OKAY KAYA – Interview

Foto-© Julia Szymik

Auf den ersten Blick erscheint die amerikanisch-norwegische Künstlerin Okay Kaya als eine extrovertierte Bühnenfrau: explizite Lyrics, Model-, Schauspiel- und Musikkarriere, eine Coverversion von Chers Powerhit Believe… In Wirklichkeit versucht Kaya Wilkins, wie sie eigentlich heißt, damit ihren tiefsten Ängsten entschlossen entgegen zu treten und Scham und Schüchternheit den Mittelfinger zu zeigen. Dieser Dualismus findet sich auch in ihrer Musik wieder – sie schreibt über Extreme, die trotzdem Wahrheiten sind, und nutzt Kontraste und Witz, um Statements noch einprägsamer zu machen. Songs wie Asexual Wellbeing, Mother Nature’s Bitch oder Givenupitis zeugen von ihrer feminitischen In-Your-Face-Attitüde, die sich aber entspannt und locker anhört. Ihr zweites Album Watch This Liquid Pour Itself erscheint heute auf Jagjaguwar.

Wir haben sie bereits im Dezember in Berlin getroffen. Im Interview erzählt sie von der Spannung zwischen Musik und Lyrics, ihren ersten musikalischen Einflüssen durch die Platten ihrer Mutter und warum sich Auftritte für sie anfühlen als würde sie nackt vorm Publikum weinen und masturbieren gleichzeitig.

You’re releasing your second album Watch This Liquid Pour Itself in January, how are you feeling?
I guess, it’s excited in terms of the whole meaning of the word. Mostly, it’s nice to work on something that comes out. I finished this record in June, I’m ready to let it go.

Where did you go soundwise and what are the topics?
I play with a lot of different sonics or landscapes, depending on what I felt it would be lyrically. Sometimes, I tried to flip the feeling to what it would sound like. You could listen to a cute rock song and it would have some greyer lyrics. I work a lot like that. And this record is pretty much a testament of that. You get a few classic genres, some of them have more space, which I like to work with, some of them have a bit more of a drive – depending on the lyrics. I hope, it feels like a cohesive, but sort of different piece.

When working on your songs, do you see them as whole from the beginning and instantly use the tension between lyrics and music?
I definitely try to. I write a lyric when I’m feeling a certain way and I’ve been able to step away to shape it, criticize it… I use different tools trying to make it something that is true, but also funny or paints a picture in some way. As that is happening, I also think, “this could be this kind of song” – and I use it like a jawbreaker.

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This whole process: Do you do that immediately or do you let it sit for a while and come back to it after some time?
With the lyrics, I definitely come back to them after some time. As the title of the album explores, it’s usually this feeling of something that needs to come out immediately and I shape it afterwards. But it could be a couple of hours, two days, two months… That’s the fun thing about the brain, if you don’t think you’re thinking about something and then it comes to you like [snaps]…

Did you find it more difficult to write your second album compared to your debut?

Easier, because you have more experience?
Yes, more experience, and I think I was insecure, because I hadn’t made an album before – which is totally normal. I tried to put in as much as I could in my first record, establishing how I would like to work and where I want to stay as an artist. I was developing my language. It’s been interesting now to feel that that sort of work has been put in and you can continue exploring. It felt easier. Also, now I have a label!

You self-released your first album, now you’re with Jagjaguwar, how did that happen?
I wasn’t planning on it. I think, I’m lucky that a label like Jagjaguwar exists for artists like me and all the artists that they have. It’s been going pretty well.

Was it hard to give up some control?
Yes… No… Yes! Since they signed me because of the work I did with my last record, they have really given me all the creative control and they deal with things that I don’t know how to deal with.

You’re expressing yourself through very different art forms: your music, you’re acting, you’re modeling? Do you use them as different creative outlets?
Modelling doesn’t feel like a creative outlet at all, it’s a job, it’s well paid and offers great experiences, but no one is interested in what I think ever. And that’s also great, because then I can go home and ruminate on my own shit. With acting, I utilize the same sensibility that I do with music. I don’t really feel like I’m an actor per se, but you talk, I try to listen… Some sort of empathy. But I have never tried to be a character or to be someone else. But the thing I really care about is making music, writing music. The rest is all fun and cool, but it’s not where my head is at.

