Sounds x Interview: KAYE

Words by Tom Gallo

KAYE is back and she’s turning heads with her latest song and music video.

The former San Fermin singer and multi-instrumentalist recently shared her first new solo music since 2017, an electrifying single entitled “Closer Than This.” She’s since shared a visually stunning video to accompany the track, which sees KAYE flipping stereotypical females narratives in music and asserting dominance.

We recently caught up with KAYE to chat about her musical background, transitioning to a full-time solo artist, and the inspiration behind “Closer Than This.” 

You moved around a lot growing up. As a result, you were exposed to a variety of different types of music. How has that impacted your approach to making your own music?

My parents loved musical theater, Whitney Houston, Emmylou Harris, Frank Sinatra. Those were constant voices for us growing up. As my sister and I got into middle school and high school we got into heavier stuff—Incubus’s S.C.I.E.N.C.E., System of a Down, Primus. Really mathy, shreddy stuff that no other girls we knew listened to. I feel like living between those two extremes has made my stuff poppy and shreddy in equal measure, and not a lot of people know what to do with it. I’ve gotten the phrase “all over the place” to describe my music quite a bit—not in a positive way. But I like the fact that I can hear everything I love in my music, and that it represents many different memories and feelings to me.

Why did you decide to step away from San Fermin to focus solo on your solo project? Did you want to free up more time and energy to focus on your solo work? Or were there other factors?

Yes. When I joined San Fermin I was feeling pretty creatively burned out and confused about what direction to take with my music, and here was this band that was like, “Come on tour with us and be our lead singer!” At the time I think I needed to be a part of a project I could simply serve, without having to be responsible for its logistics or drive the bus creatively, and because of that it was pure joy. They are truly my family and I miss touring with them deeply. But deliberately stepping back for those years helped me organically get back in touch with the artist side of myself, and I’m ready to step back into that role and serve myself again.

I read that you previously wrote a lot on the road while touring with San Fermin. How has the transition been going from pursuing your solo work as a sort of a side-project to devoting all of your creative energy and focus on it?

It’s been all-consuming and deeply gratifying. When I wrote this album I was in a pretty broken place—I had left San Fermin, I had left a long term relationship and I thought I was going to move to LA, so I was essentially losing New York as an entity as well. It was the most isolated and suspended in air I’d ever felt, and I was deeply uncomfortable. But I think we learn the lessons we’re meant to learn when we’re the most uncomfortable—we become the most tender and inquisitive about ourselves. Who are you when the comforts of home, a relationship, a comfortable gig, are stripped away? I was the most interested in answering that question. The album is an exploration of this time period and all the demons I had to exorcise to get closer to myself.

The video and song for your latest single, “Closer Than This,” is very powerful and really critiques gender roles.  What was the inspiration behind the song and the video? 

The song is about keeping someone at arms length out of fear of vulnerability and intimacy, but also having fun with it. Liann and I were talking about how in all these hip hop videos you see women twerking on and giving lap dances to men who are just unapologetically accepting pleasure. We wanted to flip that stereotype and show a powerful woman in control instead. 

Your sister Liann directed the video and you’ve collaborated with her on your videos in the past. What’s it like collaborating with a sibling?

She and I have been working together for over 10 years and we’re so aligned in our inspiration. Especially because the Closer Than This video was so sexual; it was really important for me to be comfortable and free. She completely gets it. She understands what images tell a good story; when to make something abstract vs. when to make something literal. My only barometer of success is having the means to make as much art as possible with her in this lifetime. 

How would you compare this new album and the current music you’re working on to your 2016 EP, Honey?

I think Honey had a very triumphant energy about it, it’s joyful and announces itself bombastically, even the more emotional ones. This album is more like…”I’m a frightened animal and I don’t really know who I am anymore, but I own this new reality and I’m going to make some good shit out of this time period, god damn it.”

You’re skilled in playing multiple instruments.  How do you approach songwriting? How do you piece ideas together and what’s your process like?

I have a document in my phone that I collect phrases, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and witticisms in. As for the music, everything happens differently—either I’ll be sitting down with a guitar with the deliberate intention of writing something, or I’ll make a beat in Logic and it starts that way, or I’ll just hear something in my head and have to get it down immediately. If you’re creatively blocked, it really helps to play an instrument you’re not familiar with—I find that I’ve written my best stuff on a strange tuning or odd instrument in a pawn shop.

Who are some local artists/bands that you’d recommend to Left Bank Magazine readers?

I love LPX, Arthur Moon, Gemma, Raia Was, Firehorse, Castle Rat, Mmeadows, Crush Club!

(P.S. our Editor LOVE’s Firehorse and has been a fan since CMJ 2012)

What’s next? What do you have planned for 2020?

Lots more new music and touring. Stay tuned!

Don’t miss KAYE performing at The Sultan Room this Saturday, February 8th with Gemma and Bright Light Bright Light!

You can watch the music video for “Closer Than This” below:  

Featured photo credit Deborah Farnault

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