Okay Kaya Talks "Watch This Liquid Pour Itself"
When we first entered Kaya Wilkins’ 3rd floor walk-up in Greenpoint, she broke the ice with a 5hr38min playlist called “HILDEGARD og co.” Strictly comprised of choral music, she explained it was the product of a night of insomnia. (She’d arrived back from her home in Norway a couple of days prior.)
The self-taught musician has spent the past ten years living in New York, where she first began writing songs. In 2018, she self-released her debut record “Both” under the moniker Okay Kaya. Her bedroom pop tracks are sonically minimal, and very much led by her sometimes dark, stripped-down lyrics. No subject feels untouchable.
Her apartment seems pleasantly worn in; neatly stacked books sit atop mementos from her time in Berlin and her makeshift music studio. A white mask hangs above a whiteboard reading “SURE” in the top left corner. Each object feels as though it has a purpose and a story to tell.
As the sun quickly escaped, and the light of the first full moon of the year shone into her bedroom, Wilkins spoke to us about her new record Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, her experience of “purging” and molding the “bile” that it’s comprised of, and what she’d consider having written on her tombstone.
Watch This Liquid Pour Itself is out everywhere tomorrow, January 24th, with a tour following shortly after. Check her live dates here.
Do you want to talk about this space that we’re in right now for people that are not here?
Yeah, we’re in my space (not .com, just my house.) And I’ve been here for four and a half years. It’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Your new record comes out on the 24th. What was the time frame in which you wrote these songs?
I finished them all in June, a lot of them were actually written this time last year.
Did you write them in New York?
Yeah, or wherever I was.
Where were you last year?
I was probably in like 20 different countries last year, but in terms of where the music actually was recorded, a lot of it was recorded here. Some of it was recorded in LA, and then I mixed it with Jake Portrait who has a mixing studio that if you were able to just jump over this block, points out the window, that’s where his studio is, right by Jungle Cafe.
Do you have a favorite track off of it?
These are all my 15 favorite tracks, out of 40 songs or something. And then to narrow it down more is pretty hard for me. I really get stressed out when I have to think about favorites–that’s why my playlists are so long.
Do you listen to it?
No. Because I have listened to it. I hope other people listen to it now. I might have to listen to it again soon because I’m performing with a band, so I have to figure out how to translate that into a live setting.
Merilyn Chang: Who else does the band include?
I play with a bass and guitar player, and there is a saxophone player, even though there is no sax album on the album. There’s been a bit of clarinet from Logic that I record myself. Then synth and a drum machine.
So when you’re writing, do you start with the lyrics first? Is there a strict process?
No, there’s no process. It depends, it could either be like, “Oh, there’s like a melody on a voice note.” Or I find a word funny, or a sentence interesting, or I’m mucking about. I think it’s just really helpful for me to be able to move between those things creatively.
Do you name your voice notes? Or do you just leave them as the location?
It’s a nightmare! Sometimes I do. But most of the time, it’s pretty hard to find things. And you know, a lot of the time, I just never even listen to them. I probably would have thought about it, or remembered something if it was that good.
How do you think your outlook on the industry has changed from when you released “Both” to now?
Well, it’s pretty different because I released “Both” myself, so it was me and my manager and I worked a little bit with a publicist, that was it.
How would you say it’s differed, putting it out yourself and with a label?
It’s actually not that different. The only thing is that I feel like I have to think about less things that are very business-oriented. It was kind of tricky to think about because I guess I’m more of a creative person, maybe than someone who knows a lot of business things. So I have to think about that way less, and that’s good because that gives me more time to record and do other creative things. Jagjaguwar is really special because they’re really supportive. I feel safe and supported versus like, “Oh, everything might go to shit because I’m trying to release a record.” But it’s a cool time we’re living in because you can release your record yourself. It takes away a gatekeeper, and that’s always positive, I think.
