Little Monarch is a project spearheaded by Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Casey Kalmenson, along with keyboardist Lanita Smith and guitarist Nick Setter. Known for breezy self-reflective anthems like “Strike,” “Treading Water,” and “No Matter What,” Little Monarch’s eclectic catalog masterfully fuses elements of indie pop, disco, house, and R&B into uniquely expansive soundscapes that feel like inhaling the California sea air.
Their latest single, “For a Moment You’re Mine,” finds Kalm directing her gaze inward in a far more slow, lush, and textured dream pop soundscape.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Kalmenson to discuss the new single, the evolution of Little Monarch over the years, and her recent tour with Gracie Abrams.
Where did you grow up and what sort of music was playing in the house?
I grew up in West Hollywood. Musically, my parents are a bit older so my dad was into Bing Crosby and Sinatra, and mom was a big Rolling Stones fan so there was a lot of Rolling Stones playing in the house along with other classic American standards and some musical theater. I got super into Talking Heads as a teen. I was so fascinated with how music could sound like that and how lyrics could come together that way. I was also into a lot of Reggae. So it was a mixed bag of everything, really.
What came first for you: teaching music, gigging, or songwriting?
Definitely writing. The teaching just came along as a way to support myself and continue to be inspired by encouraging others to chase their dreams. The touring came later, and it’s been great to tour as an instrumentalist with younger artists.
How did the Gracie Abrams gig come about?
The 360 touring company who manages her actually reached out to me initially and it was a great fit. The tour was fantastic too. Everybody was just so happy to be around people who wanted to hear music, and her fans are awesome. It was like a big slumber party.
What are some key influences on your band’s beachy house sound?
That one definitely circles back to Talking Heads. I’m very drawn to esoteric themes cloaked in this fun pop package. There’s some really great hi-fi lo-fi producers like Ethan Gruske who worked with Phoebe Bridgers, and I love how textured his work is. I love Beach Boys too. I can’t talk about music I love without talking about California bands like the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Beach Boys. I have a very wide spectrum, and it’s kind of like my diary.
Your latest single “For a Moment Your Mine,” is very different from your other singles, almost like a dream pop ballad. What made you decide to veer in that direction?
That definitely came out of a slower period throughout the pandemic and it felt great to make a song that was very lush and layered. I initially didn’t intend to release it at all, but I just really thought it was beautiful and ultimately came to the conclusion that it would be such a waste to hide it away. I think it’s definitely a one-off for my sound, I don’t think my signature dancey sound is going anywhere, but it was still nice to put out something that sounded a little different.
How has your collaboration with your bandmates evolved since you first formed?
We’re definitely a lot like family now. Obviously, they still write and collaborate on stuff but it’s not as much of a traditional band structure as it once was. It was just a little hard to maintain as people were getting older and families were happening. But I still wanted to keep this alive, which required me to spearhead a lot of the management. It’s definitely evolved for me as a space to showcase everything that I’m working on.
How has your creative direction changed in the past few years?
I think I really used COVID as a time to reset and share what I was doing in the studio without overthinking. And that opened up a new mindset for me that I never had before. So I’m definitely grateful for that period. I don’t think I slowed down, but recognized that I had an opportunity and a window of time to improve on my craft. Now I feel like I’m finally in a place where I’ve processed a lot and am ready to really hammer down on the ethos of my music, which is all about brushing it off and picking myself back up again.
What was the most recent show you went to?
Jungle. They played the Greek and they’re one of my all-time favorites, so it was incredible.
How many guitars are in your collection?
My first electric guitar was a red Gretsch Electromatic that was really great tone-wise because I was super into jazz. Now I have a D’angelico XL which is also red. I have an older Strat that’s kinda cool, a baby Taylor, an Italian parlor guitar that’s been refurbished with a rubber bridge. And then there’s the main acoustic which is a road-series Martin. I also randomly have a Jackson that my grandma got me when I was a kid. I think I’ve invested enough stock in guitars, but I can ALWAYS use more pedals. Pedals are like my love language.
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