KAI IS FINALLY READY FOR HER SPOTLIGHT

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You may not know kai by name just yet, but you’ve definitely heard her voice. The Toronto-born singer has the resume of an industry veteran, despite the fact that she just dropped her first single and video “in the now” on August 7. 

kai was discovered nearly a decade ago by Warner Records during a performance at MetalWorks, an audio-engineering school in her home city that she attended after realizing college wasn’t for her. “I barely went to [college],” she says. “I just smoked a lot of weed and wrote songs.” Her deal with Warner quickly found her in the studio writing songs that would make their way to artists like Childish Gambino, Diplo, Skrillex, and Jessie J. However, it was one collaboration in particular, “Never Be Like You” with Flume, that ended up taking on a life of its own. The 2016 single, now-certified double platinum, hit the top 20 in the United States and even received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording. Flume’s euphoric dance production combined with kai’s raw lyricism and silky vocals perfectly suited the track to be heard on the radio, in clubs, and at festivals.

Following the success of “Never Be Like You,” kai made a few attempts to release a debut project, but none of them came to fruition. A self-described introvert, she realized that the major label process of creating music (“Co-writing sessions, traveling, writing with strangers all the time”) wasn’t for her, and she chose to launch her solo career as an independent artist. “This is who I am without anybody else,” she says of the new track, which she co-wrote and co-produced. With lyrics about the desire to remain present with a lover, “in the now” features dreamy, minimalist production that showcases her honeyed vocals. It’s a bold first taste of kai’s artistic potential, especially after making a name for herself through features.

While it’s certainly an interesting time to launch a solo career, kai is thankful that the current restrictions on the industry due to the pandemic will allow her to ease onto the promotional trail. She admits to me on our mid-July Zoom chat that this is only her third interview to date, which comes as a surprise considering her high-profile catalog. “I don’t love talking about myself, but I also enjoy it at the same time, if that makes sense,” she says humbly. 

Check out our chat with kai below, in which we discuss the success of “Never Be Like You,” her creative process, and what’s to come following “in the now.” 

 

 

“in the now” is the first piece of solo music we’re hearing from you, but we’ve obviously heard your voice. How did you score such major features without any solo work?

I really don’t know, like divine for real. I had written “Revolution.” It was just this piano ballad, and I sent it to this Canadian music producer named Imanos one night, and he was like, “I’m actually working with Diplo on some stuff. I’m gonna send this to him.” Then within a week “Revolution” was a thing, and he was putting it out, and that kind of spiraled. 

Once that song was out there I started building a name for myself in that community, which is interesting because it’s not the music that I make personally, but all of these artists are trailblazers and genre benders, and I just resonate with them because they’re amazing at what they do. But yeah, again, like I don’t know. (laughs) God or I don’t know, the universe has its plan. I’m just following, and whatever opportunity resonates with me, I’m like, “Cool. I’m down.”

 

What was it like for you to experience the success of “Never Be Like You?”

That was wild. I mean, I got to experience a lot of things for the first time––touring, performing at Coachella, doing radio shows, and all of that.

 

No big deal.

Yeah, it was really cool, and I love the song. That song, for the time that the world hadn’t heard it, it was one of those moments where you know something’s special, and you know something’s gonna do something. Something that I’m learning now is how to celebrate the little wins, because I’m not the best at celebrating myself in the moments, and the success. I feel like while I was in it, I was just in it, and I was doing what I had to do, and not really taking it in. In hindsight, looking back I’m like, “Wow, I did that. This song was a moment in time that people still think about and love.”

 

Did you feel any pressure developing your solo music having had that success?

I’ve always internally put that pressure on myself. Before any of the success that I’ve had, my bar has always been super high, because the artists that I have looked up to are at that level. So not from the song, no, but from myself, yeah. I definitely [heard], “You have a window. Put music out now while you have a song that’s super hot out,” but I never bought into that, because I just don’t believe in that scarcity. I knew that when I was ready to put out music I would know, and it would be right.

Tell me about the process of creating “in the now.” 

Man, that song was a really wild creative experience. I wrote it here in my apartment with my co-executive producer who is executive producing my project, Issac Valens. We were hanging out, it was like 5 AM. I had passed out on the couch, and he had started this idea, and I remember in my dream slash waking, like in-between state, hearing that he started something, and I started humming stuff. 

I really like writing in that state, ’cause I’m completely out of my way, and I was like, “Yo, this is really cool.” I started singing things, and then I kind of took over, ’cause I also use Ableton and produce as well, and so he took a nap, and we were just literally like taking naps, and switching positions, and then the song was made, and we were like, “What the fuck just happened? That was really interesting.” It was weird, but it was cool.

 

And you co-produced it. Since you have the ability, is that something that’s very important to you to do?

Yeah, for a long time I felt really dependent on producers. I would get really frustrated in sessions when I could hear things in my head, and I’m like, “I don’t know how to articulate this. I don’t have the vocabulary. I don’t know how to explain this,” and when I learned Ableton, I learned how to articulate my thoughts. I start a lot of ideas from scratch. I started “Mind,” the song that I have with Jack Ü that way, and I sent it to Diplo, and he’s like, “Who made the beat?” And I’m like, “I did.” It’s important to have that creative freedom.

 

The music video is super sexy and fun to watch. It also reminded me of the final dream sequence scene in Euphoria. What was the inspiration for you behind that video?

The initial seed of the idea came from Allie Avital, the director. It’s definitely steamy, and the song is about presence and intimacy. When you’re fully intimate with someone, that’s the ultimate presence, but especially the beginning scene, there’s a lot of symbolism in that scene. It’s like a window into my psyche, and the archetypes that live within me, and the things that distract me from presence. Then there’s this rebirth, a kind of cleansing baptismal ending where it’s all of our minds, and self-talk, and things that distract us or fuck with us. (laughs) Everything’s kind of cleansed, and it’s just me left in presence and stillness by myself, so there’s a lot of beautiful symbolism that maybe off the top isn’t obvious, but it means a lot to me.

 

Do you feel like being in the now is something that you’re really working on now, especially releasing your own music?

Every single day. When I wake up I ask, “How can I be more present today?” I don’t always feel it, but it’s super important to me. Like in this moment with you, to be here is super important. 

 

Well that means a lot to me. What can you tell us about what’s coming next and the project that “in the now” is going to be part of?

I can say that there’s a lot of music coming—a lot of great music coming. Thematically it’s about duality. That’s all I’m gonna say, ’cause I feel like I want to keep that sacred right now.

CONNECT WITH KAI

INSTAGRAM // TWITTER // SPOTIFY

photos / Sasha Samanova

story/ Jack Irvin

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