‘Being an artist isn’t realistic’, is the mantra that upcoming Kasai was regularly told growing up in London’s West. “I think it inspired my ambition to do this. All the doubtful energy growing up in that area,” she says. “Almost to prove them wrong?” I ask. “Yes”. For the young artist, it’s a lucky thing her mentality falls this way. Years on she was to be messaged by The 1975’s Matt Healy who would connect her to the team at Dirty Hit, an independent record label that would give her the freedom to mould her own artistry and image.
What it’s led to is an experimental showcase of R&B, pushed forward by the impulsivity of emotion. No better place can this be seen than her debut EP Not That Normal, PT 1, a release inspired by a break-up. “I would always say, oh, this is not normal. And he would tell me that our lives are never going to be normal,” says Kasai. In 5-tracks the EP wanders through the facets of a relationship breakdown, and what comes to head is the young artist’s obvious talent at creating woozy, tantalizing and oft-sugary music wandering away from the mainstream.
Growing up in a musical family, Mum playing gospel, Dad a general music head, this talent of an experimental nature and also an attraction to playing with her own artistry can be put down to her vast musical influence, a side of her upbringing she speaks fondly of.
So, in celebration and in preparation for Not That Normal, PT 2. we sat down with the Londoner to talk growing up in West London, the story behind her debut EP, and what artistry means to her.
Your debut EP is in two parts. The first explains your emotional state. And the second will be about your evolution.
Yeah, it’s like the same world of things. But there’s growth in the songs and the stories.
So why did you decide to set it out that way? Was it just organic?
I just have so many songs that are around these concepts. And for my first EP, I just didn’t want to have a too big project, but also there is just a general kind of timeline in the stories, if that makes sense. When I write you can almost hear the natural stories progressing in the songs. So that’s why I put it into parts. You can almost hear it without even meaning to do that.
Could you tell me a bit about Pt 1?
So I was in a relationship up until 2019. Just before COVID lockdown. And I guess like I was just writing about stuff that was just happening in that relationship and even more so just trying to figure everything out as well. Whilst I’m trying to figure the whole scenario out, the relationship kind of ended just after I signed my Dirty Hit deal. And yeah, I just went and started expressing myself about these stories, and I went to different studios. The intro was made in London in a studio in 2019, in a West London studio. But I didn’t make it to make an intro, I was just expressing myself. I wasn’t actively making an EP, I was just making things in the moment.
And then I was already working with IzyAreYouKiddingMe. I went to Miami after that and made ‘Drunk Diary’ about someone who’s basically an alcoholic. When I was sitting and writing that song in Miami, I almost found a new voice, I was still learning about myself and how I sing and it was quite powerful. But I only went there because of the emotions I was feeling whilst making that song. Like, in real-time, I would have just been building up so much. So many feelings, like frustration etc. And then yeah, that song was me in Miami.
And then when I came back, I was still involved in this relationship. It wasn’t an easy situation to get out and I would always say, “oh, this is not normal”. And he would tell me that our lives are never going to be normal. And I wrote it down, it’s not that normal, in my iPhone notes because I always either journal or if I’m on the go anything that comes to my mind, I write it down in my Iphone notes. I wrote it down and when I came back, I just saw the intro song and I saw the ‘Drunk Diary’ song, the ‘Streetlight’ song has been with me for almost three years now, I made that in 2019, And then I was like, “Okay, this is, this is coming together already. I think I have an EP”, but that was like 10 songs at this point as well. I remember the ‘I Don’t Really Think About You No More’ song. When we went to make that song. I was still very much thinking about this person. And I wanted to not think anymore.
It’s all just expression really, it’s just pure expression. Kind of like therapy, you know, when you’re going through something you just vent and I was venting in the music, I’d say.
I’ve seen that you describe the experience of releasing this EP as therapeutic. Do you think that’s the general role of music for you? Are you always in a moment of feeling something and having to release it?
Yeah, I think most of my music is all impulsive. Like at least the songs that I like the most are impulsive. They’re made in impulsive moments rather than I thought about how to make this. I’ve noticed the ones that I’ve thought about , whether or not it’s good or not, are not the ones I’ve connected to the most. I’d like it to be all quite natural and expressive.
