Interview: Kelsey Bulkin Makes the First Move with “Kareem”

Kesley Bulkin © Canh Nguyen
Kesley Bulkin © Canh Nguyen
An intimate leap of faith, Kelsey Bulkin’s dreamy “Kareem” captures the butterflies of making the first move.

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If we call this what it is, will it feel the same tonight?

It’s the heat of the moment – a moment you’ve been looking forward to, for what feels like ages now. Finally, after all this waiting, thinking, planning, dreaming, you’re alone with your crush… and the time feels right to make that very first move. Your heart is pounding… the future is a hazy unknown. Anything can happen, but you know that if you don’t do something, then nothing will happen… and the moment will end… and you’ll go back to waiting. Maybe – just maybe – this dream will be the one that comes true.

An intimate leap of faith, Kelsey Bulkin’s dreamy “Kareem” captures the butterflies of making the first move.

Kareem - Kelsey Bulkin
Kareem – Kelsey Bulkin
ain’t nothing ordinary
about the way you knock on my door

no i never feel ready
to tell you what I’m asking for

how can i play easy,
i’ve been so clowned by fools

everythings gone wrong
and i wanna get right with you

Released 2/8/2019, “Kareem” is the latest single off Kelsey Bulkin’s forthcoming debut EP, Leucadia (out March 22, 2019). Formerly of acclaimed indie pop duo Made in Heights, Kelsey Bulkin has spent the past few years charting her own course as an independent artist in California. Bulkin’s music is synthy, surfy, and immersively ambient: A meditative exploration of sound, space, and emotion. It could be the soundtrack to a teen-oriented coming-of-age film (with or without the Brat Pack), but it could just as easily chart the course of an ethereal filmic fantasia.

Leucadia EP - Kelsey Bulkin
Leucadia EP – Kelsey Bulkin
this is something i want, running faithless
this is something i want, out of patience
this is something i want, running faithless
this is something i want, out of patience

A particularly inundative indulgence, “Kareem” invites us deep into Kelsey Bulkin’s dreamy world of soothing soundscapes and endless possibilities. The song finds her drilling into that teenage fantasy moment — which, for the record, is by no means limited to our teenage years. Her lyrics assess the fragility of the situation, unveil her own deep feelings for that special person, and consider the ramifications for such bold, transformative actions. In the first chorus Bulkin lays herself on the line singing, “This is something I want.” When next we come back around, she’s asking the same of her friend: “Is this something you want?

Situations like this bear a formidable magnitude. Things will never be the same afterward, and Bulkin knows it. “If we call this what it is, will it feel the same tonight?” she asks, aware that there’s no turning back once you step over that invisible line.

Kelsey Bulkin spoke to Atwood Magazine about “Kareem,” her upcoming EP, and what it means to make that first move. Dive deeper into her art and artistry through our interview below!

Kelsey Bulkin’s Leucadia EP is independently out March 22, 2019.

Action is always the final story, but words affect the heart.

Stream: “Kareem” – Kelsey Bulkin


Atwood Magazine: How have you been developing your artistry independent of Made in Heights since you disbanded?

Kelsey Bulkin: I’ve been making beats and playing with sounds – feels like scuba diving because it took me some time to discover where the good spots were for me, where i could play and find a lot of life. Production is so visceral, felt in the gut, so I’ve been practicing how to follow that instinct in myself.

Can you talk about the significance of “Kareem” on the EP?

Bulkin: Kareem is my take on a Miami bass sound, which is a genre I’ve loved since I was a kid.  Shorty swing My Way was my anthem. I made a song called Ghosts with Made In Heights that was one of my favorites from that project, that is also Miami bass. It reminds me of my youth and settles me into my cool. “Kareem” is about who is going to make the first move. Those moments can feel like half-time bpm, where everything is in slow motion. I use basketball metaphors throughout, and the name of the song Kareem is because of a poster of Kareem Abdul Jabar that was on the wall of my friend’s room when one such moment like this ensued. It’s like I’m speaking to the walls and objects in the room as witnesses, like “you see this right? somebody should call it” and that somebody is almost always me.

heads or tails what’s the flip,
are we going into overtime
where’s the referee tonight,
to blow the whistle on the way we carry on
i don’t wanna cross the line,
so i dribble slow and make up jokes about
your purple lakers shirt, artsy magazines,
the way you call me church,
the way you look at me
i got no makeup on
I got nowhere to be,
before we move along you’ve got to tell me…
Kelsey Bulkin © 2019
Kelsey Bulkin © 2019

What was the inspiration for Leucadia, and how did this collection of songs come to make it on the EP?

Bulkin: Leucadia, CA is a surf town and its where I grew up. It’s a paradise and it’s a bubble. These songs are my personal mythology, they are the stories I carry in my heart, so they all happened in Leucadia even if I wasn’t living there anymore. Some are obvious like “Nochs” which is about the birth of my son, or “Kareem.” Others are more layered like Samsara which is about depression and “Stars,” which is about losing a friend to a car accident.

I hear your music, and I think about ‘80 synth pop mixed with, like, chillwave. How did you go about developing your sonic structures?

Bulkin: I thought about the ocean.

Before we move along.. you’ve got to tell me, is this something you want?” I hear this, and part of me thinks about how so many relationships progress through actions and not words. How did the chorus come about for you, and what is its significance in your eyes?

Bulkin: Action is always the final story. But words affect the heart. I always want true feelings to be expressed it’s like I feel an injustice when they are not.  We talk a lot about consent now but I also want to talk about intentions. Like what does this mean to you? Before we act like it’s important, is it important? Women have inherited emotional labor, so I like for men to articulate what they’re trying to do before I get on board. Especially since once I’m on board their stock is going way up.

How do you hope others hear “Kareem”?

Bulkin: I hope they hear butterflies.

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:: stream/purchase Kareem here ::

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Kareem - Kelsey Bulkin

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