Currently balancing live shows for Canadian Music Week and putting the final touches on his forthcoming spring record Can’t Fly Without Gravity, k-os somehow found the time to speak with A Music Blog, Yea? over the phone yesterday morning. Fans can keep an eye out for record announcements here, and dive into our conversation below as we discuss playing the hits, the influence of pop, and chickening out.
AMBY: Hey Kevin, thanks for speaking with us today.
k-os: It’s all good.
AMBY: As you know, this week is Canadian Music Week and all Toronto music lovers have been running around the city to catch their favourite bands. Have you had the chance to see any shows for the festival yet?
k-os: I have not. I’m finishing my record, I’m just about finished now, so I’m trying to get my head around that. I think who I really want to check out is Joey Bada$$ at The Danforth Music Hall. I love him.
AMBY: Well you’re playing the festival with Finger 11, I Mother Earth, Kim Mitchell, and some other great Canadian talents tomorrow night. Having already released five albums and with the new material coming from Can’t Fly Without Gravity, how do you decide which songs you’re going to include in your festival setlists?
k-os: That’s a good question. I think a lot of the time it comes down to what people are thinking. Some of these songs end up on the internet, and you know how the internet goes; people will bump it for a couple of weeks and then it’s over. The radio is also a big signal because if some of these songs that are on the internet end up on the radio, then those are the songs you kind of want to do. The radio to me, sometimes, is still underestimated as a medium. A lot of people, when they’re in their car or whatever, they listen to the radio. To me, putting songs in my set… probably if it gets some radio play and people are hearing it on the radio, then I throw it in there.
AMBY: I was speaking with an artist the other day who said he likes to play the hits that he has, since he doesn’t want to Radiohead his fans and not play his “Creep”. Do you think you’ll ever tire of playing your hits?
k-os: Radiohead is an interesting example. I think that when you have a hit song and you know that it’s a hit song, it’s different from when a song becomes a hit song that you couldn’t have even imagined would become a hit song. I don’t think Radiohead could have imagined it would become their hit song. It was completely out of left field. I understand them in that way not playing that song because they didn’t expect it to, but a lot of the songs like Crabbuckit or Man I Used To Be, I knew when they were done and had this feeling that they were songs that could do well. I think the attitude that comes with knowing which songs you’re going to play comes a lot from that – what you expect. You want to be able to switch it up, too, so it becomes interesting. I think sometimes I’ve witnessed bands doing this and we’ve been guilty of it… when you play your hit song over and over again and it starts to lose it’s life when you listen to it; sometimes the band rushes through it or it doesn’t have that feeling because it’s almost like karaoke. My suggestion to other artists and to myself is to switch it up a little bit. I think that’s a great way to keep things alive. You have to refresh the browser, re-click it. You know?
AMBY: Definitely. You need to find a decent balance of old and new material. Being that festival season has officially kicked off, I must ask: if you could curate your own festival, would you like to be part of the line-up?
k-os: I was thinking about doing a festival. It’s going to be all Lenny Kravitz, TV on the Radio, and a lot of bands who as a kid I couldn’t go see. I couldn’t go see a black band play live at a festival, or a bunch of black bands since there was always one; it would always be The Roots or TV on the Radio. Imagine going to a festival where you could watch six, seven, eight, or nine of the best bands that have that cultural togetherness. Not to alienate anyone else, but I think that would be the dream thing for me. It would be something so different and I believe it would open people’s minds. I also believe that just because the line-up would be mostly black bands, I believe that the people who came to see the festival wouldn’t just be black. I think, when it comes to rock music, that’s what I love about it almost a bit more than hip-hop…people go check it regardless of what people look like. I think it’s a great idea and I’ve been talking to a few people about it, we’ve just got to figure out a way to make it happen.
AMBY: That’s awesome. It all should come down to the music and that would be a great line-up.
k-os: For sure.
AMBY: You dropped your fifth record Black on Blonde back in 2013 and have shared a funky new tune called Turn Me Loose which is taken from your upcoming Spring record. I know you mentioned how you’re wrapping everything up, but how long have you been working on Can’t Fly Without Gravity for?
k-os: Probably about two or three years now. It’s been a long process, but I’m really proud of what I did. It’s also timing, too, since you can’t rush these things. I think the musical climate is changing now where an artist like what I represent is a bit more in demand than it was even six months ago or a year ago. I do feel that something is changing. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just this psychic sense that I’ve always had in music [laughs]. There’s a transitional thing happening and I think it’s happening now. Pop music, for the most part, changes very slowly because it’s about money making and no one wants to not play that hit record even though when you listen to the radio you think “oh, I’m so sick of this”. I think right now that the record I made is a good bridge back to a “real music” sort of vibe. I know it’s the right time now to release it. I’m actually a little antsy right now because I just need to get it out there.
