Meeting local musician Kai
On rare occasions, you come across an album from an artist that you’re unfamiliar with, and before the first track is even finished, you find yourself completely enamored with what you’ve heard.
Beginnings, the debut EP by Kai, does just that. Already an established beatboxing and live-looping artist with acappella group Vocaluptuous, Kai ventures into the indie acoustic territory with his new EP.
Self-taught since the age of fifteen, he has performed his own material at multiple local and international events, all while pursuing a full-time degree at National University of Singapore.
Kai dropped by TheSmartLocal office in his humble glasses and acoustic guitar last week, and put up a live performance for us. Snuggling in our pullovers on a rainy afternoon, the office fell into a hush as we listened to his ethereal voice deliver the intimacy and subtle tension of his new song, Goodbye.
But before we get to that, you have to check out his amazing beatboxing skills.
TSL: So you sing, write songs, beatbox, play the guitar and are part of a renowned a cappella group. Do you have any other hidden talents that we are unaware of?
Kai: That’s pretty much about it, I think.
TSL: Really? I found out that you teach too!
Kai: Oh yeah, that as well, but that kind of comes under everything. I have been teaching at a lot of schools’ art enrichment programmes. Basically teaching little kids how to make rude noises.
TSL: Tell us about your first brush with beatboxing.
Kai: I was with a bunch of friends and we saw a dude beatboxing. I don’t remember where we were but I remember very vividly that he was rapping while beatboxing. My friends were amazed and said ‘it’s impossible, it must be fake!’
That’s how I got interested in beatboxing - watching beatboxers and hearing the people around me say that it can’t be done. That was in 2007 and YouTube was still very young. There were no online tutorials or anything and it was really, really difficult but I gradually picked it up.
TSL: Wait, so you are a self-taught beatboxer?
Kai: Yes, I am.
TSL: Wow, I’m impressed! What are some of your favourite artists and music influences?
Kai: In terms of beatboxing, I do a lot of electro kind of music. Beatboxing is kind of divided into New School and Old School. The Old School kind of beatboxing is more towards the hiphop side, which is where I started out. That was how all the beatboxers at that time were doing it, so I listened to them, copying their routines and improvising.
Now there’s a new movement towards electro music and dubstep, and that’s where a lot of my influences come from. It’s entirely freestyle, and I have no idea what’s coming next, but I just do whatever fits the flow.
Some of my acoustic music influences are Stars and Tall Mountains. Sydney Yeo from Tall Mountains is really amazing. I think her EP is the first indie-folk album that I listened to and to me, every song was a hit.
Till now, I haven’t found an album that makes me go ‘wow’ at every song. I was really determined to make my own EP, something where each song explores different themes. Even though my genre for the EP is supposedly indie folk-pop and acoustic, I am pulling in a lot of influences from my beatboxing and a cappella background.
TSL: Are there any other local musicians that you like?
Kai: Tall Mountains is one of them. Charlie Lim is awesome as well. There is also a live-looping artist called Wish who’s relatively new.
TSL: So you beatbox, sing, write songs, live loop - all these while you study full time. How do you juggle all these simultaneously?
Kai: I think you really make time for what you love. I see a lot of people in school who actually are really talented in many areas like sports, arts and other things. Everyone has their own passion and interests which they pursue at a really high level. It’s really about making the best out of your out-of-school time.
For far, it’s not so bad for me because most of the gigs are at night so it’s usually quite easy to get around.
TSL: Your song titles include “Goodbye”, “Stay Away” and “Masks”. Do you consider yourself an emotional guy?
Kai: The concept of the EP is interpersonal relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but how fragile relationships generally are. Obviously, I’m quite pessimistic - I would say that the music on the EP is kind of like emo pop. If you have listened to Kevin Mathews’ recent EP, it really captures the kind of emo pop feel that my EP has as well. That was why I was very pleasantly surprised when I met him because we have a similarly pessimistic outlook.
TSL: Do you have any words of advice for aspiring young Singaporean musicians?
Kai: I am still an aspiring young Singaporean musician! It’s not really my place to give advice, but I think it’s the paradox of wanting to do music but yet “having to do life” - you know, get a job and stuff. That’s tough but I think it really is about having the passion to pursue your dreams.
Also, you gotta keep practicing even if no one is listening to you and you are struggling to get gigs, which has been my life for the last 7 years. I think everyone else in the world can let you down by agreeing to have you and then not having you, or agreeing to pay you and then not paying you and stuff like that, but it is important to not let yourself down.
TSL Rapid-Fire Question time. Here, we ask a series of questions that our interviewees have just one second to answer.
TSL: If you could eat one local food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Kai: Char kway teow. With hum.
TSL: Backstreet Boys or Westlife?
Kai: None. NSYNC.
TSL: What’s your favourite 90s pop song?
Kai: I Thought She Knew.
TSL: If you had a million dollars, what would you do?
Kai: Make music.
TSL:If your house was on fire, what would be the first thing you try to save?
Kai: My laptop. It has all my music in it!
TSL: If you had to serenade a girl, which song would you pick?
Kai: Oh god...The Only Exception by Paramore.
We think you should do yourself a favor and listen to Kai's latest album. You’ll be drawn to the textural ballads and surprised by the occasional beatbox. Even if you’re not hooked by the opening track like I was, give it a chance. It will be one of the better life decisions you’ve made in a while. Here's an acoustic performance of "Goodbye".
You may listen to and download his new EP here.