solesearching: nat kelley . . . part one

{nat kelley by tay bittner}

we managed to catch globe trotting, pskaufman… wearing, actress and muse, nat kelley for a little solesearching session at the psk hq.

p: i love to travel.. i love to eat and I’m not sure i could trust someone who doesn’t like to eat.

n: i love to eat, also.  lately i’ve been on this big mushroom kick, something i did not like growing up.  as i got older, i started to like the psychedelic varieties, but never the type just to eat at home.   then, literally a few months ago, a friend had me cook some portabellos, and it was like, wooooooah!   i’ve been introduced to this whole new world! everyday i’ll eat some kind of mushroom.  even the non-magical ones have magical properties and amazing health benefits!

p: as you’re off on a little bit of a savory tangent …your position on marmite?

n: hate it. in australia, we have vegemite. marmite is a british thing, but i hate vegemite. i’m into savory, but I’m just not into stuff that tastes like cow dung. i’m not that australian, lets put it that way! i’ll eat guinea pig over vegemite.  it’s a peruvian delicacy; tastes like chicken.

p: what do you wish was in your fridge?

n: hmm, what do i wish was in my fridge? gosh, to be honest, ceviche.   i wish i had my mom’s leftover ceviche in my fridge. it’s always better the second day.

p: is there anything special you’d like to eat right now?

n: i’ve been really craving a dish called pacha (pacha is earth) manca.  it’s this peruvian earth bbq. they dig a hole in the ground and light a fire under hot rocks. then, they throw in seasoned, delicious cuts of meat, corn and different peruvian varieties of potatoes.   the hole is covered with more hot rocks and the food is ‘buried’. a couple hours later, the meat is so tender and delicious. if you could recreate some pacha manca in l.a. right now, I would be so happy!

p: and where would you like to eat it?

n: i would want to be in my family’s ancestral home in huanuco, peru. tourists are just starting to discover that part of peru, but it’s still off the beaten path, in the central andes.

{ nat kelley by neil krug via}

p: i was just speaking to a friend of mine, a crazy, passionate birdwatcher, who was just in peru. his last visit was in northern peru and he was alsotalking about how amazing it was. i understand you’ve started to develop an interest in bird- watching..

n: yes, its kind of an unofficial interest. i’m just aware of animals, in general.  i am really open to receiving signs from the universe and am aware that different animals, birds in particular, carry messages for us. i’m learning to recognize the american pantheon of birds.  like, “oh there’s a hawk…what does that mean?”

i’ve had the california condor circle me on two different occasions, both up in big sur. both times, the sightings were signs of something beautiful on the horizon. so, it’s an unofficial hobby, but i’d really like to step my game up, get some official bird language under my belt and blow people’s minds.

p: you have a pretty multicultural background, have spent a lot of time traveling and have lived in different countries. where have you felt most connected?

n:  i feel really connected to brazil. growing up in australia, i always looked different from the other girls. even though I’m culturally australian,  i’d always get asked where I was from. then, i lived in brazil on and off for three years as a teenager and by the end of the trip, my portuguese was so good that you almost couldn’t tell i wasn’t from there. physically, it was the only place i ever really fit in because brazilians are such a mix of different things that i didn’t stand out there, the way i did in australia. now, i’m not so offended when people ask where i’m from and i’m happy to go into it with people.  but, i think when i grew up in australia, sometimes that question wasn’t always a compliment.

p: is it ever confusing to you to be in a place where the cultures are at odds with what you feel your background is?

n: when i was growing up in australia, i didn’t realize how blessed i was to be there. i was always asking my mom why we couldn’t have stayed in south america, with my people. in my mind, south america was like a lambada music video, where people danced on the beach. then, when i finally went live in brazil, i saw that it was not the paradise i had imagined.   there were parts of the country that were really beautiful, but living in sao paolo, i got to see the urban poverty. i started to miss the values of australia; the values of fairness and egalitarianism. eventually, the inequality just broke my heart and I went home (to australia) to start my degree. so yeah, i guess you could say i’m not comfortable anywhere.

p: part of it is that for one to be comfortable, they need to find it within themselves, first, and feel at peace there, and then go out and find it around…

n: yeah, i’m always complaining about everything (laughs)!   it’s not spicy enough in australia, it’s not safe enough in brazil. that’s why i have to do half and half; just split my time between white people and latin people. too much time with white people drives me crazy, too much time around latin people makes me nuts. when i’m in south america, i’m like, “where are the things that run on time and work?”

