Back of Our Minds, the new album from husband and wife duo Kalen & Aslyn, is a warm juxtaposition of Georgia country groove and dreamy pop production. The resulting tracks flow across a decade of marriage and challenges with a striking openness born from contrasting artists who despite hailing from different styles find love and understanding through music. Aslyn’s early recording career in the realm of piano pop would land her a Top 40 hit and eventually lead to touring behind the keys for Kesha while Kalen traveled the country with Atlanta rock outfit Ponderosa. Appearing together for Kalen’s solo album, Ukred, the road-crossed couple would dive into indie synth-pop as DEGA, a move designed to bring them together more often than their respective touring schedules allowed. Recorded at their personal studio outside of Athens, GA, Kalen & Aslyn’s Back of Our Minds finds the sweet spot, the shared air of sound that’s as welcome in the sunshine with the windows down is it is under the stars wishing.
AI- This isn’t the first time that you’ve recorded together, but it’s much different than things you’ve done in the past. I was going back and listening to Ponderosa… Aslyn, I hadn’t listened to anything from your solo work, but I got into that and I hear some of what you’re doing now– the seeds, the beginnings– on Kalen’s solo effort. But this new album, as I said, it’s really different. What made you decide to make a record like this?
K- A lot of the songs that are on this record, some of them are ten years old. While I was out touring with Ponderosa, she was out touring with other people and we were both kind of [going] our separate ways. The first three years that we were married, we were both pretty much on the road full time and apart from one another. We just kinda collected these songs over the years. We’d finished up touring the DEGA project, we were home for a little while, and we always had these songs on the back burner. We were just like, “Man, we really need to put all of this together! Let’s just get these songs out there and let ’em live!”
A- I feel like it’s such a documentation of our personal lives and our story. We saw the songs almost like drifting off to a black hole in which we would never… You progress and you continue writing and then before you know it, you didn’t record a bajillion songs, you know? And so this was just a way to both get those songs out and tell our story. Like he said, they had been written over the course of ten years– some together, some of them were separate. It’s the true Kalen & Aslyn. [To Kalen] The true me and you.
You talk about them being written together and separate and being the sonic chronicle of your relationship. You’re writin’ about all the good stuff, the private jokes, the memories… But then, you’re also getting into the not so rosy parts of relationships. You also approach the darker side. Songs like “Calm Down” and “Don’t Take It Out On Me”. What was that process like for the both of you? Getting together to relive those moments and write those songs?
A- I feel like, at least for me and I’ll let Kalen answer too, but for me, the singer-songwriter stuff is always at the core of therapeutic moments. Just working through something through music. Those songs and “Girlfriend”, they were all just real moments in a relationship, real moments in pre-marriage, and then after marriage. This album truly does go through the gamut of what I think everybody can, at some point, relate to– the general ups and downs and pulls and pushes in a relationship.
K- It’s one of those things where you write a lot of personal songs in your private time away from your partner and I think that where they come from is kind of like that diary. A lot of this record is introspective things that are more reflecting on the relationship. Like you said, there’s stuff that’s positive, and then there’s stuff that’s a little more… Not necessarily negative, but just the honesty inside of how you’re feeling. For me, that’s where those things spawned from.
A- For sure. He wrote “Calm Down” away from me and I wrote “Girlfriend” away from him. And then “Don’t Take It Out On Me” is one we wrote together, so you really get all sides on this record.
I appreciate that. I worked on the road for years. As a matter of fact, I spent the very first year of my marriage on the road away from my wife. I can’t even imagine coming home after being away from her for two weeks and then she is gone out on the road to do her job as well. You mentioned DEGA earlier… It would appear from all accounts that you two started a band, basically, just so you could spend some time together. Is that, is that right?
A- Absolutely! If we both had the same week off, instead of coming home, oftentimes we would meet like in Nashville at a friend’s studio or in LA at a friend’s studio– wherever one of us needed to be next. We started working on the DEGA project in that way and yeah, it was simply an answer to wanting to be together. We were like, “Man, we need to start creating together so that if this is our life, we can see one another.”
What was the first thing you two actually worked on together?
A- The first time we met, we wrote together.
Ahhh! So that was the introduction to the whole thing!
Yeah, yeah, exactly! When we met, we both lived in Atlanta and had some mutual friends. He was in Ponderosa and I was doing the piano pop thing and they were like, “It’d be really cool to get you two together to write. You’re doing such different things, but it’d be neat to see what happens.” So [the] first time that we actually spent time together, he came over and we wrote a song and then ended up cookin’ dinner! So both sides of it started on that day. But yeah, we started off writing together. We actually recorded that first song and plan to eventually probably release it in between this Kalen & Aslyn record and the next one. We’re gonna release that initial song that we wrote the first day we met.
I was gonna ask this a little bit later on, but I’ll go ahead and ask it now– this incarnation, the Kalen & Aslyn group, this is what you’re going to continue with now? And it sounds like you’ve got this planned out for some time?
A- It really happened organically. Honestly, we never knew we were going to do this. I can see how it would maybe appear that way. We got together and then we fell in love. We got married, we just kept doing what we were doing. We’ll probably do another DEGA record as well, just because it’s another artist installation. It’s just a different expression that we enjoy, different sounds that we enjoy experimenting with. We’ll probably put out another one of those records, but I do see that Kalen & Aslyn, it’s truly us. [To Kalen] I don’t know about you, but I could picture us in our sixties just sharing the songs that we’re writing. I don’t think that will ever stop– those personal songs that we write. I think they’ll always be happening. I mean, we already have more than another record written ’cause we’re always writing.
