Interviews, Reviews

As Long As It Feels Natural: kendall :3 ‘dirt’ Review and Interview

It is difficult to find the words to express the album dirt by kendall :3. Her first record hey from 2018 was an immediate favorite of mine. It was and still is enrapturing, charming, vulnerable, rough around the edges, and – most of all – precious. hey felt like an introduction. An orientation of someone finding their footing being an individual that is relative to others and, through understanding that kendall :3 is a character developed to communicate her experience, the record feels even more fitting as that exact greeting.

And then you come to now.

Just over three years later, a follow up is unleashed that shows not only a growth in sound, arrangement, production, and lyricism, but expresses the tumultuous bits of life in some of the most vivid, candid, and mature manner that I have ever encountered.

album artwork for ‘dirt’ done by Cate Wurtz

dirt opens with a breathtaking orchestral arrangement that is immediately transporting you to the exact atmosphere it is meant to be consumed in. It is soft, open, unafraid of baring it all, gives you all the room to breathe that you need, and very quickly gives you that warning of a gut feeling. It is opening up to you and proclaiming that it will be pulling on your heartstrings relentlessly for the remaining 32 minutes, and trust me when I tell you that it does.

Throughout the first half of the record, you have these tracks that lean a little more on the maximalist side as far as production and effects go. You have songs “waiting“, “team player“, “ash“, and “blood” that all tackle different styles and impact levels. From huge, blown-out, messy drum and guitar tradeoffs to textured and bubbling glitchcore, you have these contrasting sound palettes sewn together with these interludes that help you get pulled deeper and deeper into the world that kendall :3 has crafted for you. After the last interlude, “moment“, you have the second half open up with “zastruga” and the album sheds its layers to usher in a more minimalist approach that is just as impactful.

As dirt continues through “nervous“, a vocaloid taking the vocal duties instead, you begin to understand that the two halves of this record are very different. kendall :3 shears herself free of the structure and sheen of the first half’s poppier tracks and instead attacks in short bursts of brutal candor. Expressive of dealing with the emotional turmoil that comes after the death of someone close to you, dirt‘s second half pulls zero punches. Each track seems to spiral further into the mindset that I personally have gotten too familiar with for comfort. From hushed whispers of “you’ll live safe in my head” to breaking confessions “I don’t know if I’m ready to talk about it” to the way it very ungracefully ties up with “I think I’ll just go to sleep.
The stripped approach to the later tracks allows the moments of full arrangement to really break through. The swells in “pin“, “prickly pear“, and “ufo” pack an emotional wallop powerful enough to rival any boxer. But in spite of the way these swells provide that cathartic build and release, the real tearjerker is closer “sleep“, a fantastical contemplation of where you end up after you’re no longer here.

The contrast provided by these songs is exactly what makes dirt so impressive to me. This record sounds massive at the same time as sounding unapologetically bedroom-produced. From the pride it has showing you into so much of these feelings foreign to kendall :3, baring all of these unruly emotions, through the way it is structured, and through the way it feels as one solid piece that is both a snapshot in time and completely timeless leaves me absolutely certain it will be a cult classic in ten years, even if I have to start the cult myself. Though kendall :3 is a character beyond the person behind her, the raw personal nature of dirt when talking about that heartwrenching feeling many of us have had to face is what makes it what it is.

Thankfully, I had the absolute privilege to ask kendall :3 some questions about dirt below.

artwork of kendall :3 done by Rory Frances

Well, first of all, tell us a little bit about yourself! Twitch aficionado, film critic, musician, what else is there to know about kendall :3?
I am a small Arizona desert rabbit stuffed into a sack and shipped to Seattle, plugged into a computer network and given drugs that have gifted me human intelligence. I miss rabbit life and the bliss of ignorance desperately.

