JACKET, FRANKIE. CHOKER, H. CROWNE.
How did Kelsey Byrne have the wherewithal to work 70 hours a week at the Applebee’s in Times Square while recording and creating her unique persona known as VÉRITÉ? “I think it’s really easy to kind of want to take the first thing that comes that allows you to quit your job and live, but I saw the value of my music and how it performed on streaming and that when you own your masters, that actually translates to real dollars. I know there’s Spotify and all those conversations about how they don’t fairly pay artists, but that hasn’t really been my experience because I own everything.”
You see, VÉRITÉ isn’t just a businesswoman. She’s a business, woman. That waitressing gig is how she bootstrapped her first EPs, including her first single “Strange Enough,” which reached No. 1 on Hype Machine while simultaneously ranking her as the most viral Twitter artist of the week. She has described her early releases as the “proof of concept” for her debut LP, Somewhere in Between—a description that sounds more in line with the musings of a Silicon Valley founder than that of a self-made singer-songwriter.
“I definitely view [my music] as a startup and I’ve taken on the role of creative CEO of this company. I think at the beginning it was unintentional, but I was just the one handling the money, so I knew what was coming in and out and I knew what I needed to survive. From my perspective, bootstrapping and allowing it to be hard and just continuing to push and continuing to push is very natural for me. That’s how I was brought up. It’s ingrained in me. I’m really good at being really uncomfortable.”
In some ways, Byrne has been planning her go-to-market strategy her entire life. She started singing at age eight and joined an all-girl punk band at 13. Next, she co-founded a seven-piece alt-rock band backed by a full horn section. When she moved to New York in 2014, deciding to independently release and self-promote her music, record labels came calling, but she continued waitressing. Funding her debut EP with her tips, she didn’t leave the restaurant job until she released her sophomore EP, Sentiment.
SUIT, ANY OLD IRON.
“I was about to sign a record deal right before Sentiment came out; that EP was going to be on a major label. The label deal fell through which was the greatest blessing in disguise because what it allowed was enough time for the royalties, the Spotify streams, everything to come together from that first EP, which wound up being a lot of money that allowed me to sustain independence.”
That stubborn autonomy can be heard in recent tracks like “Need Nothing,” as she confidently reiterates her independence in steady soprano, singing “I feel you all around me, but I can’t cave in / I want to say I need you, but I need nothing / I need nothing, I need nothing.” When I asked which songs from Somewhere in Between seem to resonate with fans when played live, Byrne mentions her ode to self-sufficiency as one of two favorites, saying, “Definitely ‘Phase Me Out,’ another is ‘Need Nothing’ which is funny because it’s not a single, it’s kind of like a b-track on the album. People like the runs and they hit them pretty well.”
The fan favorite “Phase Me Out” is drowning in urgency and sincerity. Byrne has described the track as “a mix of organic and electronic, distorted and pristine, driving and melodic.” In the track’s chorus she pleads, “Don’t you want to stay here / Or do you want to phase me out? /Don’t you want to lay here / Or would you rather do without?” The single captures what has made her signature brand of alternative pop stand out among that of her contemporaries—her ability to earnestly express emotions like apathy and anxiety not only lyrically but also sonically. When asked about her astute ability to capture the dark side of human experience while still maintaining pop sensibilities, she replied “I think I naturally write more driving and dynamic music and that’s always a goal for me. And I think because I feel like a lot of the lyrics are more personal and exploring boredom and apathy, it’s really great to see people’s reactions when that’s put to a happier template.”
Being on the other side of the record cycle for the Somewhere in Between tour has been a welcome respite for Byrne, allowing her to take a break from her business and enjoy the fruits of her labor. “Releasing an album is interesting. It follows an interesting trajectory because you have all of this buildup and so all of this potential energy, then you fucking drop the album and you feel like you go back to square one. And it’s like all momentum seemingly stops after the second or third week because of, I don’t know, the culture of consuming new music. Every week there are 20 albums coming out, and then when you tour everything starts building up again and you’re like, oh, people actually know the words to this and they’re coming to shows and people like the album.”
Thus far as the CEO of VÉRITÉ, Byrne has defined her own parameters of success by leaning into a hard-earned autonomy and taking calculated creative risks. It’s a role she alone is qualified for as both a savvy entrepreneur and an empathic artist; two aspects of her personality that continue to push her music career in an upward trajectory. “It’s always finishing something and then reevaluating and saying, OK. We’ve reached this plateau how do we get out of this plateau to the next stage? I was just brought up to work really really hard and my personality type took that to the extreme. It’s just ingrained in my personality.”
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