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Modern siren Kelleia honors her late mother’s sights toward highest peak

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LA-based singer/songwriter Kelleia. Photos by Natalia Molina

LA-based singer/songwriter Kelleia. Photos by Natalia Molina

Mount Everest holds a special place in Kelley Kim’s heart. The singer-songwriter known as Kelleia grew up in Orange County, raised by divorced parents. She spent a chunk of her youth with her mother Michelle, a human rights attorney and avid climber whose intrigue with the highest summit on earth preceded Kim’s birth. Everette, she was later told, had been her mother’s first name choice for her only daughter.

Six years ago, amid rigorous training to achieve her lifelong dream of climbing Mount Everest, Michelle fell to her death climbing Mount Baldy, the highest summit in L.A. County. Kim, 20 at the time, received the phone call in Europe during her semester abroad.

Since that moment, Kim has undergone much soul-searching. After finishing up her bachelor’s degree in urban design and architecture studies at NYU and master’s in city design and social science at London School of Economics, she backpacked across South America in search of sacred sites and studied yoga for several months in India. Upon returning to the States, she did a stint working with a permaculture and urban design nonprofit in Portland.

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This past winter, the 26-year-old’s years-long wanderlust culminated in the return to her old stomping grounds of LA. She had traveled the world to gain knowledge of the self and of Mother Earth, but her vast exposure to cultural music of the past and present awakened in her an undeniable desire to sing and perform her own songs for the world to hear.

Like all things in her life, she charged full force in this endeavor since her return. Her collaborations with a rotation of LA- and OC-based producers — including Auralponic, Jonny Joon and David Oh — have manifested her first-ever body of original songs. In the act of marking a full circle, she has titled the five-track EP, Water From Everest, an offering to her late mother. It is due out by the end of the year.

“That to me signifies this mystical force from which love comes from, and that’s what my mom is for me,” Kim said. “She’s like this ethereal being that comes in all these different forms that’s not quite of this world, but it’s constant.”

LA-based singer/songwriter Kelleia. Photos by Natalia Molina

Kim’s voice is reminiscent of water: her tone carries a pristine clarity, moving through R&B and sultry pop melodies like the waves. On stage, she unleashes an inner diva through the movement of dance. Undoubtedly, Kim draws inspiration from strong women “who burn down the house with their souls,” such as Beyonce, Shania Twain, Whitney Houston and the like, she said.

“That fire’s been ignited, and it’s never gonna go out,” Kim said. “I just have to keep stoking it.”

Kelleia will be performing with producer/multi-instrumentalist Auralponic next Tuesday at St. Rocke in Hermosa Beach as the featured act for Sound Collective: Emerging Artists Showcase, hosted by Josh Arbour and Kira Lingman. The night, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., will also feature Ayline Amirayan, Azeen and friends, Alex Ridio, The Loneliest Casanova and Melissa Brethauer. 21+ / Free admission.

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