Anton Chekhov isn’t usually cited as a singer-songwriter’s influence, but thirty seconds into Tatyana Kalko’s track “Keep Me On,” you feel it. The song, like most of Kalko’s sound, is a perfect blend of heavy and light, raw emotion mixed with a dash of old Hollywood romanticism. Kalko is no stranger to Chekhov and his explorations of human emotion. She studied method acting at NYU, and then in Moscow, establishing her endearingly coy stage presence and attention to detail. After moving back to New York, she felt disillusioned by a life of never-ending auditions, and went back to her first love: music. 

Growing up first in Belarus, and then the outskirts of Philadelphia, Kalko’s childhood was always grounded in the arts: she played alto saxophone, sang in the choir, and wrote poetry. But she also had The Beatles. Specifically: her parents’ collection of bootleg Beatles albums. With help from her father—himself an occasional composer—she learned to play guitar by working her way through Beatles classics. Fascinated by their chord progressions and melodies, she gained an appreciation for their simple-but-joyful riffs on classic pop, soul, and jazz sounds. 

Today, Kalko is based in Harlem and brings her intimate performances to venues throughout New York City and London. Her soulful voice melds perfectly with Lennon-style chords in a song like  “Tip of My Tongue,” then veers into a more abstract, Brian Eno-esque direction in “Living in the Present.” Music has become her outlet to express the intangible things that can’t be conveyed through everyday conversations. In her songs, Kalko is in her element, and the connection is more genuine than any kind of theatre.