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Interviews, Music

Interview: Kai talks debut album, Jack U collab, and Fashion

By: Curtis Sindrey –

Toronto pop singer-songwriter Kai.

Toronto pop singer-songwriter Kai.

Toronto-based pop singer-songwriter Kai is on the rise. From teaming up with Adventure Club, to collaborating with Diplo and Skrillex, she’s not only an in-demand songwriter, but she’s also releasing her debut album in early 2016. We spoke to Kai about her forthcoming album, writing for other artists (including Jessie J, and Rhianna), and fashion.

You plan to release your debut solo album in early 2016. What was the writing and recording process like for that?

I’ve been traveling and writing for the last three years, really. Just trying to find myself as an artist.  I’ve done a couple of my features that are out there in the world. It’s been a process for me to just basically figure out who I am as an artist, who I want to work with. You know, I’ve worked with so many different producers, a lot that weren’t a right fit for me, and it’s been a journey. It’s definitely been a long journey of discovery. But recently, in the last year, I’ve found the people I love working with.

I’m definitely more of a seasoned writer now. I’ve also written for other artists as well, so in terms of the songwriting, I’ve just, with time, improved on that front. But I just know exactly what type of music I want to make. As opposed to before, I was still searching, and I was trying so many different types of genres.  I felt confused, like I just didn’t know where I fit. And now I know that vision, I see it, and it’s a nice feeling.

In finding your own voice as a songwriter and artist, did that play in on the themes that you touched on with your debut album? 

I only write about my real life, personal experiences. I don’t really write about things that I haven’t experienced or I don’t know about. That also carries over into when I write for other artists, too; I still write from that personal kind of viewpoint.

While writing your debut album, what kind of themes did you touch on?

For this album, it’s mostly about relationships. It’s funny, because it’s been over a long period of time…I’m in a relationship now, but a couple of songs are about like when I didn’t think I’d ever be able to find love, so it’s interesting to look back at the songs that I was writing even six months ago.  They’re all pretty relationship based.

You’ve collaborated with a number of artists from Adventure Club, and Skrillex & Diplo, to Childish Gambino. How do you approach collaborative projects as opposed to your solo work?

In terms of the features I have now, a lot of them are songs I had written for my album that actually ended up being features, so it’s always been from a very personal place. Like “Revolution” with Diplo, I wrote that song even before I even knew who Diplo was. I wrote the piano and vocal of the song, and through connections in the industry, him and I met, and then with the Jack U collaboration, I was writing my album. So it’s kind of like always been with the mindset that the cool song I’ve written is for me, and if the collaboration feels right, then I’m down with working and giving it to another project.

How did you get involved with working with Skillex and Diplo? What have you learned from them?

So much, honestly. I’ve definitely spent more time with Sonny (Skrillex), and the guy’s constantly making music. He lives, he breathes, and sleeps music. We could be traveling somewhere in the car and he has his laptop and he’s constantly thinking about making music. That’s something that inspires me, because I’m not writing every day. But after spending time with him, I’ve made it a point to sit down at least for an hour and try to write. And Wes (Diplo), he’s just the craziest soundboard and he understands great songwriting, so both of them together are just a deadly team.

Toronto pop singer-songwriter Kai with Diplo, and Skrillex.

Toronto pop singer-songwriter Kai with Diplo, and Skrillex.

What was it like working with Childish Gambino? What did you learn from him? Do you have similar aspirations in the sense of eventually transitioning from music to movies?

Sometimes you can collaborate with someone and actually never meet them, or speak with them. With Childish Gambino, I don’t have that personal relationship.  So, I can’t really say that I’ve learned anything, because we’ve never really met. But I do feel honored to be a part of that album, because it’s amazing.

In terms of being an actor, I think one day, definitely…fashion is a huge part of my life, and I see myself kind of venturing into that world.  And also, I was talking about it the other day – eventually getting into acting. But I think that I need to establish myself as an artist first before I veer off.  But I see myself one day, starting a line of some sort.

You wrote “Sweet Talker” for Jessie J’s latest album of the same name. Did you have her in mind when writing that song? What is your creative process like when writing songs for other artists?

I actually didn’t have her in mind. I was writing it with Rhianna in mind. Rhianna and her camp had passed on the song, and Jessie J’s A&R heard “Sweet Talker” and he loved it, so that kind of happened that way.  But I think it was most fitting for her.

[Writing songs for other artists is] definitely a different process, and I think it’s fun to kind of switch off. Because when you’re writing for yourself, you’re definitely more precious about what you’re saying. When I was writing with Rhianna in mind, I could say things that I wouldn’t necessarily say for my own project. But you kind of get to tap into different characters of yourself, but that you wouldn’t necessarily use for yourself.  So, you’re a lot less precious about it, you don’t edit yourself as much. It’s definitely a lot of fun to do.

If you have another artist in mind you [try to get into their voice]. Like with Rhianna and “Sweet Talker”, Rhianna is sassy. I definitely have a sassy quality to myself, but I’m a lot more… [laughs]… reserved in that sense, so I wouldn’t necessarily use “Sweet Talker” for myself. But it was so much fun to get into that mindset.

You’re set to perform at the Toronto Fashion Week Awards on Friday October 23rd. Do you have any favourite Toronto and/or Canadian designers?

Yeah, I do!  It’s actually really funny. I just shot my album cover, and I had found this dress at The Bay, and it’s actually by a Canadian designer, Sid Neigum. We ended up using the dress for the album cover. We reached out to Sid, and I’m going to his show tonight wearing one of his outfits. I just think he’s phenomenal. There’s another designer, Mikhael Kale, that I think is amazing as well. It’s important to me to establish these relationships with Canadian designers, because I definitely want to be a part of that.

How would you describe your personal style?

Definitely minimal, and modern. Not futuristic, but I love sharp lines, geometric shapes. Kind of mysterious, but sexy at the same time. I’m not really into bright colors, I’m really into dark colors, nudes, black, deep colors.

How would you describe the relationship between fashion and music? 

It’s super important for me and my career. I think fashion is one of the most important elements of what I’m going for, to create a brand for myself. It’s art, in the same way we think music is art. I look up to artists like Lykke Li. I’m obsessed with her music, but I’m also obsessed with what she wears and the way she carries herself and her branding. It’s like all encompassing for me. I think it’s extremely important.

Buy tickets to the Toronto Fashion Week Awards here.

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