International production student Kallie travelled from Southern California to study at BA level and eventually went on to an MA. She returned to America, and has a wide-ranging career as a composer and producer.
She is currently based in New York, working across dance, film/TV, and is a freelance producer with ambitions to branch into video games. Her far-reaching portfolio career has grown with our help...
What was your earliest musical experience?
We had a closet under the stairway with a record player in, and my parents’ record collection. They had massive headphones attached to the stereo, and I used to sit listening to music for hours, at about the age of 2. I was also given a Hello Kitty portable tape recorder with a microphone attached to it (which was bright yellow and red), and I recorded everything. There are tons of cassette tapes from this period, including ones where I threw tantrums for not wanting to stop listening to music and go to bed!
I started dance classes at an early age, and by the time I was 6 years old I was in lessons a few days a week. I was and still am obsessed, with being around music. I was constantly being exposed to all kinds of music, and interacting with it in a very visceral way, learning to feel rhythm and to count music, and hear different ways of finding different rhythms with in the music. It was also exposing me to extreme discipline and focus, which I believe is crucial to any artist, of any kind.
So who motivated you to pursue a career in music?
Despite being on a path to being a dancer, like most kids was really getting into music in my early teens. I was into everything that was happening with grunge and Brit pop. I was also into the Jurassic Park score in a big way! I was getting ready to start High School at a performing arts high school, and my mother couldn’t afford my dance lessons any longer. Since I was already really into music I figured I would just turn my focus to learning guitar and painting. Kurt Cobain was a major influence, and to a large extent Courtney Love too. I read up on the political topics and books they and other artists mentioned.
Somewhere along the way one of my high school music teachers mentioned that Danny Elfman did film scoring and came from the rock/pop world, and that I could do that too. That teacher, Greg Gilboe, had no idea that his single comment really took root in my brain! It had never occurred to me I could do lots of things with music, even though I wasn’t classically trained. I started taking keyboard class too, later in high school, figured I would try to be in a band, get my band famous, and do other projects, like Danny Elfman had. I later got into recording and engineering in community college, also as a complete fluke, because a friend wanted me to take the classes with her, and I loved it. I’ve just kept going from there!
Would you cite the grunge era as your greatest inspiration then?
Not really, I have more interests now, and am constantly inspired by historical figures, different aspects of their character. Marcus Aurelis one day, someone else another. I find musically that it’s often my peers. I love hearing what my contemporaries are doing, and speaking with them about their musical work. It fuels me creatively. When I am feeling least creative I find it helpful to surround myself with these people if I can. Their passion and whimsy about anything can really propel me back into creativity, or give me the support and patience that only a strong creative community can. So I would have to say musically, my peers inspire me the most. I’m constantly feeling lucky to know and work with each of them.
What was your favourite thing about living, studying, and being a growing musician in Leeds?
Leeds is a great city, not too big, not too small. It sure has a lot going on! It’s becoming more and more cosmopolitan, but it hasn’t lost its self in doing so. It’s still at its core a proper Yorkshire city, with people who are warm, down to earth, and no nonsense. I loved that I could get to all things modern and historical, urban and nature in a very close proximity. Studying in Leeds was great because there were many other young people around, so many resources for students, particularly music students. Leeds has so much going on that no matter what you are into, you can choose to tune in or shut it out, or go to the countryside to take some time out to reflect. It’s definitely a great place to be a musician as well. There are a plethora of venues to play out no matter what your style, and also great places to see live music to stay inspired, you have lots of room for collaboration and inspiration. I am still in contact with most everyone I studied with, and everyone is doing great things. Where you study can be where you make your own scene, build your own network, that’s a crucial footing to gain while you study. Leeds is a great jumping off point.
How would you describe the challenges you faced?
Challenges for me, living in Leeds were definitely adjusting to the colder weather and less day light, as I’m a Southern California native. I think it’s really crucial to find hobbies that are not music, and or unit related while you are studying. I took up fencing on Friday nights so that I got a work out, a social activity, and a skill/sport I still really love. It was a great way to stay focused and make some non-uni friends, and is still something I am so glad I did! Having things like this are so important as a musician, because you really can’t be plugged into music 100% of the time. If you do, then you will end up giving 80% to your music 100% of the time... or less. Fortunately Leeds has a lot to offer so you can easily find great outlets for stress and to have fun!