One thing I really love about your music, while listening to your past songs as well, is that it’s got this slight experimental element. And maybe that’s where that impulsivity comes in.
Yes, I love — thank you for noticing that by the way — I love to experiment. And I want to experiment, even more, to be honest. I feel like I like pushing creative boundaries. And I want to push myself more. Especially because I grew up listening to a lot of different music and I have so many different interests, even as a listener, when I’m listening to music.
Yeah, I feel like when interviewing artists, the ones with the most experimental sounds just have this huge array of influences that they kind of touch upon. What were some of those influences for you growing up or what’s some music you’ve been listening to?
A lot of music growing up. My Dad, he’s like this proper music head. Whereas my Mom, she loved gospel music or singers with big voices. She’d like to play gospel in the house, I remember even when Whitney Houston passed away, she was playing Whitney Houston, that kind of feeling. She’s a Christian. So she liked gospel and Christian music. And they had all these incredible voices. And it was very emotive, very emotive music. When you hear them singing, they’re praising God, there’s just so much emotion in their voice. I know that inspired me a lot. Like I wanted to do it.
If I went to church when I was younger, I would see the choir singing, I’m just like, I want to do those harmonies and I would start to teach myself how to do it. Or my Dad would play Sade and Bjork and all these people, but me and my friends loved R&B and hip hop. So that’s what I was mainly listening to, R&B, hip hop, electronic music, trap, we would just be on the internet after school, Google searching, just trying to be that first person to find that brand new artist and you kind of get excited by it.
When did the interest to become a singer arise? Was it when you were a kid or was it a bit later?
It was always from when I was a child but I don’t think the confidence came about straight away. I always wanted to be a singer, a creative, an artist of some form when I was a child. My family are musicians, they have nothing to do with the industry though. They’re just music people, my Dad and Mum play instruments and like to sing as well, and it was very, very present in the house. My mom would send my brother to piano lessons or I would do dance lessons, and I did performing arts in college and musical theatre. It was just a very creative house that I grew up in. And I always wanted to be an artist. I graffitied all this poetry and thoughts on my bedroom wall. And it’s still there at my mom’s house now but I never knew what it would take to make to make songs.
I remember after I left college I would listen to my favourites and just think, how have these people made these songs, like how do people make songs. And then I started recording in my bedroom. My brother does sound engineering, so he had all these cables and he could teach me a few things as well. And I just started recording on like beats I found on YouTube at home first, but it would just be recording melodies but I didn’t know what I wanted to say lyrically, I would just say anything almost. Without thinking about what I’m doing, I would just sing without any kind of lyric, and then put a song up on SoundCloud, that was a freestyle. And it got me attraction and attention and noticed in the industry, and it was streaming well on SoundCloud. But I took it down because I wanted the story and the lyrics to always be clear to who I am as an artist, and I didn’t feel that was happening on that song.
So remember, I took it down, and when I took it down, it made me go, “Okay, I can do this, but I wanted to think about my story, what is my message or my story as an artist”. And then once I started to figure that out, I got more confidence. I still kept working like a nine to five job. I only quit my job at the end of 2017. So 2018 I was jobless. When I was putting out ‘Pretty Boys’ and ‘Habit’. And at these times, I was like, more sure of my story as an artist. So I think when all of those things came together, I was like, I want to be an artist, not a singer. And now that we’ve been putting this EP out, I’m so excited because I feel like everything I wanted to figure out about myself and about my artist’s dream, is figured out and I’m just happy to keep progressing because I didn’t only just want to be a singer or like a songwriter or musician, I wanted to be an artist and those things that make me an artist in my head.
What do you think are the things that make an artist separate from a singer or from a performer?
I think it’s each to everyone’s own. But I know for me, I just wanted to figure out my story. I wanted there to be purpose behind what I was doing. I think not everyone’s like that. Some people just like to just make music for fun. I make it for fun as well, by the way, but I’m just saying that it’s not so thought out, their lyrics or their story, which is cool as well.
What were you working as back in 2018?
