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From Shadowlawn to Mulholland

A multicolored portrait of Kaelin Kost.
Kaelin Kost’s debut single, Mulholland Drive, has been getting great reviews in music magazines. She released a second song, Lightning Love, at the end of April.
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hen Kaelin Kost graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 2011 and headed for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, she held on to her high school memories of being in a band and performing in the high school dance company and at Center for Theater Arts. After earning a degree in textile design and entering the workforce, she thought her performing days were over.

Yet this year she signed a record deal with 300 Entertainment and has released her first two R&B singles, Mulholland Drive and Lightning Love.

“I feel like this has been the manifestation of this dream I’ve had my whole life to sing,”

says Kost, whose family lives on Shadowlawn Drive. “I had been working as a print designer, but most people didn’t know I sang, unless they knew me in high school … It was something I had been missing for years. Such a part of my identity. To do it now is a dream come true, as cheesy as that is.”

Kost has lived in Brooklyn for the past six years, working for Liz Casella, where she designed prints for clothing brands such as Free People, Macy’s and Jason Wu. But she would sometimes be struck by possible song lyrics or melodies, so when she was alone, she’d use a voice recorder on her phone and document her ideas in the form of unaccompanied vocals.

Her work often took her to Los Angeles, where she connected with some friends-of-a-friend in the music industry, including her current producer Shaun Lopez, his wife, Amy, and her current manager, Joseph Pepin. She wound up working with them on various songwriting projects, and she found herself going to the studio when her work days ended and tacking vacation days onto her work trips to maximize her time there.

Her big break came when she filmed the video for her song Mulholland Drive. They had no budget for the music video, Kost said. Lopez duct-taped a GoPro to his car and drove down Mulholland Drive, a famous street in Los Angeles that offers some iconic views and was featured in the 2001 David Lynch film of the same name. Kost then projected the footage on her bedroom wall in Brooklyn and filmed herself singing.

When the record label saw it, they flew someone out the next weekend to sign the deal.

Pop culture magazine Wonderland praised Kost’s “ear-ringing vocals” saying she sits “comfortably between the likes of Olivia Rodrigo and Madison Beer.” Skope Magazine, a music-based publication, called her “an artist to add to your radar this year.”

“I definitely relate to the song a lot,” said Kost. “I’m an introvert that’s decent at being an extrovert when I want to be … Mulholland is kind of like this antisocial anthem. It’s about opting out of a party where you have to fake conversations with people, and getting lost with someone else.”

Her second single, Lightning Love, was released on April 30. It’s an acoustic track based on a little-known Elvis Presley song, and Kost created it as a foil to Mulholland Drive. They recorded it on a vintage cassette player and ran the sound through a toy Rambo amp that was sitting unused in the studio.

“There’s an A side and a B side with my music. Mulholland is the A side—better suited to radio. Then Lightning Love is the B side—super stripped-down and intimate. The common edge between the two is this bittersweet darkness,” said Kost.

Kost’s music is available on all major music providers, including Spotify and Amazon Music.

As she transitions from design into a full-time singing career, she credits her Mt. Lebanon education with giving her the courage to pursue art, specifically mentioning Michael Carlin, her former AP Art teacher, who retired in 2016.

“I’m very thankful for the music and art programs Mt. Lebanon has. In my opinion, they have done an amazing job of letting kids follow their passion, and letting them know that their passion can be their work also,” said Kost.