AMBY: [laughs] I was going to bring up the fact that Turn Me Loose has a really fun and more pop-nuanced sound. Were you listening to any pop artists while creating this record? What influenced this new direction for you?
k-os: A lot of my songs are now heavily influenced by the eighties period by bands like David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen. It was a really transitional time where rock artists had to figure out how to make something to keep in tune with what was happening but didn’t want to sell out. It’s a very tricky place to be in when you’ve been around for a while. I think that’s why Turn Me Loose sounds the way it does; I was trying to find that formula. It was such a fun song to make and I’m really proud of that one. I think, at the end of the day, longevity kind of forces you to figure it out and dig and think back to what you liked when you were growing up. I loved that song Barracuda by Heart, I loved Iggy Pop, I loved Bob Dylan, and all of those elements are in that song. All of those bands, funk, and rock influenced Turn Me Loose. I think this generation is used to… it’s like what Sam Roberts said, “kids don’t know how to dance to rock and roll”.
AMBY: I love that since it’s insanely true, especially now.
k-os: They’re intimidated by it because it takes a little more swag to sort of pull off dancing to a rock and roll song than a trap song or an EDM song. I come from an era where people did have a good time and danced. It’s sad that kids don’t know that they’re intimidated by that and therefore they don’t listen to that. I think in their mindset they think it’s not cool to listen to their parents’ music, but I think deep inside it’s because they think it’s above them. Not in a condescending way, but that they have to try and step outside their comfort zone. That’s where Turn Me Loose came from.
AMBY: I grew up listening to new wave music and it’s still a massive part of my life. For me, talking about my generation and what we listen to, it’s awesome when bands combine their style with nuances from eighties music. When I first heard Turn Me Loose, it definitely nailed that great combination of being an original song but having those eighties vibes I could relate to. I love hearing those touches on a song.
k-os: I appreciate that, thank you.
AMBY: My pleasure. I was scrolling through some of your Twitter updates and I came across a status which said, “If you chicken out ..it’s prally a good thing”. For our last question, what’s something that you’ve chickened out of that you think was probably for the better in the long run?
k-os: So many things.
AMBY and k-os: [laughs]
k-os: You know, there’s an iPod commercial that I got offered when Crabbuckit was huge and was blowing up in Canada. I think Jet had been the first artist to do… what’s that song by Jet?
AMBY: [sings] “I could see, you home with me.”
k-os: That’s it!
AMBY: The title is escaping me…
AMBY: Are You Gonna Be My Girl?
k-os: Yea, the huge rock song of theirs. Then The Black Eyed Peas did one with one of their songs. Then they wanted to use one of my songs. They sent me the whole mockup of it and I remember looking at my computer and thinking how it was kind of crazy. My managers and my label were like, “dude, this is huge because it would be crazy if you do this”. So, the album the song was on was a very revolutionary record; a lot of things I was singing about on the record were against selling out. I think that’s what made it a good record and why my fans were into me. I kind of said yes. Then I talked with my Dad before I went to sleep and he asked me how I felt about it and I didn’t know. He told me to sleep on it. I woke up and I was like, “nope, I can’t do it”. People flipped. My management and my label were just thinking “whatever”. I chickened out and thought that it was not representative of what I was saying on this record. It rubs me the wrong way. Even though a commercial would be a successful thing to do, I didn’t think it was the right and moral thing to do. I was much younger and had so many other records to make. Well, you know, lo and behold about ten years later Black Eyed Peas and Jet aren’t really around or doing anything. They had their moments for sure, but it’s like, I look at it in retrospect and think it was for the better because I’m still sort of a new artist to a lot of people in the world. People are always discovering k-os or hitting me up on Twitter saying how they just found me. I love that. I think that the chickening out of that, at the time, was for the best. To me, that’s the ultimate thing that I chickened out of and I think that in the long run, it was the best decision.
Thank you k-os, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout