INTERVIEW: Kali Uchis' performance repertoire is all things informal, inspired, new, and most importantly poetic.
My reservations over piercing the illusion of Kali Uchis was really born out of conservation. All things beautiful and inspired, like her cumulative work, deserve conservation and proper handling. Remarkably, it's Kali's ability to delay gratification which allows her to seek her own arrangements. That's why I ventured into our interview with questions grounded in an objective reality we both shared. I'd argue that Kali Uchis more than anyone, challenges her listeners to become less biased observers, even when she's keeping to herself.
On Isolation, Kali created a mood-setting out of her spontaneity, barring herself from unwelcome accessories. She then walked into a shadow created by the late Sharon Jones with humility and understanding, showing good rapport with the legendary Dap-Kings backing band, among others. Kali was even candid about social anxiety (hers), the phenomenon of displacement, and most interestingly, the non-musical background from which she draws inspiration on the daily.
None of this would have been possible Verizon; their initiative to group artists like Kali Uchis with their fans is part of an ongoing loyalty program entitled Verizon UP. The series hopes to create a more intimate setting for these cultural exchanges to occur. The session taking place prior to her October 15th concert was dealt a challenging situation, as Kali battled through her sinuses, but ultimately pulled through. A self-effacing Kali Uchis did everything in her power to conceal her sickness, as she fielded my questions with a large mug of herbal tea close at hand. The only thing on her mind was her obligation to the fans, I could really sense that.
Read the full interview below.
HotNewHipHop: Thanks for having me!
Kali Uchis: Thank you!
What’s the greatest hurdle you’ve had to overcome in your career thus far?
I wouldn’t say any hurdle is bigger than any other. Every year there’s been growth. Just the opportunity to have the type of career where you constantly put out whatever you want, it’s special. Just to keep building a fanbase and your legacy. The biggest hurdle has been the temptation to chase an overnight situation.
How do you delay gratification, or resist outside influence?
You come to an understanding that literally everybody has their own path or journey—sometimes you might think that people have things really easily, but you don’t actually know what they did get there or how long it took, or how many people were behind the process. You can’t really compare yourself to everybody else’s sh*t, no matter what you’re doing.
Tell me about the influences you do let in, particularly on your last album Isolation?
The almost is based on feelings, sentiments, and eras of my life, or where the producer was in their life. Sometimes we (the producer & Kali) we meet halfway, other times I bring something to the table. That’s my songwriting process. It varies. The songs on Isolation are so different, but somehow they just linked when I put it together.
Which song on Isolation speaks to you the most?
Probably “Killer” because it’s the song that I wrote the longest ago. I wrote it when I was 17.
How did the song evolve over time?
It’s evolved a lot because I first wrote it on a keyboard with a sh*tty microphone. When I moved to LA, I showed it to a lot of producers because (the song) never got away from me. It always stuck with me in my collection of demos. So I just brought it to people I thought could bring life to it. The Dap-Kings ended up being those people because their style is sold soul, and I was searching for that vibe. I probably made five different versions of that song with five different producers before I settled on The Dap-Kings.
Is there a moment that sticks out from the Isolation tour?
Probably last week when we did the Hollywood Bowl. It was amazing because I had never performed with an orchestra symphony before. I was in "band" when I was little. I played piano and saxophone, and I always wanted to be in an orchestra. I have a really big appreciation for orchestras -- it was cool.
Do you still get nervous when you pass in front of a concert audience?
Not when I perform for my fans, like when I'm on a tour like this. If I'm doing a TV performance that's a different story. You make a mistake on TV and somebody is going to find you out. I know that I connect with my fans when I'm out there. I could make a mistake and my fans wouldn't notice. You make a mistake on TV and you'll get trolled for the rest of your life.
I used to hate public speaking and I used to hate people making eye contact with me. At some point, we just grow comfortable with who we are. It's like trying to breathe underwater.
What did you make of the Verizon Up experience where you went par for par with your fans?
I think it's bomb! It’s amazing because a lot of times I don’t have the opportunity to go there. There's already so much stuff you have to be doing when on tour. So, I’m grateful for the opportunity.
"Tirano" was a massive record. Do you have any plans to do more Spanish-language music?
Yeah definitely, I still go to Colombia a lot, so I work with people over there. I grew up "Spanglish," so I grew up speaking both languages. When I write, I transition between both languages, if that makes any sense. It’s not something that I overthink. If I’m going to make an all-Spanish song it won't be because of a trend. For me, music in Spanish is going to be there when the trend is over.
You've lived in Colombia, Virginia, and now Los Angeles. What does the notion of home mean to you?
Honestly, I just keep certain things around me that make me feel "at home." Yesterday I was telling my friend I want to go home, and they were like ‘you mean to the hotel?’ I just call everything home naturally because I feel like anywhere I’m at, I'm at peace with myself. So that’s home to me, feeling at peace with yourself and keeping things around you that make you feel good. I have my little things.
What kind of things?
I keep scents around. I don't particularly have one location that I call home.
The New Yorker described you as a Neo-Soul artist. I think they meant well, but I thought that was a little reductive, and to your credit, you've done away with those labels. How do you describe your music to critics who don't understand your candor, or what you're trying to do?
Just like anything else. Anything that's being sold needs a label on it, whatever they call it. At the end of the day. I don't hit the studio thinking 'I'm going to make an R&B record Today' you know? We're just making music that feels good - feels natural. Personally, I never want to occupy those categories, because I don't feel that I make records that are straight by the book "any genre." Maybe there needs to be a subgenre of genreless music.
Do you! You covered a Mexican standard from the 1960s and it sounded great, so fuck it!
Thank you, this was such a pleasure.
Likewise, thank you!
For more information regarding Verizon's Offstage series and more, visit their website here.