COMING HOME, PLAYING WITH K’NAAN + MAKING FUTURISTIC MUSIC
ADA: So, you’re back home. What’s the homecoming been like? You’ve done a show. How are you feeling?
KS: The show went really well. I’m feeling really good about being back home. I was here two years ago for the first time after ten years. This trip is a little different since I don’t have the same level of anxiety and excitement I had on the first trip. But this is the first time I’m doing a show [in Ghana] with my name headlining the bill. I’m glad the people came out and I think they enjoyed it. I think they had a good time.
ADA: They did. The level of energy in the audience was cool. How does that feel going back to Toronto now? What kind of energy, memories and inspiration are you taking back?
KS: It’s an interesting time for me right now because I feel like my music’s getting more of a profile. What I’m taking back is the energy of Accra – not only in a sense of the fun part of it – but also the work that needs to be done in so many ways. It’s a good time. I’m glad this happened now, you know?
ADA: Yeah man, we can see your growth in the last two years. Outside the Barcode‘s recently dropped . What direction do you feel yourself going in as a musician and songwriter? Where is Kae Sun now and where do you see yourself going?
KS: It’s cool for me right now because I’m starting to see that my influences are really starting to show in a unique kind of way. When I went back after my first trip, I did this acoustic album – it was the first time I had recorded with just me and a guitar. I toured with that for about five months. I’m growing as a musician, playing guitar. Growing as a singer. I”m working on a new album now and for the first time we are bringing in the indie rock, synth and dubstep influences and blending that with playing actual instruments. I’m really excited about where my music is going. It’s evolving and becoming futuristic. But not losing the organic element. I’m developing a sound.
ADA: How do you define futuristic in terms of your sound?
KS: When I say futuristic, I mean a better tomorrow. A more fused society where influences are diverse and well represented. For me, my music is that. I was talking to a friend and we were saying the thing in Ghana is exposure – being exposed to different global elements. I think that if we had more exposure to different cultures then we would have the real future that we crave. I’m talking like a Korean speaking Twi – that’s what excites me about Africa’s future and where we are headed.
ADA: You’re building exposure here for your music. Do you plan to spend more time in Ghana?
KS: Not at the moment. As far as infrastructure, there are still some things I find hard to do here.
ADA: What are those things?
KS: There’s no diverse array of bands – guys who can play indie rock or punk and the live music thing has a bit of a way to go, you know? I like to see shows and a lot of different acts. If I lived here, I wouldn’t get that and I feel like I would be missing out on something here. But that is gonna change. I’m pretty sure it will.
ADA: You have a big show happening when you get back to Canada. Tell us about it.
KS: Yeah well, I’m playing with K’Naan in Toronto on June 8th. I’m excited about it because it’s for this art festival that’s in the city every year. A lot of people come out to it because it’s free and it promotes most art in Toronto. We’ll also be going into some schools and doing outreach with the kids – that’s with K’Naan as well.
ADA: Say more about the upcoming album.
KS: The first single for the new album will be released in the next couple months. I’m working with friends of mine – Josh and Mark – and they’re just guys that build their own gear, they have this basement feel and they’re really adventurous in sound and they know their stuff. We’re just doing this incredibly organic, futuristic record, you know?
ADA: So is it experimentation? Just a matter of jamming together in the moment or do you go in with a finite idea?
KS: The great thing is that I finish the songs on guitar first. I write it. So that way when you strip it all down – all the different elements of it – you still have a song. As Josh always says, we need to start with a good song. So there’s that and then we experiment around the song. So if you’re into that kind of stuff you get the experimentation, the textures and you also get a good song that I can play acoustically, so that’s the approach.
ADA: What kind of instruments are you using with this album?
KS: Live bass, some programmed drums, electronic drum kit, synthesizers, acoustic guitar. Thinking about doing some horn parts, some string parts as well.
ADA: We’re always interested in the artistic process and how it changes from person to person. When you are writing a song, is it a matter of inspiration or is it routine? Do you set aside time everyday to write or do you submit to the impulse?
KS: Well, I used to go by the impulse but that’s not very smart because inspiration is a hell of a thing to wait on. But everyday I write. I write poems as well so I’m always trying to write something and I don’t know what it’s gonna turn into. And everyday I play the guitar. So you just have to show up and hope that the inspiration shows up. And then the strange thing that happens sometimes is that you may have bits and pieces of stuff.
On my phone, I have melodies – whether I’m humming or singing a line – and you’ll find that some words you wrote fit with some other melody that you recorded years or months ago or that may fit with a guitar part you had before. So the good thing is that, yeah you’re waiting on inspiration but if it doesn’t show up you can just try to trick it, like bring different elements together so you always have songs. I’m giving away all the secrets…
ADA: It’s like a consistent process of remixing. Like you’re making a mixtape in action.
KS: Yeah exactly. It’s like a collage where different elements will work together and if it doesn’t work, somebody may pass you a beat tape. I like to go that way, too. It may fit. It’s just being able to constantly work on something.
ADA: As you are preparing for this album, what themes inspire you while in the basement with Josh and Mark? Are there particular musical inspirations, is there a book, some artwork, life itself? What are the elements you’re using to construct this experience?
KS: You said it yourself. Life itself is doing that – reading, watching films, talking with friends, seeing shows, traveling. I still don’t have a title for the album. This is the first time I don’t have a conscious theme or title for an album I’m working on. I like that it’s like that because it’s whatever comes out – I don’t filter or edit it.