Breaking away from any ties holding her back, New Zealand artist Chelsea Jade dove headfirst into the music industry. With a unique skill for writing, producing, and performing, she offers songs and music videos you would never expect. But you also never knew you needed them so much. She is a female fire, sparking creativity around her and burning her own path across creativity. Most recently, her debut LP titled Personal Best was released this past Friday. The album offers an array of silky vocals and soothing beats that complements her philosophy in life of only measuring yourself against yourself, and she hopes her listener discovers their personal best along with her.
One of the things that stuck out to me in your press information was the line “2x art school dropout.” Usually this is viewed as a negative statement, but how have you turned it around and given yourself the power?
I think it captures how I can be myself with a little snapshot of self-awareness. I’m not too proud, you know? But I think it goes hand-in-hand with my philosophy in life which is only measure yourself against yourself and to never deny failure. The only way I can go about making things is to know I’m fallible, and other people are fallible. I want everyone to feel fallible together.
I also read you fell in love with the conversation between pianist and your movement when you were active in ballet. Is creating music and music videos an extension of these conversations, and has it become almost spiritual for you?
It’s completely connected. I don’t often refer to things as spiritual, but I think it is the most earthly thing you can do, feeling your presence in the room in relation to space. In terms of making music, it’s like, how can I feel all my senses correlating? The reason I responded so much to a pianist is because it felt so special to have another person in the room making sound that was responsive to what we were doing. It speaks to the organic properties I have in my music as well. I think in this climate there’s a lot of conversation with a metronome or between a computer and vocals. I think when you add something organic, like someone playing in the same room, they respond to the nuances of what your body is doing. It’s a symbiosis instead of one following the other. I feel like videos are an opportunity to explore what it’s like to be upright and listening to music and exploring music. Music is a waveform that goes through the air and hits your ear, but how does it relate to your body? People’s responses to the music videos have been very participatory. They’ll send me videos of them dancing the way I dance in the videos. It just makes me feel so good and connected to know people are engaging with their bodies with my music.
In art, there’s usually a want for the artist to strike conversation with viewers and listeners. What sort of conversations are you hoping to start with your listeners and viewers?
I want the conversation to be like we are one big organism. I want to create a vibe we are all sharing. It’s a 50/50 experience. I bring 50, and you bring 50. I want it to feel like we are all in the same boat. It’s like an arm around the shoulder.
In your process, you’ve worked with a handful of talented producers. When working with other producers, was there ever a feeling of intimidation? What is the process like when learning from such experienced people?
It’s funny because none of the songs on my record were created with the industry. The industry didn’t have a part. I was making music with my friends—it was a way to hang out. All of the people I worked with are my close friends. There was no power structure like that. For example, Leroy, known as Big Taste, would meet me in a diner, and we would have fries and milkshake, talk about music for a bit, and then we would go into his studio behind a vape shop, and we would try and make something. It was all friendly. I think you can hear how friendly it was.
I saw you have opened up for Lorde. Is there any difference you notice when working with female artists as opposed to working with males? Do you gain a different perspective on things?
To keep it positive, I really enjoy female energy more than anything in this world. I feel like there’s more room for it. I’m actually about to go back to New Zealand soon. I’ve been curating and helping organize a songwriting camp for female-identifying people so we can make more room for women in the industry. It’s exciting because we have Susan Rogers, Prince’s producer, and Wendy Wang and all these artists from New Zealand coming. There’s always more room for female energy. It’s prime time. It’s happening in August to coincide with women’s suffrage.
When I say the word authentic, what does that word mean to you?
To be honest, using the word makes me think of inauthenticity. I was talking to a friend the other day about this. Music weeds itself out. You can hear if something has come from a place of truth or what you really think. I think all those things people used to tell you when you were a kid, like, “Just be yourself,” is really the most valuable thing someone can do. Quit looking at external things. You can hear when people do that. Especially in pop music now, Julia Michaels does it. Everything she does is so authentic. I think people can feel that when they listen to it.
There’s a lot of push, especially with females in the industry, to highlight collaboration over competition. Do you see a lot of collaboration?
That’s 100% of what my life is. I’m part writer and part artist. I have a community of musicians I roll with in Los Angeles. We all help each other. We have all sat in on each other’s songs. For example, one of my songs was produced by Luna Shadows who is an LA artist. It came from an experience where I met a male producer and told him I wanted to learn how to produce vocals really well. He dismissed me. When I told Luna that, she told me, “Let’s meet up and get you started.” We are all helping each other out, and it’s amazing. She produces all her own stuff. Everyone is helping each other. We are working hard to foster a good feeling amongst each other. There is no sense of jealousy.
I trust my taste, and I trust my instincts. And then I make things.
Who else do you hope to collaborate with in the future?
I want to keep writing. I don’t really keep a log. But I would love to work with HAIM—they are amazing writers.
What do you bring to the table in collaboration?
I bring an extensive vocabulary. I have a good handle on writing. I create a nice vibe so everyone feels comfortable entertaining any thought. It’s important, give people room.
How do you see metrics? Do you take into account what you visualize will become popular or do you create the music and let the metrics follow?
Honestly, it makes me a little sick inside to think about numbers. My mom will send me updates on my Spotify plays, and I’ll plug my ears. My headspace just doesn’t thrive in that sort of environment. I trust my taste, and I trust my instincts. And then I make things. I’ve never been good at math.
I see you’ve written for The Chainsmokers. Often with groups like them, they receive a lot of negative publicity from the electronic community because they are “too mainstream” when in reality, they are very talented at what they do. What’s your opinion on groups receiving negativity just because they have become widely popular?
I honestly think it’s so funny because it’s different from my experience. At the end of the day, we are all in four walls trying to make something we like. We never think of the outside penetration of what people are going to read it as. Credit to The Chainsmokers. We weren’t set up. I met Emily Warren at a writing camp and gave her my record. She listened to it on tour with The Chainsmokers and they said, “Who is this? We want to write with her.” Then they reached out to me. It wasn’t a mechanical process; I think they have great taste.
What’s one thing you wish listeners could understand about the music industry that they don’t see or hear about?
On a creative level, it’s so much about community. It’s not as cynical as it may read. People get cynical when they look at a credit list and see lots of names. In my mind, it’s like having ego everytime you add a person to a song. It’s not like it took a thousand people to write a song. A person was making something and they thought it could get better so they added someone they respected to try and elevate it. Everyone is here trying to elevate what is being made. It’s not as cynical as it seems, it’s quite lovely.
How are you feeling about releasing Personal Best?
I’m a nervous wreck. I tweeted it feels like you’re a meal that keeps being sent back to the kitchen a week before the album comes out. You’re exposing yourself. Every interaction I’ve had this week has felt so weighted. I feel a little bit frightened, but I’m excited.
Is there anything you want to say about the album that we may not know or realize?
I want people to know what Personal Best means. Only measure yourself against yourself.
STORY ELIZABETH STAFFORD
PHOTOS NINA JORDAN