Who would be your dream collaboration?
I would love to collaborate with choreographers of dance companies, film makers, and video game studios. Choreographers like Loni Landon and Brice Mousset are people I would love to work with again/ more. I have been in love with games like “Limbo”, “The Cave”, “The Unfinished Swan”, and more recently “Monument Valley”. To be part of a team that creates work like that would be amazing. Musically, I would love to work with Zoe Keating. She really inspires me! I’d like to say I would love to work with the likes of Trent Reznor, but I think I would just be too scared of him! Tori Amos might be nice, another fabulous woman in music, but I feel too humbled by what she does!
How has your career back in NYC developed since leaving your study in the UK?
Gosh, it feels like my career has developed like an octopus, a cooking octopus that is stirring many pots! I truly have a portfolio career. It’s a concept I remember Jez Pritchatt (one of my lecturers at LCoM) mentioning one time in class, and it stuck with me. I have worked as an assistant engineer, a composer, a producer, and a lecturer/public speaker, as well as teaching dance and Pilates! Presently I am working with a company based in London called Personatones, who are a bespoke ringtone boutique, I have a publisher here in NYC called Wonderlous, I lecture at the Art Institute of NYC, and am an adjunct instructor at NYU SCPS. Occasionally I get to pitch music for TV commercial ad work with some of the best firms in the country, if not the world via freelancing for Nylon Studios and Big Foote Music + Sound. I am very fortunate to have such wonderful opportunities! I’ve also gotten a taste of writing for film doing some music for a documentary called “The Dakota Hunter’, and having my music used in two features: “Something’s in the Way” and “Johnny Montana”. There may be another film to add to the list soon! I’m a very stretchy octopus!
How has your music study at LCoM aided your career so far?
My studies at LCoM gave me a lot of great things. For one all of my lecturers were great. All of them. I’m still in contact with all of them too. I received fantastic mentorship from the people I studied with, and I also had some great industry partnerships I got to take part in while studying there. The second thing was my class mates. I really had a wonderful cohort. In the early days after graduation I frequently checked in with classmates to find out how everyone was getting on. It helped keep me inspired. The people I studied with on my MA were top notch and wonderful contacts to make, one of whom is now a lecturer at LCoM.
Lastly I would have to say, we had great studios and equipment to work with, and really good creative assignments. I will never forget some of the film music assignments I had which had me racing for quick deadlines, and I thought to myself, “This is unreal! It won’t be like this! Don’t they know I have other assignments?” It couldn’t have been more real. Today I get deadlines that give me 6-8 hours sometimes for a piece of music to be fully composed, recorded, performed, produced, mixed! And yes I have other things going on in tandem! Another thing which was super useful is the way the lecturers taught us to think about music objectively. You have to be able to know how to talk about what you do, what has come before, and how to break down what you or someone else is doing to make sure you can do it if asked! They really challenged us and pushed outside of our comfort zones! Don’t resist! I wish I had made more mistakes and taken more risks while studying!
What has been your greatest achievement, out of all this excitement?
Gosh, so far I feel like I am only just getting started, but so far I am most proud of being commissioned by Warren Adams to write music for his Home4Dance project. It’s been an honour to have been given the chance to pitch for both Big Foote Music + Sound and Nylon Studios, as well. Musically I am most proud of the piece that I wrote for Loni Landon for her piece “Nothing’s Ever Finished”, it was later featured in the NYC Electroacoustic Music Festival. I’m also extremely proud of my band’s latest EP.
And where would you like to be in five years?
Five years, eeek! It’s hard to know! I used to plan way far ahead for myself, but a lot of my experiences have taught me to try to just take each thing in six month chunks. For the long term, and the abstract though, I really would like to be more established as a composer and producer, continuing to have a varied portfolio career, but one that pays well enough where I don't feel so stressed about the next gig! I want to have a future where I can work from my home studio or taking clients to where ever best suits their budget. To be working from home I think is still a bit of a ways off, but I am getting there slowly. I would like to be more established in five years and definitely have some music for video games or apps under my belt! Maybe I will have a doctorate by then, as that is something I have been actively pursuing getting started at the moment.
Listen to Kallie's latest work with her band Explosives For her Majesty.
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