{nat kelley by paul kaufman}

p: you also did some volunteer work in Brazil?

n: yes, i did.  i worked with street kids. i was very naive, but yes, it took over my life when i was there. i fell in love with these children and invested all my energy and time into them. i would obsess about them. i would go in during the hours i was not supposed to go and go into the most dangerous parts of the city and I just had angels watching over me; spiritual ones, and also real ones. the kids would become my angels. they would accompany me to the  bus and make sure nothing happened. i think they confided in me because they thought since i was a foreigner, i wasn’t going to tell their secrets. i really became a friend to them, more than just a social worker. i still remember those children and still wonder where they are, and sadly, I don’t know if any of them are still living because their life expectancy living on the streets of brazil is not very high.

p: i’m sure that’s so. have you been to India?

n: no, I’ve never been to india, but it’s a dream of mine.

p: its pretty intense; the kids on the street there. i’ve spent some time there and its pretty amazing to see, i mean, slum dog millionare, for example, wasn’t really a dramatization.

n: In the way that ‘city of god’ is real.

p: there’s a very famous muslim temple, off the coast of mumbai.  it’s a small island with just a mosque, haji ali, you can only get to when the tide is down.  and when the tide is down, it’s completely lined with beggars with infirmities and the ocean on either side.  it’s heartbreaking.  it’s crazy.

n: it’s real. that’s what 2/3 of the world looks like.

p: we are really, really lucky. we lose sight of that sometimes.   with all the traveling you have done, have you had any other really life-defining experiences (other than brazil)?

n: machu picchu is always life changing, and then peru is always a homecoming for me every time I go back. so, that’s always a special place for me to visit.

p: and machu picchu, why?

n: just the sheer impossibility of that feat of engineering. it blows you away to see it in person. i can actually feel a residual energy from those stones, when i touch the ruins. i think i was there in a past life, I’m pretty sure i was.. i have some memories (laughs), we don’t need to go into it now, but it’s really potent for me. 

what have been some other amazing trips? hmm… australia is also full of beautiful places, but growing up there i didn’t appreciate what i was living in and i wanted to get out and see things in other countries.  now that i’m older, i can’t wait to go back and rediscover my own country.  there’s this beautiful hike - it’s the most beautiful hike in the world.  it’s literally an hour and a half south of sydney on these beautiful cliffs overlooking the pacific ocean; untouched beaches, etc. i’m not going to give away the name…i don’t want everyone going there (laughs).  but now that i’m older, i really appreciate the beauty and magic that has surrounded me my whole life.

{image via}

p: you live in los angeles now.. is that at odds with your desire to be in touch with nature more?

n: for the first few years i was here, i wasn’t connected into where to go outside of l.a. and now that i have been to big sur, joshua tree and ojai, i wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. l.a. is my favorite city simply because it’s my base point.   it’s my starting point to explore california, which is, i have to say after being pretty much everywhere, my favorite place. it has everything and i haven’t even seen all of it yet!  i want to go to mount shasta. i want to go up north and see the lost coast. it’s got everything.   eventually, i want to move to the bay, permanently.

p: yeh, it’s pretty amazing here. i can drive 15 minutes and be up the mountains and there are deer and quail and snakes on hikes.  plus, like you said, there are so many birds of prey.  there’s so much here, we are really spoiled.

n: for that reason, though i love new york, i don’t think i could live there. i really need to be around nature.

p: would you say you have a connection, at all, to native americans?

n: absolutely! i feel a connection to indigenous people all around the world.   living in australia, i worked with the aboriginal community and feel a very special kinship with them. then, when i did my dna test, my mom, obviously, is the one who has an indigenous peruvian background. but, the dna she carries was also carried by the anasazi of the southwest and a couple of other tribes around there. it just blows my mind to think that we share the same dna.

p: right, i was actually just going to ask you if you were aware of the anasazi and if you had ever been to their sites?

n: i haven’t yet, that’s my next trip now that i know they’re my people and i can claim them (laughs).  i claim everything i can. i found a little trace of jewish ancestry in my dna…i claim that one as well!

p: yea, sure why not? if it gets you to the places you wanna go.

n:  i just like to have to have things in common with people.  i like the things that bind us together.

{image via}

p: if there was the mythical aladdin’s lamp and one was able to get those three wishes, one of mine would be to be able to speak any language fluently, wherever I was; to be able to really touch the people and find out what moves them. i used to go to china a lot and i knew there was so much more that people wanted to talk about, you could see it in their face, but we were just not able to communicate.

n: i’m pretty good with languages.

p: how many do you speak?

n: i speak spanish and portuguese, and i understand and speak a little bit of japanese. i understand a lot of german. i understand a lot of french and italian.  i get by.. i’m pretty good. i can speak a little bit of quechua, which is the indigenous language of peru.  it’s a passion of mine, i’ve always loved learning languages.

p: is that language (quechua) disappearing?

