When Kelsey Lu walked into her hometown North Carolina music store as a kid, ostensibly for violin lessons, she only knew she wanted to play in the school orchestra. “I remember that the store smelled like polished wood, and as I walked in, I noticed this cello propped up against the wall and was just enraptured,” says the Jehovah’s-Witness-raised Lu, who at 18 ran away from home to pursue music. She went on to become the go-to stage and studio cellist for artists like Solange, Blood Orange and Florence + the Machine, before issuing her obsidian-hued debut “Blood” this month.
What impressed you so much about the cello?
That first day, my music teacher saw me repeatedly looking back at it, so she finally said, “Well? Do you want to take it home?” And I was like, “Yeah!” So I just loved the cello. There was just something about it that drew me to it, like the way that your body is wrapped around it. I remember the first note that I played after resting it against my body, and it just vibrated my whole being. And I just knew that that’s what I was going to play.
What did the cello do for you, sonically, that the violin could not?
There was just something about the physical contact and the resonance that it had. And you get these low tones, the kind you just can’t get from a violin. And I never felt completely comfortable with a violin in my left wrist. I thought, “Why do I have to pain myself just to play this thing?” Plus its tone didn’t sit well with me, and it was just so loud. I couldn’t be quiet with it. I didn’t know how. And in finding my own voice with the cello, I found a similar connection to the way I sing and move. So I have a connection that’s almost beyond any explanation.
How did you get noticed on such an international scale?
Well, there are a lot of cellists. But before I moved to New York, then L.A., the first call I got was when I went to this bar after work, even though I was still underage. I met two of the bartender’s friends, and they were like, “Oh, my God! You play cello? We do conscious hip hop, and we’re going into the studio. You want to come by and play cello on a track?” And nobody had asked me to play anything outside of classical music before.
IF YOU GO
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, April 28
Tickets: $17 to $20
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.eventbrite.com