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Photography Felix Walworth

You need to hear Crosslegged, the artist making ‘uncomfortable’ DIY pop

Ahead of the release of her new album Another Blue, the musician explains why freedom comes from confronting what troubles us

For Crosslegged the process of putting together her latest album, Another Blue, has “at times felt like pushing a boulder along”. In the seven years since the release of Speck, her last full-length album, the New York singer-songwriter has “chiselled away” at her demos at home and in live performances. Now, having worked with her friend and co-producer Carlos Hernandez in the studio, “this feels like a good time for me to be releasing new music,” she tells Dazed.

Like so many artists, Crosslegged, whose real name is Keba Robinson, grew up surrounded by music. Her father and uncle were both musicians keen to nurture what her family has described as an almost preternatural talent she displayed from an early age. When her family moved from California to Pennsylvania, making music – first with her brother Raz and later on her own – became a sort of refuge for Robinson.

The child of Jamaican parents, Robinson was exposed to the sounds of Burning Spear and Sister Nancy from a young age. Raz would open her mind to Jimi Hendrix, but it’s the likes of Warpaint, Karen O, and Mazzy Star that taught Robinson how to hone her voice and her sound. It is perhaps this eclectic mixture of influences that has made Crosslegged such an intriguing musical project, as her style refuses to be pinned down. Recent singles “Only in The” and “Automatic” layer percussion, synths, warm acoustic guitar, and vocal harmonies, demonstrating an intuition for how the electronic can help refine the raw emotion of Crosslegged’s early indie folk sound. The compositions may be complex but they never feel dense, even while Robinson sings about sorrow her airy voice never betrays.

Ahead of the release of her new album, Robinson speaks to Dazed about Jimi Hendrix, recurring dreams about Costco, and why a New York City subway musician could save us from alien invasion.

People often point out that your lyrics explore a darkness that can seem to be at odds with a musical style that can sound a lot freer. You’ve said even the name Crosslegged is meant to remind your listeners of feeling uneasy. What is it about this tension that you’re looking to explore?

Crosslegged: For me personally, I’ve found that the feeling of freedom comes through a confrontation with tension. The name Crosslegged has evolved for me over the years though, being cross-legged is a posture that’s very uncomfortable at first but then it evolves into something else, something lighter, if only for a moment, the more you do it. That journey that can exist in a single posture is something that I’m always exploring as I relate to the world around me. It doesn’t end, and there’s no perfection! I like exploring what feels real to me, and maybe sometimes that sounds dark but to me, it’s one side of the coin.

You’ve always shown a refusal to be boxed in, bringing in different musical styles and influences across your EPs, sometimes even mid-song such as on “Automatic”.  What’s pushing you to keep playing only by your own rules?

Crosslegged: Singing is my original musical love, and so I sometimes have a never-ending stream of things that I’m humming or singing to myself, usually if I’m walking or doing something mundane. A lot of times I like to let the melody come first, and one hum leads to another, and if I’m excited about it, it’ll turn into a song. The process is full of surprises though and I might come up with a guitar part that I can’t put down. If I get that can’t-put-it-down feeling, it usually means I should record it. My favourite songs that blew my mind formatively are the always ones where there’s a lot of melodic variation so that’s something that my ear is pulled toward.

Your family moved from California to Pennsylvania when you were growing up and now you’re based out of New York. What impact do you think these movements and locations have had on your musical output?

Crosslegged: When I was a kid and moved from CA to PA, music was largely a refuge for me. I went to a super small school when we moved to PA and didn’t always like it there or feel a sense of belonging so music was this whole other world that I got a lot of comfort from. One thing too is that I used to like songs that reminded me of California in sound, scenery, or story. I honestly think that drove me to even like certain kinds of bright chords. New York’s biggest influence on me has really been the amount of music you can find yourself here, especially live music. I used to do door at a venue a few nights a week and would just absorb all the sounds, that was when I got really into recording music beyond folk songs and thinking maybe I can perform them too.

When did you first become aware of the power of good music? What song could you not stop playing growing up?

Crosslegged: I can remember when I heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time. My brother played that for me in middle school one day. I can recall feeling like my brain cells were exploding. “Castles Made of Sand” was a favourite.

What’s your favourite cornershop snack?

Crosslegged: Plantain chips.

What’s your star sign and are you a typical one of that star sign? 

Crosslegged: I like to say I’m a Sagicorn because I’m a cusp baby – right in the middle. But I think I’m pretty Capricorn-ish. I usually take on responsibilities that I don’t have to. My moon is Sag and rising Gemini.

The most recent picture/screenshot on your camera roll?

My favourite hat!

Any recurring dreams?

Crosslegged: The only recurring dream I’ve ever had involves me coming out of a Costco basement filled with a bunch of beach nicknacks into an empty parking lot.

What is your earliest music memory?

Crosslegged: My teacher in kindergarten would make us all sing “What a Wonderful World” at the end of every school day. 

What adjective would you least like to be described as?

Crosslegged: Greedy.

What would be your funeral song?

“Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” by Stevie Wonder

You encounter a hostile alien race and sound is their only mechanism for communication. What song would you play to them to inspire them to spare you and the rest of the human race?

Crosslegged: One of my favourite things to come across in the subway is Malang Jobarteh performing. It changes my mood instantly every time. I love it, I don’t see why aliens wouldn’t either! 

Another Blue is released on January 27