He’s aesthetic and charming, and it shows. Emmett Kai’s newest work in his third studio album, Whale Milk, displays a great mix of styles. He’s honed in his artistic character and fused the genres he’s articulated over the years into one cohesion of musical bliss. I had the pleasure of chatting with Emmett to learn more about his evolution as a musician and songwriter, as well as hear more about where he draws inspiration from while in the studio. Whale Milk is out on 28 June.
Emmett, congratulations on your upcoming album, Whale Milk! After listening to your two new singles, I decided to go back to some of your previous work from the first two albums you released in 2019 and 2020. I love your style — it’s almost like a cross between Harry Styles and Cage the Elephant. How do you feel about the difference in your work from your first two albums and Whale Milk, your third studio album? How has the music evolved throughout the various singles and EPs you’ve dropped between the 2nd and 3rd album?
Thank you for the kind words. Well, I think that I’ve just been in different phases of my creativity throughout the album cycles. Depending on what I am most influenced by, I think I lean towards writing music for me and my taste, as opposed to focusing on a brand or image that’s consistent throughout my career. I just try to do what feels right. Whale Milk is truly just an interpretation of my brain over the last year, and I was lucky enough to have songs from 2017 thrown into the mix, that I felt blended nicely with the track listing.
I’d like to start with the first single off Whale Milk, titled Get A Bag. This is a really fun song! What’s so interesting is that it’s only two verses and sixty-three seconds long. What inspired you to write a song with such an unconventional structure? What’s the story here?
Get A Bag was truly just my homage to fast punk songs, but a little more bubbly and in my own style. I kind of was poking fun at how so many of us these days have to just put our pride aside for getting the bag. Making money as isn’t just like, one job anymore, and to tell you the truth, I tried selling feet pics for a while online to make extra cash, and that hella inspired this song (laughs)!
You have a very aesthetic Instagram and online presence. You’re not afraid to make bold choices - whether that’s in your clothing or your hair colour or any other accessories in your life. This reflects in your alternative and indie-styled music. How would you describe your overall vibe? And how do you want to be perceived by your audience? What’s the message you try and convey throughout your discography as your cohesive story?
Bro. This is a hard question. I think that the hair colour was a phase of me needing to feel something different and exciting. My fashion has always come from vintage clothing or thrifted stuff, although I do mix some designer in there. But, my overall vibe is mad corny, because I just want to be authentic to myself. I’m not super big on like extremes of anything. I’d like to be seen as myself and not a copy of somebody else, even if I do find influence through other artists and their work. I just try to do my own thing, and so far it’s worked? I guess? The message I guess I try to convey is just be true to yourself and your ideas. Follow through, but be cool with change.
Now on to the second single of your upcoming album, We Used To Be Alright. This song is great — nostalgic, but also fresh; a tone of growing and learning from the past, yet staying firm with your values and actions. It was heavily inspired by 70s folk songs, specifically of Carole King and Joan Baez, and it shows. What exactly about these songs spoke to you? Could you tell us more about this process?
Dude yes. The inspiration behind this song is also portrayed throughout the album in other songs. I found so much love for the 70s folk music and kind of adult alternative of that era and how it’s heard now. I remember I was working on an album with my friend Jordana, and we were listening to the song Step Out by The Mamas & the Papas. That shit just hit so hard on both vibe and lyrics. These songs are timeless. They’ll never be wack. They’ll always be hella sick. Also, Joan Baez and Carole King just have the flavour we’re missing in today’s music, but that’s just me.
What was the inspiration behind the cover art for not only Whale Milk as a whole, but for the individual singles as well? It’s very stylised and ties into that bold imagery from your Instagram, I mentioned. I’m curious to know more about this art aesthetic you’re presenting in the new works, as it’s a stray from your previous album covers as well as singles and EPs.
Love this question. There’s an old friend of mine from my hometown in California, Dave Dexter, and I was always obsessed with his paintings and works. I reached out to him in an attempt to commission an album cover from him, and instead he just listened to the album and offered to do it for the love. I told him the album cover and the rest was his idea. He made life-size cutouts of me and the whale, painted them, and staged them in his house to snap photos. To me, it was a perfect representation of where I was creatively. Just thinking of crazy shit all the time. It fit perfectly and very little questions were asked. The most important thing to me was giving up control and letting it happen. I kinda already decided whatever it was going to be was going to be the album cover because I just wanted Dave to be a part of the album in any way possible.
Which unreleased song are you most excited about sharing with your audience? And why?
I’m most excited for people to hear the first track, Holy Nitros. That shit took me so long to write and finish. It was the beginning of Whale Milk. The rest of the album came easily after that song. Additionally, Mastercard Lithuania was written the first month of moving to Brooklyn back in 2017, and I always wanted to put it out, but it just felt forced until this album came to life.
You are a lover of drums. I am too, as a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist myself! I’m very interested in knowing more about how you emphasise rhythm and percussion in your work. How does that influence your songwriting process? Have you always been hyperaware of percussion in your work?
Yes. I think drums are usually what I pay attention to first when listening to a song. The dynamics, playing, recording, etc. All of that shit just gets me going. I love a simple rhythm that hits, doesn’t need to be a big crazy drum part. I just need to hit.
As a Bay Area native, I thought it was cool to read in your interview with Equate Magazine that you spent some time in San Francisco. Your art is very multi-faceted and -layered. After having lived on both coasts for much of your life, how do the two compare in sparking inspiration for your music? The two scenes are so different, yet diverse in their own ways.
Bro, I’ve always written my music for California. That’s just the truth. Everything I do is for my hometown and how I grew up. If there’s anything I’ve learned through therapy, it’s that we just move through life as our inner child, so I think that I’m always writing for little me in California to make myself proud. I’m so in love with the Bay Area, Northern California, and Los Angeles. All of it just makes me happy. I’m actually moving back. I can definitely say that New York inspired a lot of creativity, but I always pulled from California imagery and feelings. Smells, sounds, landscape, etc.
Upon the release of Whale Milk, what’s next for you? A tour, perhaps?
Good question. Honestly, I probably won’t tour this album. I don’t really tour, dude. I kinda wish I did, but in all honesty, it’s always been so much work to tour that I’ve found myself way more interested in working on music. So, the next chapter after Whale Milk will be another album before 2024 is over. I also have a huge album coming out with my friend Jordana that I wrote and produced with her. So, that’s one of my biggest upcoming accomplishments. Thanks for the interview. I’m honoured that you took the time to listen to my music, scan my Instagram, and formed these questions. Hope to see you around sometime!