Perhaps because Austin-bred singer-songwriter Kelsey Hughen emanates kindness, people respond in turn, and doors seem to always open for her. Such was the case in 2014, when a chance meeting during a summer vacation in New York City brought her the opportunity to live and work in the West Village. She decided to go for it, and made the move a few months later.
In Austin, Kelsey had been performing regularly and building a fan base, but still felt like something was missing. “I didn’t feel I was doing anything of significance,” says Kelsey. Once in New York, Kelsey gravitated to the Irish Music scene, having just visited Ireland with her father, David, and falling in love with Irish music and culture. One night she went to the Pig N Whistle pub in Midtown, where a musician named Johnny Cuomo was playing. Kelsey told Johnny she was also a singer-songwriter, and Johnny handed her his guitar and said, “play.”
Hugh and Me: Leah Rankin, Kelsey Hughen, and Johnny Cuomo
“I was so nervous,” Kelsey says. “I was surrounded by talented musicians. But I played one of my songs. While I was playing, Johnny whipped out another guitar and starting playing too. Then the fiddle started, then the flute, and all of a sudden I’m hearing an original piece of mine being accompanied by renowned Irish musicians. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. I knew that these were some of the people I was meant to learn from.”
After the show, Kelsey thanked Johnny, and asked him if he was interested in collaborating. Despite Johnny’s busy schedule as a professional musician and as father of two young children, he too thought they had a connection and agreed. Although they saw each other intermittently, it wasn’t until a year later, when Kelsey had written her song “Welcome Home,” the story of her journey living in New York City, that they started collaborating in earnest.
Kelsey sent Johnny a rough draft of the song over an iPhone message, and added, “Johnny, I wrote this song and can only hear you playing on it.” Johnny took the song and added his own character to it. “He gave it a little bit of a Celtic feel, pop but folk,” says Kelsey. Kelsey and Johnny worked together to bring the song to life.
“When it was finished, I knew I wanted to record it at Studio West,” says Kelsey. “Every time I’ve recorded at Studio West, I’ve worked with different engineers, many of whom had recently graduated from their degree program. All have had a profound understanding of both the technical and musical aspects of the recording process. I feel right at home at Studio West, with Peter and Amy and the rest of the staff.”
Connor Buss, founder of Foreword Films in Los Angeles, came to Studio West and to New York City to film the video, which has just been released. “Welcome Home” began as the story of my New York experience,” says Kelsey. “but by the end of the recording & filming process, the story had evolved into far more than just my story. It became the story of all involved along the journey, from our New York City community to our Studio West family in San Diego.
You can see the video of Kelsey’s song “Welcome Home” here. Kelsey and Johnny and new addition, cellist Leah Rankin, perform regularly at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City as the band Hugh and Me.