n: you know what, yes and no. there’s a movement to save it. aymara which is another indigenous dialect of the andes was made into one of the official languages of bolivia. evo morales, the president of bolivia has been really good about preserving those parts of our history. so, there’s a big resurgence of indigenous pride in south america, which i’m all for. 

p: one of the places that I was talking about before, an anasazi site, is called mesa verde. the people disappeared long ago, but the sites remain and i had one of my life-defining experiences there, so i really recommend you going there. there are amazing cliff dwellings there. after we finish,  i’ll show you a great book on the anasazi.  

i grew up in the midwest, which is  pretty much as bland as can be, but just within an hour, there are indian burial grounds all over. they are serpentine burial grounds, but nobody knew it until they started flying overhead and you could see there were these burial grounds in the shape of big, undulating serpents.

n: it’s so interesting; so psychedelic.

{nat kelley by tay bittner}

p: no doubt so much culture was created because there were natural things people were eating and finding out they had these effects.

n: even my love of textiles and southwestern patterns, and these peruvian patterns and their weavings, that’s all super psychedelic.  i mean, those patterns came to them in visions.  it’s a psychedelic dictionary.  certain patterns mean mountain or eye of the jaguar, etc.  there’s a whole world to be discovered in the patterns of a seemingly simple rug.

p:  because of all the traveling you’ve done, you’ve seen all these things and you have an interest in them; beautiful textiles, for example.  are you more of a collector or more of a purger?

n: i’m both. i collect, (i’m) a big big collector, but, i purge those things that are temporary, because i like to pay it forward.  i like to pass things on to friends. there’s a group of items that i like to do that with and then, there’s a group of things that I would never, ever give away.

p: and what would those be?

n: really old fabrics from peru; ones that i really had to dig for in the sacred valley. also, things that come from where my family is from in peru, beautiful wool items that you smell and you can smell that they’re old. i love that.

p: so, it’s not just the physical beauty of it.. it’s the age, as well?

n:  it’s the age and all the residual energy still held in that fabric and in those textiles. i remember growing up in australia and my family would send us packages that when opened, would smell of peru: a scent like cloves and cinnamon.  for me, textiles, particularly wool, hold a lot of energy and are full of a certain life force. it’s hard to explain, but i’m mad about textiles and fabrics. it’s weird, because i’m not a designer, or in fashion or anything, but those things speak to my soul.  it’s not just an aesthetic thing.

{image via}

solesearch with nat kelley…

stay tuned…  solesearching: nat kelley part II released 05.11.14

solesearching: nat kelley . . . part two

p:  you’re in front of the camera a lot.  with so many photos out there, what’s it like seeing pictures of yourself?  are you comfortable with that?

n: what’s funny is that i have never been a model.  i was always really bad at being still in front of the camera and even when i was with a modeling agency, i only really did commercials.   acting was always my thing; modelling was a specific talent that i never grasped.   so, when i met with neil (krug), serendipitously, and he explained what he had in mind, which involved actual characters, that spoke to me. that’s how our collaboration was born.  the fact that people respond to that and re-blog and re-post things - that makes me so happy because they’re responding to this collaboration; something i’ve also had creative input in, and that’s really special.

p: and that leads into what was really the next question, about working with neil and the fact that, in terms of the photographic end of it, he’s helping take it to another level.

n: he’s a genius.

{nat kelley by neil krug via}

p: you validated our question, which is really that you are an integral part of what that is.  do you ever think of what it’s like to be immortalized?  those pictures are in art galleries. eventually they could be, or maybe they are already are, in museums.. so you’re talking a lifetime.

n: they’re iconic.  that’s always the goal: to make something that’s not just a pretty picture, but that is going to stand the test of time; like the pictures and films we admire from the 60’s and 70’s.

p: you’ve been described as the muse to a number of people.  do you ever think about what that means and what it’s like to be a muse?  is it hard work (laughs)? 

n:  it’s definitely not something i set out to become, but it is flattering to think that i can inspire people in some way.   i put a lot of effort into the things i fill my life and my soul with: the music i listen to, the movies i watch, even the fabrics i put on my body.  i spend a lot of time thinking about these things because i’m very sensitive to all kinds of energy around me.  so, when other people walk into my orbit and they like what they see and feel, that gives me a lot of joy.   neil is one of those people that ‘gets it’.

p: what are you listening to right now?

n: i’m obsessed with this group out of london right now called jungle, they’re really new and they sound kind of like a black uk group version of nicolas jaar, who i also love.  i’m always listening to old music from brazil, from peru.  i brought back so much old music from peru.  i’m a real archivist.  i hoard that kind of stuff.  i hoard music, for sure.

p:  music is something that crosses so many boundaries and affects so many emotions.

