Kathleen Mary Lee’s music is characterised by a singsong, lullaby quality that’s a little bit crackly, a little bit dark. Lyrics are delivered clear and deadpan, Leonard Cohen-like. The sound is summarised well by the title of her debut EP, A Nice Kind of Pain, created in a home studio with Isaac Barter from fellow Melbourne act Canary.
Lee is also a filmmaker who creates video clips for local Melbourne artists. She started writing songs at film school in Melbourne after teaching herself chords on an old nylon-string guitar and recording lyrics into a sound recorder she used for her filmmaking.
Broadsheet: Are filmmaking and music closely related for you, or do they tap into different sides of your creative brain?
Kathleen Mary Lee: Quite different, I think. Writing a song is a much more serious experience and a different form of expression. With songs I am trying to fit quite specific sentiments into contained little verses and usually the sentiments are expressions of sad things, although not completely without humour and irony, I hope.
Whereas with film I'm more focused on creating characters and getting them to interact in ways that create emotion, for some reason this experience is much more light hearted. Although when I am writing films I am usually thinking about what song I'd like to use, and when I am writing songs I often think about what sort of scene they'd work in.
BS: How do you write songs?
KML: It'll often start with a phrase that encapsulates something I've been dwelling on for a while. Often these phrases occur to me whilst I'm doing something that allows my mind to wander, like walking, catching public transport or sometimes at work. I record these ideas straight into the voice recorder on my phone, which can be embarrassing if I am in a public place.
BS: Who are your songwriting heroes?
KML: My favourite songwriter is Leonard Cohen. I started listening to him when I was about 15. My dad had a lot of his earlier records and used to sit in the lounge room and listen to them at night. We always thought the music sounded funny, maybe it was all the jaw harps. Once I came around and realised how beautiful it actually was, I used to listen to him every single night. I had my heart broken when I was about 16, which may have had a lot to do with it.
BS: Fantasy support slot – any artist, any era, anywhere?
KML: Leonard Cohen in the ’70s in Canada.
BS: What's next for you?
KML: I have just formed a band and we've started recording our first album, which will be coming out next year some time. The songs are quite similar to the ones on this EP, except the style is a bit heavier than what I have done so far. It's been a really overwhelmingly positive experience. The guys in the band are very talented and experienced musicians and I feel very blessed getting to play my songs with them.
A Nice Kind of Pain is out now and available to stream here