Listening to Gravers Lane is like stepping into a spooky dreamscape reminiscent of Martin Gore’s solo work or Julee Cruise’s songs on the original Twin Peaks soundtrack. Lush synth pads coupled with a strong lead vocal combine to tear holes in day-to-day reality and reveal something—perhaps sinister, perhaps inspiring—shimmering on the other side of quotidian consciousness. For a glimpse into the philosophy and artistic process behind the music, I caught up with Kerri Hughes, the driving force behind the project, and asked her how she does it…
It was a wonderful time when I played the first day at Tralfamadore. It’s one of of my favorite Philly show houses run by my friend Matty Klauser. The vibe is very professional but chill. I used to have a residency there, so it was great coming back to play.
All the artists I played with were amazing. Some notable ones for me was Cardinal Arms, and I think Kelsey Cork and the Swigs bring this great whiskey rock sound with a powerful female fronted vocals.
It’s interesting to see you perform, because it’s just you on the stage, but you have a full sound—a far cry from the stereotypical singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar. For the gear-heads out there, what’s your live setup? Or, to put it another way, how do you translate the sound of your recordings to the stage?
Ah, my little setup. For awhile it strictly my Boss-VE5 vocal loop station, but now I use a TC-Helicon E1 delay pedal, Korg Volca Beats, Microkrog, and my new child, which is the Novation Mininova synth. I run everything through a Mackie ProFX 8 channel mixer. I have a bunch of other gear I will sometimes add in, depending on the song, but this is my standard set up.
My songwriting approach is not very traditional. A lot of my songs have come from improv jams, and many songs are all vocal loops with no instruments. I practice a little bit obsessively, so it’s sort of funny to me that I make improv experimental, ambient like music even though it’s pretty tight when I play (I try my best anyway). It’s easier to get the sound that I want live, than recorded. I have a background in audio production and I use Pro Tools 12 to mix songs I record in my lil “studio,” but even with effects and all that, I prefer the live aspect because, above all, I really want to create a meditative atmosphere with my music.
There’s a distinctly spooky sound to your music—lots of reverb with haunting vocals. On one hand, I get a strong David Lynch vibe from your music, but I also get the sense that there’s something deeper there, almost spiritual. Am I crazy, or are you trying to tap into something primal with your music?
You are not crazy to think that, but I might be a little—ha! Making music is extremely spiritual to me, even when I played in bands I felt it. Playing just on my own has forced me to really deeply, deeply explore myself. It goes back to a lot of songs coming from an improv. A lot of times I am surprised by the sounds I create because I didn’t know that sort of darkness or more mournful feelings were in me like that. I often get into a trance-like state when I am performing my songs.
I grew up Catholic, and while I appreciate the teachings of Jesus, my spiritual beliefs are much more earth-based, and I think that translates a lot into my music. I have spent a lot of time this past year with meditation and exploring Wiccan beliefs and fairy and earth magic. I feel like my music ends up being a conscious, or many times subconscious, nod to those kinds of beliefs.
How did that sound evolve? And who are your influences?
Originally Gravers Lane was called Red Lips, and it was me recording with a Zoom H2 and mixing with GarageBand. I attended Montgomery County Community College and graduated Temple University with a focus on audio production, so I was able to evolve my sound and make it all crazy sounding with Pro Tools effects. After college I was in a few bands, and during my band time, I bought a used microkorg, then later I began to add more gear. I actually never even planned on playing out in the first place, but my friend Molly Campbell (Datadrift) gave me an opportunity to play at Synth Cafe last spring and I have taken that opportunity and ran with it. I am so thankful to her because playing shows, even to just a few people, is a really magical experience, every time.
I keep my synth playing very simple since I have never had any instrument lessons, but I do have a hefty amount of years of vocal training. Growing up in church and being involved in chorus and theatre, I think has really influenced my vocal style. I like doing very dramatic, operatic vocals. My number one influence and love is Bjork, then Julianna Barwick. The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski is high up there as well and The Caretaker. I looove ambient and goth music (especially Coldwave) and, while I don’t know if I would classify my music as goth per se, I’ve been part of that scene for over a decade so it definitely has influenced my musical aesthetics.