So for this record, you talk about the record kind of being the result of what comes out in the purge? Do you think that music has been your main mode of self-expression? Do you think there are other ways in which you purge as well?
That’s definitely the one, my top one purge scenario is writing songs. I think that’s something that I kind of became aware of more this record, or just what that process felt like. Visually, I kind of imagine it as like a freeze-frame of all this bile coming out, and then shaping it into something that is hopefully more beautiful than what it started out as; and if not more beautiful, than more relatable in some way.
The first time I heard your music, it stood out to me how raw the lyrics are. It’s kind of shocking sometimes but in a really nice way. Do you think that you’re like that in person? Or do you think that that’s the outlet in which you say everything that you feel?
That’s tricky. I tend to say what I feel, but I think I chose this outlet because I sometimes struggle with the normal way of communicating, like talking, to be able to understand how I’m feeling. I think writing something down, and then being able to step away, and then shaping it into something else, is definitely… it’s the most me I feel. And then everything else and kind of how I interact every day is trickier for me.
When you’re on stage then, do you feel very calm? Do you feel like you’re in like that “me” version that you’re speaking of?
No, because then I’m like, “Why the fuck am I being ‘that; in front of X amount of people with a light in my face?”
Does the light hurt? Can you see anything?
I have a band, so now it’s actually fun. I’m not so like, “Why are people here? What am I doing?” They’re playing and they’re cool, and making cool music, and I get to listen to them. But the trick is to just have the venue blast you in the face with a bunch of light, and then you can’t see anyone.
I’ve read that you were in a metal band when you were younger, but what does it really mean?
Okay, what it really means is that one of my brothers, he’s one year older than me, is a black metal drummer. And when we were kids, he had a little rehearsal space in his basement, and I would go down and play the three “claw” notes that I could play. We tried to play all sorts of different songs, but he’s still a black metal drummer. And I think that’s kind of why it’s a thing.
Do you guys make music together still?
No, but we’re talking about it. We’ve been talking about for the past few years, actually, because he’s in a band called Asaru, that is black metal band.
How did he get involved in that?
I don’t know. My other brother that’s four years older, the three of us would go to this squat house when we were teens. It was a DIY venue, there was a lot of punk music and whatnot. So I think we were exploring all sorts of subs in our teens; classic teen.
What music did you listen to growing up?
My mom would just play records all the time. And she has a really vast music taste, so it’s hard to pinpoint down; all genres, all hours, all the time. I remember when I got my first CD. I was 12, and it was an Aretha Franklin CD; that felt really special. I don’t know if it was because it was the first thing that was given to me or because it was the most amazing singer alive.
Let’s talk about the projects you’ve worked on until this point…
I mean, I have only been writing songs since I moved here, maybe eight years ago I bought a guitar. Then basically, from six or seven years ago, I think all the music I made is basically out in the world.
Why did it take moving here to start writing?
Because I had like one friend and no jobs and no creative outlet. No anything.
I was listening to the new record this morning, and when the last track played, I literally had to reopen the window and make sure it was the same album because your voice sounded so different. Can you tell me about that song?
“Zero Interaction Ramen Bar.” Oh yeah, maybe that is my favorite song.
It’s just the form and pitch thing. And I worked with that a lot on “Both” as well. I wanted that song to be performed with a barbershop band so they would do all the voices, but then I kind of ran out of money, the budget was out. And so I recorded all the voices myself, but then I started tweaking them and pitching them, so they had different textures or something, but they’re all me.
I think my favorite song is “Symbiosis” on this record. What is it about?
Okay, maybe it’s my favorite too, actually. Because it was the most fun to write. That was all one day, here. It’s special when a song just happens in a day. I mean, it was a pretty long day, but it’s about…I guess there are a few layers of it, but it is a love ballad between algae and fungi. You know, classic…
Oh, there’s this amazing movie, but I don’t remember what it’s called. I watched it on an airplane. It’s like, “The Wonderful life of Fungi,” or something. A science documentary about mushrooms and thanks to that beautiful symbiosis between those two things, the whole world is green.
