“Music (and art in general) can name feelings that might have been unknown before”
***This interview was conducted PRE-COVID and myself and KAIAR can confirm that we are both exercising COVID safety-no mask no play-don’t leave your house unless buying tomatoes-walk around in hoop skirts to stay 1.5m away from people at all times- in compliance with lockdown regulations in VIC***
KAIAR’s music was made known to me by the incredibly talented musician and engineer Aphir who I interviewed a number of months ago, and I was really impressed with the way KAIAR created layered and dynamic sound scapes that tell thought provoking and cavernous narratives. I was looking forward to sitting down with her and going into detail around these tracks, namely the collaboration project she released with Arrom, because music in a more experimental world is something I am not often exposed to, and have a lot to learn from. We chatted in a quiet cafe in early March, back when the world still felt open and full of possibilities
Have long have you been making music?
I was always doing something musical as a teenager, but I’d say I started about 5 years ago- when I downloaded garage band and had play around. Once I figured out that I could produce and have that kind of control that doesn’t come so much under the ‘singer-songwriter’ umbrella, it really felt like I could just go for it
There are so many tools available that help you have the confidence to know that you can do things yourself, and it can really open your whole world. I felt that way with song writing and realising you can just kind of learn to do it yourself
Do you have much of a plan going into the writing process?
Never! I think it’s always a process of exploring for me. Lyric wise I usually write informally – just verbatim what I’m mulling over in my mind and I will put it in my notes. It’s good to just get those thoughts out, and then I can come back to them later and see what I can actually use. Writing for me is so much about expression. Production usually builds around the ideas I’ve written. In terms of writing music and releasing it, I kind of see that as more of a convenience- if what I’m writing ends up being an accessible story or emotion for someone else, then I will release it, otherwise I’m happy to have my little collection of stories that I can reflect on
Yeah, so do feel like music captures that sense of story telling?
I think that what I want to express can come in different forms, depending on the story. Sometimes that’s music, and sometimes it might take more or a short story format that is something I would love to venture into. I’m really interested in expressing emotions and thoughts in a more verbatim and stream of consciousness way- kind of like Anne Frank’s diary which is so pure and so real
I think we can tend to forget that people in history are real people, and I think that applies in music where we forget these honest and raw lyrics are coming from a real person and their emotions. Its powerful to be able to document your experiences with music
It becomes a very visceral time capsule of your life
Your production style is so cool! Did it take you long to figure out what sound you wanted? Is that something you’re still discovering?
I think the sound itself is pretty dissonant and that’s always been a staying foundation. I think technique wise it’s something that is always growing; I’m very much an experimentalist, which I think translates to my personality as well. I’m pretty open to whatever comes, so when I’m playing around in production I’m really led by curiosity, and an interest in learning more and trying new things
I think experimenting has a tendency to help you create things that represent yourself more? If you follow the formulaic ways of doing things then you will make music that might sound like other content, and when you’re experimenting its more about if sounds feel right or not which is something your intuition and personal preferences is guiding. What you make starts to evolve and you might end up making something that would probably have very complicated instructions to end up with
I find that if I’m writing about a particularly difficult experience that sometimes words just don’t cut it, and it needs to be more about the sounds and reflecting an overall feeling
How do you find recreating the sound ideas from your head?
I find it kind of difficult! It’s like learning how to draw and finding that it’s never going to be what you envision in your head, so you need to reference and sketch. What I hear in my head is always the inspiration, but what it becomes is its own thing and I accept it for that. I think that’s where the experimentalism comes in. I’m not a perfectionist by any means, but allowing something to evolve is a big part of the process of creating something
And if you’re trying to draw something you’ve never drawn before, you have to have built up skills that can help you execute it. You might be creating a sound you’ve never created before, but you have skills in the bank that can help the process become more efficient and more fluid
Yeah, and like with anything, practice is always going to make you better and quicker at creating what you’re envisioning
Your recent collaboration release with Arrom is so creative and has a lot of movement, and I’m interested in what roles you played in such a dynamic group of songs, and how did that collaboration come about?
It’s funny, we were just talking about it over dinner- about our similarities and differences with our styles, and decided it would be interesting to see what it would sound like to bring those two worlds together. It was originally going to be a 4 track EP- I had two tracks that I had started, and so did Mel, and we basically did a stem swap! We were both open to what the other person would add while also having our own suggestions. We sat on that EP for almost a year, and we revisited it late last year and decided it needed 4 more songs, so we did the same stem swap. Expanding to the album format, it became less of a snapshot, and more of a journey- we had outro tracks, intro tracks, and everything in between and it really worked as a story
We’re both vocalists, and experimentalist producers, and we both write lyrics, and I think we filled in the gaps of each others songs where the other person maybe wouldn’t think to fill in the gap. I think that’s why it really worked as a collaboration, everything felt more full and complete
Do you think it was easier than approaching a song on your own?
Yeah, I think it takes the pressure off. I have a tendency to get really involved in the world of my own song, and start to over think it, which is something a lot of producers can probably relate to. I think taking away that control made it easier to finish them
Were you very precious about certain things or was everything up for grabs in terms of changing and developing what you may have originally brought to the table?
