Photo courtesy of Ryan Anderson
Not many contemporary pop artists would admit to working double shifts at Applebee’s to make ends meet while moonlighting as a musician. But that’s the thing about VÉRITÉ, née Kelsey Byrne: She lives, speaks and sings her truth, no inhibition.
It’s fitting that the upstate New York-bred singer-songwriter’s stage name means “truth” in French. VÉRITÉ’s songs are steeped in the sort of raw, earnest, vulnerable authenticity that most pop stars yearn to project, without having to commit to the actual, you know, brutal honesty and unfiltered introspection. And yet, on the phone and on camera, the 27-year-old alt-pop phenom comes off surprisingly shy. It’s a striking juxtaposition.
The artist’s first release, “Strange Enough,” hit the web in the summer of 2014. Produced by musician Elliot Jacobson (Ingrid Michaelson, Elle King), who VÉRITÉ had met on Twitter, the track quickly exploded within the music blogosphere, with sites like Noisey touting it as a “summer anthem.” It soon hit No. 1 on Hype Machine, and only a few months later, she released her debut EP, Echo.
The following year, VÉRITÉ, who trained in classical piano when she was younger (“I’m not as good as I used to be,” she quips), finally quit her job as an Applebee’s waitress in the restaurant chain’s noisy Times Square location, after she had raised enough (in tips, of course) to fully fund her music project full-time. She continued releasing songs, and another excellent EP (2015’s Sentiment), and then another (2016’s Living). She toured, hitting South by Southwest and Lollapalooza. She even appeared on The Today Show. Labels came calling at her window, A&R eager to primp the rising electro-pop princess to hold musical court with the industry. And yet, she held out: Two years later, on the cusp of her long-awaited debut album, the singer still hasn’t signed on the dotted line. She simply doesn’t want to.
“I didn’t always have this intense interest in control [for my project]. It developed over time. Now, I can’t imagine a situation where I would be interested or persuaded to give someone else ownership or control over my project, my voice and my music,” she shares.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Anderson
Despite all the buzz, VÉRITÉ remains unsigned and untethered to any label. But she isn’t without a support team: “I have people who help me with distribution and navigate certain waters,” she explains, punctuating the reality that in order to make this whole indie artist thing work, she’s had to become more disciplined and focused in terms of how she spends her time and energy.
“For me there was definitely a realization that I would have to focus to make this happen, that I would have to work X-amount of hours a week to raise the money I would need [to record],” VÉRITÉ says, adding that while she does have some financial backing now, she was “funding everything [herself] before, and that was honestly the biggest challenge.”
Regardless, performing as an indie artist still presents its fair share of unique hurdles, and VÉRITÉ has had to rely on her “organizational mind” to help strike the right balance between creative exploration and strategic planning.
“The business aspect was something that came really natural to me. It’s a good balance. When I get too frustrated or burnt out by the creative side and I need a break, I go strategize the business end of things,” she offers, emphasizing the cruciality of allowing room for both freedom and structure.
“I’m the type of person whose apartment gets so, so, so messy, to the point where I can’t fathom cleaning it. And then one day, I’ll come and organize everything perfectly. It will stay like that for two months… and then it will explode again, and I won’t be able to see my floor! I approach the organization of my projects the same way: Sometimes it’s super organized, and sometimes I need to focus fully on the creative part so things will be in disarray. It’s organized chaos.”
It’s a fitting dichotomy, considering her self-written, self-executive produced debut album is called Somewhere In Between. A collection of thirteen hazy, melancholy songs about love, intimacy, mental health and existential yearning — all steeped in smart, slow-burning electronica, pop, trip hop and R&B — it becomes clear from the very first line on the record that VÉRITÉ has laid her soul bare.
“Sitting in depression / Always calling me irreverent / If I prayed the weight would lessen / But your mouth can do it better,” she sings in effervescent hues on the album’s heart-wrenching opener, “When You’re Gone.” Written during a ride upstate to visit her parents — “It was one of those moments where the song just came into my mind immediately,” she recalls — the single is a glitching, driving electro-pop anthem about chasing highs (not necessarily of the narcotic variety) in order to mask the pain of depression, only to be left feeling the same way as before: empty.
