Mai Kino dreams of water a lot. Cliffs. Crashing waves. And distant underwater realms under the surface.
And this fluidity and mystery permeates the music of the Lisbon-born artist, who tackles everything from love, the pursuit of happiness, and even lockdown living in her simmering, electro-flecked alt-pop.
In her latest single “Lungs”, reverberating basslines open the track, followed by trickling synths and Kino’s ethereal vocals. Press play and let it wash over you. And the alien-like digitally-distorted visuals just add to this sensual soundscape the singer-songwriter has crafted.
We caught up with Kino and talked about her new EP “Dopamine”, early memories of Lisbon, and Atlantis…
Hi Mai, how’s lockdown been treating you?
Hi. It’s been a little weird and dream-like but I feel lockdown’s gentler on introverts… I’ll happily swim inside my head for days.
How do you think it’s influenced your creativity?
I think it’s stripped down layers and got me more in touch with the reasons why I make music, my sense of purpose.
How do you think your Portuguese heritage and being born in Lisbon has influenced your music?
My early memories are a very present influence in my music. Lisbon has a very unique light. It’s blindingly bright during the day, dim and amber coming off street lamps at night, sometimes cold, grey and hazy by the ocean…. I have recurring dreams of cliffs, waves and water-related things almost every night… all this is mashed up into a memory bank of moods and atmospheres that make their way into my songs.
The inspiration behind “Lungs” is really beautiful, like this Atlantis-type land – when did the first thought come to you?
Thank you. A little over a year ago I found myself in a situation that felt toxic but very addictive… it was around the same time that that underwater land images came to me in a dream. I then started crafting a song around the idea of having the strength to leave a comfortable immersive place in order to come up for air and move forward. That’s how we first come into the world when you think about it, through leaving our mother’s waters behind so that we can take our first breath. The video too explores this idea of an in utero environment full of dormant potential.
A lot of the themes of your songs are very personal – how does it feel to be putting out music so close and personal to you?
I couldn’t do it any other way. Some people write whole songs about book characters or things that happened to someone else and I find that fascinating, because I can let external elements seep in but my starting point is always internal. We’re all looking for ourselves in each other, and honesty helps with that.
Love the name of your new EP – why “Dopamine”?
Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone, the happy chemical in our brains and what I feel links all these tracks together… our incessant search for it, the things we do when it’s missing, the unexpected ways in which it comes to us. These are songs about feeling too much or not enough.
What were the biggest challenges of crafting “Dopamine”?
Recording the title track “Dopamine” was definitely the most challenging bit…I was going through a very painful time and that leaked into the whole process. It ended up being a good thing because we got some very real emotion coming through my vocals and all that we did in the studio.
What’s the best feedback you’ve ever had on any of your music?
That it’s made someone else feel less lonely or has inspired them in any way, because that’s what music did for me growing up. A journalist once referred to it as “fragile gold that shakes your very core” which I found so poetic.
What’s next for you?
I’m very excited about the new music I’m making at the moment… and I can’t wait to get on stage again!