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Many of your lyrics are very explicit: Was it a long process to find your voice in music or have you always been very expressive?
I’ve been thinking about that, because sometimes even I’m like, “What am I doing?” I was talking to my mum recently and she was saying that when I was about 14, I had a bad posture and I whispered every word I was saying in order to try and disappear from the face of the earth. I think from my early 20s until now I have been trying to rid myself of shame and it comes out in this really explicit way. I don’t want to be shameful anymore. A lot of my friends I grew up with have the same thing: It is totally fine being whatever the fuck we are. Humans. It’s definitely been a cool journey finding my voice. Also, doing all these interviews has been very interesting, because I don’t consider myself being a good communicator socially. That’s also why I make things – I can sit and think about them.

You grew up in a smaller community outside Oslo. Can you remember your first musical influences and how you discovered music as something meaningful to you?
I grew up in a home with so much music, my mum is a painter and editor, and she’s into music and dancing. There have been multiple records that she has played over the years… I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal to play music 24 hours a day. I just realized that she had a huge influence on me and my brother, who is a drummer and DJ. But it’s so hard to nail down specifics.

So, there’s no song or record that spoke to you in a different way than others?
There’s this Swedish singer Lisa Ekdahl and I remember in my first childhood home my mom, who is a young mum, hanging out with her friends, playing cards and listening to this record. But it’s so hard to understand a connection, because it’s in my blood, there wasn’t an aha-moment. My first record was an “Aretha Franklin Volume 1”-thing and I remember thinking, “This is something that is mine!”, because as a kid you really cherish your belongings. I remember listening to it to shreds and I wrote down all the lyrics. That’s when I was trying to understand the themes of what was happening. I think, I felt love without having ever known that kind of romantic and sexual love before. That was very special. But there’s so many…

Speaking about influences: In March you covered Believe by Cher. What is your connection to that song?
I mean, it was a huge huge song. For me, this is where I understood, what dancing is before minimal techno etc. Maybe this is my first thing, where I thought, this is an anthem.

It’s very strong, too.
Super strong, super powerful. Over the years I started listening to songs of the early 2000s and late 1990s again, my early 20s. And I thought these sounds were amazing. And the lyrics just are the best!

When you started making music, did you start with covers or have you written your own songs from the beginning?
The first things I started writing were originals. But I would go on Soundcloud and share it with my mum and friends and there were a lot of covers, too. Ketty Lester’s Love Letters was one of them, 21 Questions… I covered a lot of things, because I was also figuring out how to record. I’ve done it hand in hand.

You live in New York now, you moved there because of the modelling. How did you re-visit music or has it always been there?
I had a guitar when I was 12 and I put it down for many years. My mum made me choose between music and dancing, because both was too much. When I moved to New York, I was 19 and a year and a half or two years in I got a guitar and since I picked it up again, I haven’t stopped. I was lonely, so I had one friend and I had a good time.

Is music a lonely business for you? Are you doing it for and with yourself or do you feel a sense of community as well?
I’m entering more of a creative community now that I’m the label, who is like, “Oh, maybe John Kirby can produce this song.”, etc. On the record, you can see that. I know a lot of musicians, but I think, when it’s starting, it’s a pretty solitary thing, because it’s writing…

What are your plans for the near future?
I’m trying to go on tour a little bit. I’m trying to get a band together, I’m trying to not write too much, because then I don’t focus on getting a band together and touring… [laughs] I’m trying to really do this record. I don’t know what’s normal and so I just immediately make something, when I want to make something. But I think, this time it’s like: this is when you tour, this is when you do interviews and talk about it…

Do you like being on stage?
I wouldn’t say that I have a like-or-not-like-relationship to it anymore. I think some of the acting and the performing things are just me trying to conquer my fears from the whole communication thing as they’re just high key communication. I used to have terrible stage fright, I still do, but I try to embrace the fact that it’s going to feel like this. It feels like I’m nude, crying and masturbating on the stage and everybody is like, “Oh, I paid a ticket for this…” As long as I’m okay with that feeling, that’s the feeling.

Isn’t it also liberating that you can feel so exposed and nothing bad happens?
True – hopefully, it will be a thing, where I can enjoy it more in the moment. Where I can black out and wake up after the gig. Not sure about naked or not.

Thank you very much for the interview!

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