Your visuals are super interesting, do you have a favorite music video you’ve done?
Is that a mean question, is it like asking about a child?
It’s not mean, but it does feel like, “These are my children. They’re all special in their own way.” Maybe the most fun I had was the one to “Asexual Wellbeing.”
Where did you get that hand?
Oh dude, at a nail place, but for people to learn how to paint nails. But I took the nails off, so it just looks a little weirder. A lot of the visuals started with the four things: one of them was a hand dejected, and one of them was a face in a braid, and there were a few more, but we couldn’t really make them all happen… budgets. One of them was a cone with a ray of light coming out of it. But they’re all just representing different moods of the record. I made this psychotic doll and it looked crazy. And then I didn’t know how to make a hand so I went and got one.
Where was it shot?
Outside of Denmark, this island called Bornholm. It’s close to Sweden.
In a few of your music videos, you take on two versions of yourself. You have this constant motif of a mask through your work, you have a mask hanging on the wall just beside your bed. You sing in multiple languages. Do you think your work houses different personalities or characters? How would you describe the different moods?
I played around a lot with that. But again, it sort of dawned on me that everything that I was shaping out of the “bile”… Well, all these songs are written in kind of different moods, but they’re all intense moods, right? So they feel like a purge. And I think what I was able to do, is sort of step away from the lyrics, but critically, and sort of criticize myself like I was my own friend. And I think I was then able to understand what I was actually feeling. And then that was sort of cathartic, more so than just writing something down. I was like, “Okay, I accept this mood.” Let’s just like go deeper into this mood now. For example, the song “Insert Generic Name” is super bratty. And I was like, “Okay, let’s make this the brattiest song to ever exist. It’s also just fun for me to do, but it feels important for me to do.
You’re constantly traveling and you have many “homes” across the world. Why did you move to New York?
Because I could get a passport because I was born in New Jersey. My dad is American. I was able to model here. I was planning for a year, and then I blinked and now it’s been ten years.
Do you think you’ll go back?
I’m moving to Berlin this year.
Can you speak German?
It’s my 78th day on Duolingo. I’m at a good time to learn a language, because a lot of the music I write, I’m ridding myself of shame, and now I’m like I can move and talk as a three-year-old person. I’m like, “Whatever!”
Because you’ve lived in different places, do you like that your priorities shift based on where you live?
My number one priority is probably sitting right there. points at computer
And when I can’t, I’m pissed.
Is there one question you wish people asked you?
No, not really. It’s weird that people even ask me questions, but I’m getting used to it now. But most of all, I’m always scared of not having like favorites of things. Just because then I don’t know, and then it starts this whole inner dialogue of like, “Why don’t I know what I like…
What’s your favorite emoji?
I tend to differ a little bit. I think the little plant thing. The little green sapling. 🌱
What would your tombstone say?
I had a collection of tombstone writings, and I wanted to make a Twitter out of them. There were a lot of potentials. I obviously left this project, but I think the last one was “She had a sweet and sexy time,” because it was a Yelp review at my hotel at the airport. That’s basically life.
What do you binge-watch?
I started watching Watchmen. For me, it’s not binge-watchable, but it might because I’m a little jet-lagged and the episodes are an hour-long, and I’m like, “Well, goodnight, I guess.” My daily episode!
Maybe Succession. They are the worst people ever, but it is also really funny, to me. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny. I think so, I hope so. But it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
Michel Oscar: If you could have one tattoo on your face, what would it be? I saw a guy with a face tattoo on the way here, and I thought I should ask that.
Probably like this kind of flower. Can I draw it? You know, when you’re a kid.
What’s your star sign? And what does your co-star say today?
Leo, Leo, Gemini. “Remember to cite the origin of your ideas so you don’t plagiarize a conversation today…” And now I’m talking to you guys…wait what did I say?!
Stay tuned to Milk for more music moments.