Your Weekend Playlist, Courtesy of Leven Kali
Leven Kali sends us much needed good vibes with his most recent project HIGHTIDE, the aptly titled follow-up to his debut EP LOWTIDE. HIGHTIDES’s upbeat energy and sensual sounds soothingly wash over and transport you to a positive and tranquil state of mind. Born to musical parents and raised in SoCal, the 23-year-old RnB sensation took a deep dive into the industry after his college years. Since then, he released two projects, collaborated with Ty Dolla $ign, The Internet’s Syd, and Smino, to name a few, as well as co-wrote a track on Drake’s ‘playlist’ More Life.
Milk asked Kali to personally curate your weekend playlist, and it is guaranteed to bring you out of those quarantine blues. Over an afternoon tea FaceTime, or as we like to call it, “quarantea,” we spoke to Kali to discuss his new project HIGHTIDE, personal growth, and how human beings are more emotionally connected than we realize.
Check it out below:
Can you talk a little bit about how you went about the curation process for this playlist? Did you have a particular inspiration or theme you wanted to convey?
I was really thinking about what I was listening to right now. I finished working on [HIGHTIDE] earlier this month, and I wanted a playlist that took me out of work mode and had me listening to music as a fan again to refresh my palette and these are the kind of songs I’ve been rocking with lately.
After listening to this playlist, I get an overwhelming desire to be outdoors with friends having fun. It makes me hopeful and excited for the future. Have you found yourself listening to more upbeat, hopeful music in these times?
I probably lean that way in general. I love records that are uplifting. I also love emotional records but I guess right now we don’t need any more reasons to be sad.
You love to collaborate and have worked with a bunch of talented people in the industry. How do you keep your collaborative nature alive while in isolation?
It’s pretty easy. Even before isolation, a lot of artists just send stuff around and producers send things to each other to build off on. If any industry was ready for this, it was for sure the music industry because this shit don’t stop when you can’t get around, it’s just sending back and forth.
Your music is described as “California RnB.” What does it mean to you for your music to be symbolic of California? How much would you say that the west coast lifestyle influences your music?
So much so. I feel so lucky to come from LA and all the music and entertainment that’s out here– to have it feel like I’m part of it in a way. I can’t avoid using those themes in my music. All the way from the Beach Boys up to Dre and everything in between. I feel like you could find traces of that in my sound.
Who are some of your musical inspirations that are not included in this playlist?
It’s crazy I didn’t put any Marvin Gaye on here. Marvin Gaye is a huge influence for me. In the last five years of my life, I’ve been heavily into Marvin Gaye. Specifically, the I Want You album. A lot of these artists from the 60s and 70s had so many albums it’s incredible. They have become known for a few of them, but you look back on their discography and there’s like 30 full projects. So, I’ve just been diving into some Marvin Gaye.
Both LOWTIDE and HIGHTIDE explore similar themes of love. What are some differences in the narrative? Do you feel as though they are both parts of one larger whole and one can’t exist without the other?
Yeah, 100%– to me it’s the story of the last two and half years after I left college and sports and went into the world of music. I had songs that I had started forming in my head, and when I signed my deal, I had a bunch of songs that I had started already. These two projects are the amalgamation of fleshing out those songs, finding myself as an artist, and learning how to really record and put together projects. They’re definitely a part one part two and as time goes on, I am going to explain how they connect more. Some of the HIGHTIDE songs were created before some of the LOWTIDE songs, but they didn’t belong in the same group. It’s really just a mish-mash of the last two and a half years.
Do you feel like with both projects you experienced the same emotions and realized the music falls into two different categories or how did that work?
Yeah, in a way. I think as an artist I didn’t feel like certain songs were resonating with me at the time that I was putting together LOWTIDE . Both projects were picking from a list of probably 50 and figuring out what we wanted to put together into a cohesive project and how we were going to tell the story in the best way.
How much do you draw from personal experiences when you write?
I try to have a story whether it’s my story, somebody else’s story, or a made-up story. I feel like even made up stories are a bunch of different stories of mine smushed into one. So, it’s somebody’s personal experience whether it’s mine or somebody I know.
I feel like regardless, everyone connects to the same stories because, at the end of the day, we are all human and experience very similar emotions.
Exactly! I always say there are only a few emotions you can feel and it’s just the different things that go on in our lives that trigger those for each of us. We’re all going to feel sadness, we’re all going to feel joy, we’re all going to feel love but there are thousands of different ways to get to those points. All roads lead back to those few emotions.
Do you see a shift in your writing across the span of both projects?
Yeah, the growth is apparent. When you listen to LOWTIDE and you listen to HIGHTIDE, you can tell the differences in cohesiveness. I think the writing is more mature in HIGHTIDE– it hits a little more honest and a little bit more, maybe bold is the right word. I’m saying some things that hold heavier meaning to me. I have songs on there of my philosophies on life and I didn’t put too much of that on LOWTIDE, but I felt that I’ve grown to a place where it makes sense to start getting into that.
And sharing it with everyone!
Yeah, exactly. It’s tough– I’ve learned so much in the past two and a half years. When you first learn something, your inclination is to share it but I think it’s important to learn something, absorb it, and then make sure it’s the truth. I had to give my lessons time to grow.
We’re living in an unprecedented time –– with everything that’s going on it’s truly a time for introspection and I know that, at least for me, I’ve leaned on specific creative outlets, like music, that have elevated my state of mind. I see a lot of online videos of people around the world who come together through music and it brings them pure joy and a sense of unity. The “Quaranteemix” you created for your fans had the same effect.
I wanted to do a proper remix to “12345” anyways. I did the Quranteemix the first week of this, and it was one of the first ideas that popped into my mind. Like how to face the fucking truth that I can’t do a show for a year or I can’t see anybody and how do I get the fans involved or show people I’m thinking about them?
It just made sense to ask fans to send me some videos of them making sounds and put it together. I’ve seen other people doing that too, so I’m not going to take credit for inventing that idea, but it was just a cool way to engage with people.
What is it about music that has the power to bring people together even virtually?
Sounds and vibrations affect us as humans scientifically. It could change the chemistry of your body, your heart rate, and everything. Even when it’s coming through a computer being sent through a file from thousands of miles away invisibly to your computer coming out of your speakers, it’s still those vibrations popping out and affecting your body chemistry, your heart, and soul. With music, it’s the same way how when you eat you feel better, it will change you up like that.
What is something positive that you learned from quarantine that you want to keep with you moving forward?
Balance and perspective. I keep on hearing people say that “we got to go back to normal,” or “when are we gonna go back to normal,” but I don’t think we were at a normal, you know, like what we would be going back to isn’t normal in the first place.
There are so many things going on, we kind of touched on it when we first picked up the phone, like the ingenuity of people figuring out how to keep doing what they want to do, and people coming together and supporting essential workers. The thought that we didn’t openly respect those people before is crazy. We’re realizing that those are necessities and not the candy-coated bullshit. The planet is healing too. It’s so beautiful to see. We gotta learn something from this.
What is next for you?
I feel like a lot of artists are in a similar boat– trying to figure out how to connect with fans without doing shows. I have tons of music that didn’t make it onto the project that I want to get out. I’ll probably release that whether it’s on SoundCloud, or on the DSP’s. I want to be releasing more music and more of these performances from a distance type- of-thing until we can get together. That’s really what it’s about is the fans, the shows, the live experience and bringing the energy– that Leven and Palm Studios energy to the world.
Press Image Courtesy of Interscope Records.