What does it mean to be a rockstar today? Kelsy Karter has the answer, and it’s not quite what you might expect.
While the rock ‘n’ roll stereotype conjures up visions of adrenaline-fuelled shows, late nights, a party lifestyle, and not caring what anyone thinks about you, Kelsy Karter and her Heroines believe that there’s nothing more rockstar than giving a shit.
This is a band that shows what it really means to be rock ‘n’ roll today. That rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to be fast and hard, that it can be soft. That at its core, rock ‘n’ roll is about vulnerability; it’s about knowing who you are and not being afraid to lay your soul bare in the music. It’s about showing that you do care – not about the haters, but about the music, those you love and the ones that love you.
In fact, it is love that drives much of Kelsy Karter & The Heroines’ work. While their 2020 debut album, Missing Person, was about the loss of love and loss of self, their upcoming record is all about the empowering effect love can have when you find it again – in someone else and crucially, within yourself.
While they continue to record and develop the new album, the band have been on one hell of a journey. This spring, they toured the US with Karter’s childhood hero, Billy Idol, which then fed into their own headline tour of Europe in the summer. It’s been an exhilarating and necessary period of growth and connection for the band, who are now growing out of their cult following to make their mark on the world, and show us all what rock ‘n’ roll is really about.
First of all, you’ve decided to re-brand to “Kelsy Karter & The Heroines” — What led to that decision?
Kelsy: We’ve been a band for a while. But I just wanted to change it up, and I wanted to give the recognition where it was due. I wouldn’t be what I am without these boys. But another aspect of the heroines is that I couldn’t get to where I am by some suit in his ivory tower telling me I can and can’t do something. I got here because of the fans and my band and my friends and family and the people around me; my team. So I wanted to make it feel like a community. Because it’s not just about me, it is about these boys. It is about the fans. And so The Heroines is us as a collective. And anyone who needs a place that feels safe.
Missing Person had music videos for almost every song. Will your upcoming album be as visual?
Kelsy: I think there will be a lot of visual stuff but maybe not music videos. I want to get a little bit more into the film world with this next album, we’ve got some really cool ideas. The storytelling aspect has to also be visual, but we’re pivoting a little bit out of the normal way of doing things with the visuals. I wanted to be an actor and director as a kid, so this is my favourite kind of shit.
That’s exciting. So are we talking about a short film to tell the story of the album?
Kelsy: Yeah, maybe a short film and maybe not so short a film. We’ll definitely be doing some music video stuff as well but it will be a little different to Missing Person. That was released over such a long period of time. So the visual aspect, as we released, we’d put one out, but this is a little bit more of a consolidated, cohesive body of work. We want that to live in the visuals as well.
We’ve got two first singles from the album, “Cover You” and “Love Goes On,” both about the power of love and infatuation. Will the rest of the project follow the same theme?
Kelsy: Love is definitely a theme in the next album. All types of love, though, not just romantic love. Missing Person was about heartbreak and depression and being lost. Hence the name. But this is [about] finding wisdom through that and being found, I guess you could say, and falling in love with yourself, falling in love with someone else, watching others fall in love.
You’ve also been writing with Paloma Faith on her upcoming album. How did that collaboration come about?
Kelsy: I did some film and TV writing during the pandemic, and one of the songs she ended up hearing and wanting it, which was sick. And then that led into writing more for her. It’s kind of a dream come true. I’ve been a big fan of hers for a long time. We just did a little headlining tour in the UK in the summer, and she showed up to the London gig. Kind of a pinch me moment to write for one of your favourite artists and then they’re also a fan of you.
Was that your first time writing for another artist?
Kelsy: I’ve actually written for Zayn from One Direction. But that whole album ended up not coming out. There’s an American rock act from the 90s called Melissa Etheridge, I’ve written for her. Lots of film and TV stuff. I really, really, really want to get into that world a bit more. Because I love storytelling. I love writing, even if it’s not for me.
Peach: I thought I’d be terrible at it. And actually, it’s turned out I’m really rather good at it. So that was a nice little surprise. I really struggled to write in groups, and then suddenly, Kelsy got me doing it. And I really enjoy it!
Kelsy: When you’re in a writing room, I was explaining to Peach, you’ve got to fill each other’s void. I’m a lyrics and melody girl through and through, and to have someone like Peach that is an incredible musician, it’s great.
It’s also nice to step away from your own project. Especially with lyrics, personally, it can get quite exhausting sometimes, making sure everything you’re saying is true to you and autobiographical and to sit there write for someone else and get in someone else’s brain, it’s a nice change from doing the same thing and being in your own head and opening your own wounds all the time, you know?
How did you approach creating this next album? What roles did you all take?