What was something that you learned from that first writing experience? And then tell me something that you’ve learned with this latest experience.
A- Oh, goodness gracious… I know I’m talking the most, which is very typical of us. But for me anyway, when I first met [Kalen] and he showed up, I already felt like I had a crush on him (laughs)! Like now, we’re both stubborn, we love each other. So the writing experience– even the collaboration experience with production, everything– it flows some days and then we are stubborn about it some days, you know? In some ways, I take things more personally now and in some ways, I look back and I think, “Well, I didn’t have to take anything personal ’cause you liked all my ideas the first day ’cause we liked each other!” We were diggin’ on each other, so it wasn’t like we were digging into the co-write like, “I don’t really like that line.” I found out later, ten years later, he was like, “Yeah, I never liked that line.” (Laughs) And I was like, “Why didn’t you tell me that!”
Kalen, you better jump in here!
A- He was just goin’ with the flow too! How would you compare it, babe? How would you compare the writing since the first day compared to now?
K- Totally, we were both into each other, but I think that at that time too, we were both used to being set up on co-writes with people. We were both pretty active inside of our publishing deals at that point, and you get into the habit of having your ideas set aside and you walk into the situation as professional as you can. Once we found out how things were going to get more personal and how more so than writing songs, we liked hanging out with each other… I remember that day, the song that we wrote, and those weeks after we probably wrote a handful of other songs that we probably don’t even remember. But it was one of those things, we both enjoyed music and we both loved it, but we were falling in love with each other. At that point, I would say that what I learned was, never underestimate a scenario. After the fact and after being married now for nine years, goin’ to make this record and the few songs that we wrote closer to when we actually recorded, one thing that you learn is how fast time flies. When you’re doing music, when you’re doing some sort of art, you lose track of time and you think, “Today, I’m doing this, and tomorrow, I’m doing something else.” But those little glimpses of places and being able to slow down a little bit and try to capture and think about a moment before moving on to the next project? If I was to say that I learned anything from the project, it was maybe to try to take life a little bit slower, be a little more reflective, and revel in moments, more so than just being attention deficit as I am.
Here we are, going into six months of a global pandemic. I know that we’ve all had to look around and look inward. Aslyn, that’s something that you’ve talked about. How do you feel right now? I know you’ve got projects that you’re talking about doin’, but how do you feel right now, new record out? Sittin’ in the middle of a pandemic as an artist?
A- I will say I am grateful that we have each other, first and foremost. It does create a unique scenario because you look at the logistics of makin’ money and we’re both artists, so that part has certainly created some challenges for us during this time. But I think for me if you’d asked me that question in March and then April, I was undergoing a lot of anxiety just not knowing what to expect. And then I think late May, I leaned into a little bit and I started spending more time outside and just trying to say, “Wow, I need to take advantage of this time, to just be and learn what I can from it.” Where I am now, I don’t know? It’s day to day for me personally. Some days I have a real positive outlook. Like, “Okay, we’re gonna get through this, and this is what we’re going to do!” And then some days I get buried in my emotions and truly anxious about, “Do I need to pivot? Is music going to be okay? Are we gonna be able to keep doing this?” If I’m honest, I teeter between those two sides quite a bit right now. If you’d told me in March that in August, we’d still all be locked down, I wouldn’t have known how to wrap my head around it. But now, I’m looking at the fall going, “Wow…” They’re not predicting touring to happen until 2021, you know? And that’s a long time!
K- For me, I work in the construction industry, so my day to day hasn’t really changed all that much. I guess that’s considered essential, so I’ve just been goin’ on, movin’ on, and taking care of stuff that way. Plus, we’re both homebodies. We have a lot of family that’s close by and we have a lot of friends that are neighbors. Everybody quarantined for a while, and we live a pretty simple life. Personally, being on the road isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. I did it for so many years that I enjoy being at home. Not that I don’t love being on the road. We had about three and a half months of touring that was canceled this year and one of those months was in Europe. I’m always lookin’ forward to that. I really loved traveling abroad. The other bummer is the biggest. The most fun that I have touring other than playing shows is eating at places!
I just had that exact same conversation yesterday! You’ve done a couple of streaming shows. What are your plans goin’ forward as far as doin’ live shows either somewhere on the internet or on Facebook?
K- Actually, we own a hundred-year-old, three-story Masonic lodge that’s outside of Athens. We have a studio on the second floor where we recorded the record and where we make records. There’s an old storefront downstairs, and so I’m trying to put together a situation with some friends of mine where we can have a place where artists can come. It’ll be a streaming type venue is what we’re kind of hoping for, where we have very limited people– just a camera guy and an audio engineer– and then just whoever’s playing and everyone can be safely distanced We’re trying to pivot with everything that’s going on and try to start focusing on some ideals that will help promote music and maybe figure out some new sponsorship revenue streams for musicians while we’re waiting this thing out.
That sounds like a fantastic idea and plan!
K- We’re constantly tryin’ to think of ways that we can help our friends. When we got this building, we were really hoping for it to be a refuge for touring musicians where– whether between here and Florida or here in North Carolina or Atlanta, West or North to Nashville and Louisville– people would always know that they had a stop to stay for free and they’d have a place to cook a meal and take a shower. We’re super conscious of trying to provide people with the things that we’ve always needed and trying to provide resources for traveling musicians.