On her upcoming album, the L.A.-based singer, songwriter, and visual artist learns to relax and let the music take its course.
Kilo Kish poses a sublime mix of traits that few balance well. As tender as she is fierce, this multidisciplinary artist is stepping into 2020 (and her thirties) with serious intention. A decade into her career, Kish has proven herself to be a poetic lyricist, electric performer, and dope set designer (she builds most of her own sets in the garage of her East L.A. digs). The video for her recent single, “Bite Me,” shows off her style, boasting a human-sized rocket, glittering puppet stage, and massive mouth complete with gold tooth. Her otherworldly aesthetic is apparent in everything Kish touches, but might be most obvious in her recent release, Redux, an EP that manages to be both fervent and effortless. I sat down to talk with Kish about her brief (but deep) obsession with tutus, the transformative power of performance, and letting her work assume a life of its own.
Redux feels confident and enlightened. What were you reacting to in this EP?
I’m so glad! I wanted the EP to be an anthem for people who are trying to make things happen. For me, a lot of the songs look at my own creativity. For example, “Spark” is about keeping your own fire lit and going after your goals. The EP delved into my personal frustration, too, because it’s hard to get things done sometimes! As women, we can hit a wall when it comes to getting people to understand where we stand. I wanted to create a strong, badass project that felt big and gave people energy.
Does [your 2016 debut album] Reflections in Real Time talk to Redux at all?
The projects are very different. Reflections in Real Time is so insular and personal—definitely my most vulnerable project. I’d moved from New York to L.A. a couple of years before it, and was still acclimating. I think artists flip flop between extremes, so after I made Reflections, I didn’t feel like I needed to make a project that vulnerable again for a while. Performing those songs was basically like reopening wounds. You start to think, “Is this what I want to say every day on tour?”
After that project, I learned that I needed more energetic music to perform, so the songs became less downtempo and more bright and intense. Redux has this back-to-basics sensibility that I’ve been heading toward as I enter my thirties. It’s the beginning of a new sense of myself. You learn what other people consider good or important, but midway through your career, you start to figure out what you consider good or important. The more confident you become in your work, the easier it is to separate yourself from what other people are doing. You start to do things your own way.
As a visual artist, how involved are you in the creative and visual elements of your music videos?
I have a hand in the videos from start to finish, whether it’s developing the concept or sitting in an editing suite. When it comes to sets, I’m usually fully building them out. For example, I made all of the props for “Bite Me.” I have a garage with a ton of art supplies, and it’s kind of a makeshift production factory. I start to test things out and typically just end up building the whole set. It’s fun! I usually have a very specific vision, but am looking forward to collaborating with more people in the future.
How do you approach fashion in your work?
My style is more character-based. I dress the part to support the message. For Reflections in Real Time, I only wore suits. I was playing this unhinged person who was slowly descending into panic, because that’s what the record is about. With [the 2018 EP] Mothe, I went through a tutu phase. I was wearing tutus literally everywhere I went to explore how delicate they are, and their connection to butterflies and metamorphosis. For the Redux tour, some of the ballads are ‘80s-inspired, so I chose ‘80s glam rock looks: leather boots, fishnets, bright eyeshadow. I also just love ‘80s fashion, so I guess it’s my personal style, too, just exaggerated.
Talk about what performing feels like for you.
It’s still pretty surreal. Performing shifted my life away from what I thought I’d be doing. I never really set out to make music; I set out to do fashion or be a creative director. Performing live feels like having multiple personalities, because it gives me the opportunity to be someone else. For so many years, I didn’t perform because I was too scared, but now it feels so fun and natural. It’s one of the only parts of my life that allows me to have an intense connection with people in the moment. You have to be in the moment fully; you can’t really think about anything else.
Do you consider yourself an activist in any specific area?
No, but I do have strong feelings on certain subjects. I support the freedom to express yourself no matter what. As an artist, that’s the only thing you can ask for. I tend to push against the norm just for the sake of supporting free thought. I live a life that revolves around what I’m creating, so I’m not always paying attention to what everyone else is doing.
Can you share anything about your upcoming album?
I’ve been working on it since January 2019. I head out to Joshua Tree for a week every month to separate myself from everything that’s going on. So far, it’s shaping up to be kind of an extension of Redux. I’m approaching it differently, though. I usually create the song and then place it like a puzzle piece into a preconceived idea that I’m trying to create. This time, I’m doing it backward. I’m creating a lot of music and then seeing how it all comes together. I’m trying to keep my conceptual mind out of it, and my feeling self in it. From there, I’ll tie it together visually and aesthetically. It’s a more natural process than usual. I’m excited to see what happens.
You turned 30 this year. Do you feel wiser stepping into this next chapter?
I do. The main thing I’ve learned is to trust myself. At 19, I wasn’t even making music; I was taking a year off of working a minimum wage job in downtown New York. What happens in 10 years can be crazy, so having patience and trusting that things will work out is key. I like to plan, so it’s hard sometimes to let things happen naturally. I’ve learned that there’s nothing I can do to turn A into B, it’s more about allowing A to become B. So albums really make themselves; art makes itself. You just need to be there to witness it and aid it in becoming.
That’s the approach I take now, aligning as closely to the spirit of the project as I can. Then I don’t have to feel like, What more could I have done? or, What did I miss? All you’re doing is giving it the wings to be what it’s going to be. If you’re putting good things into the world and not causing pain, there's nothing to worry about.