Kelsy Karter

Kelsy Karter On Her Debut Album, Her Rock ‘n’ Roll Aesthetic & Tattooing Harry Styles On Her Face

Let’s set the scene. It’s February 2019, the dumpster fire that is 2020 is but a twinkle in the universe’s (evil) eye, and you’ve just woken up to the news story that’s going to live rent-free in your brain for a week.

A singer had gotten Harry Styles’ 2017 Rolling Stone cover tattooed on her face.

No, seriously. A photo of said-tattoo, realistically red and puffed, emblazoned on her cheek, went viral, appearing on morning shows, radio sets, websites, Instagrams and most group chats with the caption ‘me lol.’

That singer was Kelsy Karter.

Later admitting that the tattoo was a cheeky (literal) marketing ploy to advertise her single, “Harry” (a truly relatable bop, indeed about the one and only Harry Styles), Karter has gone on to establish herself as a worthy addition to the rock ‘n’ roll scene.

Now face-tattoo-less in 2020, New Zealand-born, Australia-raised and L.A.-based Karter has just dropped her a new single, “Love Me or Hate Me,” and is on the verge of releasing her debut album, Missing Person. A fast-paced, thrumming record, which showcases Karter’s versatile pipes—switching from her signature rasp, to spoken word and a little ‘00s-esque screaming—and her punk rock vibes. 

Karter—accurately described as “if Angelina Jolie and Mick Jagger had a one night stand”—is commanding, cool and hypnotising, in the same way the rockstar legends she takes influence from were. 

It also goes without saying, she also has great taste in ex-boy band members.

To celebrate the release of “Love Me or Hate Me,” Syrup spoke with Karter about song-writing in 2020, her eternal musical influences and who she would actually get tatted on her face.

You have a new single, “Love Me or Hate Me,” out now. Can you tell us a bit about it?

“Love Me or Hate Me,” I wrote kind of a love letter to my fans. Because when I’m down, they make me feel empowered and make me feel like a badass. I wanted to make a song that made them feel that way. And I directed the music video myself and it’s actually my favorite music video I’ve probably done to date. I’m just excited for people to see it. It’s true punk rock.

What’s it like creating music in 2020? Are you embracing the world’s current semi-glum vibe or do you do your own thing regardless?

I actually finished my album before COVID happened and the world shut down. So I wasn’t really in the writing process during quarantine or in the recent months. This album is, for sure, like a very personal album about me and my stories and my life, but now that I’m starting to write album two, I want it to be less about me and more about an outward storytelling experience. So I’ll definitely dive into what’s been happening in 2020, for sure… But it doesn’t necessarily have to be glum. There is a glass half full option every time!

What’s one thing you would go back and tell yourself before you started making your debut album, and one thing you know now?

When I started writing my album, I was in a really dark place. I was very depressed and going through a lot, so I think if I could tell myself something then, it would be that it’s gonna get better, I promise.

And something I know now is that it did.

Who are three musical influences that you’re always inspired by?

One, Sam Cooke who taught me how to sing; two, James Brown, who taught me how to perform; and three, musical theater because I come from theatre and I will always be influenced by it. 

You’re known for your signature rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic – how did you find it and refine it?

I get most of my style influences from people like Mick Jagger and Elvis and the ’60s punk greaser scene. I’ve always been quite a tomboy and into androgynous fashion. So I just lent into that and made it my thing. And I am pretty happy because I get to wake up every day and be completely myself. And people like it.

Very important: how would you describe your feelings for Harry Styles, in three words and a song?

Three words: ‘Friend Zone, Mate.’ And “I Found A Boy” by Adele, because in that song, she’s talking about how she found someone better. And I did. Still love you though, Harry!

What was the funniest thing to come out of your Harry Styles ‘tattoo’ experience?

Just the fact that everyone thought it was real! It was my best and biggest prank yet. And I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think that anyone would believe it or even care. And they did. So I find that pretty funny.

If you could break into your fans houses and add three items to each of their wardrobes, what would they be?

It would be a good pair of leather pants, a good solid leather jacket, and a nice pair of shoes and socks.

What’s one fashion trend you would banish forever if you could?

I know I’m going to be hated for this but I would ban wedges. I don’t like them. I don’t understand them. I sure as hell don’t wear them, and neither should you.

What does your TikTok FYP currently look like? What’s the niche TikTok community that you’ve wound up in?

I used to be really into TikTok but my best mate told me that the government is listening in on everything and knows everything about you. So I got scared and deleted the app. When I used to have TikTok my FYP page was definitely just full of food ASMR. Learn about it.

If you had to tattoo a celebrity on your face for real, who would it be?

If I had to get someone’s face tattooed on my face for real, I would pick my own face because… self love, yeah?

Listen to “Love Me or Hate Me” on Spotify or iTunes now. Missing Person by Kelsy Karter drops October 2nd. 

Mahalia is a journalist and editor/founder/number one fan of Syrup. She cut her teeth in fashion magazines before she was forced to move into youth publications because she says 'yeet' unironically. Maximalist ring enthusiast and dedicated nap hobbyist.