LA-based indie pop artist Michelle Kash never had intentions of becoming a musician. Born and raised in New York, she grew up playing a bit of piano and guitar. It wasn’t until a meditation/spirituality retreat in Utah in 2013 that her voice came to her in a sound and tone she had never before experienced. “As I get deeper into myself, things get pretty bleak,” she admits. “I turned to meditation in order to deal with these feelings, because I’m very sensitive and emotional. When I discovered my voice, writing about my emotions, singing about them, and getting them out helped. I was able to process my experiences in a way that I never was able to before. I was able to shut the mind off and let the music come through.” Upon returning home, she spent months singing alone, recording herself and rearranging songs without telling anyone. Inspired by everyone from Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Grace Slick, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Portishead and Florence and the Machine, Kash had always found herself deeply inspired by Aretha Franklin’s gospel music. Deciding to audition for and ultimately landing a spot in a gospel choir allowed her to accumulate countless hours of performing and writing. Kash relocated to LA in 2016 to hone her new craft and fashion her fiery and flirty take on alternative pop. In 2019, Kash released her first single “Smoking Gun”, followed by “Hurt Me”, which gave her the momentum that has propelled her into this year. On January 15th, she released her latest single, a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” (coincidentally on the same day that they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame!). With echoes of cinematic synths, her voice tows the line between a coy croon and a commanding chant on “Personal Jesus,” positioning her as a 21st century temptress of the highest order. “When I sing “Personal Jesus,” I have a vision of a sexual savior within myself or whom I look for in others,” she explains. “It’s gritty and shadowy like an after-hours party. I hadn’t seen a woman cover the song, which added a different dimension. It paves the way for where I want to go musically.” Outside of music, Kash is committed to philanthropy and passionate about women’s empowerment, gender equality and animal rights. She has worked with several organizations that help girls and women, and helps to rescue animals, working with an animal rescue in New York called Animal Haven, Animal Care Center in New York and Spirit Run Equine Rescue. She also served on the Board of Directors for National Sawdust Concert Hall in Brooklyn. This year saw her attend a retreat in India with The Zuckerberg Institute where she was able to meet the Dalai Lama! With plans to record more music and attract the ears of as many listeners as possible in hopes of growing her fan base, Michelle Kash is well on her way to a bright future! You can follow Michelle Kash and stay up-to-date on all upcoming artist, music and tour news, as well as stream and purchase her music, via the following links. Photo credit: Nick Spanos.
You released your cover and video for “Personal Jesus” today. What can you tell me about your process of recording the single, especially being the first female that you are aware of who has covered the song? What led you to choose that song specifically?
It was interesting. I love that song and have always loved that song. The tune was just getting stuck in my head one day and I was singing it, and then I would change it a little and then changing it more. I was just like “Oh. Maybe this his a great cover for me to do”. I was just trying to see what my spin on it would be. If I was going to do a cover, I wanted to kind-of look at what other people had done. I didn’t want to do the same thing or do it if it had been overdone. I had not seen a woman do it. I don’t know if a woman has, but I hadn’t seen it or heard it. I think that added a different element. I think it’s an amazing song for a woman to sing and has this kind-of enchanting element that pulled me in and kind-of intoxicates me when I sing it. That was the evolution of it, and it went in the live set and was just so fun to sing and perform and just evolved from there. We recorded it and it just grew.
You have said that the song paves the way for where you want to go musically. What are the goals that you have for your music and the direction in which you want it to go?
I think this is the vibe that I have slowly been evolving towards. I think just as an artist, the more time I spend with my music and my writing…the way it feels to me right now is that everything is coming together. I have a few more songs that I’m recording right now that are kind-of in the same vibe and I think it’s all been pretty consistent but it’s just growing and becoming more and more me. The only way to go is more authentic. I think that’s the most important thing, to be honest in my music and my writing. I’m really excited for those new songs, as well. I think we were just really able to capture this moment and energy, especially in the video, working with Tyler, who was our director. It was an incredible experience and he just really got what our vision was, what the vibe was and the energy and the cast. I think in pulling all of that together into this project, it was just like “Yes! This is it!”.
