Chelsea Lankes isn't trying to be something she's not. In a world filled with musical gimmicks and clichés, the LA-based singer is more concerned with showing her authenticity, than hiding behind a persona. She name-checks The Police, Sheryl Crow, Blondie, Ryan Adams, and Patti Griffin, and creates songs she feels are raw, real, and representative of who she really is. Born into a musical household in Texas (her mom was a singer), Lankes was always keen to entertain. Still, it wasn’t till she was majoring in her senior year at college that her hobby matured into her picking up the guitar and writing her own songs, taking cues from her heroes before finding her own sound.
Fast-forward to late 2013 and Lankes posts “Ghost” online, her ethereal voice, haunting melodies, and pure pop aesthetic went on to catch the attention of many listeners: that track alone has racked up over half a million plays since. As a result, she's been working with imprint B3SCI Records, to put out her latest musical creation—a vinyl featuring one original track, "Down For Whatever," and surprisingly, a Mötley Crüe cover.
Above is the premiere of the remix of "Down For Whatever," courtesy of San Francisco dream-poppers Carousel, meanwhile we talked to Lankes about staying away from a pseudonym, being BFFs with Brandi Cyrus, and big ambitions.
Noisey: Your first single that surfaced was "Ghost." Was that the single you intended to get picked up? Or was it a surprise to you when it did?
Chelsea: It's a cool story because I was on my own and I had written it a year before I released it. I talked to the guys I wrote it with and the producer I work with and I was just like, “I really believe in this song and I really want to get it out there.” I put it out into the world on my own, and it just sat there for weeks, not doing anything. I was so bummed, and I had a friend put me in touch with my PR person Nancy [Lu]. She was kind enough to do me a favor, as I didn't have much of a budget, and just sent it to some people she knew. She just asked some people she knew if they liked the song and if they could give it a little more buzz. She was nice enough to do that. From there it started having a life of its own. People still post about it and I released it almost a year ago. I still get messages, so that's been a favorite on the internet, I think. I didn't foresee it. I was so scared. I believed in that song, but I thought it would disappear into the Internet. It's definitely the song that got the ball rolling.
You moved from Texas to California. What was the hardest thing you encountered while shifting to a different state? Did moving contribute to any of the music you recorded?
Oh yeah. I moved to LA a year ago and I was in a very different place. I was totally broke and I had no idea where I was going to live. I was at my mom's house for a month trying to figure things out. When I first got to LA, I couch-surfed. I luckily had really gracious friends who took me in for about two months until I found the house I'm living in now. I live in this cabin in Woodland Hills. I don't know if you're familiar with Captain Beefhart, but he did a lot of stuff with Frank Zappa and recorded it in this house. It has a lot of creative energy. When I moved here, the gates of creativity just opened up. The people that I work with here are all amazing in terms of writing and producing. I think I've hit my stride in terms of what I'm writing—with quality instead of quantity. It was at first a little bit of a culture shock, but I love it here. It's beautiful and I have really amazing friends.
How has your personal style fed into your music, if at all?
I do think fashion and music are most synonymous in some ways. I take points from Debbie Harry and Madonna. If I'm doing a photo shoot, I think less is more—not in terms of the amount of clothing you're wearing. I think it's being authentic and not trying to be someone else. I wear a lot of black. I don't think that it necessarily feeds into my music because when I write I'm not thinking about what I'm wearing.
When does your debut EP come out?
I have enough songs for an entire record, but we're going to wait and see what happens with this next release. I'm doing two songs on vinyl over the next couple of months. This next release is an A and B-side. "Down For Whatever" is an original and the lyrics are pretty straightforward—it's just about being young, present in the moment and living your life in away that you don't care what happens tomorrow. You just want to live life to the fullest. It's really chillwave. I think it has a really good vibe. The B-side is a Mötley Crüe cover called "Too Young To Fall In Love," which is just about youth and being free. It's funny I listened to the original and watched the music video and I basically wanted to do the song because it's the polar opposite of me. It's 80s hair metal. We had fun re-creating that song and making something that totally sounded like me.
What's been the biggest challenge for you as a musician?
I think you're the one driving the ship. Before anyone else is going to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. There are a lot of days where that's really hard to do because there are a lot of factors that go into actually having a career. On days where nothing is happening and you don't feel creatively inspired, you're like, “Why I am I doing this?” When there's no tangible reward happening, those days are the hardest. It's gonna come down to your love for music and remembering that on days where you feel like nothing is working. It's a long road as an artist. Everything that I've done or produced creatively, I've done myself. It's taught me a lot about work ethic. I want to be just as equally in control and present on the business-end of things too. There's not just one thing that has been the hardest.
I know you're friends with Brandi Cyrus. Would we ever see a collaboration with her or Miley?
I don't know. Recently I played a gig and Brandi played guitar with me. It was the most fun because she's my best friend. We spent so much time rehearsing stuff, and it was way more fun than just doing the band thing. It's fun to do creative stuff with someone you truly enjoy being around, you know? I don't know about Miley, but definitely Brandi.
How did you and Brandi meet?
We just had mutual friends in Nashville—I lived there for a little while. Brandi ended up moving to Nashville and we were roommates for a year. We have very similar personalities and like a lot of the same things, so it just works out. She comes to LA all the time, so I get to see her every month. It's super cool.
There's been a lot of girls inspired by electro-pop in recent years. What makes you stand out?
First of all, when I play live I have a full band. It's a good mix between the electronic side of things, but organic live instruments. I think my sound is a little more guitar-driven than the female artists out there. I was talking to someone the other day, and not to knock any of the girls who have pseudonyms or names that aren't their names, I think one name is definitely really cool, but I also feel like I missed the boat in a certain way. I think using my own name is more personal. There's no branding or anything I'm trying to hide behind in my music. It's very much about my life and my experiences. I feel like that sets me apart—not that anyone isn't doing that with their music—but I think there's definitely an authenticity to my songs because they're personal experiences. I'm not trying to imitate another artist: my songs are very much my own. I've tried really hard to break away from the electronic side of things. I'm a huge fan of pop music but I also want to find a balance between the production side of things that are unique and have a cool factor. I want to transition as an artist and make sure that I can compete with anyone on Top 40 too.
Ilana Kaplan is a writer living in Brooklyn and she’s on Twitter.