n: yea, it really speaks to my soul. i considered quitting everything and being one of those people that travels south america and looks for old records that are undiscovered and that haven’t gone digital yet.

p: yeh, allen lomax did a similar thing her. he recorded local american roots music: blues, prison songs, gospel and folk songs all around the u.s. in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. the recordings are available through the library of congress in washington.

n: there’s a guy who does that in colombia for giles peterson…and he has my dream job!

p: that would be amazing right?  in a way it’s almost like john muir, he was a naturalist, but he kind of did the same thing, he wandered.  he was the white dude that discovered yosemite, which ,of course was well know to thenative american people.  for example, he lived there just with what he carried on his back.  he drew the birds, plants and animals; all things which hadn’t been documented before . 

n: i lay in bed worrying about things that are disappearing from our planet.  i really think about this.  sounds and songs that we will never hear again.  languages that are being lost, craft and weaving techniques (disappearing), etc.

{nat kelley by neil krug via}

p: you inspire a lot of other people.  what inspires you?

n: besides digging up obscure, undiscovered world music, i’m really inspired by history.  i read a lot of history books about the spanish conquest of peru, for example.  it’s sad, it breaks my heart but it gives me an insight into the kind of world they ended up destroying.

i’m inspired by different cultures, the shipibo, the huichol, the tuareg and other northern african tribal groups are particularly fascinating to me.   their cultures are, sadly, disappearing due to modernization.  i’m a little obsessed with the things that won’t be here in the future, with archiving them and preserving them.

p: and so, travel is a way to channel the inspiration.  do you have other ways in which you’ve been able to travel as a creative outlet? something where you’re able to interpret it all.

n: i’m pitching and writing a travel show right now.  i’m a good curator on vacation (travel).   i do my research, but i also have a gift of landing somewhere and meeting the right people and getting into that, like, private, abandoned cove or that midnight bonfire with the locals.  i just feel like i always land in these amazing, fantastical scenarios; sometimes a little dangerous.   but, i feel like i’d love to have a show to take people on those kinds of journeys with me, so, i’m in the process of writing and hopefully shooting the show very soon.

p: and i’m sure that you’re going to need shoes to wear for that.

n: yeh, yes.  there is only one boot that I wear (laughs).

p: where do you think you will want to go next?

n: where are my boots going to take me (laughs)?   definitely to the southwest.   i’m overdue to do that big southwest road trip, and then, in the cards this year…guatemala.

p: have you been?

n: no, I haven’t done central america yet.

{photo via}

{nat kelley by tay bittner}

p: since it’s officially north america, have you spent much time, or any time, in mexico?

n: a little bit, but nothing substantial.  i want to do all of oaxaca and the yucatan peninsula, then make it down to guatemala.  i just wish i could be in my early 20’s again and just backpack and have no responsibilities.  although backpacking is not my thing, there is this new thing i’ve heard of called flash packing.   it’s very similar to glamping: glamour camping.  flash packing, is fancy backpacking.  i have yet to look into it, but it sounds like my jam.

p: you touched on it earlier; your ability to connect with people.  do you have a super power beyond that?

n: yeh, it’s the power of connection with people.   i think i put out really good energy and when i land somewhere, i’m always really gracious and curious.   people respond to that and everywhere i go, people want to help me out and invite me places.   i really make an effort with language, and like i said, it’s always been a gift of mine, so i’ve never had that problem of feeling alienated anywhere.   I don’t remember being in any location and feeling like i wanted to get out, except for maybe dallas, texas?   that was hard.

p: what was hard about it?

n:  we just didn’t vibe.  it’s sad and i hate to say it, because it may have just been the situation, as i was working and i was busy.    although, i’m not badmouthing the place! if anyone wants to prove me wrong, i’m totally down with that,  ‘cause texas seemed cool to me;  i feel like i could have a good time there.

p:  if you haven’t been to austin, that would be the place to see.   filter your way into texas, because there are tons of things to see there.

n: i never made it down there, but i’m dying to go.  i think it was just the situation, that i was just kind of stuck there working and i couldn’t leave, but um, pretty much everywhere else… i’m fine (laughs).

p: so a nat kelley x pskaufman… collaboration, what’s that shoe going to look like?

n: definitely something that involves a textile element.   some vintage southwestern kind of fabric in the shoe, with the leather; a hybrid.  a leather and textile hybrid.   and a boot, like below the knee or like, oh my god… in a dream world, like high, thigh high, can you make that?!

p: sure, we live in a dream world!

n: skin tight leather and textile, oh my god!   it’s coming together in my head! …and a beautiful seventies, wooden platform.   that’s like the dream shoe!

p: that sounds amazing.

n: sounds expensive (laughs). 

p: when has that ever stopped us?

{nat kelley by tay bittner}

solesearch with nat kelley…