Interview by Chief Editor
July 2019 12 min read
Kelli Dayton, better known by her stage name Kelli Ali, is a British vocalist and former lead singer of the trip hop 9o’s group Sneaker Pimps. As one of the main features in Visual Collaborative’s “Vivencias” interview series, Ali discusses her relationship with music, creative process, awareness with life and the forthcoming release of the Ghostdriver film and album.
(VC) What is the earliest music memory you have?
(Kelli) As a very young child about 3 or 4 years old, sitting with my mother by the old record player in the flat where we lived, listening to Joan Baez in concert. It was magical and my mother’s love for that record meant we would listen to it together often. It was one of the only records we owned. The ritual of putting it on the turntable, and sitting on the floor like worshippers, truly listening, becoming lost in this ethereal majestic singer’s world, is one of the most beautiful memories I have, in an otherwise rather lonely and fearful childhood.
(VC) Congratulations on your recent projects and forthcoming releases. How did the Ghostdriver Film and Album come about?
(Kelli) Thank you. It started, as all my projects do, with a spark of some random occurrence or daydream. I was in Germany with a friend on the Autobahn and I saw a sign which translated to No Ghostdrivers. I thought that was a great phrase and asked her what it meant – She said that Ghostdrivers are those drivers that drive the wrong way – into oncoming traffic. The phrase was so mysterious, it kept rolling around in my mind until it became a vision of a lady driver, driving ghosts around in her car. Then it just took hold of my imagination and like all my ideas, stories, albums, it took a place in my mind and would not leave until I gave it my full attention and made it manifest.
I love music so much, I listen to many different artists’ work, which has led me to create classical, folk , rock influenced records. At the core of anything I make, is an infinite flame that connects all art and love and excludes nothing .
(VC) Your graceful disposition conveys that you are not confined to what you already know. What genres of music outside of your own do you gravitate to and why?
(Kelli) How kind of you! I really don’t feel that I belong to any kind of genre. Genre in the arts, seems to have been created for ease of definition and profit in a commercial sense but can be limiting and oppressive for artists. I love music so much, I listen to many different artists’ work, which has led me to create classical, folk , rock influenced records. At the core of anything I make, is an infinite flame that connects all art and love and excludes nothing . I embrace it all but especially classical music, I have found to be the most rewarding in my personal life. Living in a big city, (London) peace from all the noise and action seems like a hopeless dream! Classical music somehow overrides the noise and chaos and provides the beauty I crave. But in any given day I might listen to Apex twin, The Pixies, PJ Harvey, Mozart, Bach, The Velvet Underground, Chet Baker, Beach House, The Black Angels, Nina Simone, Marylin Monroe, Weyes Blood, Ariel pink and Lana Del Rey. I am a musical creature, so my days are filled with all kinds of music, thankfully. Spotify is a great gift to me, as a music lover. I have discovered so much through it and now have a vast library of music. The Ghostdriver soundtrack album is very jazz influenced because I felt it fits the story so well but there is also a lot of film score classical influence there. All twisted and distorted through my own bizarre lens!
(VC) Most forward-thinking societies or cultures would agree that language is the key of integration. When it comes to music and its constant state of flux, do you lean more on your vocal abilities or musical instincts?
(Kelli) Yes, language is a fascinating creature! I am reading a fantastic book that a friend gave me called Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel which is all about language and translation, interpretation, freedom and oppression. A beautiful reflective book that makes you really consider language and how it can be used to press or liberate societies I also became obsessed with the Japanese language and literature in my mid-twenties. I think everything is in a constant state of flux so I never consider music in any different context than the rest of the Universe. I am all about instinct! I like to feel my way through things rather than over think or analyze processes and approaches. I believe that if what I am creating comes from the depths of my being and imagination, it transcends spoken/written language anyway. My music is created in an inner world, totally connected to my imagination and dreams, I hope this element is strikingly clear to my listeners and hope that they share some of the dream like essence imbued within the records when they listen.
Much of my music could seem quite superficial in terms of its construct, it is not particularly abstract on first inspection. The language or lyrical content is relatively straightforward. However, I do not read music so my melodies and tracks are often the result of months of experimentation or collaboration and often don’t fit into any straight forward formula musically speaking.
Photo courtesy of Kelli Ali Music
My lyrics are written in a dreamlike way. I am a deep daydreamer! I feel my way through melodies and emotions and sometimes it takes months to understand what I want to do with a track, other times it’s instant. I escape the mundanity of life and deal with my deep emotions through my lyrics, often in a psycho dramatic sense, using my songs and stories as a vehicle to work through some kind of puzzle or sadness, difficulty or great beauty I have experienced.
When I am writing, I spend a lot of time in my vocal space experimenting with approaches and letting all my most powerful past experiences flood to the surface, like spliced cinematics then I draw on one that fits the music and focus on a detail, create the story to the song and draw on that moment. It’s like being the movie star in your own movie! You can say whatever you want and tell everything from your own perspective. It’s incredibly therapeutic and probably the reason I am still relatively sane! Vocal ability is second to the raw instinct to share the story or the emotion for sure.
(VC) As a woman in the creative arts with close to 30 years in the industry, based on your experiences, what can you candidly tell the aspiring young female artist or producer about success and risk?
