In Okay Kaya’s songs, her world looks a lot like ours – Netflix, jetlag, vegan peanut butter and chocolate ice cream, lonely bowls of ramen. But unlike ours, each of these vibrates with a deeper, darker meaning; a desire for understanding. Through Norwegian-raised New Yorker Kaya Wilkin’s dreamy soft-focus lens, the language of Twitter memes becomes poetry as her breathy contralto voice sings lines like, “If you don’t love me at my guttural sound, you don’t deserve me at my guttural sound.” This is Sade for nihilists.
Kaya’s Jagjaguwar debut, Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, due on 24 January 2020, is filled with images of pools of sweat, oceans, and other forms of wetness. On her first single, “Ascend and Try Again,” actual instructions for how to survive an anxiety attack underwater are repurposed into lyrics. In “Popcorn Heart,” her heart becomes a place where ducklings can swim. But the water in Okay Kaya’s world is not one of renewal and rebirth – it’s perhaps not water at all, actually; “It’s more like bile,” Kaya says, “It’s what comes out in the purge.” In these images, Kaya swims through her melancholy and anxiety – not as a way of cleansing herself, but as a channel for reaching their true depths.
Kaya has been playing music since she was a tween, learning songs on her acoustic guitar and listening to Cody Chesnutt. And, being from Norway, she also played in a black metal project. Although she remains at the center of her artistic process, and reco… rded most of Watch This Liquid Pour Itself herself, she also collaborated with producers Jacob Portrait (UMO, Whitney,(Sandy) Alex G) and John Carroll Kirby (Solange, Kali Uchis) to fully realize her ideas for how this record should sound.
Collaboration is central to Kaya’s creative process. Each of the music videos for the new record are co-directed by Kaya and Adinah Dancyger, and were shot respectively in Germany, Japan, Norway, and New York. In the video for “Ascend and Try Again,” filmed in the dead of night, Kaya descends a flickering staircase and sinks into the depths of a Japanese spa. For “Baby Little Tween,” Kaya skis down a Japanese mountain with a representation of herself attached to her body, a distorted, toy-like resemblance which is at once literal and abstract. The image was one which Kaya came to after a friend mentioned that the song sounded like gliding down a snowy slope. Even if figuratively Kaya is moving downwards in these visualisations, her music and artistic process has a cyclical nature, like water circling a drain. “Being in the music videos is still about creating channels for my restlessness,” Kaya says, “it’s important for me to find ways to listen and be in the present moment.” Reacting – whether physically on set, or alone with her guitar – has become an integral part of her writing.
he darkness of Kaya’s lyrics delicately and deliberately contrast with her lighter, effulgent melodies. On Watch This Liquid Pour Itself’s opening track and second single, ‘Baby Little Tween’, she sings, “I used to fight the feeling, always let it win”; even if moments of defeat have overcome Kaya in the past, she signifies that she is now ready to face those moments and turn them into songs. There’s a surrender in that acceptance, and it’s echoed in the controlled yet effortless way she delivers her vocals – it’s as if they couldn’t be sung in any other way. Her lyrics encompass a vulnerability and playfulness that allow for unlikely juxtapositions such as the image of “Bon Jovi’s ros” in ‘Asexual Wellbeing’ just a few lines away from the question, “Can they turn the two of us into a tree?” Kaya’s interest in parodying certain elements of pop songs allows her to showcase her humorous side, but it’s important to her that the songs remain vulnerable enough to connect with an audience. In these multi-layered lyrical approaches, the songs take on new meanings depending on who is listening.
On the disco-beat-driven ‘Mother Nature’s Bitch’, we see a quick-witted, lighthearted Kaya, proclaiming “The whole world is my daddy”. That same sharpness can be found in Baby Little Tween, only it’s an astuteness immersed in melancholy; Kaya asks frankly, “What if the pills I’m taking stop me getting wet?” On “Psych Ward,” Kaya’s scene of nurses making rounds is based on her personal experience of time spent in a hospital. When asked if she thinks of her music as primarily either ‘fictional’ or ‘autobiographical’, she quips that it is more complicated than just a one-word answer: “There’s me, and then the third person me – the ‘she.'” Thereï¿½s a longing in the music – for what could be versus what is, and there’s a spark in between those places. Kaya explains that the heightened emotions she’s writing about creates and allows for that third entity to exist, adding, “In my music, I can give her that space.” Throughout the fifteen songs on Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, Okay Kaya listens, responds, and takes a deep breath before she dives in.
Rather than an addendum to ‘Watch This Liquid Pour Itself,’ her September 2020 release ‘Surviving is the New Living’ stands as it’s own bold statement and underscoring of Kaya’s songwriting prowess.
Holed up in a Copenhagen apartment after her European and North American tours were cancelled, Kaya Wilkins began demo-ing with her friend Nature Boy. But the session quickly developed into a full-fledged and stunning new collection of songs called ‘Surviving is the New Living.’ For all intents and purposes the collection will henceforth be recognized as a “mixtape,” though you will soon hear it absolutely ascends to something far greater.
In November of 2020, Kaya released her take on the Shania Twain classic ‘You’re Still the One.’ The release rounds off a standout year for Kaya.