Growing up, Kendall Lujan always loved to sing, but being active in sports and having extreme stage fright kept her from pursuing it. Now a few years removed from college and singing background vocals for jazz and funk groups, the Portland-based artist’s passion will come full circle with the release of her debut self-titled EP on March 17.
The four-song project recorded at the Map Room Recording Studio with producer Dominik Schmidt explores everything from growing up to how we preserve memories, relationships, heartbreak and more. It’s very much a coming-of-age project for Lujan, who’d only performed her own music out once prior to 2020 when she moved from Bellingham, Wash. to Oregon during the heat of the pandemic.
“I didn’t want to live there forever,” Lujan tells The Boot about Bellingham before describing the transition to a new city in lockdown as less than ideal. “I didn’t know anyone in Portland, especially in the music scene. I spent most of my time early on stuck in my house with only my partner to talk to and no friends.
The resulting change in scenery also brought a more serious approach to her songwriting and newfound confidence to move out from the background and into the spotlight. According to Lujan, she’d lacked the latter in the past due to little experience performing her own work live on stage, coupled with not having an instrument to pair with it. That all began to change when she bought a guitar and took a couple of lessons before leaving home to enroll at Western Washington University in 2016.
“I felt like I needed a tool to use my singing, that I couldn’t sing if I didn’t also have an instrument to play with it,” Lujan says about her adolescent mindset. “Then the stage fright set in and I thought I may never do this.”
In due time, Lujan has made connections and grown her confidence in the City of Roses, blossoming as both an artist and a person in the process. As for her stage fright, she’s mostly conquered that too.
“I look at it now like a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get,” says Lujan. “Sometimes, after I’ve taken a break from it, the nerves creep back in, but nothing like before.”
One of the most meaningful connections that have helped in facilitating positive change for Lujan has been fellow Portland musician A.C. Sapphire (pictured above). The two met while performing at an underground music festival in the city in June 2022, and less than a month later, Lujan was singing in Sapphire’s backing band, The Shoulder Pads.
Since then, the two have been nearly inseparable, embarking on an East Coast tour together in late 2022 before officially launching their new duo project Caliko last month during a show at Mississippi Studios.
“Our voices are both powerful, but in very different ways,” says Lujan. “That doesn’t always make a good match, but it’s been so fun getting to sing with her. The first time we did it, we looked at each other afterward in amazement. It felt so right.”
However, despite the strong connection between the two, Sapphire isn’t heard on Lujan’s forthcoming EP, which was recorded before they first met in March 2022. Instead, Lujan (acoustic guitar) is joined by Sam Arnold (bass), Micah Hummel (drums) and Logan Adam (lap steel) throughout to give her songs the most fleshed-out feel they’ve ever had.
This can be heard everywhere from “Forget Me Knots,” where the lap steel quivers alongside Lujan’s coos, to the thumping rhythm section on “Dot My I’s,” but it’s perhaps at its purest form on “Getting Old.” Vintage sounds meet modern movement in the sinister tale about a creepy and unknown man who tried following Lujan home to her apartment one night. Although she was able to get inside safely, her story details the stark realities many women face that have been highlighted in the current “Me Too” era.
“I wanted to write something that explores what women are tired of dealing with that others don’t experience,” says Lujan. “It also talks about how you start to look different as you grow older and how that can leave you being and feeling less valued due to society’s standards of how people should look and act.”
Another vulnerable and full circle moment comes for Lujan on the EP’s closing track, “Another,” which details the avalanche of emotions felt by the artist after the partner she moved to Portland with during the pandemic left her in 2021 after three years together.
“It’s about watching them pack up all of their stuff and drive away,” Lujan says of the slow and somber song. “It was a sad ending after all the memories we’d made together. At the time, it’s easy to get caught up in your own feelings, but now that I’ve had time to process it, I’m like, ‘Thank God!’”
You can learn more about Kendall Lujan by visiting her official website and following her on Instagram.