You discovered your voice and started singing following a retreat that you went to in Utah in 2013. You said that you had to find yourself before you could uncover the means to speak your truth. What do you feel that the retreat helped you to learn about yourself and that truth?
I think that for me there was so much noise on the outside and I wasn’t necessarily sure who I was or where I was going. I think that, for myself, I believe having a purpose in the world. It also has to resonate deeply within myself and I think that meditation has been this big gift for me to connect deeply into myself and clear out experiences and just kind-of get to know myself in a way. When you deeply know yourself, you know the world. I think we are all connected. On that retreat, specifically, I don’t actually know what happened to be honest. It’s a mystery. Something just clicked and that just revealed itself to me. Maybe I was just in a place where I was finally able to hear it or connect to it? It just came out in such a way that I couldn’t have hidden it even if I had wanted to. I think that it just uncovered everything.
It was after that that you started to sing on your own and rearrange your songs and put your poetry and words to music. When you first started singing, was that a pretty natural process for you or was there a learning curve?
I think there was definitely a learning curve. Some parts were natural, because I had been writing since I was a kid. In doing this things, it was a private moment for me in my apartment. I was singing and rearranging stuff and writing and was like “What is this?”, so it was a complete change of identity for me and in that there was a learning curve. I just wasn’t used to it and it was a bit of a mind fuck. I started going out at night and was alone and was just introducing myself as a singer/musician. I went into this other dimension basically. It was very David Lynch. It was something I had never…I had never accessed that world before. When I started coming out outside of my own space or bubble, when I was auditioning for a gospel choir, or I worked with a vocal teacher later, I didn’t want to see her. I had no idea of what I was hearing. Even though it was so different, if someone else can hear it in the same way I’m hearing it right now, am I crazy? This was a crazy story and I didn’t even know what I was doing. There was definitely a learning curve and I felt like a fraud, which it has come out that apparently everybody feels like a fraud, so that’s comforting sometimes. Over time, it became really natural. I think that was just from doing the work and practicing and continuing to create and develop myself as an artist. It becomes integrated and now it’s just who I am. It’s just wild!
In having a background in writing poetry, do you take a more poetic approach when you are writing your songs or do you keep the two separate?
I think both, because that’s just in me and is just how I write. When collaborating, someone else and their energy and their history is in the room too, so I think it could go anywhere and be any kind of style. If I’m on my own, it’s mostly just a poetic style or a stream of consciousness.
You have always felt a deep connection to Aretha Franklin’s gospel and church music. What is it about that style of music that you’ve always felt so connected to? What inspired you to join a gospel choir yourself?
I love Aretha’s music and think, especially her gospel and her Amazing Grace album, it just moved me on this deep level. It was kind-of like that meditation that we were just talking about. It just connected me to a deeper part of myself. Even in these extremely dark moments that I would have, it was like a light at the end of the tunnel, especially with one of her songs “God Will Take Care Of You”. No matter how bad it is, and even though sometimes it didn’t feel like there was any hope, there was just a speck of light. I think that’s what drew me in. It was like a lifeline sometimes, her music. Even when it wasn’t a lifeline, it was a celebratory feeling. I’ve been listening to her for years but didn’t have any kind of voice to express that in the same way. When I had discovered my voice, to me that was the only logical thing to do. I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be here talking to you today! It was more like, “What would I do? I’d love to do that and express joy and gratefulness for this voice. That’s how I ended up there. It was an amazing experience and I learned so much.
You moved a few years ago from your home in NY to LA. What was that initial change in environment like for you, compared with NY?
It was incredible (laughs). I love the city and will always be a city girl and a New Yorker, but coming to LA, with the space, mountains and weather, you can’t beat it. Thankfully, I can tap both worlds and I go back and forth. The adjustment period was actually pretty smooth. Luckily I had friends here and have heard that it can be really difficult to come out here on your own, so I was really grateful to have friends here. It was an adjustment that had ease, which was a signal to me that this was the next step on my path and is exactly where I’m supposed to be.
