During my interview research, I learned that Keeley Bumford also known as Dresage is or maybe used to be a big Fiona Apple-fan. Then I found out that she is a fellow obsessor:
“I have the words ‘Extraordinary Machine’ tattooed on my arm. That song, that lyric became like a mantra for me ‘I make the most of it, I am an extraordinary machine.’”
The tattoo is a large triangle on her left arm and looks like an eyesight test; the letters getting smaller towards the steepest edge – at least through the video call. Keeley Bumford has been making the most of it for a long time. She went to Berklee music college in Boston, experimented with two bands Black Kettle (duo, leaning towards Tegan & Sara) and Hotel Cinema (band, leaning towards Coldplay with a soprano Amy Lee), before she started working as a producer, vocalist, music engineer and artist in her own rights. Her work is featured in many recent advertisements and TV series like The Crown, The Haunting of Bly Manor, LoveSick, a track on Better Call Saul, or scoring Hulu productions such as My Valentine. These accolades show the hard work of the artist but do not necessarily define them. It seems that Keeley Bumford tries to unite her several tour de force through Dresage to become a force de vie.
“Through building my community here and finding people that I align with, I learned that the more success my friends find, the more do I and vice versa. The more we keep doing that, the more opportunities and sense of well-being spreads to people in those social spheres. That’s why you come to a place like LA, not because you’re the best. You come here because everybody here is as good or better than you, and you want to be in rooms where you are learning and improving. If you are the best person in the room then what are you doing?”
What Makes You Feel Alive
Collaboration and connection are the key words in Dresage’s career. In the past seven months alone, Dresage has released six tracks. All of them, excluding the latest one, are collaborations: Bloom Indigo with Hollis, evergreen with carly and martina, Perfect Day with Slow Shiver, the sooner it stops, the sooner it starts with LACES and my favourite one The Easy Part with Allee which features the two singers in cheap country chic.
“My people are my lifeline. We’re those kids that were good at that one thing in high school. To a lot of people it doesn’t make sense to chase it as obsessively as we do. When I’m performing on stage and I’m singing about my mental health, or what it feels like to be a woman or a human in this society, I feel the most myself, the most seen, heard and accepted.”
During times where the activities that keep her alive fell apart so did her original plan of releasing her EP Terror Nights / Terror Days in 2020. Establishing your career, putting out work, and finding your creative voice in times of uncertainty is tough. We talk about the difference between then, and now: from Terror Nights to the recent single release of Dancing On My Grave, which came out on 14th of October.
“During the pandemic, I didn’t feel like I was getting any feedback to keep doing this, that this is working. The timing was hard. The whole world was burned out with all information. It does feel different now, there’s something in motion and that’s nice. I wrote the the new track with two amazing songwriters, Matt Parad and Maize Olinger. We had a session at Sound Factory Studios in Mark Ronson’s old room in Hollywood, the Jackson 5 recorded there, big records were made there. Driving from my house I went this huge cemetery with rolling hills and I saw this hillside of all these stones and plaques, some had flowers on them, and I was thinking how lonely graves are. Once they’re graves, they’re these things in nature. on a hill, undercelebrated and I started to think: What if people’s loved ones, after they’re gone, show up and throw parties on their graves so their loved ones can feel it underneath, feel the celebration of life and the love of their legacy within people’s hearts.”
Each culture has their own particular way of celebrating death. And depending on upbringing, education, and outlook on life, we have a unique perspective on afterlife, soul, and decay. There are many debates about how removed the idea of honouring the dead is to many Western cultures. If you’d like to learn more on the topic, check out, expert Caitlin Doughty who has been advocating for changing the ways we relate to death and grief. (An especially interesting format, she appeared on is an episode of´Duncan Trussel’s Midnight Gospel).
Now, there is one thing to be said about that the dead might gladly lie in their coffins undisturbed and in silence after a lifetime of music, noise, people and simply being alive. But it also made me think of what it’d be like experiencing a booming vibration through layers of soil: ‘Still feel the bass when I’m 6ft deep’, sings Dresage and I was reminded of Nicolas Jaar‘s 2019 installation at Sharjah Mleiha Fort where he buried speakers to create the sensation of listening ‘through’ not ‘to’ sound. The idea of soundwaves pulsating through the soil and arriving as something different at our ears, raises awareness that the earth is a living, breathing, and giving place which we shouldn’t neglect.
