THERE'S NO secret formula for Natasha Kmeto's ability to make electronic music—a genre that can sometimes be frigid and soulless—breathe and sweat. Perhaps it's because she's an unabashed fan of pop music. And, as accomplished a producer as Kmeto is, she's just as focused on her vocals and songcraft—perhaps the last thing you'd expect an electronic artist to talk about.
"I like to tell stories and have a story arc, and communicate emotions with other people," says Kmeto. "This is a moment in my life where I was trying to be clear and succinct."
The 30-year-old producer/singer/songwriter had plenty to work with on her new full-length Crisis (on Portland label Dropping Gems), a record whose journal-entry candidness is augmented by an intricate web of soundscapes and R&B hooks. It's been a somewhat tumultuous year for Kmeto, one that saw her ending a long-term relationship and beginning a new one. In between, she found herself simply letting loose. "I spent a lot of time going out dancing, drinking, doing drugs—I never gave myself permission to do that before."
Kmeto says she's emerged from that period in a better place. For all the raw emotion the new record rakes up, musically it exudes confidence, brains, and sexuality. It's an engrossing piece of ear candy. "Idiot Proof"—the first song Kmeto wrote for Crisis, and the one that dictated her approach to the rest of the record—is a pulsing and spacey dance number. "Last Time," which hints at the uncertainties of her new relationship, is a swarming slow-burner, punctuated by the pop of live handclaps and finger snaps. "It's accessible on that level," Kmeto says, adding, "but not many pop records have instrumentals. I love pop music, so it's always going to sneak in."
Kmeto has hit her stride creatively, something she feels started with her Dirty Mind Melt EP, released earlier this year. Crisis sounds like a lot of time went into it, but it's an economical record. Kmeto wrote the album's 10 tracks in just two months, purposely giving herself a strict deadline. She also limited her palette of sounds, which gives the record its cohesive feel. And rather than using quantization, a method that locks all of the sounds and beats to a rhythmic grid, Kmeto recorded as things played out. "I wanted this album to sound sexy... and rigidity is not sexy," she explains.
Kmeto's voice might be the most lethal weapon in her arsenal. It absolutely smokes and smolders in "Take Out," a song that probably best combines her powers for mixing the robotic with the humanoid. Kmeto is a student of music (she attended the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles), and took vocal lessons; she learned piano as a kid growing up in Sacramento. She's also a student of the Lennon-McCartney, MJ-Prince schools of songwriting. And she's all about going to live shows.
"A lot of electronic musicians would be fine never leaving the house," Kmeto says with a smile. "I love seeing bands and connecting with what they're saying."
That carries over to her own live performances (it helps that Crisis—even at its darkest—sounds very alive). Kmeto actually looks like she's enjoying herself onstage. "I grew up playing in bands," she says. "I don't just want to stand behind a laptop. Nobody wants to see that."