When you coming back, baby? When you coming back? / I will love you down, baby / When you’re coming back.
So starts the first track of electronic singer-producer Natasha Kmeto’s sophomore album, Inevitable. Though the lyrics are indefatigably simple, they reveal a fair amount about the musician, much more than she let on in her 2013 debut,Crisis. Listeners might pick up on Kmeto’s penchant for singing about love and relationships. Astute listeners might even figure out that Kmeto is queer.
No song on the album is more upfront about this than “I Thought You Had a Boyfriend.” In this cavernous deep-house track, Kmeto picks up on clues that a girl might be into her and questions her intentions. Though some of her listeners don’t understand — “I occasionally glance across audiences and I’ll see a couple dudes that look at me like, ‘What is she saying?'” she says, laughing — it is her most blatant and revealing song to date.
Kmeto, who lives in Portland with her partner of four years, “officially” came out six years ago. She says that after experimenting with women and questioning whether she was bisexual or gay, she came out to herself first, before letting her family members know one by one.
“It wasn’t a big thing or a mass announcement,” she says. “It was more of a gradual coming to terms with it.”
Likewise, Kmeto has gradually come out about her sexuality through her music. Whereas in Crisis, which consists of both instrumental-only and vocal songs, Kmeto veils her sexuality by singing to an anonymous person in songs like “Morning Sex” and “Take Out.” In Inevitable, she does the exact opposite. Though she uses pet names like “baby” in some songs, she’s more explicit in others, making her one of the few — if not the only — female electronic artists sexualizing women in music. In “That One Thing,” while trying to forget about her broken heart at a party, she directs her commentary to an unnamed “lady,” and in “On A String,” she sings about love and longing for another woman.
“I think there’s always a sort of cautiousness amongst the industry of not trying to pigeonhole yourself,” Kmeto says, “but I think I’ve been really upfront about my sexuality.”
Kmeto’s evolution in discussing her sexuality came about gradually. Though she claims she’s always written music that accurately describes her personal experiences, she started to become interested in the idea of more accurately painting a picture of her queerness when writing Inevitable.
“I kind of just thought, ‘Well, this is my life and I’m just going to tell my stories,'” says Kmeto, who, as a female, is already an anomaly in the male-dominated world of electronic music. “Not a lot of people are expressing these stories through music, so I’m writing queer music because I’m a queer person.”
Aside from her sexuality and gender, Kmeto deviates from electronic musicians in other ways. While many electronic musicians produce their own music, rarely, if ever, do they use their own vocals. Sampling vocals is a common trait in the genre, and yet it’s something Kmeto rarely uses because she can rely on her own voice.
In fact, like references to her sexuality, Kmeto’s voice is something that has become more prominent in her music over time. In Crisis, Kmeto’s vocals are breathy and often drowned out and buried by the instrumentals, but in Inevitable they are markedly stronger and more confident, to the point where she even harmonizes with herself in some songs.
“I’m definitely exploring new territory with my voice,” she says.
Kmeto left her hometown of Sacramento for Los Angeles at the age of 22 to pursue music and do what she calls “Carole King-style songwriting.” She enrolled at the Musician’s Institute, took keyboard courses, and learned how to use synthesizers and digital production tools. Using the production software Logic, she started crafting more experimental songs she thought were less “boring” than what she would normally write at the piano. Because of this, her interest in experimental music grew, and she started learning how to produce and make her own beats.
The idea of handing a song off to a producer to finish “didn’t sit well with me,” she says. Kmeto wanted complete control over her music and knew that learning how to craft it from start to finish would be the only way to do achieve that.
While in Los Angeles, she played keyboards and sang in a number of bands (ranging from R&B and blues to folk and rock) and worked as a studio musician and vocalist. When she realized she wasn’t feeling fulfilled, she decided to move to Portland. Her first few months there were “epically rainy and gloomy,” prompting her to sequester herself in her basement, where she made electronic music for fun. She started writing simplistic vocals as well, which she wove into her songs in repetitive fashion, almost like chants. She played her music for her friends to rave reviews, and it was then that she decided to pursue electronic music.
“I guess I just didn’t think of electronic music as being a good form for songwriting or storytelling,” she says, “but I realized I was wrong.”
Today, Kmeto, who is signed to the Pacific Northwest-based record label and artist collective Dropping Gems, has a very different career than she would have were she to have pursued the Alicia Keys or Adele “singer-songwriter-driven stuff.” Instead of having seated audiences, her listeners are packed together on dance floors. Though she still plays keyboards, her songs are infused with a number of digital and analog instruments, like drums and synthesizers. And, she has the freedom to be as creative and experimental as she likes.
“I like a lot of really weird music,” she says. “And I feel like I make a lot of really weird music compared to what I would have been making if I hadn’t gone the electronic route.”