Inspired by Her Artist Father, Musician Kelsey Lu Charts Her Own Course

Diamond Stingily

Photography by Dicko Chan

Kelsey Lu in No Sesso's look.

Musician Kelsey Lu, or Lu as she prefers to be called, had to remind me how we first met. She told me we met at my reading at Queer Thoughts Gallery in Tribeca in 2015. Shortly after our first encounter I would be fortunate enough to work on the cover for her debut EP, “Church,” with friends Brook and Megan Sinkinson-Withrow in the summer of 2016.

Regardless of where Lu performs she has a way of making her stage presence feel intimate. I’ve never known a musician to exert force as softly as she does, yet with an intensity that turns listeners into viewers.

“Church” was recorded live at the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn taking all those who sat in the pews on a devotional journey. While the EP was introspective and dramatic, Lu wants to take a different approach with her first album. During the interview, we talked about family, mainly her father, who is painter and a musician in North Carolina, and how she wanted to incorporate him.

Kelsey Lu, photo by Dicko Chan for Cultured

She remembers hanging out in his studio as a child and watching him play African percussions. She remembers her physical contact with those instruments, hearing the rhythm and knowing that music would always be around her because it’s embedded in her. During those days, she and her dad often communed over jazz. However, Lu told me she was also exposed to pop music as a kid, though it was monitored. The oversight from her father has only helped sharpen the unique sound that Lu, a classically trained cellist, produces today.

Her debut album will be an exploration of her history; the things she learned about her parents’ past, the things she knows about them now and the things she will never know about them.

When her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, Lu returned home to Charlotte after years of absence. Lu saw a new shade of vulnerability within her father, which ended up bringing them closer. Lu said with time she realized how much anger she had at one point, but she’s currently learning how to let it go of those negative feelings. Lu is learning the true meaning of empathy.

Kelsey Lu, photo by Dicko Chan for Cultured

“Empathy is something we’re not taught. We’re taught the word ‘sympathy.’ Sympathy is a sense of entitlement,” she says. “I feel like with parents a lot of people put theirs on a pedestal. This album is exploring empathy, relationships within my family and understanding why I am the way I am.”

When I tell Lu she gives off light and a positive energy, she reminds me that she does go through her own dilemmas. “I can show my sadness through my music,” she replies.

Lu tells me some of the emotions on “Church” will carry over to her upcoming album, but there will be more layers, both emotionally and sonically, expressed through more instrumentation. She normally works alone, with a signature minimal haunting sound, but she tells me that she is excited to work with more musicians. Particularly when it comes to discovering how they can communicate amongst one another through sound.

“I’m a conductor of my sound,” she says, in closing about her music. “It’s been hard for me to look at it like an engineer, but these are my thoughts and I have the power.”