(Kelli) Everyone has their own journey, whether male or female and what may apply to me may not be useful to someone else at all. However, I have learned most of all to respect and value everyone who plays even a small role in your creative journey and that the friendships and human connections you make will be much more important to your feelings of being successful than any commercial achievements you may or may not enjoy.
We are possibly all instruments of a greater flow anyway, something we can’t see or understand, maybe. I watched a huge army of ants in the Jungle once for a long time. At a point they were having a war , it was amazing to watch.
(VC) Looking at the ongoing talks of Brexit, as an artist are you more concerned or more optimistic given the trajectory of the present times?
(Kelli) The whole idea of any kind of union other than that of a human union for the good of all human beings is outdated anyway in my view. Politics to me have always been insane. The fundamental problem with all political systems, is that they are based on the tiny amount of knowledge about our situation that we have as human beings. An old friend of mine had a book of photographs that had been taken of Russian citizens before they were sent to Stalin’s Gulags. The thought occurred to me, on seeing their expressions of utter shock and hopelessness, horror, that it could easily happen in the West. Nature is harsh and unpredictable, we are animals, with strange and brutal cultures and intricate hierarchies But some things have changed for the better and life is safer and more pleasant for many than it was a hundred years ago for sure. When you think about racism, homophobia, sexism, we finally seem, as a race to be making progress with our understanding of each other on the whole. Society is fickle and prejudice is deeply rooted and easily used to control the support of the masses. But what do I know, I stay out of it, people are often hypocritical and contrary and easily corrupted at any level of existence, so political creatures are even more likely to be lost within the circus of falsehoods of perceived power. We are possibly all instruments of a greater flow anyway, something we can’t see or understand, maybe. I watched a huge army of ants in the Jungle once for a long time. At a point they were having a war , it was amazing to watch. A full on battle, with lines of soldier ants carrying other dead ants back up into huge tree. It made me wonder if this thread of destruction runs through all nature, human nature obviously included. It never seems to have changed in a way, if you look back to the Roman Emperors and Feudal powers of England and the widespread rape and pillage instigated by the British Empire, the awesome power of the Egyptian Pharaohs ( you couldn’t look them in the eye if they passed through the crowds) you’ll see a thread of fear and horrendous uses of power by those in control. The only difference right now is that technology is enabling everyone to see the absolute immense chaos and design of all the crazy stuff going on at any given point, nothing will ever be the same from here – interesting to see what happens.
(VC) You might have heard many times, that your voice is very unique. And with the power of uniqueness comes about influence. How does this make your feel?
(Kelli) I feel that every voice is unique. That’s the beauty of it, everyone has a voice and it is only their voice, their experience that has created that intricate sound, that cry of existence. I don’t really think of myself as an influence on anything, I’m always surprised if someone says I am, I feel unknown and almost completely obscure, except for my close circle of listeners and friends.
The Fear Of London Video courtesy of Kelli Ali Music
(VC) Your fashion style is considerably “Visual Collaborative”, Are there any brands, or perhaps minimalist style houses you patronize that you can share with our audience?
(Kelli) Ha! Well darling that’s just fabulous [Kelli Smiles] I have a ten minute rule for getting dressed, I grab whatever is on the rail and that’s what I end up wearing. I only ever shop at charity shops, Flea markets and vintage stores. I can’t afford to buy designers clothes and probably wouldn’t anyway even if I could. I love the fact that secondhand clothes have a story and a journey and I loathe the kind of product placement, sponsorship mentality that mainstream fashion and music or film have spawned to such ugly excess. You can’t design the cool of early Patti Smith or Iggy Pop or anyone truly cool because they were real. They were struggling and managed to sculpt their images with the barest tools of their self expression. You can’t buy that with a 3k price tag, it’s only ever going to be a copy of something beautiful that was never about fancy designers or social status – actually it was kind of acting out against those things!
(VC) In your quiet or noisy moments how do you get inspired. What makes you create the work you do. Are you religious or spiritual like many creatives for muses?
(Kelli) I am constantly inspired. By other art, by something someone says, by dreams, films, a shattered glass on the floor. A day rarely goes by, that I wont have an idea for a film or story, album or musical! The idea that grabs me by the throat and wont let me go is the one that I run with and complete. I love David Bowie’s quote that went something like – “ Religion is for those who are afraid of Hell, Spirituality is for those who have already been there” I believe there is so much that we don’t know about energy and matter and electricity and the Universe, that there is something glorious about all this, that is yet to be discovered. That perhaps we all know deep down inside but need to have explained by science so that it’s not simply faith that makes us feel eternal. I am not religious at all. I love yoga and some of the Vedic philosophies, meditation and the idea that we are all intrinsically connected with every single thing around us. That constant transformation is the eternal and natural way of all things. But essentially, I think we are all completely lost until we understand more about the Universe and what happens to the (soul ?) after death and what consciousness is.
Photo courtesy of Kelli Ali Music
(VC) Is there anything else you would like to share with the Visual Collaborative global audience?
(Kelli) I hope to finish my Ghostdriver film this year. Pledge Music, the crowdfunding site that I used to fund the project, have gone into administration and have not paid any artists the money they owed them. I am releasing a series of limited edition singles from the Ghostdriver soundtrack album on my store – The funds from any record purchased from my store will go towards finishing and releasing the Ghostdriver film. Any support is most appreciated. I am also looking for film companies to get involved or help distribute the film. Thank you.