Smile Politely

Look up at Kayla and The Moon Lace Band

Listen, repeat, bookmark, and revisit Eclipse on a rainy Sunday afternoon while sipping your favorite wine. This debut EP from Kayla and The Moon Lace Band is certainly unique within the Champaign-Urbana scene. With subtle hints of jazz and modal mixture supporting pop-y melodies, their music is deceivingly simple.

Repetition is offset by witty lyrics, pure harmonies, and creative and catchy choruses/bridges that come at the perfect time, every time. Don’t let the calm piano fool you for simple love songs — the lyrics are worth a second — and even a few more listens after that. “Coming Back” is a nice soundtrack for anything from walking to class, to dancing with your honey. “Take My Chances” is a smooth sonification of a true story, best summed up by the lyrics “our hues give them clues.” I sure could use more of those vocal harmonies that shine through in the bridge.

Kayla DeSouza’s storytelling exhibited in “Broken Heart” is rooted in personal experience and the emotion is possibly best conveyed in a live performance context. Their songwriting shines through in “I Don’t Care”, with a bass line reminiscent of The Beatles and harmonies straight out of the 70’s. “Lincoln Square” is particularly witty and relevant, sure to elicit a chuckle from any college-20-something. In the chorus, they ride that fine line of consonance with harmonies that cadence with a half step between them, but the two singers make it work. I can’t wait to see the new ways this band can grow and expand their sound.


Smile Politely: So tell me a little about your band. How and when did you form?

Kayla DeSouza:  We formed in October of 2015. I was sort of putting my own music on hold from high school, then a few months ago I said, “OK, finally I’m gonna do it.” I had a few trial runs with different band members, and this time I picked people I was really close to. Crystal [Rebone] is a first year masters student, and she is amazing. Julia [McCarren] and I met through singing with different jazz combos since my freshman year. The other members sort of let me do most of the writing, but we work together on different creative decisions.

SP: How would you describe your sound?

DeSouza: I feel like this is always a challenge to describe, I like to call it “alternative pop.” I like to make songs that sound like love songs, but they have other meanings too. “Thought I Knew” sounds like a song about a relationship between and girl and a boy, but it was actually about something a former friend did to me in high school. I felt a lot of pressure to follow a specific path in high school and I didn’t know what to do. That’s what “I Don’t Care” is about. “Coming Back” is about being addicted to something, so I guess it can be interpreted as a long song in a way. “Broken Heart”  is about a relationship, but not mine, it was one that I had been observing for a long time. “Take My Chances” is about my relationship with Trevor Bush, he helped me write a little bit of it. We wrote it after we went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee — we got a lot of dirty looks from people for something as simple as holding hands. Nobody said anything to us, but we got really disgusted glares. Sometimes we were with his family, sometimes we were just us. I like to keep the songs sort of vague, so that people can attach their own meaning to it. Someone who is going through a problem, they can listen to one of these songs and relate to it based on their situation.

SP: With the background of being a third year music student here, talk a little bit about the harmony you choose to use?

DeSouza: I wish I could say it was from formal music education. My music trainers have always said I had a good ear. I wrote [“Getting Close to You”] freshman year of college. It was more [of] an experiment. When it changes to A major, I wanted that part to stand out because the lyrics follow that idea as well. I wanted it to be a little jarring, that was the emotion I wanted to convey. It helps now that I have a good understanding of music theory because I can go back and analyze the music and now I can purposely recreate that effect in new songs.

SP: I really liked your song “I Don’t Care” — tell me a little about that song?

DeSouza: I wanted to do something different, as a young songwriter you can get stuck in a rut. I was inspired by a Bob Marley song I had just learned on guitar. I wanted to have something like that. Since I was playing the bass part and drums rhythm on my acoustic all at once, it was nice to give those parts to the band members when we learned it together. 

SP: How is the chemistry between members?

DeSouza: We fool around a lot, sometimes we get a little off track. Were all jazz players, we’re all in different overlapping jazz groups with each other. So were constantly talking about the jazz stuff. It’s always really fun, and its easy because they’re all so good. We get dinner together sometimes, that’s really cool. I’m going to really miss it when we graduate.

SP: How did you come up with the band name?

DeSouza: We went through different names, but we wanted something to be centered around the moon.  One night we rehearsed during a lunar eclipse, and my guitar has the phases of the moon inlayed on the neck. It’s cool, because now we can wear dark lacy clothing when we perform — it fits the theme.

SP: What or who influences your music?

DeSouza: I listened to a lot of Regina Spektor when I was in high school, Joanna Newsom a little bit, it’s hard to say now because I listen to so many things specifically for school. How I sing is probably most influenced by jazz singers, my writing style is probably most influenced by Regina Spektor, or whoever I’m listening to at the time, like now I’m listening to Alabama Shakes. Or even just the people around me making music. When it comes to lyrics, I write a lot about personal experiences. I usually write the chords first, and I try to just let the lyrics flow.  Brittany [Howard] from Alabama Shakes has really great double-meaning lyrics, I can also really appreciate a good rap lyric. I like Eminem, Biggy Smalls, Kendrick, Lauryn Hill. As far as jazz vocalists, I like Anita O’Day.

SP: Tell me a little bit about yourself, your personal life.

DeSouza: I’m from the south side of Chicago, I went to U of Chicago Lab School for K-12. I knew I wanted to play guitar when I was little, I picked it up really fast, and I learned to play really simple melodies by ear. Then, I started writing songs before I really knew chords and as I progressed I wrote those really angsty 10-year-old songs. A lot of my songs now started when I was younger and over the years I edited them, the songs grew up with me. Then I joined the Chicago Children’s Choir when I was 11 — it was time consuming but it was the best musical thing to have happened to me. My school didn’t really offer many musical opportunities. The choir really set me up to be a professional musician, or as they called us “young ambassadors.” It prepared me to be professional.

SP: What is your main goal with performing and writing music?

DeSouza: It’s an outlet, really. I just want to be relatable to everyone, I pour a lot of personal experiences in my songs — albeit a little vague. I want people to be able to interpret the music for themselves. Also to have fun with it though, while still holding its meaning. I think it’s really cool to say heavy stuff in a song that you can dance to. I definitely want to get more into that realm. I haven’t been able to write in a while because life just gets in the way. But I love that connection you get with the crowd while performing.

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