Malaysian born songstress Yuna has been charming her way across America for the past two years, wooing crowds with buoyant tones and a seemingly effortless confluence of warm, playful melodies and a neighborly otherness that renders her debonair mien at once both new and familiar.
The colorful patterns sheathing her hair could be considered one of the most positive expressions of modern Islamic identity in American music to date, but she refers to her hijab-adjacent stylings in an understated way. Most people don’t even know that it is an expression of faith and not fashion. It all comes down to modesty, an ideal that Yuna holds close. “Modesty is a beautiful thing,” she says, “It doesn’t always have to be ‘skin, skin, skin.’ It’s difficult for people who don’t understand. They look at me and they see oppression, but I don’t feel oppressed. It’s my choice.”
In a way, her reservations act as a buffer for the less savory elements of commercial music. She explains, “There’re a lot of things out there that are fabricated. A lot of people write about, like, fame, gold chains and stuff. That’s great, but I realize that I have responsibilities as a songwriter. People here want something that’s real. When I put my music out there, I don’t have anything else to offer, no skin. It’s just music.”
LA CANVAS: I actually didn’t know English wasn’t your first language. That’s what Will (Kaytra’s manager) told me just now.
Well yeah, I’m from Montreal so I speak French. But we throw some English words in there, kind of like slang I guess.
LAC: So you just came off of an Australia tour with Ryan Hemsworth, and this is your first American solo tour. Is there a difference between the Australian crowd and the US crowd?
Yeah, the Australians go hard, they’re a lot rowdier, but I think that’s because most of them seem younger. I haven’t been to all of America yet but when I was in New York, I could tell that they weren’t really feeling it; I mean, they were dancing and all, but they weren’t going hard. I know LA goes hard though, LA gets down.
LAC: How was the tour kick-off in San Jose?
San Jose was cool, there was this girl dancing all over the stage, she was twerking and all that. It was crazy, I wasn’t expecting all that (laughs)
LAC: So you released the “Hilarity Duff” track, the second song off of the EP, and Earmilk and Hypetrak are all over it – they’re already anticipating the EP to be huge. How does that feel?
I mean, to hear or read something like that, it’s crazy, if not reassuring. The track was even featured on HotNewHipHop and they put the word “hot” in front it; and I was just surprised the track was even featured on a hip-hop blog. Something like that though, it definitely tells you that you’ve made it though, hearing that type of shit.
LAC: The “At All” video, though – that was nuts with the buff ass girls. Who came up with that idea?
The one who came up with video idea was my friend, Martin Pariseau. He called me about the idea of the bodybuilding women and me hanging with them and doing weird shit. I wasn’t really down with it at first, but I don’t know, when we were at the shoot, I knew it was going to be a big thing so I did it.
LAC: Was being carried weird?
Not really. I mean, we’ve all been carried when we were kids so, it ain’t that weird. But I couldn’t stop laughing.
LAC: Yeah, I bet. Just the imagery of it all was like, “What the hell?” I was diggin’ your jersey.
Yeah, that was the point of it all; and yeah, I was diggin’ it too, I wished the jersey was mine.
LAC: When you listen to your tracks, you can hear the hip-hop, R&B, soul and disco influences in your background. Given that, is it weird to be labeled as an electronic artist/producer?
I mean it is weird because I don’t like to label myself as an electronic DJ because I’m always pulling from other genres, cause that’s what I listen to. I listen to hip-hop, R&B, a lot of old disco and that transfers to my music. Even the… I don’t want to call it trap, but I use a lot of that downbeat hip-hop bass, and I just don’t think the electronic label fits it. Nowadays it’s like, how can you tell my music is hip-hop? By the BPM? It’s so hard to slap any one genre onto music because we’re pulling influences from all these other different places, you can’t just place it into one bubble.
