For Kelly Rosenthal songwriting is a painfully personal process. She says writing under the moniker I Am Strikes gives her a separation from the "Kelly" who has to live in the world and interact with friends and the "Kelly" who writes and performs angry, emotional songs about heartbreak.
“I feel like my past is something I can’t let go of - in order to function normally I need an outlet into which I can pour myself.”
I Am Strikes is that outlet for Rosenthal. She’s releasing an EP titled Low Standards on Tuesday June 23 and is garnering lots of internet attention from national music blogs.
Consequence Of Sound said she “takes an explosive stance on alternative pop.” The Huffington Post added her song “Love Is Just A Way To Die,” to a must-listen list of songs by new artists and Idolator.com premiered the video for “Love Is Just A Way To Die,” calling it arresting and creative.
The 23-year-old Sacramento songwriter started playing guitar when she was 15.
“I really took to it. It was a perfect escape for me,” says Rosenthal. “I spent countless hours alone playing guitar. I had no guidelines. I had no instruction. It was the only thing I had full range to express my independence with.”
She started using a webcam and laptop microphone to record her music and posting it on Youtube. A video of her playing guitar with two other girls singing a cover of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen has more than a million views.
Rosenthal says I Am Strikes is her first stab at singing; before it was all instrumental.
“I had a couple of really heavy experiences that evoked a ton of emotion and I had to express them in more than just melody,” she says. “I couldn’t help it, I just opened my mouth and it worked.”
The very personal and emotional lyrics Rosenthal expresses are exactly why she needs an alias, she says.
“What the project is to me is something very different than who I am on a daily basis,” she says. “You have to put a mask on to make friends, stay socially acceptable - by giving it a different name I can be more me.”
She says the person she is while playing music is I Am Strikes, but walking around day to day she leaves that persona for the stage.
“It allows me to be who I really am - It really allows me to shout from the rooftops about the most difficult things I’ve been through.”
Things like “you left your scars in my skin, you carved your name deep within,” from the song “Bitches.”
She said she wrote the songs on this EP after coming out of a particularly important and unhealthy relationship.
Warning: This song contains strong language
“You can love someone dearly and they can be so incredibly important to you but it doesn’t mean that it’s enough,” she says.
Rosenthal says she can’t help but draw from real life experiences.
“My songwriting process is fully honest. I’m only inspired by what’s happening directly to me. I can’t really write on someone else's situation.”
David O'Donohue with Star Splitter Media worked on Rosenthal's video for "Love Is Just A Way To Die."
“I knew there was a deep rooted emotional experience that prompted that song – upon hearing the story I was even more excited to work on it,” says O'Donohue. “[The concept] spawned from this idea of Russian roulette with a banana – we just took it and ran with it.”
They shot the video with friends over a weekend for less than $1,500, including O'Donohue's travel.
"It was a lot of fun and very DIY," says O'Donohue. “[She is] one of the hardest working, most creative people I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with.”
Rosenthal hopes to refine her live show by making her performances more guitar-driven and continuing to explore who she is as a person and an artist.
"Despite living in a world where authenticity tends to fall second to acceptance, I've adopted a very candid approach to songwriting. I believe that there will always be a soapbox for those who freely and truly express themselves. I hope people who listen to my music can trust me to be a reliable well of honesty. If I feel it, I write it - I don't think there should be any shame in emotional expression."