I was working a few jobs. I worked at a bike store called Halfords. And I worked at Dorothy Perkins in Westfield. And then I worked with my Dad who had a travel agency business. And then yeah, and that was the last job. I quit at the end of 2017 when I met my first manager. Yeah, and in 2018, I didn’t have any job. I was like, really broke the whole year, and then credit card debt. When we put out the ‘Pretty boys’ for the night campaign, the money that I got paid from that would have just paid off my credit card debt, and I still had to keep it pushing. But thankfully it all worked out and I found myself in really good situations where I can do music full time now.
When did Matt Healy from The 1975 contact you?
He contacted me in the summer of 2019. It was such a funny time when he contacted me because the day he contacted me I was just telling everyone around me how unmotivated I was to take meetings with managers and people because I just wanted to do my music.
I wasn’t really fussed about major label deals, I just wanted to do my music and have someone support my vision. And I took like two or three meetings. I remember people from majors were trying to sign me and I was literally ignoring everything. I was like, I need to get this right, things were moving very fast as well. And then I had two or three meetings. And then I stopped because I was just like, I don’t want to even take these meetings, I don’t want to talk about this. I Just want to do my music and put it out. It was frustrating because I felt like I waited so long. It was like putting a hold on me doing the creative stuff and putting my music out. So I was a bit unmotivated. And the day I was just like, “oh, whatever”, he commented on a video, where I’m just doing melodies over a beat on Instagram. But he just commented saying dm him. And I was like, “What does he want?” But I dm’d him. And he just told me about Jamie OBorne, and just the whole dynamic over there. And I was really into it. Like even the whole independent thing, that was enough for me to be interested, because you know, you speak about the experimental thing, and I feel like in these more independent situations, you have more freedom to do what you want, people won’t try to do anything too soon in your career that you wouldn’t want to do.
But yeah, I went and met him. Chris Melian And Jamie Oborn. I met them in September at the head office in West London. And yeah, they told me more about it. And I was just sold. I was good to go. I was like, yeah, this sounds amazing. And they were great people. That’s how that came about.
It seems crazy, that he found you out of all the Instagram accounts. How did he find you?
I have no idea, to be honest with you. I think after putting out ‘Pretty Boys’ and ‘Habit’, maybe word could have spread. Because he said he loved the ‘Pretty Boys’ song. And he liked the video that I posted that I was singing on. So maybe my name could have popped up to him or something when he actually went to search me.
Were you a bit starstruck, or did it feel surreal?
No, I don’t really get starstruck. I don’t get starstruck, but that changed a little bit when I met Rihanna.
How was that?
I had to shut my mouth (laughs). I didn’t know what to say around her.
What was the conversation like? What did you talk about?
I was just talking to her about London cause I’m signed to publishing at Roc nation. And the person that signed me is Joe Brown. He’s Rhianna’s manager. So it’s all quite close to home, but I met her at the Roc Nation brunch, Jay Z does it every year before the Grammys. Normally I just let people be, but when I saw Rhianna I was like “No. I just have to go say hello.” Because her A&R was also interested in her cutting ‘Drunk Diary’ for herself, but we didn’t go ahead with that. I kept it for myself, but just knowing that information and seeing her there I just wanted to go say hello. We didn’t speak too much because there were a lot of people around us, a lot of people that wanted to speak to her. But yeah, it was just short and sweet.
So your song ‘Drunk Diary’ was going to be sung by Rihanna?
It wasn’t going to be sung. It was just her A&R that was interested in her cutting it, that’s all. It didn’t mean that it was 100% going to be hers, but that alone was like, “Oh, you think Rihanna would love this? I’m so grateful”. Cause you think about the songs that you write and sing and love for yourself that someone as iconic as that could potentially like and want to put it out. It was good enough information. But we’re focusing on me at the moment. So we’re not writing and giving songs away at the moment.
Is that something you would look to do in the future though?
