Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith on 'The Kid,' the Most Anticipated Experimental Album of 2017

"I​ ​was​ ​curious​ ​where​ ​our​ ​hearing​ ​would​ ​evolve​ ​to​ ​next," composer says

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's sixth album is 'The Kid.' Credit: Tim Saccenti

The pastoral, gorgeous modular synthesizer flutter of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's critically acclaimed Ears became a crossover avant-garde success in 2016. Since the beginning of that year, she's toured with Animal Collective, hit the European festival circuit, collaborated with Google on an interactive tour of national parks and released an LP collaboration with electronic music hero Suzanne Ciani. Acclaimed by critics and embarking on a headlining tour in November, Smith is experiencing a level of attention rare for experimental musicians. When did she realize that was happening?

"I​ ​don't​ ​think​ ​I've​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​yet," she says with a laugh. "​It's​ ​still​ ​really,​ ​really​ ​surprising​ ​to​ ​me​ ​that​ ​people​ ​want​ ​to​ ​listen.​ ​And​ ​I don't​ ​take​ ​that​ ​for​ ​granted​ ​at​ ​all.​ ​At​ ​every​ ​show,​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​really​ ​shocked​ ​every​ ​single​ ​time. I'm​ ​like,​ ​'Whoa,​ ​there's​ ​people​ ​here.'"

Ears took inspiration from the bucolic surroundings from her rural childhood spent up and down the west coast, including Washington's isolated, mountain-heavy Orcas Islands. On recent tours, she still tries to take time to find "the​ ​natural​ ​wonder​ ​that's​ ​next​ ​to​ ​me," including seeing​ ​glow​​worms​ ​on​ ​horseback​ ​in​ ​New​ ​Zealand and visiting the fjords of Norway. Her Skype call to Rolling Stone was from Croatia, where she loves how easy it is to float in its clear, salty water. People have told her they listen to her music while traveling or hiking. 

While her sixth album, The Kid, due October 6th, continues making idyllic arpeggios via the arcane 1973 analog synth, the Buchla Music Easel, its concerns of identity and self-awareness are more internal, and its sound world is more lush.

​"Ears ​was​ ​made​ ​with​ ​the​ ​live​ ​show​ in mind ​first.​ ​So,​ ​I​ ​basically​ ​wrote​ ​it​ ​and​ ​practiced​ ​how I​ ​would​ ​perform​ ​it​ ​and​ ​then​ ​just​ ​pressed​ ​'record,'" says Smith.​ "The Kid ​was​ … very​ ​different.​ ​It​ ​started​ ​from textures.​ ​I​ ​just​ ​got​ ​an​ ​urge​ ​to​ ​create​ ​really​ ​crunchy​ ​textures​ ​that,​ ​kind​ ​of,​ ​gave​ ​me​ ​a feeling​ ​of like,​ ​frosted​ ​shredded​ ​wheat. [I would] ​listen​ ​to​ ​them,​ ​and​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​let​ ​my​ ​visual​ ​brain​ ​start​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​what the​ ​world​ ​was​ ​gonna​ ​to​ ​look​ ​like​ ​for​ ​the​ ​album.​"

The album was composed with her Buchla and effects-treated voice alongside ​bassoon,​ ​trumpet,​ ​cello​ ​and​ ​flute.

​"I​ ​especially​ ​wrote​ ​a​ ​lot of​ ​layered​ ​parts​ ​for​ ​trumpet​, ​because​ ​I​ ​had​ ​an​ ​aversion​ ​to​ ​trumpet​ ​for​ ​a​ ​very​ ​long​ ​time," says Smith "And​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​get​ ​past​ ​that,​ ​and​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​how​ ​to​ ​find​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to​ ​like​ ​trumpet.​ ​… ​It​ ​has​ ​such​ ​[an]​ ​intense​ ​attack.​ ​And​ ​I'm​ ​one​ ​of​ ​those​ ​people​ ​that​ ​gets startled​ ​really​ ​easily.​"

"​But​ ​it​ ​was​ ​also inspired​ ​by​ ​this​ ​book​ ​called​ ​New​ ​Musical​ ​Resources [by Henry Cowell].​ ​The​ ​book​ ​is,​ ​basically,​ ​a study​ ​of​ ​how​ ​our​ ​hearing​ ​as​ ​a​ ​culture​ ​has​ ​evolved.​ … I​ ​was​ ​curious​ ​where​ ​our​ ​hearing​ ​would​ ​evolve​ ​to​ ​next,​ ​and​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​play around​ ​with​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​that​ ​our​ ​hearing​ ​would​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​split ​so​ ​​we​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​two different​ ​conversations​ ​at​ ​once.​ ​And​ ​so,​ ​I​ ​played​ ​with​ ​that​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​on​ ​the​ ​album ...​ ​of​ ​having the​ ​left​ ​side​ ​and​ ​the​ ​right​ ​side​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​they're​ ​pulling​ ​for​ ​your​ ​attention​ ​in​ ​different ways."

The Kid is a 51-minute musical journey from birth to death, the four stages of life represented across​ ​four​ ​sides of vinyl. Smith talks about about a​ ​"gradience"​ ​from the heavy, clumsy sounds that represent birth and lighter sounds that represent death.​ ​The dreamy, cosmic ambience of "To Feel Your Best," which you can hear below, is the album's final track.

"Well,​ ​that's​ ​actually​ ​more,​ ​like,​ ​the​ ​sub-theme," Smith says about the album's life-cycle narrative. "​'Cause​ ​for​ ​me,​ ​the​ ​main​ ​theme​ ​is​ ​about remembering​ ​and​ ​how​ ​often​ ​you​ ​forget​ ​your​ ​kid​ ​energy​ ​as​ ​you​ ​get​ ​older.​ ​And​ ​then,​ ​you have​ ​all​ ​those​ ​moments​ of​ ​like,​ ​'Oh,​ ​yeah.​ ​That's​ ​my​ ​essence​ ​and​ ​my playfulness.'​"