For about a decade now, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith has been perfecting her brand of meditative, cosmically-driven electronic music. Her sound combines the best of both new-age and synthpop—it is ambient and languorous but full of ear-wormy melodies that will stay in your head for days.
The defining feature of Smith’s music is probably her ability to use her voice as an instrument. That hasn’t changed on I Could Be Your Dog, which contains plenty of her signature wordless vocals. But this time, the Los Angeles-based musician has enlisted the help of Emile Mosseri, who collaborates with Smith both sonically and vocally throughout the record. His intimate falsetto adds an extra layer of tenderness to the mix, contrasting beautifully with all the distant oohs and ahs that dominate the EP.
Smith first heard Mosseri’s music while watching the 2019 film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which he soundtracked. She was an instant fan. Little did she know that Mosseri was her neighbor and that she would end up collaborating with him over quarantine. “We started talking about how it would be really fun to collaborate and start with a song,” she said, regarding when she first made friends with Mosseri. “So we started sending back and forth some ideas, and then that just really naturally turned into an album.”
Beyond just making music together, the two became good friends. “The novelty of a new friendship during that time in the pandemic was just so inspiring and exciting,” Smith says. The record itself is concerned with the theme of friendship, capturing “that spark of inspiration that a new friendship can bring into your life, and that novelty of having a new perspective on yourself and on life just by looking through the lens of another person.”
Smith chats about the new EP, working with Mosseri, and music in general. She touched on her love of cows, her experience with Buchla Music Easels, and her awe for the electricity stored in our bodies.
Tell me about getting started with Emile. Was “Log in Your Fire” the first song that you made together?
Kaitlyn: Yeah, that was the first one that, like, came into a full song. And it was really fun because one of the intentions that we both had going into our collaboration was to explore something that we wouldn’t normally do on our own. Emile was saying how he wanted to sing more. I wanted to practice creating production for someone else because I wanted to get into producing other people. So it was really fun to create a track for him to write a song over.
On a deeper level, how was recording this album different from other stuff you’ve done in the past?
Kaitlyn: Any collaboration is always such a learning experience about parts of yourself that you don’t have access to on your own. And there’s always, like, an accommodation that has to happen from both people. I look forward to that whenever I’m collaborating because it’s such a growth experience. And this collaboration was one of the most graceful and easy collaborations I’ve been a part of. It just happened so organically and flowed so nicely.
Now for a shallower question. When I saw the title, I Could Be Your Dog, I couldn’t help but think of the famous Stooges’ song, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. Is the title in any way a play on that?
Kaitlyn: You’d have to ask him [Emile]! But I know from many of our conversations that the sentiment behind it is a friendship thing. It’s like a surrendering and offering. But I don’t know if it’s connected to that. I’ll have to ask him!
I like the warm and inviting nature of the title. Instead of saying, “I wanna be your dog,” it’s like someone very politely asking, “I could be your dog?” It’s very hesitant and tentative.
Kaitlyn: (laughs) I know. I really like it. It’s gone through stages for me. In the beginning, it was just quirky enough where I had a kind of similar reaction. But it really grew on me.
I’m curious about the album art. I like this chair in the middle of nowhere. What was the purpose behind that cover, if there was one?
Kaitlyn: We collaborated with a photographer, Chantal Anderson. We sent her the album, and she sent us a collection of photos to pick from. And I think it really stood out to us because it goes along with the sentiment of “I could be your fill-in-the-blank.” Like, this empty chair that you can fill in.
A lot of the album, especially in the lyrics and on tracks like “Glendora”, seems to have a very cheerful feel to it. Would you say that this is a cheerful album?
Kaitlyn: I definitely felt a lot of uplifting energy while creating it. I just get so excited by novelty, and I think that came out through the music for both of us. But I think there’s also some grief in there as well, just because of the nature of when it was created, during the pandemic. At least with my experience of grief, there is always a little bit of cheerfulness in grief because there’s always some sort of fondness for something that was lost.
On “Moonweed”, at the end of EP, things get a little more chaotic and dissonant. Since the next EP is titled, I Could Be Your Moon, does the chaotic nature of “Moonweed” in any way foreshadow what is to come? Or is that a spoiler question?
Kaitlyn: It’s so neat how our creativity naturally builds a coherent story because none of that was intentional, and you’re bringing that to my awareness, how it’s called “Moonweed”, and then it goes into I Could Be Your Moon. So I think it’s always a fun surprise to look back on how you collaborated with your creativity and be like, “Oh wow, my subconscious—or in this case, our subconscious—was building a story without me even realizing it.”
It seems that your music has this fascination with meditation, the body, yoga poses, and things of that nature. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?
Kaitlyn: The last album [Mosaics of Transformation] was kind of like an ode to the wonderment that I have for electricity and the electricity that’s in our bodies. The way that I would talk about the last album is to say that it was my sound response to feeling awe for electricity. Our whole nervous system is electricity.
You often record using the Buchla Music Easel. I’ve always found the Buchla to have a very rich tone—everything sounds more organic with it. What do you think the Buchla does for your music?
Kaitlyn: My musical journey started with voice and then piano and guitar, and I wrote for orchestras in school. And the first electronic instrument that I interacted with was a Buchla. And something from the very beginning—it just resonated as an extension of my voice. I just felt like I found a sound that matched what I hear internally. So it’s always just felt the easiest to communicate with. But I use a lot of different synthesizers and tend just to use whatever is available, but the music easel was the first instrument that my husband and I bought together. We actually used our wedding money to buy it. We asked, for the gift for everyone who came to our wedding, to put money towards a cow fund, because we wanted to get a cow. And then we ended up moving, and it just wasn’t possible to get a cow. So we were like, “Let’s get a music easel.”
I mean, cows are great. So are Buchla music easels.
Kaitlyn: (laughs) Right?
What’s something about you, musically, that most people don’t know?
Kaitlyn: Oh, I’m so intrigued by this question! It’s a fun question to think about. The first thing that comes to mind is maybe just that when I make music, it’s never really inspired by music. It’s like a response, a reaction to something. And oftentimes, that reaction is, like, a reaction to learning something new in my life that’s totally separate from music. And music is how I process learning something new.
Anything else that you’d like to share, either about the album or something else you’ve been working on?
Kaitlyn: There’s a label that I started with another musician named Cool Maritime. And we make compilation albums, and we have one out on October 8th. Emile’s a part of it. It’s called Sound Wonders, and the label’s called Touch the Plants.
Kaitlyn and Emile’s EP, I Could Be Your Dog, is out via Ghostly. The sequel, I Could Be Your Moon, will be out in 2022.