Yes, yes, I would love to! I really really really really want to be someone that is known to help people with their music, potentially one day. I love how Pharrell makes his own music but I feel like later on in his career he definitely started writing, producing for other people but he’s not always loud with it. You just go to the credits and you see that Pharrell was involved here somehow. I would love to be the person who helped someone musically direct their album and put all the ideas together or co-wrote it with them, like how Quincy Jones musically directed things for Michael Jackson. One day though, after I’ve done what I need to do with my career as an artist.
It would be so rewarding to be able to collaborate with all these different artists and seeing into their mindsets.
Yeah, it would. It really would. Some people say that they find it easier to write for other people than write for themselves. I wonder if it would be that for me or the other way around?
Yeah, I guess there’s only one way to find out.
Yeah, it’s true.
So obviously over your musical journey you’ve met people like Joey Bada$$ and Rhianna and Matt Healy. What’s this brush with these big names taught you, or has it motivated you in any way?
I think it’s good. I think it makes me feel blessed and grateful. It’s funny when we talk about my evolution and the EP, I talk about my mental health and how I am as a person and I’ve really like gone in waves of being confident and doubting myself, and being confident and doubting myself. Deep things that a young woman growing up go through, regardless of what experiences we go through in life. but it can just be a pat on the back when you’re doubting yourself. People that you look up to, or you aspire to, that have done amazing things. I think it could be good for the days that you doubt yourself.
But I’ve started to learn that you have to be your own champion, your own fan. And yeah, I think it’s just a gratitude thing. It’s just nice to be noticed and recognised. And people believe in your dream, as much as you believe in it, you know, because there was a time when people didn’t like it. Even at my secondary school. I didn’t really have a nice secondary school. I was even kicked out. I was very different from the people in that school. But I remember one teacher just telling me when I told her that I wanted to go do performing arts, she was just like, “No, I don’t think you should do that. You know, it’s not realistic”. You know, I’ve had people, even my friends from secondary school. I’d tell them I want to be an artist, and they were just like, “No, no, this is not realistic”. I think that also has to do with these times when I was a child. I was growing up in a council estate as well. So I think my area didn’t know of anyone from these places that would do things. So It’s just nice to have people who really do it, to believe in your dream as well, because not everyone is going to and at one point people would talk me out of it. So yeah, I think maybe that’s all that is. But apart from that, overall, I would just say it’s amazing. I’m grateful and I want to be up there with them one day, my legacy, my music, everything that I set out to do in my career. I’d hoped to be like one of these names one day.
Did the West London area where you grew up inspire you at all?
It inspired my ambition. Most of the people in that area and the teachers at school, I remember it wasn’t a very nice school as well. The kids in my school were either heading towards doing nothing with their careers or they were heading towards more business and academic things. Even my mom’s house it’s in a council estate, even the neighbours around when they asked me, “What are you doing now?” I’d say I’m chasing a music career and people would not take this seriously. So I think it inspired my ambition to do this, all the doubtful energy growing up in that area.
Almost to prove people wrong?
Yes. I really had to. It sounds so far-fetched. But I was like, I knew I could do it but I didn’t know how. And it’s so weird because I tell my friends now if you only knew all it takes is just to release something on the internet, it’s literally almost that simple. I used to think, “How do people get signed and noticed or get into the music industry or get into the music business?” It’s almost as simple as just posting something up on your Instagram or SoundCloud and I feel like I wish I did it much sooner.
So I’ll just ask one more question and then I’ll let you go. But other than the release of Pt 2 of this EP, what’s to come in the future? Where do you see yourself?
I see myself releasing more singles. I want to be open to doing collaborations as well. I’ve kind of purposely not been doing features and stuff at the moment. But I want to do collaborations. I want to release more music singles, other projects, my debut album, for whenever that’s due. I’m gonna start writing that maybe towards the end of the year. I want to tour. I really want to get to a point in my career where I can just tour the world and have fun. I really want to get to the point where touring is like second nature to me. I really want to act in a movie one day, this is random, but I love acting as well. I love all kinds of creations, but maybe one day, in the future acting in a movie, I see people like Aaliyah and Rhianna have done that as well, at the right times in their life.
Like I spoke about before, writing for other people, getting involved in helping out with their songs and their projects. So many different things I’d like to do.
Follow Kasai here for more.