Kelsy: Well, I started the album a couple of years ago. I was living in England and it was during the pandemic. I was going back and forth to America. So I’d be back in England with the band and my boyfriend. And then I’d go back to LA. We accidentally fell into this new sound that I was creating with my producers in LA, and it’s just naturally evolved into what it is now. The guys have been playing on the records that we’ve already written, and then we’ve been writing new songs together. Essentially we have an album, but I don’t want to write my best song, because then I’ll stop trying to write it. I am going to continue to try and beat songs off the album. I’ve been in England for a few months with the boys and we’ve been writing and recording parts of the album. It’s been a huge, long, windy process, but we’re almost there.
You’ve been sharing releases of some classic rock songs that inspired the upcoming album, including “Alone” and “I Need a Hero.” I know that “Alone” received backlash from Heart fans but you dealt with it superbly. How do you stay strong in the face of such aspersions?
Kelsy: Oh, I love it. I fully feed into it now. I get so much hate, it’s not even funny. And every time I do, I’m like, “Ooh, how can I capitalise on this?” A few years ago, I did this publicity stunt that blew up [when Karter joked that she got a tattoo of Harry Styles on the side of her face]. I’d never been bullied growing up, so it was a new thing for me to feel that trolling, bullying thing. Back then, it did affect me really badly. But I’m hard as nails now. I know the type of person who’s sitting there trolling someone online, and I pity them. I honestly couldn’t care less anymore.
You’ve cultivated a loyal following; people who see you as an “inspiration” and a “icon.” Does this ever create pressure, or a responsibility to act a certain way?
Kelsy: This is a partnership between us and them. And I expect them to show up for us. And they expect me and us to show up for them. And we try and do our best to do that. I think there is a line, a boundary that anyone in any career or any relationship can’t cross and we do a pretty good job of being there for them. I don’t feel pressure. We love what we do. I love having a relationship with these fans. What do you guys think?
Sebastian: I think role model is the wrong idea. We’re just people in bands, really. Rockstars are not the people you’re supposed to be looking up to really.
Kelsy: We’re just all doing our best. I think a great thing that we do really well is be ourselves. Call that rock and roll, call that being a role model, we’re just we’re just doing us and hopefully that inspires others.
Your aesthetic captures a real rock’n’roll, punk energy. What do you think being a rock star means today?
Kelsy: The baddest thing you can do is be yourself. I have this stupid tattoo that says ‘punk is dead’. The definition of punk, it is literally a subculture, right? So the second it becomes trendy, it takes all the meaning away. So a big thing that has frustrated me in recent years is that people think, let me throw on a pair of piped pants, lay a G chord, and then call myself rock and roll. And that’s just not how it works. Being a true rock ‘n’ roll star or embodying what rock ‘n’ roll means is, at your core, knowing who you are, and not giving a fuck what people think about it. Baring your soul, cutting open those wounds, and being vulnerable, because rock ‘n’ roll isn’t about being hard and fast all the time. It’s quite delicate and fragile.
Peach: Guitar solos.
[They all laugh]
Tommy: Bass solos. We need bass solos.
[They all laugh some more]
Tommy: I just think, if 16 year old me could see me playing on stage, he’d be absolutely buzzing. Going out partying, that’s fun, but the pride of playing on the stage, that’s the one.
Kelsy: We played a halftime show earlier this year. It was like 25,000 people. It was a football game in America in Nashville. We’re in the elevator afterwards and I was secretly filming and Tommy was getting all emotional. And he was like, ‘If the kid me could be in my shoes right now, I really felt like I became the rock star that I’ve always dreamed of’. That’s the most tender moment you could have. People get misconceptions – [rock ‘n’ roll] it’s actually quite soft.
Speaking of shows, the “Alone” cover actually led to a US support tour with Billy Idol after his guitarist, Steve Stevens, shared it. How was that whole tour experience?
Kelsy: I mean, insane. There were a lot of stresses that came along with that whole experience. But when you zoom out, the fact that we got to tour and work with one of my personal life heroes… I’ve had a poster on my wall for years of Billy, back in the day. When you go and perform at certain venues, the venue sometimes makes posters for that gig that night as commemorative merch, then they give them to you to sign. And they did that for this tour. I brought a bunch of the posters home, and I was sitting on my bed and I looked up at the wall, and I was like, “Ah, love that picture of Billy that I’ve had up there for ages. That’s so cool that we toured with them.” And then I was like, hang on a second. And when I looked at one of the posters from the tour, it’s the photo that I’ve got on my wall, except we’re also on it. Such an insane feeling to be like, holy shit. Our name is right next to Billy’s name. And that’s the shit that you work your whole life to feel those emotions. The fact that Steve has been such a massive supporter. He has been our champion through all this. He still is. We’re working on some music with him for the album as well. He’s just been such an incredible surprise. Billy obviously, that was insane. But Steve has just been such a fan of what we’re doing and who we are and that’s insane.
