Once you discover that Keeley Bumford (a.k.a. Dresage) grew up studying Celtic flute, jazz vocals, opera, and riot grrrl-era singer-songwriters, things start to make sense. The textured, ethereal sounds she brings to Dresage certainly aren’t born of your standard music education. Nor is the way she builds entire worlds within her songs. But to say they capture an image – or dreamscape, in her particular case – would be a misunderstanding. Dresage doesn’t deal in static moments. Instead, what she creates for listeners is a constant shift of motion, color, and gravity.
Dresage is doing something new, and she’s doing it incredibly well. And it’s likely because she has a secret weapon few artists have perfected themselves: a deep passion for – and command of – musical production.
Where does your musical timeline begin?
So I grew up in Northwest Washington state, really close to the Canadian border. Straight up, like, two miles up a dirt logging road – very, very alone and isolated. I played sports, I rode horses… Then in middle school, I picked up the flute and I started taking private flute lessons and went down this Celtic flute road for a minute. Somewhere in middle school I also started getting interested in choir… then I started to really lean into jazz. I discovered the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duet record, and that just opened up my brain to this world of, “oh my god, I think I want to be a jazz singer.”
And then things started getting serious?
Then I started looking into contemporary music colleges. I found Berklee [College of Music in Boston] and my dad’s actually from Massachusetts, so it was an easy sell for me. Once I got to Berklee, my brain started opening to the more “songwriter” world. I grew up loving Paula Cole, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Annie Lennox – so there was a very strong throughline of female songwriters who were coming around in that early-to-mid-90s riot grrrl moment.
I started turning from the jazz side to the more songwriter-y side, and then I realized, I was staying in from parties to record demos and write songs. And so I decided to go into the production and engineering major – when I realized I really wanted to have the skills of making my own record, as the artist.
So you had some serious chops already when you moved to L.A.
So when I moved out here, I wasn’t really super production-minded yet. I had a wonderful experience at Berklee, but there was a lot of sexism, especially in that major.
It was kind of programming girls from day one to be like “make yourself a little small so you don’t look stupid.” Whether that was singers being told that we didn’t know music theory, or women in the production major being told that they didn’t know audio or technology… it’s kind of a mindfuck. Like “I have every bit of ability to do this,” but you make yourself smaller, and you learn less, and you shoot yourself in the foot.
What helped you dive into production more freely, then?
I had another band called Hotel Cinema, that definitely opened my mind to production textures, and I got more involved in the production there. Alongside that, I was starting to work as a vocalist for hire with a lot of composers. So they would hire me with my home studio to record for whatever TV show or ad they needed a vocal for that day, and I would send them my things. [Note: check her out on the “A Wrinkle in Time” trailer (2018). Her cover of “Sweet Dreams” is haunting.] And I had those production chops, so fast-forwarding to now, that’s really evolved into me sharpening my skills and just telling myself that “I can do it.”
Where do you feel most inspired to create?
With my new EP that I’m working on, the vocal bit was made on a writing retreat. A friend’s family owns this beautiful home overlooking the ocean in central California – it’s insane – and for Christmas I was gifted a four-night stay there, to use however I wanted to. I wrote three of the songs that are on my upcoming EP there, just looking at the ocean, trying to be reflective, but also – you know, you can’t really not be inspired in that moment.
Your music feels very cinematic – and you’ve created these little vignettes on your YouTube channel that give a glimpse into the world of a few of your songs. What inspired you to do that?
My friend and I had this idea to do this big music video – and I’m an independent artist, and the price tag was starting to get really ominous – so we thought, “the songs all live in a very specific world. Why don’t we just create vignettes, and make them specifically to fit on Instagram.”
We rented the creepiest hotel room I could find. There were actual bloodstains on the walls…and we brought one of those “Beyonce fans” and rented some lights. We created these very fluid, almost confusing visuals where you don’t really know what’s up and what’s down.
Do you imagine all of these worlds in the same “cinematic universe?”
Totally, and I think even if I’m thinking about my next song that I’m putting out, I can really visualize what the videos would look like. For me, production – and the way a bunch of musical elements fit in a song – all creates a color palette for me.
It seems like it would be a very synesthetic experience.
I really like the pairing of music and visuals, and I think I see colors and I think I see movement, specifically. So with “Center,” [below] we saw a lot of pale blue movement of water-like fabric blowing in wind. Movement, color, and texture are really the posts of what I think about when I think about the visuals of the song I’m making.
You’ve had a lot of collaborative projects since moving to L.A. Does Dresage feel more “Keeley” – more an exploration of your personal sound?
I think Dresage is a final boiling-down of who I am, truly, as an artist. It’s cool because I’ve kind of circled to this point of orbit where I’m super sure of everything within my solo sound. It almost feels like coming home – as cheesy as that sounds. It’s this nucleus of who I am, and that’s what allows me to have different projects that are different colors of who I am. They’re orbiting Dresage for me.
We’re stoked to have you as a collaborator. What caught your attention about Inspired?
My friend introduced me to the idea, and he was explaining this cool world of funding the arts, and making it not-so-insanely hard to do independently, but having patrons – that kind of, old model of really protecting and sustaining the arts, paired with philanthropy. I thought it was so genius. And the fact that it can be linked to somebody’s card, and they’re helping with every purchase, but it really doesn’t even affect them. You literally do it once, you don’t pay for anything.
And what cause really matters to you right now?
So coming back to these gender roles, specifically within the audio production realm of music: my really strong passion right now – and something that I’m starting – is a community and a hub of femme-identifying producers and engineers working in the tech side of music.
Because I think there’s a lot of us, and a lot of us are still not even comfortable with calling ourselves producers. We’ll be like “oh, yeah I’m able to, but that guy over there is a real producer…”
That sounds all too familiar. What resources are there for girls to get involved?
There’s this organization called Beats By Girlz [with chapters in L.A. and worldwide], and they offer music production classes on a sliding scale of what your family can afford. For young girls in under-served areas all around the US to have access to learn how to produce music and how to run a digital audio workstation – I think that’s so important. Sadly, a lot of the gear and the basics you need – like a laptop – that’s a privilege.
This is a really beautiful thing they’re doing, teaching and empowering them, specifically within their gender identity, that they can do this, and this is a viable option, even from a young age. It’s something I want the next generation to know earlier than I knew. A friend of mine, who’s now doing incredible work as a producer, didn’t even know that was an option for her until she was 35. There’s a lot of really exciting things for the next generation. And I want more females and femme-identifying folks in this field, I want to meet more of us – even it out.