I think everything was up for grabs. There’s a level of unknown… I would get nervous to get something back, but then I was always presently surprised after a few listens. You need to kind of get into the world of your reinterpreted song I think
Yeah that’s true
There’s always that initial moment where you don’t know what to expect
Especially when there’s parts that you recognise but know have changed in one way or another
It’s kind of like seeing a photo of yourself and wondering if you really look like that! Especially when Mel would grab a stem from the start of the song and put it in later- it was such a new perspective for me to see the track in, and it was really exciting
Jumping off from those feelings, you released a set of remixes for your track ‘Human’ a few years ago, what was it like to hear your song re-interpreted in so many different ways?
It was weird! But it was so good. I think a lot of people were really attracted to certain phrases, and it was cool to see my voice in so many different styles- there was a funk version, a grindy version, a really staccato one. It kind of takes you outside yourself, and lets you embrace different parts of yourself
Production can really aid what a song communicates, did you feel like the track changed meaning with the different production styles of the remixes?
Definitely! Some more so than others. Aphir and Arrom did one, and we have similar styles and backgrounds so it felt like different perspectives on a similar feeling, but with Feels and H.eund and PachiSquid, I don’t think the same meaning could be applied. They were more fun or more upbeat. The original song felt quite dramatic and vulnerable to me, so it was cool to see a light hearted side of that
I personally really like light hearted sounding music even if it doesn’t reflect the lyrical content, do you like to have the music represent what you’re saying or do you like to juxtapose that message?
I think I’ve always wanted to do that juxtapose of fun production with sadder lyrics, but I have a bit of a natural inclination to make things more dramatic! I guess it’s more my style
I was finding that you approached a lot of your vocal performances as kind of subconscious conversation- I can hear how you were almost talking to yourself. When you’re processing something, it can really feel so dramatic and like nothing else matters because the feelings are overwhelming. I think a lot of your songs represent what that might sound like. Do you write in the midst of that ‘oh my gosh this is overwhelming’ feeling, or do you let yourself breathe and then retrospectively look at the situation and then write about it?
I think there’s always a gap between the feeling and writing the song. I get blindsided by big emotions, so the processing time is longer.
Once I’m kind of seeing the situation for what it was, I can go and revisit the deep thought and deep feeling of that time – so maybe it’s not as emotionally charged- but I can still find my way back into that space and find new insight to expand on.
Do you ever hesitate to write too intimately about your emotions and experiences?
When I’m in the writing process I feel pretty happy with how I’ve expressed myself, and it feels really valid for me to share my experiences, but the release of the music is when I feel a little scared, like oh I’m letting people see my actual train of thought. And once you release something you can’t take it back, and it’s that afterthought that leaves you feeling vulnerable
Once you release something, does it feel like you’ve gotten through or past the emotions a bit more, or are you generally releasing music about things that you have already overcome emotionally
I would say that I wait until I am past the initial raw feelings, but the feeling is still present somewhere in me
Lets get into the release ‘Truce’, you had four songs decided on, and then a year later you added four more, how did you decide where they would each go?
We knew that ‘Doubt’ was going to be the opener, and that ‘You Remain’ would be the closer, and that helped us structure the rest. Deciding on the rest of the track order was more about creating a journey with peaks and troughs. The songs get more grindy at the end which I think works well at the end of a project like this
Ease the listener in a bit and then bring the harder stuff out
Exactly! I think the first four songs have a bit more of song structure rather than a linear flow
What was the development process for the song ‘Doubt’?
I initially just had loads of stacked vocals with a simple vocal line with a simple beat to give it a sense of movement. I had the track as a pretty washy vocal piece and didn’t really know where to go with it, and it was amazing how Mel and I think about melody so differently. Mel added all of this little pitched adlibs amongst my sort of more washy lines, and it really tied the song together.
It’s great to work with people that can add so much to a track in ways you didn’t think of
The way in which we both like to create really worked out for us too. I’ve never liked going into sessions with people because I’m quite an introvert when it comes to making music – I want to be alone and want it to be quiet around me, and the same goes for Mel.
You don’t get a first impression of your own music, but if you have a track that someone else interprets and latches onto and develops, it’s like you get that first impression and you see what stands out and what feels good about it
I felt like that for sure. You can never take away the context that’s in your mind, so hearing her development on the tracks allowed me to see that perspective
It’s great that you were able to build on each others ideas, and it’s really brave to put your songs in someone else’s hands, so I’m glad it paid off because what you created together was really great. Do you want to do more of this kind of collaborative project in the future?
Yeah, I would definitely do it again. It has been fun for so many reasons, and it has brought me a lot of peace. I always feel a little stressed around a release, but it was easy because we were in it together. There is a lot of value in team work and making something together – we learnt so much off each other
It makes a lot of sense that the feelings of teamwork helps ease the anxiety around a release because you’re really sharing the experience with another person who understands every inch of the process. A mixing engineer, or an instrumentalist, or a mastering engineer is a part of the process but never as much as you are as the creator. It’s so detailed and there is someone alongside you who really understands the level of detail
So many layers!