What was writing dirt like in comparison to writing your first album, hey?
I would compare writing “hey” to being a teenager and eating nothing but junk food and taking an ass-ripping massive dry shit once every two days. “dirt” was, by comparison, the perfect day of smooth, swift and understated shits that only an adult who regulates their diet could hope to achieve. (With apologies to any colitis/chron’s/IBS/etc sufferers in the crowd.)

You leaned a little bit more into bigger arrangements on this record, whether it was through distorted guitar parts or having string sections backing you up. What was working with that like? What were the most difficult parts of that process?
It was genuinely really difficult! I’ve always hated the sound of synthesized or fake orchestral scores, the farty brasses and the really flat strings are just too corny to tolerate, but I don’t have the money to commission an orchestra or performers or anything like that. So a lot of what I do comes down to cutting, pasting, squashing and stretching samples while backing them up with some newer VSTs, which is all really intensive, particularly in the mixing department. Modern DAWs are really robust and you can push the line harder than ever on naturalism like that, and we have this whole new frontier of AI generated sounds that feels like a pandora’s box waiting to open. The project isn’t done yet, either — I consider dirt the prototype for a lot of things I want to have in my toolbelt moving forward.

The visual direction you chose is captivating, a lot of forest and nature captures with digital editing and modification. What do the visuals represent for you?
Thank you very much! I just don’t think I’m going to come up with anything cooler than like, a forest or a tree or a leaf. I can’t compete with that. The album grapples with a lot of difficult stuff and obviously wears its heart on its sleeve audibly and visually as far as being largely about death, and out in nature feels like the only place appropriate to meditate on death. I’m selfishly attached to the idea of dying in nature but I know death and attachments don’t mesh well and there’s obviously a whole logistical and ethical debate around that that I’m not considering here. That feeling was an important springboard for depicting what the character of kendall :3 (the rabbit on the cover) is going through in this part of her arc — stepping out of her comfort zones, weaving organs and sinew and random biological matter into a dress to try to emulate the experience of having a body. I have to credit Cate Wurtz (who did the cover) and Rory Frances (who did the promotional portrait) for their unbelievably spot-on and stunning artistic portrayal of that.

still from the ‘dirt’ promotional video

Do you feel like you would be able to translate that representation into a live setting or would you want to do something different? Is performing this live something you would want to do?
Yes, I really want to play live, but I’m worried that my standards are too ridiculous. Small cafes and venues will occasionally reach out for bookings which is always very exciting until my brain is like, “Great! How many projectors and fog machines do you have?” There is probably some overlap between the things I find worth doing and the things that are physically possible given the laws of the universe but I’m still working to find it.

Throughout all of your music, you have been a huge user of vocal modulation as well, and the way you use it is stunning. What do you feel like vocal modulation means to you in your music?
Thank you! I don’t think I have much to say about the practice honestly, it just sounds really cool. I think sculpting and modulating a vocal track until it fits nicely with the mix is to be expected of any song made in a post 808s & Heartbreak world.

Were there any particular influences for you in writing and recording the record?
Among others there was Kate Bush, Princess Mononoke, Ken Russel’s The Devils, Interview With The Vampire, FLCL, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, Beastars, the Phoenix lights, Hideki Sakamoto, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Byeong Woo Lee, and I did play a lot of Breath of the Wild while making it.

Do you have any favorite moments on the record? Any parts that were especially rewarding for you?
Too many to name, but in the most general sense I’m proud of its aliveness and squishiness…even the really regimented poppy songs seem to have some indigestion or seasickness going on. If I ever put out a physical release I want to punch holes in the packaging so it can breathe.

And, finally, how does the future look for kendall :3? Any plans looking ahead just yet?
I have no expectations for whatever happens next, whether it does or does not involve making new music. As long as it feels natural!

We at Tunnel of Trees would like to thank kendall :3 immensely for allowing us to speak with her about dirt which you should absolutely take the time to listen to.

You can purchase and stream dirt at the following links:
Apple Music

And you can keep up with kendall :3’s creator at the following links:
Film Critters Patreon

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