You have said that LA has helped you to get to know yourself more as an artist. What do you feel that you have learned about yourself since you moved to LA?
When I first moved to LA, I actually applied this crazy amount of discipline. It was all about the creative process and it was an invitation to do that because it does feel a little more isolated here. I was able to hole up and write and be creative, which was a way to really learn about myself and what my own creative process was. I learned that I love collaborating, and yes, I love holing myself up too (laughs). To actually be with other writers was amazing and a completely different spin. When I meet Aaron Kamin, my producer and a co-writer on a lot of my songs, we clicked immediately. There was just a flow, and the flow was just a very different energy then working by myself. It showed me different dimensions of the creative process. I learned what I need after a show, or after a really intense writing session. I need to have really good self care rituals to ease myself out of that process. It’s been really interesting.
You recently journeyed to India with the Zuckerberg Institute. What can you tell me about the institute and your involvement with them? What was your experience like in India, as well as with getting to meet the Dalai Lama?
That was a phenomenal experience. A friend of mine had nominated me to go on the trip. It was always a dream of mine to go to India…kind-of full circle with my meditation practice. To meet the Dalai Lama is everyone’s dream. What his been through in his life and for his people is an incredible story and their escape from Tibet. We learned all about their journeys and connected with the Tibetan community and ex-political prisoners. The purpose of the trip was to deepen our purpose of what our own mission is. I met amazing people while there and got involved with…one of the gifts of the trip was, I’m an animal lover and I am involved with animal rescues and connected with a clinic there that’s run by a Tibetan charity. I transported three dogs here to be relocated and to be adopted, and that was the highlight for me, to help this clinic. I have an ongoing relationship with them now. It’s been amazing. A friend of mine joked that I just met the Dalai Lama but I can’t stop talking about these dogs (laughs)! But it’s true. It makes my heart really sing and is a part of my purpose, music and to make animal’s lives better. It really helped me.
You are involved in an animal rescue called Animal Haven in NYC. What can you tell me about them and your work with them?
I used to live around the corner from them in NY, and they are an incredible rescue. They have a great amount of resources and are so knowledgeable and have a great team. I used to volunteer there and then when I was relocating the dogs here, I really wanted to partner with a rescue and reached out to them based on our past relationship. I was a donor for them for a while. They were just so amazing and knew so much and connected me with the right people. They were just so supportive. I didn’t know what I was doing and had never done this before, relocating dogs from another country, and they were so supportive. They do amazing work and we’re in contact now. Two of the dogs are in foster care and one of them was adopted. From start to finish, they have been amazing!
You’ve always had a lifelong goal and commitment to advocate for gender equality and female empowerment. In what ways are you hoping to achieve these goals?
That is one of my goals. I was on the board of National Sawdust, which is a concert hall and incubator for artists in Brooklyn, NY for years and they had community programs for girls and women and for artists. I was involved with UN Women and also with the Hunger Project, which invests in girls and women around the world. I was also involved with Mary’s list, which supports refugees here in LA that have newly arrived. I also contribute to micro loans for girls and women across the world, which I love. I also have 2 “children”, in India and Africa, that I support through an organization. Hopefully it makes a difference. Sometimes it can be overwhelming.
You’ve had a lot happen in a short amount of time! You released your first single “Smoking Gun” last year, followed by “Hurt Me” and now “Personal Jesus”. What has that whirlwind been like so far for you and what are your goals going forward? What’s next for you?
So far, it’s been really fun if I can be completely honest. Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind but has been fun and exciting and filled with adrenaline. Since moving here, I’ve been releasing all of the releases and performing around LA. I have a great band and a great team. Moving forward, it will just be more…more songs, more releases. I’d love to connect to more fans and I think just deepen my experience and authenticity as a performer and just to go deeper in everything. Those are my goals coming up and I just want to enjoy the release and continue with my causes…both of those things! My New Year’s theme is courage, just having more courage in everything I do and kind-of just calling that in.
It’s pretty cool to that you released your cover of “Personal Jesus” on the same day that Depeche Mode was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame!
That is crazy! That was not planned!
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today!
Thank you so much! Thanks for having me!