“Do you ever feel like you’re just an impersonation of yourself?” Keeley Bumford, an LA-based musician who goes by the moniker Dresage, peers at me over a cup of coffee as I fumble with my phone. We’re discussing the use of visuals in her new project, and I’m trying to show her a music video, though it’s taking too long to load. After a beat, I laugh at her question and try to respond, but before we can explore her musing, the video finally starts to play, cutting us off. I had pulled up 'Califone' by No Joy as an example of a low-budget video that’s gained popularity among small bands, a style that I felt would particularly resonate with Bumford: it generally consists of stock imagery, stitched together as spontaneously and cleverly as her own project. For now, Dresage has only released two songs, but the music is just the tip of the iceberg; everything forthcoming is worth your eager anticipation.

When Bumford discovered Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in high school, she became certain she’d be a jazz singer. She grew up with songwriters like Alanis Morissette, Jewel, and Tori Amos, but this was an awakening. During her time at Berklee College, she discovered artists that proved there were other ways to be a singer-songwriter, citing Bjork and Fiona Apple as particularly formative. (In fact, she has a prominent Extraordinary Machine tattoo on her right arm.) Out of college, Bumford has been working as a session vocalist, which has landed her voice in some seriously high-profile syncs, most recently in the new trailer for Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time. She also was in a band called Hotel Cinema, and though she only has wonderful things to say about them, it’s clear that it left her creatively stunted. Now that the band has broken up, Bumford has been able to do whatever she wants under a new moniker: Dresage.

Though she is a multi-instrumentalist who writes and produces all her own work, it would be untrue to say Dresage wasn’t based on collaborations. “I am very fortunate to have a ton of friends who are really talented and somehow let me rope them into my project,” she tells me. “I like to collaborate because it gives you more colours to paint with.” Art is built on art after all, and every artist has a unique perspective; put some heads together and ideas become illuminated from several angles. Take her live rendition of 'Renaissance' at The Chalet. The clip was filmed at a private studio inside a leather shop in Culver City, CA, owned by Al Sgro whom she met through her old band, and directed by Mattias Evangelista, a ski photographer she’s known since childhood. And Greg Martin, a friend from college Bumford repeatedly refers to as “a savant,” helped co-write the original version and arranged a rendition of it for a seven-piece chamber ensemble, which in turn came together through Bumford’s harpist friend Lara Somogyi who herself had connections to the Orchid Quartet, responsible for strings. Bumford then managed to round out the cast with two woodwind players that she managed to recruit despite them not being overly familiar with her project. The result is a one-shot masterpiece.

Unsurprisingly, the concept was entirely Bumford’s. She is constantly seeking out ways to incorporate a visual aspect to her music, wanting to expose the world in which it lives. The Chalet live recording was only one corner of this Dresage dimension and a fairly bright corner at that. With the help of audiovisual artist CAKE KILLS, she’s also put together darker vignettes for both of her songs. The clips are only around a minute long, and feature alternate mixes meant to soundtrack disorienting black and white sequences in locations best described as haunted. “There was literally blood on the ceiling of this seedy motel in the valley,” she told me of the setting for the 'Center' short. For 'Renaissance', they drove up to Topanga to kick up some dust, embracing the shadows that come with the transition from dusk to night.

Her collaborations with photographer Ellis Tucker take a step back from the music. Sprawled across Dresage’s social media are stills from several shoots they’ve done, usually based on inherently political concepts. “I like exploring ideas of feminism, challenging modern beauty standards,” she explains, “and saying fuck that.” A series featuring quite literally only her legs confronts body image standards and makes as an effort “to embrace the programmed shame that never belonged there in the first place,” as Bumford put it. She also staged a dinner party in which she explored vanity and gluttony, clawing at desserts in extravagant wardrobes styled by Conquer Loud. She embraces vices because she’s done being told that she can’t, done with feeling less than; femme existence is political, and Bumford is fully invested in the fight for equality.

As important as her expertise of music theory are her politics, so naturally they’ve seeped into her work as Dresage. On 'Center', she sings about living “in an opinionated hell,” which has echoes of our current social landscape, whether intentional or not. She also used shots from the glutton party as the artwork for both of her tracks. When I ask if she’ll get more political in her lyrics, she replies in the affirmative without hesitation. Don’t expect an explicit takedown of Trump or his administration, though; Dresage is a self-reflective project, and any commentary on society is told through a lens of her experience.

Her new music reflects an inner dialogue, one she hopes can resonate universally. In describing the development of her sound, she tells me it’s a compromise between French impressionist era of Classical music and J Dilla. Imagine these two influences on opposite sides of a spectrum, and Dresage operates like a pendulum, swinging from the more orchestral (at the Chalet) to the more trip hop (in the reimagined vignette scores, which she mixes herself). Her lyrics thus far have focused on her personal growth, explaining that on 'Renaissance' she was calling herself out to “stop hiding in this smaller version of myself I’d created.” There is an EP release in Dresage’s not-too-distant future which will feature both 'Renaissance' and 'Center', as well as a few other singles sure to reflect a similar vein of introspection.

As much as she believes that our world will get better in the long-term, she also has her doubts about how we’ll get there. “It feels like nothing matters anymore,” she sighs, recounting the betrayal she felt after the US primary and general elections. “My friends tell me, art is what propels civilization forward,” she says, implying that’s reason enough to continue to do what she loves. But I still ask her if she agrees, and she mutters a weak “yes” before trailing off. Then, with renewed confidence: “I just have to do what I can: vote in every election, make something good and beautiful, and make people feel good when they talk to me.” Bumford has some faith in humanity, but she knows that change starts small, with her. And through Dresage, she is able to express so much more of herself. Perhaps that’s why she feels like her own imposter. Hopefully, she’ll soon realize it’s just a growing pain, as Dresage is only just starting to flourish.