VÉRITÉ also opens up about her need for power and autonomy on the swirling house-tinged banger “Control” (“I like the idea of confidence / I’m in love with control”) and lifts the veil shrouding her insecurities on the brooding alt-pop single “Saint” (“‘Cause no, I’m not an anthem / Not much hope / No, I’m not an idea you decided was gold”). Anxiety is a major theme on the album, a topic which the singer-songwriter dives headfirst into on the stormy, ‘80s hued synth-pop anthem, “Solutions”: “All I need is something to get me through the night / Just a little distraction from the echoes of my mind.”
It’s a potent dose of truth serum and, the way the Brooklyn-based musician sings it so faithfully, it comes off effortless—but it doesn’t come easy. The pain and uncertainty that reverberate with each moody note are very real.
“Sometimes I just have this feeling where I think I’m never going to write again,” VÉRITÉ admits, quietly. “There was actually a period of time where I felt I would never write another song again. I thought, ‘I’m not capable of writing!’ But the album had to be done, so I sat down and wrote like, two songs in ten minutes. I had this panic attack and crisis where I was like, ‘I’m worthless!’ But then it comes quickly all of a sudden.”
Photo courtesy of Ryan Anderson
Self-promotion and social media present another set of challenges for the self-proclaimed introvert, who has, despite the more insidious qualities of our selfie culture, built a supportive fan base and legion of followers online. Not that she’s immune from occasionally getting overwhelmed.
“Social media presents such a microcosm of society. There are so many layers to self-presentation online, and not all are healthy,” she says. “When it gets too much I’ll log off and talk to my family, and write and stuff like that. But there’s absolutely times where I think like, ‘F—, I should go on a diet.’ Or ‘F—, I don’t have any followers. I suck, my career is over!’ And so I think everything is about managing your time. I just try to catch myself in those moments and get offline and go read a book or something.”
And when writer’s block strikes, she adds, she has a simple solution: “I’ll just go sit down and clear my head and f— around on the piano. You need to give creativity its time, even if it’s just like, two hours doing nothing. I try to allow myself that space.”
Her piano has become more than just a safe space for unfiltered, fertile creative breeding, however. It’s a source of artistic empowerment and liberation: “If I hadn’t learned piano when I was younger, I think I would be more dependent on other people for different creative things, whereas I write all my songs. If I come up with something, I can lay it down. I can write completely on my own, and that’s important.”
Despite leaning towards authentic, truthful songwriting, the “Saint” singer adds that transparency does not necessarily extend to all aspects of her songcraft: Mystery and intrigue still abound.
“I tend to write about the darker aspects of the human condition, yes, but I try to inject hope as one of the more driving elements of the production. That’s not necessarily the first thing you’re gonna catch onto if you’re listening the first time. I like to keep people on their toes and provide multiple layers to each song. I try not to reveal everything on the first listen.”
As for those “darker” parts of humanity that she’s so quick to bring up, it seems that VÉRITÉ shares the same angst and disquietude as so many of us during these turbulent political times. “For me, the state of the United States keeps me up at night,” she states, refreshingly blunt. “Having someone so authoritarian come into power, and having to defend our democracy… The rise of the extremist right wing—it makes me feel like I need to be more vocal.”
Photo courtesy of Ryan Anderson
In an era of so-called “Purposeful Pop,” VÉRITÉ refuses to allow her platform to become a vessel solely for self-promotion. She wants to be a part of the bigger conversation. She wants to take action.
“How can I be beneficial to those around me?” she ponders. “How can I use my influence to impact others in a positive way and genuinely help people? That’s one goal of the project. I try to communicate that with the people I do talk to. I hope it makes some sort of difference along the way.”
It’s an assured manifesto for someone currently caught Somewhere In Between, but that’s why VÉRITÉ is so captivating: Even on the threshold of her own studio album introduction, a butterflies-in-your-stomach rite of passage for any pop star on the brink, she’s unwilling to allow her personal internal anxieties get in the way of destiny—or, for the anti-deterministic, to spoil the fruits of her labor… table waiting and all.
“I’m just excited for people to hear the album,” VÉRITÉ decides when asked if she’s nervous about what’s around the bend. “Honestly, how people digest it and interpret is out of my control. I’m happy not to obsess about that. Right now, it’s just one foot in front of the other.”
Discover the Alternative Girls of Pop: