Kelsey Montanez is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. Both intimate and ecstatic, smokey and scorching, her potent blend of blues, pop, and psychedelia has been turning heads for over a decade. Among the singer-songwriter’s many talents, Montanez’s arresting voice has captured a devoted fanbase.
Unsurprisingly, her visceral 2013 EP “A Delightful Sadness” scored her a record contract and music video with Chance the Rapper on lead single “Out of Sight.” True to her strong sense of independence, Montanez subsequently opted to pursue her uncompromising artistic vision. It took a pandemic worth of isolation and heartbreak to transform that raw power into the refined spectacle that is her first record in over a decade.
Bolstered by the pristine production of Bill Karambelas and internationally acclaimed session musicians, her music is both transcendent and catchy, demonstrating the songwriter’s range and ability to transform deeply personal lyrics into searing and seductive rock. While conjuring vocalists like Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill, Montanez possesses her unmistakable voice.
Kelsey Montanez has been listed in the Chicago REDEYE as one of the “15 artists to Watch” and celebrated in the Chicago Reader and Chicago Tribune. Montanez has headlined prominent Chicago venues such as the Metro and House of Blues, as well as festivals such as SXSW. Recently, Montanez was awarded the 2020 Magellan Musician in Residence at the historic Aqua Building. She did Earn a Golden ticket on American Idol back in 2012.
Kelsey Montanez is a singer/songwriter born out of Chicago, IL. Raised in a family of musicians from an early age, she has been exposed to the passion and pleasure music can bring, and that joy can be heard in each delicately crafted song she writes. She began singing when she was merely four years old when her father would bring her to band practices and let her sing into the microphone. “I remember sitting on the basement steps and watching my dad and his band build all these beautiful sounds. It felt like I was in a whole other world. That’s when I really began to understand that my purpose was to create music and that desire never left me.”
As Kelsey grew older, her devotion to music remained and grew stronger. For years Kelsey played her father’s instruments in the small recording studio that he had set up in the basement, often times avoiding social situations and family events to continue experimenting with music. And seeing as Kelsey’s passion for music was not just a phase, her father and stepmother decided to buy her first electric guitar when she was thirteen years old. “I was so elated I cried!” muses Kelsey. “I began trying to form bands with friends in school. We would all sit in my room with our little amps and talk about how we were going to dominate the world with our music.” She reminisces. She began to write songs of her own when she first got her guitar and realized that she wrote best when she was alone. The more and more Kelsey began to write songs, her father recognized a gift for writing as well as singing and bought her an acoustic guitar a year after she had picked up the electric. Kelsey had felt an instant connection with the acoustic and began to write more songs than ever before.
She was 14 when she played her first show at an empty little coffee shop in Lombard, IL, and has since worked her way up to headlining major venues in Chicago like the Elbo Room, The Beat Kitchen, Lakeshore Theatre, Kinetic Playground, Uncommon Ground and many other places in and around the Chicago land area. She accomplished all of this while still in high school, as well as winning first place in her high school talent competition. Being the youngest to perform at Chicago’s MOBFEST, she has many other festivals and showcases under her belt as well, including the Decibelle festival, women with Guitars, Villa Park Summerfest, chix that rock, and singer spotlight unplugged. She has also worked with noted producers Chris Sernel and Andy Lagis and has done work with the Chicago-based publishing group KMA Entertainment. She has also had drum tracks done by famous heavy metal rocker Charlie Benante of “Anthrax.”
After graduating high school in May of 2009, she took off on a cross-country road trip to the West Coast. “I was never the kind of person who did well in predictable, routined patterns. Although I’m glad I graduated from high school I knew I wanted to experience so much more. So I left to play some of my music in a place I had never been before, surrounded by people and things I have never seen before” To her surprise, she was very well received on the west coast, where she had signed her first autographs and talked to so many people passionate in the same way she is! Being so far away from home, she experiences a lot of things that is reflected in her music. She is currently in the studio preparing for her next demo to be released. In her new demo, you will find the same experience-driven lyrics and heartfelt vocals that are recognizable in every song Kelsey writes. For an 18-year-old, Kelsey Montanez displays a profound amount of passion and a gift to infect her listeners with the same intensity, no matter where they came from or what stage of life they are in.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Kelsey Montanez. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Hi Kelsey, Great to have you with us today! What is your music and message all about?
Hi, I tend to explore a lot of universal themes in my music, like love, loss, loneliness, and longing. But I try to do it in a way that is original, playful, and unique. Music is one of the great universal healers in life, and I try to remember that if I’m feeling something, chances are others have felt it too. If I feel like I need to heal something or work through something through my music, chances are there are others that want to heal and work through the same things. So I guess you could say my music is about universal humanity, love, and inclusivity.
How would you describe your vocal style?
I think I have a very expressive and dynamic vocal style. I try to pack in as much soul and emotion as I can in every word I sing. I love toying with my emotional delivery from line to line to create texture. For example, in “Let Me Love You,” the way I deliver each line is completely dependent on the lyric, so I might deliver one line sweet and gentle, and then the next line I will pack with emotion and grit, so it feels like it hits you out of nowhere. I think this creates a sense of dynamism and keeps the listener engaged throughout the song.
Any message for our readers.
I hope I leave listeners and readers with a feeling of inspiration or even a sense of escapism from the everyday stresses of life. My favorite musicians ever have this ability to pull you into another world or another emotional state in a very transcendent way. Life is hard and confusing, but I have a lot of fun writing and singing these songs, and I find a lot of healing and freedom in the process, and I just hope others can feel that too.
So tell us, how can people find out more about you?
You can follow me on Instagram @kelsey_m_montanez_.
Thank you so much, Kelsey, for giving us your precious time! We wish you all the best for your journey ahead!