In 2011, Kelli Schaefer released her first full length record Ghost of the Beast - a compilation of singles released throughout 2009 on the artist-run label Amigo Amiga Recordings. A surprising follow up to her 2008 Lasso the Moon EP, Ghost of the Beast is a haunting art-pop record with a backbone made of steel and distortion. Schaefer garnered praise and attention, sharing the stage with Damien Jurado, Wild Flag, and the Corin Tucker Band. Included in Willamette Week’s “Best New Band” poll, with a music video featured on Paste, tracks featured on NPR and KEXP, and multiple regional festival appearances, Schaefer’s debut was gaining momentum in the northwest.
But when Schaefer decided to step back from the whirlwind of live shows to focus on her follow up, she found that she wanted to go in a different direction. She kicked off this exploration with a self-produced, limited release EP titled 601 in May of 2013, debuting the beginnings of her new sound. Starting in 2014, she joined back up with Ghost of the Beast producer Drew Grow, and her bandmates Jeremiah Hayden and 601 guitarist Ryan Lynch, and found her vision had shifted to a more conceptual, unhinged rock and roll sound.
Schaefer found herself looking at her small-town upbringing, and finding that she could not see herself reflected there, but could not stop digging in deeper. During this time a few things happened that both shifted the focus of the album, and buoyed it: her father passed away unexpectedly in 2015, and the political landscape of the United States shifted to reflect those same small-town characters more than ever before. Driven to explore the darkest corners of her own origin, and also to step outside of herself, the record came into being after almost three years of writing and recording.
No Identity is darker than Ghost of the Beast, growling with confidence - but with a sense of humor. Confidence was hard-won, coming out of the passing of her father and dealing with the unavoidable ripples from it, the record was as much shaped by life and life was shaped around the record. The title track of No Identity kicks off with a beat as strong as a heart and a guitar line threatening to explode. She sings in clear, close range:
I am a bobcat
Trying to be a tiger
Trying to push through
Mirroring the expansive noise and incisive shadow of PJ Harvey, with the fearless abandon of Nick Cave, and vocal play of Bjork, No Identity travels at light speed through the American landscape so many of us left and forgot to examine. It is a genesis story marked with resolve and technical prowess - muscular guitar, rumbling bass, and vocals that bend over themselves and spring back to shape.
The melodies are pop with meat on their bones, robust and full, unafraid to stick in your head and to your ribs. It is art-pop with depth and vision, the product of an artist who not only carved out a space for herself, but has grown into a voice that has the potential to reshape a well-worn world.
No Identity earns Schaefer a reputation as one of Portland's strongest songwriters.