Kai Exos | 'Houseplants'

Rising RnB / lo-fi star Kai Exos showcased his latest 10 track body of work; 'Houseplants' on May 1st. After gaining huge recognition from his funky track 'We Don't Care', the rest of Kai's LP manifests the perfect combination of soul, jazz, RnB and lo-fi. Showcasing himself as an experimental producer, soulful vocalist and consummate songwriter through 'Houseplants', Kai injects creativity into all areas of work. Accumulating as many as 31,924 monthly listeners on Spotify, Kai's signature RnB / lo-fi sound is a power to be reckoned with. Over the lockdown period, Kai has been filming his own music videos interlinking many themes that appear in his 'Houseplants' LP. 

Describe your journey so far, your growth and building yourself as a music artist?

I just found these old baby pictures from me that my mom had digitized and I have so many questions "who's this" and "that's not one of my cousins, who is that?" I find this crazy - by the time I was 20 I had lived in 20 different places. We had travelled so much and I realized how much that has shaped who I am as an artist.

I've been watching the show 'Upload' where 2033 and humans are able to "upload" themselves into a virtual afterlife of their choosing. You basically exist as you were but in the afterlife, so you consider your personality and continue the relationships you had. So the photos hit me in a different way.

I said to my mom, I don't remember this at all. We struggled and I just always thought we were like every other middle-class family so it was kind of wild to really explore those early moments. Both my parents are musical and all four of my grandparents as well. Music was such a joyful thing for us growing up in and out of church. I would wake up to my mom or grandma playing music so it was just part of my makeup. Where songwriting is concerned, I've grown from privately writing in a journal as a kid, to now where I tend to write stuff down with the melody in my head. There are times that I can make a song in under two hours, like on ‘Big Dream’, we did that in two hours. There were five of us in the studio. It just happened. 

What are your most cherished childhood moments?

Every single moment in the first 10 years of my life was connected to my mom. My mom was a teacher and started as a model in the late ’70s and then went back to school even though she already had five degrees, she needed to get her masters to become a special ed teacher. We also moved so much from Canada to the Caribbean, and then Miami. We were always going to end up in Miami. It was just a minor detour. I also started going to school really early because my sister was going to school and I was like, me, Me! I was reading full novels at like 5 and we had a puppy and rabbits that I loved. We had a pool and a dog and she was the best dog - still my favourite companion of my whole life. I remember doing my workbooks, too, like with her just playing. It was so peaceful, and my mom was always in between the dining room and kitchen. She'd have her papers all spread out. She would just be cooking and baking and just perpetually making stuff. I also read every single thing in the house, anything that came in - newspapers, flyers, catalogues, encyclopedias, everything. I was obsessed with words. I was that kid who my mom was like, ”If you're bored read the dictionary” and I totally would do it.

How do you try and distinguish individuality in your music? 

There’s a certain tonal frequency in, you could call it the pocket. Be it music production or vocal production, there's a certain spot that the voice or the character that I'm using and it doesn't just mean, my voice it could also be keys or drums or guitar. And then as that process is in play, I like to ask “What is this song about?” or “What is it that we're trying to say in the composition.” You kind of have this choice that you make at each step. In production, although it can be more technical, for me it is a similar process. I try not to overwork a song, like not to sit there for hours, days, weeks, messing around just get in the flow and let it happen. It's an adventure. You want to do it in the moment that it is in and it’s so wild. A hallmark of my music is that there is a pretty consistent sound like if you go back to Vigilante, now to We Don’t Care like that’s the same person. And part of that is like a symphony because it all happens together. The signature is that it feels right and it feels good. I liken music to sex like I don’t really know why it’s fun and enjoyable and silly and romantic, but it is and thank goodness.

Explain the concept and the inspiration behind “We Don’t Care”? 

Martha Reeves’ “Dancing in the Street” was really the inspiration. That's the spot I wanted to be in. Because I mean, my hope is when it's safe for us to emerge, that the way that we come together is like it was in the 60s. I love that era and the togetherness and awareness of civil and human rights. Music is really the thing that brings us together and gives us hope at the risk of being an idealist. When I wrote the song I really thought of a parade like Carnival or Mardi Gras where it's that kind of energy. 

