New Zealand native Kelly Sherrod has been based in Middle Tennessee for years, but I first met the versatile singer, musician and visual artist when she performed as Proteins of Magic at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona early this month. Her solo-on-stage set recalled the transcendent track-stacking of synths, wind instruments and choral elements found in the music of Sherrod’s experimental predecessors Bjork and Kate Bush, and contemporaries such as My Brightest Diamond.
With two upcoming chances to see Proteins of Magic in Nashville, and an EP on the way, you might get to know local artist Sherrod through the conversation we shared side-stage in Spain and then learn for yourself what “electronic goth core” sounds and feels like at Random Sample on June 30 and/or Red Arrow Gallery on July 6.
Here, too, is a little audio/visual taste of the live Proteins of Magic experience in Sherrod’s new show reel:
On The Record: A Q&A with Proteins of Magic
Celia Gregory: I’m here all the way across the pond, but with an artist I now understand is based in Nashville. So, a neighbor, but we’ve just met! Kelly, you perform as Proteins of Magic. What’s that all about? What’s in the name?
Kelly Sherrod: It’s a good question. It was gifted to me from a friend that I met on a night in Nashville a couple of years ago. And it was just words that literally came out of the atmosphere from him to me. And so I asked if it was okay for me to take them, and he said yes.
CG: It’s not a royalties situation, then. [Laughs] But do you feel like that relates to the sound at all? Or it’s just fun to say and fun to write and have on a bill?
KS: I think a lot of my music is intuitive-based, and I’ve been trying more and more, especially as I get older, to follow that and go with that. And I think it fits well.
CG: And you make magic on stage, too. I caught a little bit [here at Primavera Sound], I have to say, not the full thing. But I watched you walk off stage with a flute, so I missed the wind portion. You’re clearly a multi-instrumentalist. How do you normally compose your songs?
KS: I have a beautiful upright piano at home and so I do write a lot of songs on that. And they will start out as ballads and then beats will get added later. That or I do jam with my looper so, you know, I can have a flute orchestra.
CG: Can you explain to maybe audiences that are new to you, what’s your musical journey and how did you end up in Nashville? Because you’re originally from New Zealand, right?
KS: Yeah, I am. I’ve played music forever, just usually for other people. I did have my own band, but I never pursued it in a meaningful way. It was always more about family and having friends as family. And just in the last couple of years, Proteins of Magic was born. And so I’ve been out playing by myself solo and getting to know Nashville for the first time.
CG: So you moved to Nashville to make music or you moved to Nashville and because music’s all around you’re now like, “I guess I’ll do this”?
KS: I moved to Nashville because I met an American.
CG: So what’s your impression then of Nashville, this is the first place you’ve lived in the States?
KS: Yes, yes.
CG: What’s that transition been like?
KS: I was young when I moved, so I was just so naive. I just kind of fell into the flow of it all. So it was good.
CG: But it feels creatively welcoming?
KS: It does, yeah. I feel like I’m only discovering Nashville for the first time, really, in the last couple of years, because I do live in a rural area. And so coming out and playing music and meeting people, especially like in the electronic scene in Nashville, it’s cool. It’s super diverse and yeah, lots of beautiful people.
CG: Is there anybody you’ve met playing music that you would recommend, other artists?
KS: Yes. Eve Maret, she’s an awesome electronic artist. [Maret is sharing both show dates mentioned above, June 30 and July 6, with Proteins of Magic.] And Grant Ellen is an amazing bass player I love and have jammed with quite a few times. And Abstract Black.
CG: OK, great. How would you describe your own music? Introducing not just how you make music, but what you think it sounds like.
KS: I would just all preface it by saying there is a visual element to my music. Usually I do play with a projector and I make visuals, so that goes side-by-side with my songs. You can check those out online. But how would you describe it, Margo, my manager?
“Electronic goth core.” I think for me there is like a real cathartic element to it. I played bass in punk rock bands and I kind of feel comfortable in that arena and expressing myself musically on a stage.
CG: But you have a beautiful voice. So you used to be screamy and bass bomb-y and now this?
KS: I actually only just found my voice through having vocal lessons in Nashville. It was a game changer for me, just like my self-confidence and my performance confidence. I didn’t know vocal lessons could do so much, not only for, like, my mental health but also my voice is so much stronger.
CG: It must take a lot of confidence to make the music that you make, but then perform it live by yourself.
KS: Right? Yeah, I guess so, huh?
CG: It’s different when you’re composing and you’re pulling it together on the record.
KS: I try not to think about it too much because it’s also weird, isn’t it? Like performing your stuff in front of other people? You’re hoping they like it.
CG: I didn’t realize this was such a newer project of yours, considering your comfortability up there.
KS: It took a while to get there, but yeah, now it’s sort of like I can’t do without it.
CG: You said you’ve gone back and forth to New Zealand and home in Nashville, but what is the performance schedule like for you? How are you managing the bulk of your time gigging?
KS: I’ve been coming off a lot of shows. I’ve been on tour in New Zealand. I’ve just been at The Great Escape. I had my first headlining London gig recently at New River Studios. I played at the Lexington. But I’m going to finish my EP. I want to focus on the music videos. There’s lots to do on the recording side, but I do have like four Nashville shows coming up that I’m excited about.
CG: It sounds like if you focus so much on the visual element, that is like double the work. A lot of people yield that creative control. But you like that part of it?
KS: Yeah, when I have my music and then I make something visual to go with it, because it’s all made by me, it all like flows into each other. And I love that. Like what I’m looking at is what I’m hearing and it’s seamless.
CG: So it’s a companion.
CG: Oh, well, I’m so glad to meet you this far away. It’s weird, right?
KS: [Laughs] I know, it is weird!
CG: I’ll have to see you back in Nashville. And then WNXP listeners can hear your music, the songs that are out and also a future EP. Do you have a name?
KS: Yes, Angel Hieroglyphics.
CG: Oh, OK! All the names are so cryptic and, like, open to interpretation. We love it. Good to meet you, Kelly!
KS: You too.