'It's A Miracle To Me': Kalmia Traver On Making Music And Self-Discovery

Sep 8, 2017

Kalmia Traver debut solo album as Kalbells is Ten Flowers; it’s a collection of shimmering electronic pop songs. It’s also deeply personal; Traver wrote it after surviving cancer.

She said "Alonetime," the third track on her new album, is kind of like the thesis.

“That’s really what the whole thing came from was just copious amounts of alone time, but not the kind where I’m sitting around bored and lonely,” Traver said. “The kind where I’m like actively kind of working on myself to get up and stand up and go do something.”

Traver grew up in southern Vermont and a lot of the new album was written at her childhood home in Woodstock.

She studied jazz at the University of Vermont and after college was a founding member of the band Rubblebucket, now based in Brooklyn.

Traver made records before with Rubblebucket, but this was her first solo album. She said making it was a euphoric experience.

“I definitely have gotten stressed out in studios in the past cause there are so many cooks in the kitchen and everyone wants a piece of the pie. They all want their voice to be heard, which is beautiful, but I think I wanted to whole pie to myself for once,” Traver said.

The album came out this summer on NNA Tapes, a Burlington based record-label that puts out mostly experimental and electronic music.

The music on the album is often bright and effervescent, but it also has emotional weight. In 2013, Traver was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“Getting cancer was, like, a wakeup call that I really needed in my life,” she said. “I would say it knocked a lot of deadwood out of my branches that didn’t need to be there and let all the new fresh green stuff start growing all the more healthfully.”

Doctors caught the disease early, so Traver's prognosis was good and the cancer was treated. 

"I think a lot of what it felt like for me to heal was to be myself. To be my truest self and be as silly or weird or ugly or dorky." — Kalmia Traver

Through her treatment and recovery, Traver said she learned a lot about herself.

“I think a lot of what it felt like for me to heal was to be myself. To be my truest self and be as silly or weird or ugly or dorky and it helped me so much in so many areas of my work,” Traver said.

She said there were times when she wondered if she should keep making music.

“There were definitely times of serious you know, asking that question — like ‘oh my gosh look what I've done with the past six years or eight years at that point with my life, I've spend every single inch of my energy building a career in music — and like, shoot is that what I want?’” Traver said. “And the answer was, inevitable, 'yes' every time I asked it because it's a beautiful way to interact with other humans.”

The album came out of a series of demos Traver made while trying to write a song a day. In fact, the  songs on Ten Flowers are in the order that she wrote them.

The first track on the album, ‘Wonder’ was born from a little melody Traver made on a synthesizer.

“The song just popped out the very next day over that track,” Traver said.  

"It was just me being like I love making music, this is so fun and I don't care, it's a miracle to me."

And the lyrics, Traver said, reflect her joy and love of making music.

“It's all, ‘this is a miracle, this is a miracle. I don’t care what the people say makes a miracle — this is a miracle,’” she said, speaking the lyrics to ‘Wonder.’ “And it was just me being like I love making music, this is so fun and I don’t care, it’s a miracle to me.”

Traver worked on the album with the producer and musician Ryan Power who, until recently, was based in Vermont. He’s now in Brooklyn. Traver was a fan of Ryan Power's music before she worked with him.

“It was pretty joyful and a lot of listening. We would listen through and say ‘what ideas do we have?’ And then just express all the ideas, and then listen through, take stuff away, add more stuff. Ryan always describes making recordings as making a painting, so it definitely felt like that,” she said.

Traver plans to keep on making solo music — she said she has a bunch of other songs that’s she’s already working on for a release with her friend Jeremy Melvin, who makes music as Chrome Sparks.

But for now, she’s really happy with the music she made on Ten Flowers.

“You know there’s probably something in the Tao Te Ching that you’re not supposed to, like, hold on too tight to the art you make or something, but I’m really proud of it.” Traver said.

Correction 4:30 p.m. The headline was corrected from 'This Is A Miracle To Me' to 'It's A Miracle To Me.'