The Triangle had the opportunity to talk to Kah-Lo after opening for Bea Miller at the TLA. This interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.
The Triangle: For people who have never heard your music, how would you describe your sound?
Kah-Lo: I would describe it as the peak of the moment when you are in the club and you still have too much energy and you’re not quite tired yet. That’s the type of music: peak, peak, peak.
TT: When did you start writing songs?
Kah-Lo: I think I wrote my first proper, full-length song when I was like, 14. I did know I wanted to be a musician at eight, but I didn’t start writing until I was 13 or 14.
TT: Was there something that pushed or inspired you to make music your main focus?
Kah-lo: I think there were two things. The first is that my dad used to live in New York, and he would come back to Nigeria with these DVDs and tapes of Michael Jackson. There would be these promo videos and how the music video was made and music premieres. I was like, “Oh, I like that!” And that was that.
The other moment was another taped thing. I believe it was the Grammys and watching U2 win for “Beautiful Day.” There were many U2 mentions, and I just thought it was cool.
TT: Did you grow up in a musical household?
Kah-Lo: For the type of music I make, I would say my dad and uncle directly influenced the type of music I make right now. They listened to old school R&B. My older sister listened to Tupac and stuff like that. It wasn’t like someone was constantly playing the piano or something like that. There was music, and I absorbed it. It’s kind of a running joke where I got it from because it wasn’t really that type of household.
TT: How do you usually approach songwriting? Do you start with melodies or tracks?
Kah-lo: It depends. I kind of started as a producer, and because I have that background, when I start a song in my head I’m hearing the beats, I’m hearing the hi–hat, I’m hearing many of these things first. Then I write to it. My process is kind of weird. Sometimes I would make like a half song and take it into a studio and work on it, or sometimes I go and I start from scratch. The only thing I know is, I don’t know how to write songs out loud. I don’t do well in the room with other people, like writing camps and stuff like that.
TT: Where do you get ideas for songs?
Kah-Lo: I have a notes app on my phone where I just take moments, and I write little snippets of what I’m feeling or what I see. Then I go into the studio and I hear a beat and I’m like, “I think I have the perfect line for this.” Sometimes it’s just raw emotion and I write off that. The other day I was in this studio session, and I wasn’t having that great of a day. I was trying to write the typical pop song, and it just wasn’t coming out right. I said, “You know what guys? I’m not feeling this. I think I want to write a song about how I’m actually feeling.” It actually came out sounding like an up–tempo song about how things aren’t feeling great right now, but things are still looking up.
TT: You’re song “Fake ID” has gone viral on TikTok. What’s it like watching people make their own creative expression out of your creative expression?
Kah-Lo: It’s pretty cool because we released that song at the end of 2017. It’s been out there for a while and then TikTok used it in an ad campaign and people gravitated to it and started making these videos. It’s pretty weird because many people know the song but they don’t even know who the artist is. I have to ask the crowds at shows, “Do you use TikTok?” Many people know that the song is out there and they know the words, but they don’t know who the artist is. I guess they just think it’s a TikTok soundtrack.
TT: Your music has gotten compliments from big names like Calvin Harris and Selena Gomez. You went on stage with Idris Elba. How does it feel to know these superstars have found what you made and enjoy it?
Kah-Lo: It’s pretty cool because many of these people are people I have looked up to for a long time. And Idris Elba, like I have his phone number. Who would have thought that even last year I would have Idris Elba’s phone number and we would be texting? It’s weird but pretty cool.
TT: Which song of the tracks that you have released so far means the most to you? Why?
Kah-Lo: Definitely “Exit Sign.” This is my first wholly independent release. Independent where it is fully my input, and it’s my ideas, and it’s my creative direction. This is what Kah-Lo as an artist with no external influences sounds like. That means so much to me because at the end of the day, that is why I started making music in the first place, you know? To express myself.
It does get a little frustrating sometimes when you are making music that is someone else’s expression. But it feels great to finally put out something that is mine. I do not take that for granted at all.
TT: I always think it’s gotta be a weird position to be in as the opening act. Have you found it intimidating or anything?
Kah-lo: Oh I have no issue with that at all. I have some musician friends who say, “You perform these songs that no one knows with such enthusiasm that people think they’ve known these songs forever.” I find that many of my peers are reluctant when testing out a new song or new material. They are like, “I don’t know how they will respond.” And if the crowd is not responding, they tend to withdraw. But, I’m like, “Pshh, Let’s. Go.” I literally lose myself on stage, and it’s my favorite place to be. It’s my favorite thing about it. Performing for people and channeling my energy. At the end of the day, they are watching me. I’m the energy. So whatever energy they want to give you back, that’s their problem. I’m going to be hype. If they’re not trying to match that energy? I don’t know what to do about that.
TT: So as you mentioned earlier, you just released your new single “Exit Sign.” How does it feel to have it out in the world?
Kah-Lo: It feels like such a relief. I am so excited to have it out. I recorded that song over a year ago, and there has been so much brouhaha about the timing of things. So the fact that it is finally out is so great. It feels like the beginning of my career, to be completely honest. Now it’s all me.
TT: What inspired that song?
Kah-Lo: What had happened was last summer, my friends and I went to the Hamptons. We decided to be reckless, as one does in the summertime. We go to this club, and it was filled with college kids. We were like, “Oh my god, we shouldn’t be here.” But, we were there and I was just like, “F–k it. We’re here in the Hamptons. It’s great.” There was nowhere to really dance, so I was standing on this table by this exit sign. I somehow ended up with this group of guys, and I somehow ended up married in like 30 minutes. In that marriage of an hour, a girl came that was like, “Have you seen my boyfriend?” and I was like, “Oh, that was your man? Oops.” That’s literally what the song is about.