – and I accept that, I’m not trying to be a producer – but I know how to comment and build it.
What about a career trajectory? Any pop stars you want to emulate there?
V: Sort of. I don’t have humble aspirations. I wanna take this as far as I can. So when I think of that, I literally think Katy Perry. Not in the sense of aesthetically or musically, but sharing this with as many people as possible. I don’t think of the end goal very often, just the steps I need to take to get there.
What’s the VÉRITÉ experience like on stage?
V: The goal for the live show is basically a rock show disguised as a pop show. It’s super important for me to have that live element there. The boys in my band are the fucking best. It’s been an interesting process being a centrepiece because I grew up in bands, but I really wanted to translate the energy [of the songs] and sing everything live. That gets lost in a lot of electro-pop. When you come, it doesn’t feel like we’re just hitting play.
That energy reminds us: your choruses are all HUGE. Listening to your catalogue, they’re full of these massive moments.
V: It’s so funny because I never intended to write pop music. I released Heartbeat a long time ago, and it got picked up by a few blogs and they’re just like: “pop anthem”. And I thought, is it? There’s no part of me that sits down and says, today I’m gonna write a banger. I tend to write bigger choruses because they feel great.
You’ve said elsewhere that you listened to a lot of hip-hop. Was that ever an option?
V: The influences don’t necessarily translate into the sound. I was listening to a lot of Drake, James Blake, Kimbra, Godspeed! You Black Emperor… I listen to a lot of music. Age of Adz by Sufjan too. I go through phases.
What phase are you going through right now?
V: I just played a show with MisterWives, so right now that album’s been on repeat. Childish Gambino, that’s a happy moment. New Kendrick, which is fucking great. I went through a weird Fifth Harmony phase. We won’t talk about that!
Why not? That song BO$$ is a tune.
V: I know! Whoever wrote that shit is fucking great.
We could totally see you doing something with Childish Gambino though.
V: Childish Gambino is the dream. I am literally in love with Donald Glover. But those things are best when they happen organically.
We can’t force that to happen, then. But we can talk about your love for Orange Is The New Black. Was Colors about Red?
V: (laughs) Colors is actually a funny one. I played it for my manager the first time on a voice memo and wrote it quickly. But sadly no, it isn’t.
Songs like Wasteland and Colors, though… Cliché question, are they about anyone in particular?
V: It’s a very funny question. Yes and no. I write in a stream of consciousness. I don’t ascribe meaning to anything. I like writing specifically for myself, so people can ascribe their own meaning. When my younger brother listens to Weekend with his friends, they’re like “we can fall in love for the weekend” and all happy and shit. I’m like, ok, you do you. For me, Weekend is this still, nostalgic moment. For other people it’s… please be happy. Don’t take my depression with you!
Tell us about the new EP, Sentiment.
V: Wasteland will be on it. The other songs are cohesive within, but it’s all beginning to show the path of the project. I write a lot, I have a lot of material, so when you release an EP you wanna pick the biggest statement pieces. So I’m excited to make an album.
Is that the next step, then?
V: Maybe. I actually have no idea. The next step is ‘what’s the next song?’ but I could probably release three albums if you gave me a deadline!
One by next week?
V: I got you.
Sentiment by VÉRITÉ is out now and can be streamed below.