The last couple of years have been busy for the eclectic talent that is Leven Kali. 2017 saw a feature on Playboi Carti’s eponymous mixtape, and a writing credit on Drake’s mammoth ‘More Life’ ‘playlist’, while this year gave us – among other things – the exceptional “Do U Wrong”, ft. The Internet’s Syd, and a supporting slot on Snoh Aalegra’s US tour.
Now, having recently released three new songs, “Mine”, “Thursday” and “Too High”, featuring fellow West Coast artists Buddy and Na-Kel Smith (of recent Mid90s fame), we chat to Leven about his sound, love, and what the future holds.
How did you first get into music?
I’ve been around music my whole life. My family is full of musicians. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been playing the drums and taking in music; I had a desktop iMac with garage band on it when I was in high school that I would make beats on. When I finally got a laptop, I really started getting obsessed with producing and recording.
When did you realise you wanted to be a musician?
I’m a musician at my core. I’ve always related life to music, because it’s been a part of my entire life. Senior year of high scool O made a bunch of crazy party records with my homies, and it was mostly jokes at first but then I started to see it more seriously. Still fun as always, but with real messages and intention. As soon as i started university, I knew i wanted to dip out and pursue music.
Who did you listen to growing up?
Tons of different stuff, from Michael to Stevie Wonder to Tupac to Rage Against the Machine. My parents played a lot of music around the house. I was just a kid soaking it all in.
You’ve just shared your new 3 track EP “I Get High When I Think About Us”, how long has this been in the works?
For the last couple years I’ve been creating nonstop, and getting a collection of songs together. Way too many to put on a project, probably like 30-40 full songs (including these three), and hundreds of ideas. I felt like the general music consumer wasn’t gonna have the time for a full length project from a new artist, so my team and i decided to start putting the songs out in a new format. We released two songs in October, and then just released these three. Expect a lot more in 2019
Could you talk to us about some of the themes that run through the project?
Love is a constant theme in this project. Love comes in all sorts of forms, and these three songs show some of those. “Thursday” is a more promiscuous type of love. “Mine” is more of a declaration…a real deep love. Even on “Too High”, it’s about the love for getting faded with the homies. Musically there’s different vibes as well, but it all revolves around the themes of love.
What was the process like, did you have to eliminate loads of tracks?
It was a selection process. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s interesting to put different tracks together to create different storylines and vibes. Consider this project one of many to come in the near future.
Does L.A. inspire you creatively?
Of course! L.A. is the most inspiring city because there’s everything here: the ocean, the city, the mountains…whatever you’re into. Being from here is probably the biggest blessing. The weather and the cultures and the energy definitely shine through in my music. It’s also nice to be around tons of different creative people all the time. I love L.A.
Your sound has been described as everything from sensual to vibrant…how would you describe your own sound?
I describe my music as a bridge from the past to the future. I love paying homage to my idols, while also creating something you’ve never heard before. Like a new place that feels like home, but you’ve also never been there.
Do you give more importance to the production on your songs, or do you prioritise the lyrical / songwriting side?
It’s a balance. I’m on both sides of the coin when it comes to producing and writing. Most of the time I’ll start with music, and then lyrical ideas will find a home
Do you enjoy the more visual side of being a musician – the fashion and the public image?
Yeah. To be honest, I’m getting more and more in tune with that each day. The way I saw artists when I was a kid is totally different from today’s climate with social media, so it’s just being able to adapt and be honest and be yourself. Lately I’ve been more focused on the music side of things, but this year expect to see a lot more of me, visuals etc.
Do you like collaborating with others?
Yeah, collaboration has been a big part of my musical journey since the beginning. Most of my music is a collaborative effort. The whole Palm Studios family is really committed to that type of creation. Building on ideas and being comfortable getting feedback. We have a real supportive thing going on here, and I think people can feel that energy.
Who would your dream collaborator be?
Stevie Wonder. That would be all time.
What’s next for you?
Going to enjoy the holidays with my family and then kick things off with a show in Berkeley for new years alongside Mayer Hawthorne. Then more videos, and more music. Aiming to release another EP very soon!