LA-based Kaela, (Kaela Sinclair) serves us experimental pop music layered with nostalgic, soul-searching, heartfelt vocals. Seasoned by years of traveling the world as a musician, she writes and produces works rooted in enduring vulnerability and jaded tenderness. From her childhood in Florida she made her way to music college in Texas where she studied jazz and classical piano and voice. She eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue music. In 2016 Kaela joined the French electronic band M83 and has since recorded with them (see DSVII, 2019). She has toured with other artists such as Troye Sivan or Blackbear, as well. If you know her latest song “Spiral” you know her uniquely memorable voice and that the vibe lingers long.

How did you first get started with music? Was it nature or nurture for you? Were you a self-starter or was it something that you grew into?

Both nature and nurture, fortunately! I was two or three when I first started singing and making up little songs.  A few years later my parents acquired an old upright piano which I loved and taught myself how to play using piano lesson books. I did every musical thing I could, from lessons to writing songs in my bedroom. I attended a performing arts high school and graduated college with a music degree. I have never stopped learning and loving music.

It seems that some musicians have a sort of “eureka” moment in their early years where the light bulb comes on and they realize “This is what I need to be doing.” Do you recall anything like that for you?

My Dad recently mailed me a box of mementos from my early childhood. Among many sentimental and funny things, I found something pretty special. I discovered a diary from when I was six years old! In it, I wrote, “I am going to be a musishun!” I honestly don’t know what spurred the decision in that moment, but I think music just made me feel really good.

Tell us about your first synth!

My first synth was a Roland GAIA SH-01 that I bought in college. It was great to learn on because it was pretty straightforward and had effects onboard. Not too intimidating!

Do you usually design your own sounds? If so, how do you approach that? Do you have a process?

Yes, all the time! On the Prophet X here’s a really typical way to make a new sound: I start by choosing a waveform for each of the two oscillators, then pitch one up a couple of cents and the other down a couple of cents to add some character. Next I adjust the cutoff and resonance to where I like them, then shape the amp ADSR and play with the filter envelope. From there, I try on some effects (love some chorus!) and bring in sample instruments to blend with the oscillators.

What kind of things get you excited about an instrument?

Great sounds! Intuitive layout. Options. Depth. Ability to carry it, ha ha.

When you get a musical idea, how do you go about developing it? Can you give us an example?

Usually I improvise until I hear something I like. Then I try to capture it and make it nice. Sometimes I’ll be playing a rhythm that I like, and while I’m practicing it I’ll be trying it out with different chords and voicings.  Putting it all together is like a puzzle sometimes.

Do you have certain musical ideals? Certain things that you strive for?

I definitely do. I’m interested in originality, emotional resonance, authenticity, warmth, and movement. I really like a song to go somewhere surprising. I like to go on an adventure and that’s what I want to create in music. Form and harmony are wonderful places to play and come up with things that are surprising and stimulating.  Music is great for emotional regulation and emotional expansion.

Generally speaking, are you happier in the studio or on stage?

Creating and performing are like gardening. In the studio, creative seeds are sown and nurtured. On stage the performers and the audience reap the harvest together! I love, love to be in the studio in my own world! But sharing my music with others is so nourishing. They are two sides of the same coin.

What are you listening to these days?

I just did my first DJ set so I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic/dance music! Lots of experimental ambient music as well.

What kinds of things inspire you, musically or otherwise? Has this changed much over time?

I feel inspired by change, excitement, travel, and new people, but I feel most creative when I am relaxed, quiet, introspective, and learning.

Do you have a musical bucket list?

I want to play big festivals with my own music!  I also have lots of fantasies about my dream living/studio situation. I mostly just want to be in a peaceful setting in nature where I have lots of space and fun musical gear and don’t have to worry about being disruptive, or being disrupted.

What made you choose Sequential?

Dave Smith’s instruments are so legendary. I first played the OB-6 when I was on tour as keyboardist and vocalist for M83 in 2016. I felt such gratitude to be playing it every night. Dave came to a show that year. It was so cool. On top of that experience, who doesn’t know and love the classic sound of a Prophet? I’ve had my Prophet X for a few years now and it continues to impress and delight me. It does so much.

How are you using the Prophet X?

I’ve used it in a lot of my music, in sessions and composition work, and as a touring keys person with different artists. I’ve played it on late night shows and virtual livestream concerts this past year. I also love to do late night ambient jams on it!

What’s one of your favorite things about it?

It’s very versatile since you can blend two instruments and two oscillators, making for four different sounds which can be woven in and out and edited in different ways, all together or individually. On top of that, you can stack two layers (each one containing four sounds). That’s eight different sounds to mix together and play with.  You can really orchestrate a synth that way.

Any interesting tricks or techniques you’d like to share?

I use the two latch sliders and the modulation wheel quite a lot. I like that I can choose a few parameters, set their minimum and maximum values and make it convenient and fun to change the sound in a performance.