Jan 25th, 2018
Kelcey Lassen spent the early part of last year drifting down the Amazon and playing guitar.
“There was six other people on our boat into the Amazon, and we all had guitars and we were just playing the whole time,” she said with a laugh while sitting in Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe. “It was so crazy.”
Excursions like this one, which took Lassen through Ecuador and Peru before she returned to Bend in May, have been a part of the 22-year-old songwriter’s life for as long as she can remember. Growing up in a military family, she lived in Florida, North Carolina and many other parts of the world before settling in Bend about 12 years ago.
At age 16, she hit the road again for her first trip to Ecuador, where she stayed for a year. She’s visited Spain, Ireland, Costa Rica — the list goes on.
“It wasn’t so much that my family kept moving; it was more so that it was kind of ingrained in me to keep moving,” she said.
That movement has been key for Lassen’s music, as well. While living in North Carolina, she was exposed to the Appalachian folk scene and started taking lessons on instruments — first violin, then piano, guitar and voice.
She learned Spanish in Ecuador and often writes and sings in the language, as on “Galapagos” from her upcoming debut album “If I Wander” — the release party is Friday at Spoken Moto.
And there are the songs themselves — introspective, soul-tinged folk written about Lassen’s experiences around the world. For example, “September,” her favorite track from the album, is about a road trip she took with two friends through California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.
“Just being in these places and being out in the forests and by the rivers, it brings you to a completely different state of mind,” she said. “These are the important places and the places that I want to talk about in my music. And also love is a huge part of music, too, and that’s what inspires me, as well. Love and beautiful places, I think, (are) the biggest inspiration(s).”
Lassen is getting ready to hit the road again after her CD release show — where she’ll be joined by cellist Kerry Sheehan, mandolinist Ian Carrick and drummer Kyle Pickard — and a performance at Wild Thing Yoga on Saturday. She will be traveling for two months afterwards with plans to check out the music scenes in Nashville and Asheville, North Carolina.
Considering her nomadic spirit, it’s perhaps surprising Lassen hasn’t toured yet. That will change in June, when she embarks on a house tour through California and Oregon. “That’s where the intimacy is,” she said. “That’s where people really like to listen, and you make really great connections that way.”
The local music community keeps Lassen rooted in Bend. She didn’t start practicing guitar seriously until she began taking lessons with Joe Schulte (also of Moon Mountain Ramblers) at String Theory Music at age 12. At age 13, she played her first show at the now-closed Poet House, but stepped away from music for a short time as a teenager.
“I honestly never really believed that it would be a possibility to go full time until recently, when I made the album, and I started getting more gigs,” she said. “I met one of my friends, Jenner Fox, who wrote (the title track) with me on the album. … He tours full time in the summer, and I talked to him, and he said, ‘You know, it’s really possible now to be a working-class musician and make a decent living off of music; you just have to do it the right way.’ So I started learning more about the industry, reading about the industry, putting all of my energy into meeting people that were like-minded about music. That’s when it really occurred to me that I can do this; this can be a real thing.”