‘Kielo’ album artwork (Jessica Gottstein)
If you ever get a chance to spend time with Laura Schultz, do it. She’s the co-frontperson of Local Show Artists to Watch Good Night Gold Dust, an indie pop band based in Mankato, Minn. She’s an intelligent, thoughtful person who pursues growth. This year, she’s making her own space as a solo artist with her side project Kielo. During a recent Good Night Gold Dust trip to the Twin Cities, she met me at Shish in St. Paul to share tea and more information about Kielo.
Cecilia Johnson: Good to see you again! Can you tell me the story behind your name?
Kielo: Yeah, so one of the major reasons I wanted to do this project was because my brother and sister and I are all artistic in our own ways, but we don’t have many opportunities to work together. And I loved the idea of working with my sister, who’s a visual artist — primarily a sculptor, but an excellent painter, too — on the “In Water” video. And then my brother lives in Helsinki, Finland, and his daughter is named Lilli. Lily of the valley is “kielo” in Finnish. So I really wanted to pull together these family elements in a way I hadn’t been to with Good Night Gold Dust or any other musical thing I’ve done.
Do you have heritage in Finland, or just interest?
I don’t think so. But there are Schultzes in Finland now. My brother and his little girl and little boy. [laughs]
You and Colin [Scharf, of Good Night Gold Dust] visited Finland this summer. Why was that?
Well, it was a little bit of overlap between different parts of my life. The work I do during the week is about sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I’m an advocate on campus [at Minnesota State University-Mankato], and I do education. And in Finland, there was a conference for international violence intervention.
The conference was awesome. A professor from Helsinki was doing a lot of work around healing from sexual assault: using mindfulness, meditation, and things like that. Right up my alley.
Then your trip kind of resulted in the “Radiate” video. Can you tell that story?
Yeah! Like many of us, I have my own struggles. I experience a decent amount of anxiety. And one of the things that I have committed to is finding self-care practices that work for me, so I enrolled in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction clinic in St. Peter, Minn., and it was really beneficial and transformational for me. So out of that — during that time, I wrote “Radiate.”
It was a really beautiful time. A lovely time to have crystallized in a song. I was worried that it sounded a little too precious, but man, that’s how I was feeling. And I just love the video.
Colin made the video, right?
Yeah, and I think it’s a little bit of a departure, because all the shots are pretty clear. He often likes to obscure things and color them, and this feels kind of bare. And honest, and lovely.
How many songs are going to be on the EP?
Just two! Two little baby songs. Coming out soon.
We’ve been doing a lot of traveling this year, to New York and Finland, which has put a crimp on getting things moving.
Sounds like you’ve seen a lot of pretty places.
Yeah, and it’s made me committed to being as close as I can to water the next time I move. I forgot that that makes such a difference to me.
Where is the closest water to Mankato?
There is a river there, but it has a floodwall, so you can see it in some places [but not others]. There’s a pond, but of course it’s not the same as the friggin’ Baltic Sea. [laughs] I love swimming and floating.
Mmm. What else helps you feel free or not so anxious?
I do get super nervous before most shows, but we do yoga a lot of times, or a power pose, all together. It’s great because all of us get pretty anxious before shows, so it’s a grounding technique, to some degree. Also, I’ve taken to carrying a rock in my pocket as sort of a grounding technique, during those moments when I’m feeling — I don’t know if anxiety feels like this to you, but to me, it can feel sort of like you’re coming out of your body. The rock is something to grab onto, and it can help pull you down.
Walking and meditation have helped. There’s a meditation group in St. Peter that meets every other Wednesday, and I use this app called Calm.
I was thinking back to the Are You Local? show [where I first saw Good Night Gold Dust], and I marveled at how much you all have grown. You seem so much more comfortable on stage.
Yeah, that was a huge show for us. There were so many photographers. Actually, Colin and I were talking about it afterward, and he’s like, “Wow, you smile a lot onstage.” I was like, “No, there were a lot of photographers at that show.”
It’s wild to think that that was such a short time ago. It feels like years and years and years.
Going back to the harmonies you mentioned, who exactly does what on the EP? It’s all your voice, but what about the instruments?
I was really committed to doing everything myself on this one, just as a way to test myself out. See if I could do it. Force myself to make decisions, too. So I play and sing everything on it, except for a synth part that comes in from Zach [Arney, of Good Night Gold Dust] on “Radiate.”
Another thing that was super cool about working on this was that I applied for a grant through the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, and I [got it]. It helped me to pay everybody for working on it: Colin for helping out with process, Zach for helping out with mixing, Huntley [Miller] for mastering, my sister for working on some of the artistic pieces of it. That was a huge confidence booster for me, too.
All of a sudden, you’re compensating people for working for you.
Calling some shots, yeah.
Are you going to play shows by yourself?
I’ve done a couple. Me and Hannah from Oh My Love both have solo stuff, so she sang harmones on mine and I sang harmonies on hers. We talked about it afterward, because she’s in a relationship with the dude who’s in Oh My Love, Christian. I’m in a relationship with Colin. And while it’s awesome and makes sense and is creatively satisfying to play music with your partner, it’s also all those same things to do that with other women. So singing with Hannah was a lot of fun.
This can be on the record or off, but what you were saying made me wonder. What’s your take on working with your partner?
It’s definitely challenging, because your ego gets involved in a different way when you’re working with a romantic partner. You can feel personally rejected if they don’t like something, in a way that you wouldn’t if it wasn’t somebody you were in love with. And you have to be careful, because you know they might feel that way, too. But I’m getting better at apologizing if I do say something insensitive, and Colin’s always been good at that.
Yeah. From my experience, as a woman with a career, I feel like I need to own my own ground.
And that’s really what this side project/solo thing was about for me: carving a little bit of my own ground. My previous relationship was also with a musician, and I felt like to some degree, what I was doing was tied to what he was doing. But I want to have my own voice heard, even just by me. I want to prove that this is who I am as a singer/songwriter.
When I think of Kielo at this point, it is more of a recording project than it is a live thing, but I definitely get excited by the idea of pulling something together.
What’re the happenings with Good Night Gold Dust? You guys are up here recording, right?
We are recording a six-song EP. We actually did reimagine “In Water,” which I’m really excited about. It became something with Kielo, and now it’s becoming something with Gold Dust. They’re both valid and cool, but the Gold Dust one, obviously, has got a lot more bells and whistles.
You know, the song is about identity, based off this moment when I saw my grandfather at the dinner table and realized that he was a different person at church than he was at home, based off his voice, the things he said, and the clothes he wore. My grandpa went to seminary, and he was in the chorus there; he has an incredible voice, a bell-clear tenor. We have an old record that he sings on, so we sampled one of its songs for the Gold Dust version of “In Water.”
Yeah, I’m pumped for it. And this EP is an even split of songs I wrote and songs Colin wrote, which has a nice symmetry. There’re also these songs “Better Gone” and “Second Moon,” which is the one I’m going to sing this weekend.
How do you train or strengthen your voice?
I should do more. But I was really fortunate growing up — my grandmother paid for voice lessons from seventh grade up until the end of high school. But sometimes, I have to suppress things I learned. You can’t sing a pop song like an aria. [laughs]
Last time we were in the studio, [producer] Brett [Bullion] was like, “Okay, can you just not sing that song with vibrato?” I was like, “Oh, s—! I’ve never consciously tried to not sing with vibrato. I guess that’s a thing I can do.”
I was a vocal performance major my first semester in college, which was tough. It was like a full-time job. You had your piano lessons, vocal lessons, convocation, music theory. And I was just not ready for it, so I switched to social work. But during that time, I was singing every day.
Oh, I wanted to ask you about the lyric snippet from “Radiate”: “We’re far, far grander than we’ve been told.” Where did that come from?
It came from a documentary called I Am, which was really lovely. One of the women who was interviewed talked about the idea that you can feel other humans’ energies, and that’s so beautiful and amazing and intense. There are so many parts of ourselves that we’re not accessing on a regular basis. We can do so much more.
That was really moving to me. Going back to the solo stuff: it’s something I can do. It’s something you can do. You can record a demo and figure it out to fruition; you can perform.
S—, man. This weekend, we were performing in Appleton, and this little girl came up to me. She was like, “I love the way you play guitar. I have a guitar, and I’m going to buy one of your stickers and put it on my guitar.” I about started crying. This is why we do it. Representation matters, and within our own lives, there’s so much more we can do.
Sometimes poetry reminds me of that. Or listening to music late at night on the bus. Being so overwhelmed by that sense of scale can be embarrassing, but it’s like, “Bring it on.”
I know, when I was younger, I was really sensitive. I cried all the time. And then around 18, I decided, “You’re going to be hard as f—.” Now, I feel like I’m coming back to being this tenderhearted woman who I actually am. If there’s something sad, I should cry about it. If there’s something sweet, I should cry about it. What the hell else are we alive for?
Good Night Gold Dust open for Middle Kids tonight at the 7th St Entry. $15; 18+; doors at 7 p.m.