The video for Dancing On My Grave graced the world today and I’m sure it will give another confident push to Dresage’s career. She’s been noticing the change and it is humbling that even with the golden promise that Dresage presents, she says: “I’m noticing that these people, they are actual fans that are coming to shows who I don’t know because they heard me on this or they saw this thing of mine”. Her words remind me that regardless of hard and consistent work, it may take years before you play in front of people that are not friends or friends of friends – even in LA or maybe especially there.
Another aspect of Keeley Bumford’s work is its visual and textural nature. I’ve been thinking intensively about the amalgamation of audio-visual media, triggered by one of my new obsession of the past months which is Björk’s podcast ‘Sonic Symbolism’ where she walks the listener through each record and its core elements. with the help of her friends, writer Oddný Eir and musicologist Ásmundur Jónsson. So, how does a producing artist like Dresage create her audio-visual landscapes that got her ?
“I am really fascinated by sounds and textures from the natural world meeting the synthetic world. I was just working on a song where I used a field recording I had taken at an airport in Oslo. There is someone talking over the loudspeaker about a flight leaving for Paris. Whenever I travel, I try to record the atmosphere because it brings life into my recordings. Also, it’s fun to insert them. It brings back memories and places I’ve been to. Often, I take samples while I’m in nature and layer them into, for example, a drumkit. Maybe there’s a rustling leaves-sound underneath the kickdrum. I’m not all that interested in clean, pristine sounds. I love the textural, natural sounds of field recordings.”
“Are you aiming for a certain association or does that develop during the process?”
“I think it does come in the process. When I’m writing or producing a song, I think about what the music video would look like and that helps me visually and sonically apply the different environmental textures, feelings, and colours. I think that’s why scoring for visual media has been a natural shift for.”
“There is a prominent red glove in the music videos for ‘Shame’ and ‘Who I Am’. Does it have a special meaning?”
“I’ve noticed a lot of artist doing things with red gloves in the last year. Christine & The Queens is doing a thing with red gloves right now, also Madison Cunningham. And I’m like ‘Oh wow, we’re all on the same wavelength right now!’ The red gloves in ‘Who I Am’ show the dichotomy of who I am: the shy, more reserved version of me and the sort of elevated, blooming, confident version of me.”
“Red has always symbolized this pop of passion and confidence but also turmoil. The song ‘Shame’ is watching this feeling and see this hard thing that we as humans experience, being super aware of our shame but not being able to overcome it and finding a way to coexist with it.”
The thread of collaboration engrained in Keeley Bumford’s career is also present in her involvement with the collective She Knows Tech, founded by Jasmine Kok and Meghan Smyth. She Knows Tech makes it their mission to dispel the myth that there are not enough female-identifying professionals in music production as well as actively working on opening and establishing positions in sound technology for women. My editor commented here that I should add a little bit more about the current state of affairs concerning underepresentation of women in the music industry which I didn’t do, simply because I assume that by now everyone should be aware of the reality. In August 2022, Dresage was part of a yearly summit to teach and learn. She tells me about her history with the collective:
“I was connected from Berklee Boston through a mentor with these girls in Berklee Valencia in Spain. There were these women that were taking all stats, for example there are 2,5% across popular music who are women producers, and even fewer that are Black women and women of Colour. Out of the stats, they started creating this advocacy training programme to get more women included in being producers, engineers, technologist etc. But until the MeToo-movement I didn’t feel like we were all that organised, so that was cool for me to see! Not that many years prior, I didn’t feel the ability to band together with women in that studio environment. To see them creating all these incredible programs and education opportunities for other women is super inspiring.”
“The first summit they did was over zoom, and this one was a hybrid one. They brought us to Berklee New York which also opened a Master’s program for recording and music technology in Power Station Studios and they hosted the biggest female producer engineer names: Nova Wav who just produced eight tracks on Beyoncé’s record Renaissance was a keynote speaker, and one of my old professors, Susan Rogers who worked with Prince as his engineer. Witnessing a younger generation of women seeing all this representation felt rewarding to me!”
Is there someone you would like to highlight?
“I’d like to highlight my dear friend Little Monarch who was also at the event with me. We just did this tour together in California. She’s a producer, artist, player, songwriter, vocalist, she’s incredible and she was teaching a class on lofi beats. I would encourage everyone to go check out her Instagram and Tiktok, she makes these really awesome beats, they are just really soothing and she’s a beautiful soul.”
The future is bright when you have a community that supports you. Even our short conversation made clear that everyone can call themselves grateful to have Dresage as a supporter and friend.
The record in progress is planned to be released next summer. You can find an overview on Dresage’s work on her website, here.