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Interviews

Kali Uchis Wants to Give You a New Perspective on Life, Music, and Everything

The LA-based, nostalgia-stoking, Colombian pop singer's EP 'Por Vida' - which features production from Tyler, The Creator, BadBadNotGood, Diplo - dropped yesterday.
5.2.15

Photo by Carlos Baker, courtesy of Kali Uchis

It's 2015, and people want to know what the next big trend is. What will they attach their identity and personal brand to next? Tropical goth? Solar-surf? It could be anything! It's all about chasing the future! Or, you know, maybe what it's actually all about is being true to yourself and what matters to you and letting your tried-and-true inspirations find their way out in a modern context.

Annons

Kali Uchis does exactly that. The LA-based Colombian singer/songwriter makes pop music that isn't just insanely catchy but that is also inseperable from her personality and aesthetic. Her style touches on classic reference points from the 60s through the 90s, but she presents herself in a way that never feels like she's just cashing in on nostalgia. Instead, she's just timeless, and her style just works. Even without a proper album or EP, she attracted attention and high-profile friends in the music world over the past couple years, making appearances on songs with Snoop Dogg and Tyler, the Creator. On Snoop's"On Edge," her dreamy voice was the perfect complement to his whole Cali vibe: super chill but substantive and easily replayable.

But Kali isn't content with being known just for who she hangs out with; it's clear that she wants you to remember her for her. Each of her releases so far has driven home her powerful aesthetic: The music video for "Know What I Want," for instance, looks like an old-school Teen Angels magazine painted in with hues of pink and purple. Her EP Por Vida, out today, is her latest bold statement. In a compact nine tracks, Kali goes into some really surprising and eccentric places, taking on an eclectic range of styles and managing to be vulnerable without sounding corny or overwrought. The opener "Sycamore Tree" calls to mind old-school doo wop a capella of yesteryear, yet she's able to use her vocal layering to make the track almost scary. The opposite side of the scale is present too: The proceeding track "Call Me" (produced by Tyler, the Creator) lets the hazy beat and raw range in her voice soothe and relax the listener. And all that's just in the first five minutes. Every track in the collection flows together cohesively while retaining its own identity. In 2015, you're going to damn well know what a Kali Uchis track sounds like.

Annons

Noisey: Growing up in Columbia, and just in general, what were the sort of things that contributed to your style and aesthetic?
Kali Uchis: It was a lot of me experimenting with different stuff. I’m into old films and am more inspired by vintage things because it makes me feel something,.

Your videos give off a huge Tarantino vibe, and that’s definitely his deal to take from older movies like that.
Yeah, I think that’s the way to go. Pay tribute to classic shit that’s been around forever rather than just trying to pull from stuff from now.

What were some of the first artists growing up that really impacted you?
I really like Ralfi Pagán, Brenton Wood. I was just always kind of into that kind of stuff. Loose Ends, Bootsy Collins. I’m very visual, so I always really liked vinyl art, and that’s how I got into old music initially when I was younger. Like “oh these covers are so cool!” when I was in my uncle’s collection.

The songs I’ve heard on your new EP Por Vida really run the gamut of different vibes from one to the next. How do you figure out which beat to pull for what song?
It’s really about, like, I spent the last year experimenting musically and with my own vocal range and figuring out what felt most natural. Like Tyler [the Creator] for instance or Dam Funk were reaching out. When I worked with them it happened so naturally and so organically, and that’s the stuff that really sits with me. I feel like my favorite songs, like the ones you just heard, I’ve made all of them in under ten minutes. We just write them and do it. I feel like that’s the way music should be. It shouldn’t be so overthought or a bunch of people sitting around trying to make a formulated structure of something. It’s very raw, and that’s the kind of shit I respect. So I love working with people like that, people who don’t make music for trends but because they love it. None of them care about being mainstream or being on the radio. It’s about being real.

Annons

How would you compare the stuff you made starting out with music to what you're making now?
Initially, like how I am now, I started in doo-wop and soul, and low-rider culture and oldies. I was very much inspired by that. When I started working with producers—because I was just sampling before from older music—that was when they started extorting what I was trying to do. So it kind of went off, like in that video “Honey Baby,” it turned into like a trap beat, R&B thing more. Which wasn’t necessarily what I was trying to do. It was just everything that was available. It’s a creative outlet, so I was going to end up singing on whatever I could because it was cool to me. But now that I have more resources and more poeple to work with that get it, I’m back to the grounding of where I started.

What track off the EP is the one you’d want people to really dig into?
The song called “Loner,” I really like it. Sometimes when I’m in a car with a driver, I’ll play it and won’t tell them it’s me and I’ll just observe strangers’ reactions to it. If people are really listening to the music, you can see them go to a place where they really think and feel that moment. Because I think everyone has had that moment where you’re like “I don’t want to fuck with anybody, I just want to be by myself, everybody sucks.” (Laughs). Because people suck and sometimes we all individually feel victimized by our lives, so it’s a very relatable thing that I think connects us as human beings, no matter how hard we try to make ourselves seem. It’s like a humanizing thing.

Annons

Was that human element your vision from the beginning, or was it something that came together with the project?
All the music is autobiographical. It was something I was going through that just came together. I haven’t released a project in over a year now, but all the music comes from the last couple of months. I just trashed all the old music. It didn’t take me this long to make the project at all—it just took this long to make the right project. I made probably four different projects through this last year because I was just going through so much different stuff and experimenting and developing myself as an artist. It seems like some artists are formulated and made by a brand, and they have someone doing that for them and telling them how to be. But I did that myself, so it took a bit to figure it out myself. And just growing up and shit, just getting older and figuring out the whole situation of what I want to be.

Photo by Marilyn Hue, courtesy of Kali Uchis

Do you think people locked you into a rap preconception because you’ve worked with dudes like Tyler and Snoop Dogg?
People locked me into a hip-hop preconception because I wasn’t dressing the way I am now. I’ve grown a lot as a person in the last year, and two years ago I wasn’t dressing the way I am now because I change my style up all the time. Two years ago I was wearing plaid skirts, jerseys, platform Timbs, braiding my hair and shit. But now I feel so much more grown (laughs). I just dress totally different, the same way my music is totally different. I think people locked me into that because they saw how I was dressing, and they saw blonde hair, so they immediately associated me with other acts and had that perception of it. And that’s everyone’s prerogative, but I was definitely like “I've got to switch this up!”

If you were to give this EP to someone off the street and they went to go listen to it for a bit, how would you hope they come out of listening to it?
I would hope they would take something away from it, and think about their own life or think outside of their own perspectives. Like afterwards they’d be like “oh maybe I was wrong when I did this,” “maybe I owe this person an apology,” “I should call this person” after they were done listening to it. Make them feel some type of way. Or make them feel independent. It’s just cool to think you can touch people in a way where you can give them a different idea. I think that’s why people like to get high, just to see things in a different perspective, and that’s what I want the music to do, just to get people to step out of it but without having to be high. It’s just cool.

John Hill has the worst sense of style on Twitter.