Kaya Wilkins’ first foray into music was guided by her older, wiser, black-metal-obsessed brother. Now though, those playful early sessions spent crashing on guitars in the family basement in Nesoddtangen, Norway, have metamorphosed into a style defined by Wilkins’ sombre subject matter and uniquely delicate vocals. Having recorded EP “MIX VOL. ONE” on a friend’s tape machine close to a year and a half ago, she’s since joined Hot Charity Recordings, a subsidiary of XL Records, where she’s worked with Sampha, The xx and King Krule producer, Rodaidh McDonald on the slow-burning “Damn, Gravity” and confessional “Clenched Teeth”. Ahead of forthcoming tours with Peter, Bjorn and John and M83, Wonderland caught up with Okay Kaya to talk Tokyo Parrots, protest music and… anarcho-syndicalism.
Wonderland: Tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up with five brothers in rural Norway.What kind of music did you listen to?
Kaya: We used to listen to quite a lot of the same music, lots of really nerdy black metal. My older brother tried to teach me a few Satyricon songs. We were never in a band or anything like that, we would just make loads of noise in the basement. He’s still a black metal drummer for a band called Asaru, they play mostly in Scandinavia and Germany I think. I’d love to see them live again, they get all dressed up in black and wear these terrifying lenses that make their eyes look like flames.
W: Has he ever been out to New York to see you play?
K: He hasn’t, I mean, he works a lot so there’s not much time. It’s not the most commercial genre so he has to have a job as well, I think he probably works a little bit too much. My youngest brother wants to be a skateboarder so he’s flown over to visit a couple of times. He’ll come and we’ll go to the skatepark for a couple of hours. It’s weird because all the other guys in the park will instantly take care of him and he talks to everyone, I just sit and read my book and try not to look like some weird skate groupie.
W: How do NY skateparks compare to the Norwegian countryside? Do you still miss it?
K: I’ve been in New York six years now and of course it’s completely different from home so I do miss nature sometimes. I travel a lot though, to Europe mostly, so I do still get to see the outside. I think a lot of people get here and feel trapped by the city, but I’m travelling and I go home a lot so it’s not like that for me.
W: Do you find it easier to write in NewYork or back home?
K: I write wherever, both at home and in the city. I’m always writing. It’s much easier to write when it’s dark, at night, when you have time to process all the things that have happened to you during the day. It gives your thoughts time to settle so you can explore them.
W: Do you narrate your own experiences? Is your music autobiographical in that way?
K: Sometimes, but not always. “I’m Stupid But I Love You” was something an ex-boyfriend said to me once; it really stuck with me so it felt natural to write about it. I don’t think he necessarily knows it’s about him. Otherwise most of my inspiration comes from books, films, people I’ve seen on the subway, that sort of thing.
W: On that note, anything you’re reading right now that we should get a copy of?
K: Hmm, I read Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories over the winter, she’s an incredible Brazilian writer. Then I also recently got this fantastic photo book. I came across it at a market, it’s Yoshinori Mizutani’s Tokyo Parrots. It’s one of the most wonderful photo books I’ve ever seen, he documents these bright yellow-green tropical birds who were brought to Japan in the 1970s and are now all over the city.
W: “Clenched Teeth” was filmed in Shibuya. Are you keen to go back to Tokyo?
K: Yeah, there’s so much going on — everything plays music! I hope to spend some time out there properly, a couple of months or longer maybe. I love Yoyogi Park, it’s so quiet when you go for a wander during the day, and then you head back into the city and there’s this explosion of colour at night.
W: You’re working on your first album right now, is that right? How’s it coming along? I read that you grew up with a lot of Aretha Franklin and Miriam Makeba, then you went on to cover Curtis Mayfield’s “Keep On Pushin’”. Can we expect some protest undercurrents in your next record?
K: Maybe! I definitely still listen to a lot of soul music, a lot of political music. I think writing songs against oppression is really important, it really resonates with me. Fight the power man! One of my older brothers too, he’s 29 and training to be a history teacher at the moment, but he’s also an activist. He’s an anarcho-syndicalist and, though I honestly couldn’t tell you much more about it, I always try to listen to him as he’s a fuck tonne smarter than I am. One thing’s for sure, he’s going to be the most subjective history teacher on earth!
W: You’ve got tours planned with Peter, Bjorn and John and M83 over the next couple of months. Do you still get nervous performing live?
K: For sure! I feel like I’m naked, if my music relates that’s fine, but if it doesn’t I’m like ‘Fuck! Why did I just get naked in front of all these people?’ It’s such a bizarre thing to want to do. I guess I have this deep need to keep doing it, which is an odd feeling, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with how crazy it is performing live. I just sing and play guitar and have no band, so it’s really easy to tell when people are listening. It just goes quiet, you’re not able to hear anything unless it’s really quiet. The way I make music, both live and recorded, it’s very sparse, so you have to “keep your ears sharp” as we would say in Norwegian.