August 30 2014

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Beauty And The Beat: Kemp & Eden Is “More About The Ethereal”—And The Homemade Face Masks


Charlotte Kemp Muhl has something of a charmed life. The pouty-lipped model’s Maybelline contract and her duties to The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, the band she fronts with boyfriend Sean Lennon, mean a constant string of international gigs and high-profile photo shoots. But she’s finding inspiration in her more humble beginnings for her latest musical interlude. While growing up in Georgia, she wrote a handful of songs for her longtime best friend and classically trained choral singer Eden Rice, which the duo has unearthed to form Kemp & Eden. Their debut album, Black Hole Lace, has them falling somewhere between Kate Bush and Simon and Garfunkel and utilizing philosophical lyrics (“Athena sprang from Zeus’ head / Lobotomy or cesarean?”) and ethereal harmonies all culled from the tracks they penned in their early teens. “We’ve been writing new songs recently, but funny enough, they haven’t changed that much,” says Muhl. “Frankly, I was a lot more mature when I was 14 than I am now—I’m totally in my fart jokes phase.” Here, the duo talks to about homespun face masks, hoarding Gunne Sax dresses, and why sometimes music trumps modeling.

You’ve known each other since you were children—why come together now on a music project?
Charlotte Kemp Muhl: We had given up on our childhood ambitions of writing music and being in a band—it seemed like a pipe dream—until I met Sean. He heard us playing live on a guitar at The Dakota, at his mom’s house, and said, “I really want to produce it!” So we put out this acoustic EP.

Is the writing process a collaborative one?
CKM: I actually write all the songs technically, but Eden has major veto power, and I write what I think she would like because she’s the lead vocalist. She’s a much better singer than I am—she was in a choir her whole childhood. I’m more of the songwriter, and I sing harmonies. With The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, it’s a guy and a girl, 50-50, and it’s definitely more of a struggle and more of a fight [writing songs]. It’s interesting because that represents exactly a world between a male and a female brain, and I do a lot of androgynous, experimental stuff with that. With Eden, it’s really feminine; it’s very soft and romantic, and more about the ethereal.

Having busy lives, how do you find the time to work on Kemp & Eden?

Eden Rice: We live with each other!

CKM: We live in Sean’s house so we see each other almost every day. [But] it’s hard, we really have trouble finding time to work on any of our projects. Luckily, we’re able to work pretty fast once we decide to; we did that whole EP in a week. We’re ready to finish our next record, which is pretty much already recorded. We also got our own guitarist—we used to rely on Sean a little too much, he was our guitarist and producer and relying on his schedule was really difficult. We’ve been doing stuff ourselves, which has liberated us.

Charlotte, having worked in fashion, is there any added pressure to make sure the band looks good when you perform live?
CKM: We’ve never seen it as a pressure…it’s fun! We look forward to any opportunity to dress up, because we’ve been doing it since we were little kids. We used to ride bikes to the Salvation Army and buy cheap nightgowns and pretend we were elves. We still have the same style, we’re still thrifting.

Any favorite vintage spots?
CKM: For our band aesthetic we like getting our clothes from Ritual in New York—[the clothing's] more than just vintage; it’s from the 1800s. But that’s not everyday wear, that’s just for photo shoots and shows. We also like Gunne Sax, we wear a lot of those.

ER: Charlotte has a huge costume closet and we’ll share things back and forth.

Do you also share beauty products?
ER: I like homemaking a lot of my beauty products; I love making face masks and different kinds of face lotions and things. I usually just make up [the recipe] on the spot and try to think practically about what you can eat that would make sense for your skin. Raw honey is amazing, and avocado and egg yolk are really good.

CKM: We’re always looking up ingredients—like, ginger’s good for this and that’s good for that. [Eden's] always blending up avocados, lemon juice, and spirulina, and we’ll put it all over our face and look like swamp monsters. That’s basically our life.

What about when you’re on the road?
ER: We’ll take a big jar of raw honey. But there are some organic face products that are really nice. Origins is my favorite—I have A Perfect World face cream.

CKM: I like the Jurlique Herbal Recovery Gel and Recovery Mask.

What’s more grueling—fashion week or touring?
CKM: Touring is grueling, technically, but it’s so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work—unless we’re bickering. It’s whistle while you work. But during fashion week I just want to shoot myself in the face. I don’t really like fashion week at all—I like fashion theoretically, but I think being a model, I’m a little bit over it. I feel like models had more fun in the eighties, even in the nineties, before it got so corporate.

Do your artistic ambitions ever get in the way of your modeling commitments?
CKM: It is hard sometimes, in terms of scheduling and in terms of image. It’s a lot to juggle and two totally different worlds; being a musician is very different from being a model, even though both are in the public eye. I have to be really bubbly and smiley for all of my modeling gigs. My band with Sean for example, we want an edgier image—be more rock ‘n’ roll—but as long as I have the Maybelline contract I try to be more well-behaved. I really like working for them and am really lucky, but I think it’s going to be cool when I don’t have to feel responsible for representing such a big brand and I can be crazy and free with my band. Although it’s not like for Kemp & Eden I need to be like Iggy Pop or GG Allin, stabbing myself onstage.

Until you decide to go in that direction, are you going to keep balancing the two?
CKM: I would like to retire soon from modeling and just focus on music, but I don’t think it’s going to happen because I don’t make any money making music—and modeling pays the bills. I don’t want to be one of those girls who doesn’t have her own income. Sean and I started this record label and we need to finance it until one of the bands breaks even. Until that happens, I’ll keep modeling—you’ll know how well the band is doing if you see me in commercials [laughs]!

Photo: Courtesy of Chimera Music

Beauty And The Beat