How does your new album “Houseplants” cover your lo-fi R&B, soul and jazz sound?

It's all a mix and blend for sure. Like there's, classical things in there. There's afro beats in there. It's a lot of stuff that comes together in the final collection. 

When I think about my melanated people especially, which is usually what I'm thinking of, day in and day out, I'm just thinking about where we are and how we’re building. And I think of how music has been such a big part of our contribution it is just innate like our rhythm is from thousands of years. And I'm a mixed up third culture kid so all of those elements just blend together. I also love Karen Carpenter and she was also in the mix of inspiration. I had a lot of collaborators on this album as well. Every single song is a collaboration.

I think that's just inevitable because we love each other and we came together as with all our varied influences. We're not like, “hey, let's do this in seven”, which is like traditional jazz timing or a G major. It’s not at all conscious. There's all kinds of stuff that I do that's wild. That's not modern music making. Like you could easily go find a good sample of a kick drum and do it. I would rather make it. I'd rather slam a door repeatedly with my hand inside of it than dig through samples. There are things that I do that are beatboxing that you will never hear, but I hear it. There are moments where we just want like a distant voice, like we're just like singing like f*cking Ariel from (The) Little Mermaid and just doing it. And it works, you know, so, yeah, it's not calculated, like you don't set out to make a jazz song. You don't set out to make a pop song. That's just not the way it happens. It's cooking, not baking. Right?

We just come in and like pack. And it's very natural and normal and like usually it's the whole day. 

Describe what the production was like whilst making your upcoming album?

I got three tracks done on that first day in the studio and I knew where I was going, laid some vocals, quick things you do not even necessarily in the booth, and I needed to be at the board for a lot of it. So it's just me sitting there with a mic in one hand and my other hand I'm fiddling with levels and kind of doing the premix and doing all those things and, you know, it all was this natural process. The production happened pretty quick. About 300 hours to do everything from scratch making beats, finding beats and having the lyrics put together and all of that in 300 hours sounds like a lot, but over four months you're sending stuff to get it mixed or in my case, when I'm producing right now, my setup is super simple. It's basically an eight track situation where I have on-board compressors and then it's all just like in my laptop. 

We start sessions usually at 8 or 9am. I just prefer to start during the day then wait until nighttime. February is when we really finished it up. Having the songs done, having the arrangements together at the very beginning, just helps it all flow. 

Explain what inspired 'Houseplants' as a whole?

The Cleo Wade poem called “Rooting For Each Other”. It says: do you really think that Mother Nature cares that some of her plants are big or small or, you know, scraggly or not. They're all in a beautiful garden and they're all put here to root and sow for each other. It means a lot. And also the poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry. I've just rediscovered it and it so speaks to the moment we are in. 

We're no higher or more important and as much as the loss of life and turmoil is sad and we all feel it because we're all connected and we're all part of the same kind of fabric. If we support each other and take care of each other and make sure that we're being kind to ourselves and each other, then we can probably survive. I hope so. You know, it's a good way of remembering that. 

Who are your favourite artists to collaborate with and why? 

My favourites are the ones who I’ve just worked with. If we are talking about a dream collaboration, that's a different bag. For that, Missy Elliott.

I like to work with my friends, but I mean, what I'm always hoping for is just that we’re feeling the same way about something. Like it's all real shit. I like people who are playful. 

What's one message you would give to your following? 

If you can find something or someone, that makes you a better version of yourself, like you know how you could be better inherently, like, you know in your heart of hearts that you could be doing this better. I have found people that have made me better. Do that! Keep those people around and protect that at whatever cost.

Where do you see yourself and your music career in two years? 

I have this book that I've been working on for a couple of years and I have another album that connects with the book. In two years time, I think the way that I create music and the way that the volume of music that I create will be… double. For even farther into the future, I'd love to just be a hologram in your house, in your living room. You could change what I'm wearing if you don't like it. Change the set list, everything. Either that or let’s sell out arenas. (laughs) 

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