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Interview: 2021 Must-Know - KALI

Interview: 2021 Must-Know - KALI

"I'd say writing music is my way of processing what I'm going through and coming to terms with it, but also, my way of being honest with how I'm really feeling because it's a free space with no judgement except from myself," KALI shares about her songwriting process - heard clearly in her two songs to date, 'Back To The Start' and 'Lucy'.

Kali Flanagan's musical journey started at age four with piano lessons, and she then went on to learn bass, keyboard, drums, and violin, and the now 16-year-old artist is set to share her 'Circle' EP on May 7th - a collection of coming-of-age songs which tackle all-too-relatable issues of changing, loneliness, understanding feelings, and more.

MUST-LISTEN: 'Lucy', 'Back To The Start'.
YOU WILL LIKE, IF YOU LIKE: Clairo, Girl In Red, Remi Wolf, Claud, Huron John... and taking your date on a romantic bike ride to a picnic.

COUP DE MAIN: You open 'Back To The Start' with the very honest line, "Honestly, I don't know how to feel." Do you think it can be hard sometimes to understand and process our own emotions? Do you find songwriting helpful in helping you figure out how you feel about something?
KALI: Honestly yes. Hahah. In my opinion it's really difficult to understand the complexity of a situation and the depth of my emotions when I'm in the heat of it all. I'd say, writing music is my way of processing what I'm going through and coming to terms with it. But also, my way of being honest with how I'm really feeling because it's a free space with no judgement except from myself. I find that there's a lot of 'noise' in life that distracts us from what's really going on in our heads and through writing I can break it all down, uncover the source of my feelings and what they are, and essentially confront it.

CDM: One of my favourite lines from one of your unreleased songs is: "Already tried to run from my problems / That didn’t help me learn how to solve them." Why do you think that so often as humans we are afraid to confront our problems? It's often easier to ignore them or push them to the back of our minds.
KALI: I think we are all just a little afraid of discomfort. Being honest and vulnerable is so hard because most of the time we wear a mask (no pun intended) and a brave face and push through because it's in our nature to persevere and just keep going. It's much easier to push problems away because at least for me, I feel afraid of the Pandora's box that will open once I'm honest with myself because I can't predict the changes that will happen once I understand what's happening, if that makes sense. When you come face to face with an issue, you're making a stop in your journey. But it's quite necessary to slow down and stop sometimes, recharge and recalibrate, which is something I'm still learning. It's like going to the bathroom on a road trip. The longer you wait, the worse it gets hahaha. It's important to take the time to release the emotional tension that you're holding so you can grow instead of being stuck in a place where the same problems seem to be occurring.

CDM: You sing on 'Lucy', "I wish you'd talk to me." Do you think that communication is often the root of most relationship issues?
KALI: I think communication finds itself rooted in many shapes and forms of relationship problems. On the surface it's easy to 'fix' in a relationship. But often times I think people don't communicate honestly enough or are not in a place of emotional maturity and security with themselves to understand what it is that they need to communicate. A relationship is like a game of tennis, two people hitting a ball back and forth from different places, but in my opinion working together to move forward and grow. It's really necessary for both people to be on the same page and understanding of each other's perspectives, which can't be achieved without transparency in communication but also understanding and being able to process and express what you are feeling.

CDM: What can you tell us about your upcoming EP 'Circles'?
KALI: Hmmm. Well, first I want to shout out Mac Miller because his 'Circles' is a masterpiece. But I would say that 'Circles' is very symbolic of my first experiences dealing with what felt like 'real' or valid emotions as a teenager. Some of the songs like 'Back To The Start' or 'Lucy' I originally wrote from a less mature place, but with time the songs have blossomed and grown with me, gaining new meanings to myself and providing me with clarity on past events. It depends however one wants to interpret the project, but I think it's best when listened to as a whole. Each song is somewhat individual in its sonic flavour and musicality in my opinion, but the overarching meaning and themes I was exploring during that year in my life ties all the songs together. My goal was to have something cohesive that represents a bigger picture as a whole, like a puzzle. Each song is a different piece, a development in understanding the whole shebang.