Is it easy for you to figure out when a song is done or do you want to keep adding layers and details?
I think now days I’m very conscious of doing too many layers. When I first started making music it was really hard to know when enough was enough, especially when you get to the mixing stage. Sitting in on mixing sessions for my own work has taught me that less is more, and it helps you figure out if all those layers really service the song. In terms of knowing when something is really finished, I find that if my mind is kind of quiet when I’ve listened a few times, then I know that it’s done
What a nice place to arrive at! Have you had experiences of many stubborn songs that are frustrating to get done?
Yes! So many songs live in the abyss of my hard drive!
Mind orphanage waiting to get picked up. Do you repurpose many old ideas or do you revisit old unfinished work?
Yeah I have, one of the first songs I ever released (on soundcloud) developed kind of like that. I chopped up everything from an old session and repurposed it into a new idea. Something I really grieve over are wasted good lyrics and trying to find another home for them; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t
What’s a lyric you’ve written that you’re proud of?
A recent one I wrote in: ‘Complete You’ there’s a line
A game of hide and seek
I was ready and you were not
That song feels sonically quite light in comparison to your recent release, do you think that’s more of a representation of your individual sound?
I think it definitely represents my journey as a solo artist, I think my first EP and Human, and then Complete You, it’s kind of the journey of refining my pop sensibilities and pop structure. I like to dip a toe in the pop world and in the experimental world!
How would you describe what you’re communicating with that song?
I think at the end of the relationship that I’m singing about, I sort of realised how I allowed myself to be treated, and how I reduced myself to living in the shadow of someone else. You can love someone and empathize with their story so much that you forget what you want. I guess the main idea there is that good relationships must be two people who are whole on their own
Yeah and when you invest in someone so much and then that relationship breaks down, you can be left with not having a strong sense of self or direction. The production of this song really highlights your voice as a character in the mix, and there is so much going on vocally that is filling the space, which is so interesting when you talked before about the idea of feeling reduced in a relationship, feeling unrepresented and forgetting your own sense of worth, all the while the song has this really dynamic array of vocals that are building and creating an atmosphere
I really like that that is how you perceived it! I think probably it was a bit subconscious for me to do that. I love to use my voice to create texture and layers, and I think the timbre of my voice does reach a large frequency range so I tend to take up all the space!
It’s great! And I think that when you approach experimental production there is so much that can go on, and there is so much engineering involved in fine tuning interesting sounds, and to be able to sing is a really powerful tool in that space because the vocals can be manipulated and built upon in so many ways. I think vocals are a real forefront in your writing
I think it’s the one space I actually feel really comfortable with filling up!
‘Underclouds’ is the other track you released last year, tell me a bit about that one
That song is about my upbringing in religion, and it kind of discusses the disparity in worshipping a god, and how that can influence the way you relate to other people later on in ways that aren’t actually healthy. When you worship something, the power dynamic is unbalanced. It’s engrained into you to put gods ‘will’ before your own, and your emotions and issues need to be given to god to just fix everything for you, which I think instils patterns where you have unhealthy boundaries and coping mechanisms
I think that’s especially true for women in those spaces and environments, and the misrepresentation of worth a lot of women experience in the church
Religion really holds onto those old ideals of women being subservient, and men being the leaders of the family. Those roles are very engrained in you, and when you enter the real world you have to rewire your sense of self
I really liked this lyric
You’re a pale substitute for higher good
And purest truth
But my pedestal will take your weight the same
Can you unpack that?
So this person is a pale substitute for god, but I will still worship them the same. You know that god and a man you’re in love with are obviously different, but you still apply the behaviour in the same way where you don’t put yourself first
What do you want people to leave feeling when they listen to this latest release?
I guess mainly that vulnerability should be celebrated as a strength and a tool that aids personal growth. Music (and art in general) can name feelings that might have been unknown before. That said, it’s a part of human nature that we will project our own life experiences and perceptions in to the art we consume, to add meaning or reinforce ideas of our own life. I guess people will take from it what they will, but I hope whatever meaning they do find is validating or inspiring.
I’m also really excited about experimental styles making its way into the mainstream. It’s cool to have that be more widely available for people to listen to. I’m definitely not ‘paving the way’ but it’s great to be apart of it!
In terms of validating a persons’ experience, something that is so powerful with music is that it doesn’t try and down-play how things really feel. Emotions can feel dramatic and cinematic and can really hurt you, and it’s beautiful that music like yours isn’t afraid to express those feelings to the fullest extent. I feel like these 32 stacked harmonies! It’s not trying to brush those feelings off to the side. Active listening to music is an inherently individual experience, and I think experimental music opens a lot of those options for emotional interpretation
Expressing something doesn’t always need the expected formats of producing and creating, but I think pop music verses experimental music- they are just different ways of telling a story
What do you hope to stand for in this industry as an individual?
I think it’s really important to be genuine. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to release things three times a year, I just want to release when it’s ready, and I want to say things that I need to say. Being genuine connects you to other people, and success to me is expressing something that others can connect to
Check out KAIAR’s music from the social links below!