And then on the last night of the tour, you joined Billy on stage!
Kelsy: I was just cheesing the whole time. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know I was going to do it. It was like three quarters the way through Billy set. We were having a drink backstage, I changed out of my clothes. It was celebration time. Steve’s guitar tech messaged me and was like, “Can you come to stage right?” And I was like, “What the heck?” So we all run to stage right. And he’s like, “You’re going on stage with Billy for the encore.” I was basically having a heart attack. We’re all freaking out. I went on stage and performed the Encore with Billy. It was bloody insane. It was so cool, man.
You and the band then embarked on your own Europe tour in the summer. How did you handle such a packed schedule?
I think it’s really special what we went through in the Europe tour, because we did the Billy tour with a whole crew, which we usually do. We had to do the Europe tour bare bones. Just because we had been doing so much touring and financially, it made sense to do this just with us. Being completely candid here, we were out of money. So we were like, okay, we either don’t do the tour, or we do it old school. And it was a really cool bonding experience for us as a band because we started this at a high level, so we didn’t have to do all that. Once we started playing together, we already had all the crew and stuff. We’d never toured bare bones like that, the four of us.
I had a lot of fun. We love doing this. I think you’re either built for touring or you’re not. And I know for a fact that all four of us, this is in our blood. This is what we love to do. The worst day at work for us is still better than the best day doing something we don’t love. So that’s my take on it. What do you guys think?
Peach: I was nice. We all chipped in and it was actually kind of simple in a way.
Your tour looks were incredible. How did you go about sourcing them?
I have worked with stylists over the years, and I’ve never fully loved it. I am a little bit of a control freak. I know who I am, I have my vision. And I really enjoy the process of figuring out what I’m going to wear. So for these tours, I did it all on my own. A lot of the styling is definitely inspired by 80s rock stars, it’s kind of my go-to. A little bit of 90s androgynous kind of vibe, but for the most part, the stage looks are inspired by the 80s. I’ve been quite a tomboy my whole life and this next album, and this next era and who I am as a woman now, I really wanted to embrace my sexuality, my sensuality and take my clothes off because I want to take my clothes off, not because someone else is telling me to take them off. And I’ve never felt more confident and beautiful in my life.
Besides Billy Idol, who are some of your biggest inspirations? Have they changed over the years as your artistry has evolved?
Tommy: My inspiration for playing bass, to begin with were the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Then I moved into more funk and Motown and all that kind of stuff. So it did change quite a bit. I do like anything though. If it’s got a good bass line, I’ll listen to it and take some inspirational notes.
Peach: I think apparently, there’s video evidence of this – my initial musical inspiration. There’s a video of me on my second birthday, singing “Sweet Child Of Mine.” And then a few weeks later, I got sent home from nursery for singing another Guns ‘N’ Roses song called “Bad Obsession.” I’ll let the audience look up the lyrics to that. So Guns ‘N’ Roses is where I got my first inspiration in music as a kid. Especially through my parents’ music tastes – 80s and 90s stuff – so all that classic rock stuff, all the Britpop stuff, Green Day. But nowadays, I have a very broad spectrum of things. The Darkness are one of my favourite bands. But then there’s a curious outfit called The Divine Comedy who are almost orchestral, but they write funny, almost jokey, satirical things. Wolf Alice. Royal Blood. And a lot of pop – as long as it’s good songwriting pop, not cheap pop. Tip top songwriter pop. I like good songs basically. Good songs and good guitar playing, and count me in. It’s why I’m in this band.
Sebastian: I’ve always come from the punk and hardcore scene, so I’m never allowed to play music in the van when we’re travelling.
Kelsy: Yeah, it’s either murder music or funeral music.
Sebastian: But I’m probably influenced mainly by Descendants and Stooges and Dead Kennedys and all this old punk and hardcore, really.
Kelsy: 80s punk. Billy Idol. Joan Jett. Blondie. Pat Benatar. Journey. Bon Jovi. Aerosmith. All of that era has been such a huge part of my world and growth. Bowie. Rolling Stones. Queen. I learned how to sing and I wanted to be a singer because I like 60s soul music, such as Sam Cooke, James Brown, Stevie Wonder. Even the girl groups of the 60s, that’s how I discovered I could sing. Which is where all the soul influence comes from in the music. But once I discovered rock’n’roll on my own, because my dad brought me up on the soul and Beatles and stuff like that. But then when I discovered rock’n’roll, that’s what made me want to be a rock star.