CDM: How does your songwriting process work?
KALI: My songwriting process has been changing a lot recently, and even was changing throughout the course of writing the EP. I find that I become attached to chords and melodies (riffs or vocal melodies) really, really easily. I tend to circle (pun was not intended originally; apologies for my dad-like humour) through the same chords or melodic structure for weeks, sometimes months until I find that I no longer am attached or I find that I resonate with it even more, enough for me to sit down and take a long look at myself in the mirror and sort through the emotional baggage I've been carrying around for that period of time. But sometimes it just comes out of nowhere, if I hear a melody and I'm feeling flighty out and about, and I'll take a few voice memos. Other times, I start producing a random idea, stream of consciousness, which I've been doing a lot of throughout quarantine, because it helps me get out of my head. And then I sort of let my guard down to the song, and just follow wherever my instincts and voice take me. Often, I'll have to let a verse and chorus, maybe pre-chorus, marinate and sit with me for a while before I'm able to finish a track. This is because I feel like the first half of a song is like the introduction to an idea or some sort of surface recap, and then the further along you get into the song, the more explaining and unpacking you have to do, in order to connect the dots in my head and make sense of what I'm trying to express fully. It's honestly therapeutic and a healing process. All of these occurred in my writing of 'Circles'.

CDM: Do you write your lyrics specifically for the songs, or do you write poems or prose and then evolve them into song-form?
KALI: A lot of times when I was writing 'Circles', I'd get inspired by things my friends would say or just phrases that I become attached to in the back of my mind. Then I would store them away until they applied to my life - some kind of manifestation I guess. But I have a way of mapping things out in my head, with 'I Just Wanna', I swear that song just flew out of my brain, but I know somehow, that song structure developed and was working in the gears of my brain subconsciously.

CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite song that you’ve written?
KALI: Hmmm, well I have this song that gives me a similar sort of feeling that maybe I'll release later in life, but on the EP, 'Again' is my favourite because it's a very honest and a 'cutting to the chase' sort of song. It makes me feel this security with myself because I wasn't trying to cover up my emotions or walk around how I was feeling or the situation I was in, I just stated what was going on. I remember I wrote that in my bedroom, I was procrastinating and going through all of my Spotify playlists and editing them instead of studying for an AP test the next day. I stumbled across some dumb 'heartbreak' playlist I made and the caption was "never again and then I did it again, and again". I thought it was so funny and I just sort of wrote a song from there, in the back of my head it was almost a joke and the fact that I wasn't taking myself so seriously allowed me to just be super honest and let the lyrics flow. That night I sent a pitchy voice memo of the first verse and chorus to three of my friends because I was so confident in my writing hahah. And then the rest of the song sort of came together while I was producing the demo, which allowed me the time I needed to decode and come to terms with what I was writing about.

CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
KALI: String arrangements, piano, LFOS and shaker. I think all great songs pull a part of you, like a yoga stretch. Not that you would feel a release in your lower back, but a good song creates this intangible pulling or letting go idk.

CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
KALI: I am really excited and interested in people's different interpretations of my music, because we are all going through similar things but we each have our unique viewpoint and chemistry that allows us to experience them individually. I hope people just feel a sense of assurance that everything is going to be okay. Through 'Circles', I kind of gained this acceptance or started coming to terms with the fact that the constant in life is this consistent change, up and down in life every day, all the time. And that it's necessary to feel everything, good and bad, light and dark, it all balances out and nothing will be one thing forever. This idea sort of helps me move forward and grow and accept the changes that life brings. It's all a development, a journey, a process that takes time, it's important to be patient with yourself and the people and objects that surround you.

CDM: If K.A.L.I. were an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
K- knockabout (yes I looked up a list of words starting with K, but I feel like I am filled with exuberant spirits)
A - ambiguous
L - lit
I - introspective (or ironic - that is my explanation for the word I used for L)

CDM: What’s on your bucket-list?
KALI: Sell out the Fonda... play Pitchfork Paris... self-produce a project... live in Europe... bake a three layer cake... open up for one of my heroes on tour... study the brain... learn how to ski.

CDM: You’re one of our 'must-know’ artist picks for 2021... who are yours?
KALI: Hmmm...I am super indecisive. So this will be hard. But I'm gonna say. Hether, Helena Deland, Charlie Hickey, Blonder, Okay Kaya, Postcard Boy, and Tomberlin.

CDM: If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
KALI: I would steal.... Hunter Schafer's heart...

CDM: If you were a country, what would be your national anthem?
KALI: I think this is an aggressive national anthem that creates an ironic sense of hostility that would not exist in my country, but I am going to say 'Paper Planes' by M.I.A. ONLY because I have had the ability to recite the full song since I was three-years-old.

Watch the 'Back To The Start' music video below...

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