The Duality of Okay Kaya
Headband by Gauntlett Chang, bra and pants by Adam Selman, boots by Lorod x Manolo Blahnik
During our chat, I get the sense that Kaya is constantly turning to this clone to better understand herself. She tells me about her obsession with masks, how she often feels confused by the "fake person" that comes out whenever in uncomfortable social situations, and about how her selfies must always include an added layer that is not her. But with this new music, she is learning to embrace these feelings of confusion and displacement, circumventing reality to find a nook where both of these bodies can fit, harmoniously.
The music at hand often feels like a ticking clock, except one that has no numbers on it and allows its narrator to flesh out the complexities of her oft-dubious thoughts without the fear of time running out. Kaya sings with a patience for her own thoughts that is enviable, her delicate and raw music ultimately acting as a sort of self-therapy. And as she meditates on her own sexuality and mental health, it's this out-of-body mentality that firmly plants her as a rising artistic force to be reckoned with—a coagulated carbon copy.
Top by Eckhaus Latta
I really enjoyed your show last night. It was very serene and meditative. I don’t know if you felt that on stage.
I mean, that space is just very serene.
I specifically remember the line from one of your songs—“I fake it til I feel okay.” What’s that song called?
Shit, sorry. [laughter] I think it’s just called “Fake It.” Oh, my God. Sorry—I took a Benadryl earlier. Yeah, it’s called “Fake It.”
Tell me about that song. I don’t know why it stood out to me.
I don’t really know what else there is to say about the song. There are a lot of lyrics that are quite graphic, and it's sort of just about my experience and my struggle at times to be a functioning human being.
So you just fake it til it feels okay?
Yeah, I try. It really doesn’t pan out a lot of the times. Sometimes I get really confused and feel like I’m faking it, or I have to, to be able to socialize.
A social introvert?
Yeah, I mean I like being social, too. But if I’m in a certain headspace, something that can be so fun and beautiful becomes almost impossible. But sometimes I’m totally natural. It’s just when I’m in a low point, I notice that I kind of have to get myself out. A lot of that record is about doing that—leaving the apartment and doing stuff I know I enjoy.
Is writing songs therapeutic for you in that sense?
Very much so.
Sweater, scarf, top and leggings by Lorod; shoes by Maryam Nassir Zadeh
The video for “IUD” is stunning and a bit haunting. What is your goal with your visuals?
I started thinking about this concept: what a psychological condition or trauma would look like if it had a physical embodiment all of a sudden. You have a clone that you’ve had to live with in private, and in public you have to drag it around by the hair. I wanted to work on the videos with that one concept and then do many of them for the whole record, so it can feel a little confusing or vague at first and then hopefully it makes more sense. That’s what I’m trying to convey. And just playing with everything in between that, too. It doesn’t have to be set in stone—but I think the idea of two twins living together is interesting to watch for a couple minutes. But hopefully I’ll make a lot of visuals with that concept.
Have you ever seen that show Abby & Britney? It follows the lives of these conjoined twins after they graduated college.
No—oh shit! What is their life like?
The show portrays it in a way that seems mundane, but I feel like the viewers want to see the nitty gritty of what goes down.
[laughter] It’s gotta be the toughest thing. Maybe not the toughest, but wow.
I also noticed you seem to be quite inspired by vanity. A lot of your Instagram photos are of you wearing face masks. Is this purposeful?
When I take self portraits, I’m just interested in having a layer that is not me—whether it be through a mirror or a window or with shit on my face. I don’t really know a lot about skin care. It’s like dressing up, but very subtly. I guess I like masks.
Yeah. I remember when I went to high school, I went for dance but we had like one drama class for the first semester, and we would play around with these masks. It does something to you that I find interesting. And it’s extra chill if it hydrates your skin. It’s like the opposite of makeup where your eyes pop out how they are. It’s kind of like putting your eyes in a negative space. I think people look beautiful in face masks, and in masks.
What was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?
I was obsessed with dressing up for Halloween. I liked just making my hair go straight up. And I liked wearing all sorts of masks. My mom had a lot of masks for some reason, but I think my favorite costume was the Pink Power Ranger.
That was probably when Power Rangers was in its prime.
What happened to them? Where did they go? They used to be the shit.
I feel like “IUD” can be taken in different ways, although it seems to be mostly about safe sex. Did you start with this concept before writing the song?
It just came from personal experience last April—considering getting one and being like, “Oh, this is really hard because accessible health care is jeopardized.” I could probably afford to do it privately, but I wanted to talk about that and be like, this is fucked. And also, trying to make something that is catchy and funny and beautiful, because it’s so frustrating. So I’m just trying to make music that’s a contrast to that.
Compared to your previous music, how has this new music changed—sonically, conceptually…?
It’s been frustrating because I’ve been trying to make it for so long, and there have been reasons why that hasn’t been possible. But I’m really grateful for it because I’ve gotten to sort of practice my craft alone and record a lot alone and learn how to produce things alone. So I think I’ve just grown a bunch, as one would do in two or three years. I’ve hopefully found my voice for now at least, or for this album. It’ll be different—it’s like a time capsule of the past three years, and all the years before that because…well...it’s my debut album.
What was the recording process like? Did you do most of it yourself?
Yeah, my old manager tried to get me in sessions and stuff, but it was always like not enough time and everyone was kind of doing me a favor—an hour there, two hours there. I can’t really focus like that. I think I had to figure it out myself first, so I recorded a significant amount of it alone before I started showing it to my boyfriend who also produces songs. Then we went over to his house and produced some stuff together. Yeah, it was really organic. We would work for hours, and you’re not in this fancy studio knowing that you’re wasting $400 a day. It made for a more intimate album. And I could wake up at 4 AM and do the vocal take. I like that freedom, which is part of it.
I find that a lot of artists like collaboration, but comfortable collaboration. It can’t be forced.
Yeah, it’s gotta feel organic for sure. I love collaborating now that I know that I can. It’s hard when people are like, “You’re going to be in the room with this person,” and you’re just like…
You have to seek it out yourself.
I think so.
And the collaborator being your boyfriend must be the ideal position, especially since he’s a musician, too.
Yeah, it was really fun. He has been super supportive in many ways. It’s nice to finish the record without being my own cheerleader 100%. Him and my new manager and my booking agents have been listening along the way and just supporting me. That’s a good way to make music, I think—especially for me. I can get a bit insecure if I sit on something for years.
What other themes do you explore on Both?
I guess it explores my own personal ambiguity, identity—without wanting to go far into that, I think it’s good to listen to the record. That’s kind of what I want to talk about, or in the way that I want to express that theme especially. It is about love and love as a projection and sort of trying to just pick it apart a little bit and think, wait, why am I feeling this way? What is actually happening? Questioning myself but also starting to feel comfortable in emotional patterns and erratic emotions.
Embracing those emotions?
Yeah, or just accepting them more—that it’s okay to be many things. Like, I’m from Norway, but I’m also American—my mom is Norwegian, my dad is African-American. I lived in Norway for 18 years, I’ve lived here for 8 and 1/2. That’s kind of the obvious, “Who am I,” and then there’s more dualities in mental health and stuff that I don’t really want to get into.
I wanna get into it. I can relate.
Okay, good. I want to talk about it at some point, and I think it is important to talk about.
Do you find that the younger generation is more willing and able to talk about mental health?
For sure. I think younger people are more willing to talk about a lot of things—they’re more understanding. So that feels really positive, and hopefully people will stop being ashamed of things like their mental health or their sexuality or those things that don’t warrant being ashamed.
- Okay Kaya's debut album Both is out June 1 via Heavy Body Records.