And though your music isn’t overtly political, I still get the sense that there’s something subversive about it—in the sense that you being you in pubic and in a world that increasingly frowns upon anything even slightly out of the ordinary is, in itself, a political act. Is there anything political about your art, or am I just reading too much into things again?
While not exactly political, you are hitting the nail on the coffin about some more conscious thoughts I put into my music. My music is a good outlet for me in terms of my feelings about the female experience in a world that doesn’t really seem to like women. While I absolutely am fortunate for the privileges I have, and upmost love and support from my family (my parents are truly the best), friends, and girlfriend, I sometimes find it hard to navigate in the world in female form, especially being someone who is a bit more sensitive. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I have never been able to try to feign coolness or emotionlessness that I, unfortunately, see a lot of people do (I get it, the world is hard and it’s a defense mechanism). I am a big advocate for anti-street harassment and I am an outspoken feminist. I learned early in my life that being a woman can be dangerous, and although I live a very healthy and happy life now, Gravers Lane is real therapy for me. Playing music makes me feel like I belong in this world.
When you’re not performing as Gravers Lane, you also play with New Speedway. What’s your role in that band, and how does the sound differ from what you’re doing in Gravers Lane?
New Speedway was such a fun experience! Unfortunately I had to dip out because I was burning the candle at both ends. I played keys and did backup vocals though. The mastermind behind New Speedway, Rocco Renzetti, is a really dear friend and talented human. New Speedway had a more indie rock sound, but there were a lot of similarities as it turned out. Rocco and I both really like a lo-fi sound, drones and loops, and creating a space musically. The latest album Behavior: Ceremony incorporated layers upon layers of synths, sometimes one layer just being a key or two being played. That is definitely the approach I make with my music as well. I like to keep it simple, while eventually creating a complex and lush atmosphere via layers.
Are there any other bands you’ve worked with—or would like to work with?
Previous to New Speedway, I played with a psych rock band Hex Inverter. It was a really great experience being able to play venues on the East Coast and perform on some mini tours. I learned a lot of valuable things from all the band members, but Mick Mullin (guitars/keys) really encouraged me to pursue my music and work on it. He actually bought me the delay pedal that I use. We recorded some great covers together, including a Siouxsie and the Banshees and PJ Harvey song.
As far as working with other artists, I have been lucky to collaborate with some of my favorite female Philly producers like Dentana and Stateschoolgirl. I am always excited to work with anyone, especially if they are genuinely good people. It’s great if you are a talented DJ, musician, producer, etc. but I think none of that really matters if you aren’t kindhearted. Luckily Philadelphia is filled to the core with kindhearted artists.
Any shows coming up or projects you’re working on? What are your next steps as far as you music career is concerned?
I have some very cool stuff coming up. My song, Slither, was curated by Merideth Hayden (Stateschoolgirl) into a soundwork for the art exhibit Sanctuary, at The Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church. My work was featured alongside SPT (End Result Productions), and I was ecstatic to be featured alongside two very talented Philly artists. I will be playing again at Tralfamadore June 24th, and it will be a killer show.
My ultimate goal is to record an album, and I would love to get on Projekt Records. My dear friend Tom Scott (who runs an electronic music producers collective, Brother.ly, which is worth checking out), let me record my song Withering at his personal studio. I realized, however, there are so many good producers in the city that I would love to work with to make this dream a reality and I want to pay them for their work. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds right now, but I’m working on it and have some really great people who have given me some awesome opportunities so far.
Anything else you’d like to share with your fans (or potential fans)?
Really just a huge and humble thank you to everyone who has listened to my music, booked me for shows, come to shows, wanted to collaborate with me, all of that. If I had a bouquet of flowers I could give to everyone who has done these things I would, seriously. Philadelphia is really a wonderful city for artists, and I am grateful to live here. <666
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