It’s been cool. I mean, since I signed with them, I still stayed in my own lane, just doing my own thing. The label used to be just about instrumental beats, and even then I still want creative control over my music. But they’re the homies and they’ve helped get my name and music out, and then I get to do cool shit with them, like Boiler Room. So overall, it’s been cool, it’s been great.
LAC: I was browsing through your SoundCloud and saw some tracks under “The Celestics.” Is that like, a side project, or something you started prior to being a solo producer?
Yeah, it’s a hip-hop group I was working with, it was actually the first project I was doing, and it just never popped off cause we weren’t really working at it. Instead of recording or working on tracks, we’d just fuck around or be lazy or whatever. It was me and my brother, Louie P, he was the rapper and I was the producer – I was still Kaytradamus then and just making hip-hop beats. I didn’t want to associate Kaytranada (the solo producer) with the group, I just wanted to be the producer and have the music solely stand as The Celestics. But yeah, it was something that we were trying to do, and I want to keep working at it; we already have a few tracks out, “Charles Barkley,” and “Kill,” that are getting some recognition, so it’s something that I want to keep pursuing.
LAC: Was it hard to keep working on The Celestics while you yourself were getting recognition for your solo tracks?
I mean, yeah that was definitely part of it. Like when I started releasing tracks on my SoundCloud and people were feeling it, and I was getting a shit-ton of likes on it, and recognition from blogs, it was like I said before, it’s like you see you’ve made it or that you were doing something right. When “If” popped off, that was when things really started to escalate and it was like, I’m being more successful at this than with The Celestics so…
LAC: I mean, at that point, it seems like you had no choice but to run with it.
LAC: I was actually going to ask you about the name change. Did changing the name from “Kaytradamus” to “Kaytranada” happen because of your success as a producer and a drift from The Celestics?
It was kind of part of it, but at the time, it was when I was still doing more “trap” beats and that also was when Flosstradmus was coming out too, and I didn’t want it to look like I was biting off them or anything like that. I was already hearing shit from my friends on Twitter like, “Who the fuck you think you are?” or “Why you biting off Floss?” and I just didn’t want to deal with that shit. I actually prefer to just be called “Kaytra,” but it’s too late to change it now at this point (laughs). But yeah, Kaytranada is more of a random name.
LAC: Going off your Twitter point, I saw a while back when (Drake’s) “Nothing Was the Same” first came out that you Tweeted that he could’ve done better musically. What would you have done with the album? Does that mean we’re going to get some Drake edits in the near future?
I mean.. I don’t know. I’m not disrespecting Drake in any way, but I just think that musically he really could have done better. Like, his team did hit me up for some beats but they wound up not using them (for NWTS). If they did though, I can guarantee that that would’ve been a classic ass album. I mean, he could hit up any underground artist – whether that be me, Sango, Star Slinger, whoever – and that would be classic.
LAC: Who would you want to collabo with in the future? Near-future or even big dream-status? I’m sure you have a long list.
Oh man… yeah, I have a fat list. I mean, I’ve done a bunch of Erykah Badu edits, a ton of Janet edits, so I’d love to work with them or other people that have remixed their tracks too. The tracks I want to do, I don’t really want or need any big time names on them, I’d just want to work with people that have that sound that I like.. like, I absolutely have to have a neo-soul singer on my tracks, maybe a rapper… but definitely a neo-soul singer.
LAC: Who are you listening to right now?
I listen to so much shit, man… really though I listen to a lot of old school disco and funk, mostly underground stuff. In a general sense I listen to a lot of underground music, especially hip-hop, disco, funk. A lot of 90’s R&B too, obviously. I love Janet.
LAC: So what should we expect for 2014?
Oh, I don’t know… I mean, I will say this: I’m definitely working towards releasing an album. It might be released in 2014, it might be released 2015, I don’t know, depends on if I’m feeling it or if I get into the right creative groove within the next year. But, we got some big things planned out, some collabos and projects that I don’t think people are ready for; I really don’t think y’all are ready for it.
Catch Kaytranada at Los Globos this Thursday, cop your tickets while you still can right here.
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