Kalen & Aslyn

“Some of these songs stretch back ten years,” says Aslyn, “and some of them are brand new. It wasn’t something we consciously set out to do, but we ended up recording an album that spans our entire journey together: falling in love, breaking up, getting married, leaving home, coming back. Our whole story is in these songs.”

It’s hard to think of a more fitting introduction to that story than Back Of Our MindsKalen & Aslyn’s gorgeous debut. Written over the course of a decade in which the Athens, Georgia-based duo was primarily known for their own respective projects, the songs here represent something of a look behind the curtain, a captivating series of musical journal entries that reveal the evolution of a relationship in all its messy, honest, imperfect beauty. Kalen & Aslyn produced the album themselves, and their subtle touch is a perfect match for the record’s intimate, understated performances, which at times call to mind everything from Van Morrison and Randy Newman to Harry Nilsson and Glen Campbell. The end result is a breezy mix of southern California country and vintage pop that comes wrapped in warm, richly textured arrangements and lush, mesmerizing harmonies. Given their backgrounds, it might seem inevitable that Kalen & Aslyn would make a record like this someday, but the truth is that Back Of Our Minds almost never saw the light of day.

“These are songs that ended up on the backburner over the years,” says Kalen. “They never really had a home with any of our other projects, but we both felt connected to them so strongly that we couldn’t seem to let them go. In the end, we decided to start a whole new project just so we could finally record them.”

Looking at Kalen & Aslyn’s individual resumes, it’s easy to understand how they wound up with such a surfeit of songs. A Florida native, Aslyn (born Heather Mitchell) grew up studying classical piano before discovering the likes of Stevie Wonder and Queen. She moved to Atlanta after college, and before long, she managed to land herself a major label deal with Capitol Records, who released her infectious debut, Lemon Love. Helmed by Guy Chambers (Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue), the record yielded a Top 40 single and helped Aslyn earn dates with the likes of Chris Isaak and Gavin DeGraw along with appearances on the Rock Boat, Cayamo, and more. Kalen, meanwhile, was raised on church music before making his way to rock and roll, and after bouncing between a series of bands in the early 2000’s, he struck gold fronting the psychedelic southern five-piece Ponderosa. Signed to New West, the group worked with legendary producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, Real Estate), toured with Shooter JenningsThe Old 97’s, and among others, and landed festival slots from Austin City Limits to Voodoo Fest.

“Aslyn and I had a mutual friend who’d been telling us for years that we needed to work together,” remembers Kalen. “We both kept putting it off, but finally in 2007 we agreed to meet up and write, and we’ve been driving each other crazy ever since.”

As Kalen and Aslyn’s personal relationship blossomed, their careers continued to pull them in opposite directions. Aslyn began touring heavily as a member of pop superstar <b.kesha< b=””>’s band, and Kalen was on the road steadily with Ponderosa and as a solo artist. In the hopes of spending more time together, the pair launched the dreamy synth-pop duo Dega, and in 2018, they released their self titled debut to rave reviews, with PopMatters hailing the couple’s “inherent chemistry” and Paper Magazine praising their “dreamy, jubilant” sound full of “glittery synths and shimmying drums.”

“Dega was meant to be this purely fun thing,” says Aslyn. “We wanted an excuse to tour together for a change, and since our individual songwriting had always been so serious in nature, it seemed like a great opportunity for us to be creative and express ourselves in a more carefree way.”

All the while, Kalen & Aslyn continued to write deeply probing, contemplative songs—both on their own and together—that didn’t seem to fit the mold for any of their existing projects. The music was too organic for Dega, too mellow for Ponderosa, too rootsy for Aslyn. Rather than record two separate solo albums, Kalen & Aslyn decided to pool the material and see where it led them.

“Our instinct at the time was just to capture this music that might otherwise have been lost,” says Kalen. “There was no concept beyond that at first, but when we actually started looking more closely at the songs, we realized you could chart the evolution of our whole relationship through them.”

Teaming up with engineer John Ashley (The War On Drugs, Hiss Golden Messenger), the duo set up shop in their own converted studio space just outside Athens, where they cut the core of the album live and raw. Kalen & Aslyn sang and performed nearly everything together at once, and the duo’s powerful connection is palpable throughout the record, which begins with the waltzing, bittersweet “Heather.” Floating on sea of swirling pedal steel, the track finds Kalen wrestling with the joy of finding his one true love and the pain of knowing that he may have lost her forever.

“Aslyn and I had been together for a while when I wrote that song, and I knew she was going to be the person I spent the rest of my life with,” says Kalen. “Unfortunately, we’d also just broken up that day. It turned out to be temporary, but in that moment, I was trying to make sense of this closure I felt about knowing I’d found the woman I would marry and the uncertainty that came with being apart from her.”

Aslyn tackles that same experience from her own perspective on the stirring “Fate,” which learns to find the beauty in love’s lows as well as its highs. Like much of the album, the song is richly cinematic, drawing on a broad palette of colors and textures to paint a stirring portrait of heartache, desire, and devotion. The tender “Loving You Still” pledges a lifetime of commitment, while the impossibly smooth “Don’t Take It Out On Me” works through the catharsis of admitting your mistakes, and the hypnotic “Girlfriend” reflects on the ways lovers can grow too complacent with time. There’s a subtle shift as the album progresses, though, and by later tracks like the dreamy “California” and Lennon-esque “Who Knows Your Heart,” the songs are less about two individuals interacting with each other and more about one couple taking on the world together. “In the back of our minds, it’s just you and me,” they sing on the enchanting title track, which closes out the record. “In the back of our minds, that’s all that we need.”

“That felt like a fitting end to the album because it’s our Bonnie and Clyde moment,” Kalen says with a laugh. “It’s an affirmation that we’re going to live the life we’ve chosen together, that it’s okay if people don’t understand us because we understand each other.”

“The back of our mind is the place where we keep all of our hopes and our dreams,” adds Aslyn. “That’s something no one can ever take from us.”

It’s also where these songs have been residing, in some cases for years, patiently awaiting their moment in the sun. With Back Of Our Minds, that moment has arrived.


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