Natasha Kmeto has been lying low.
"I've been quiet for a little bit," she says. "I've been doing stuff that's not out in the open."
That's a shift for one of Portland's most confessional and self-described bombastic electronic musicians. Her last album, Inevitable, was released to national critical acclaim in 2015 and discusses her newly discovered queer identity with metallic, soulful dance anthems. She's become a figurehead of Portland electronica—this week, she headlines the anniversary party at stalwart DJ venue Dig A Pony.
But on the eight-song EP she's currently recording, she's looking to become less of a stand-alone force.
"I wanted to make a bedroom-sounding record," says Kmeto. "It's not as bombastic as some of my other stuff. I'm bringing it back to being more minimal."
It's somewhat surprising Kmeto is moving away from auteurism. But when she first moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Kmeto wasn't planning to become a solo artist at all.
"I liked being in bands, and thought I was going to gear myself toward singing backup, or doing studio or songwriting work," she says. "I hadn't launched anything solo, and never really saw myself doing my own thing. I was scared to."
In 2007, craving an escape from the grind of L.A., where she was attending music college, the California native left for Portland, which she saw as a "hidden, rainy oasis" where she could create music in the arms of a supportive artistic community. EDM had yet to explode into the mainstream, making her somewhat of an obscurity.
"Having a laptop and being onstage wasn't as common as it is now," she says. "I was kinda lumped in with the DJ category even though I wasn't a DJ. I just used a laptop instead of playing guitar."
Still, Kmeto was able to transcend the limiting DJ label and reach a wider audience. She released her debut album, Crisis, in 2013. Comprising aggressive dance-floor beats with undercurrents of sexual tension, the album was "a narration of my coming-out experience," she says.
Inevitable came two years later. The stripped-down electronic beats put the attention on Kmeto's bold, resonant voice, and the album's ambiguous gender pronouns and lyrical themes proudly embrace her identity as a queer woman.
"It's who I am," she says of her sexual identity. "It's not directly the subject matter of what I write about. I just try to write from the heart—and write my emotions—and I think it just comes out in [the music]."
Kmeto clearly isn't afraid to put herself in front of her music anymore. But her in-the-works EP is her most understated and collaborative work yet. Though she still uses her laptop in lieu of a band, she plays bass on her new tracks. Kmeto also plans to bring in guest musicians. Though it's too soon to name names, collaborating with instrumentalists on an album will be a change for her.
"I like working with other vocalists," she says. "But as far as instrumentalists, I haven't done that [on an album] yet."
The decision to expand her sound beyond her laptop is evidence of Kmeto's willingness to experiment, as well as how much electronica has risen from its niche. The landscape of electronic music has become more saturated since Kmeto started making music, and the amorphousness of her genre-splicing sound has become an asset. On Inevitable, TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe lends his smooth vocals to the track "Grind." Kmeto also frequently shares stages with local futuristic R&B outfit Chanti Darling.
The songs on Kmeto's previous albums have hard-hitting dance-club production. But she's started playing new, slow-burning tracks at the handful of shows she's played over the past six months.
Inspired by the likes of Cocteau Twins' post-punk and SZA's dark R&B vibes, Kmeto describes her new material as smoldering. "Lagged" is a sultry, synth-bathed bedroom anthem with the refrain "Every time I kiss you, it's like falling from the sky." "SS" taps into her new, simmering sound with a deep, pulsing drumbeat riding on a wave of warm, whirring synthesizer and reverb-layered vocals.
Kmeto says her shows will continue to be scattered while she records her new EP, but she's beginning to pick up steam.
"I'll come crawling out from my rock soon enough," she says.
SEE IT: Natasha Kmeto plays Dig A Pony, 736 SE Grand Ave., digaponyportland.com, with Gold Casio, Bryson Cone and the Pony Strut DJs, on Thursday, July 26. 8 pm. Free. 21+.