TEXT: MAX FRIEDLICH ('17), CONTRIBUTING WRITER
IMAGE: MONICA SUN ('18), CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
Kai Leshne ('16) wants you to know what he’s thinking. It's all part of the art.
“Yooo. Nice Giants hat, bro.”
It’s sad to me that in my head there is something incongruous about Kai’s enthusiasm and his abundant cool. The note of hometown pride upon seeing my San Francisco Giants hat as I knock the snow from my boots is so pure, so unfiltered, not unlike the musician himself. His vibe, so to speak, is the epitome of chill, welcoming, laid back but not in a contrived or performative way. Simultaneously leaning and sitting up as we talk on his couch his blue ocean jacket blends into the blue upholstery effortlessly, almost like the couch is trying to emulate his style.
It's Friday at 2pm. A blizzard has just ended and I've been up since 7:45. My interview with Kai is one of many tasks to check off today. I figured I'd go over, have a chat, write some shit down, do my reading for Monday. I should have known better. Talking to Kai is not a passive activity and it's about a far from boring as you can get. I left feeling revitalized, inspired, and introspective; put simply, I left wanting to create.
Before I met Kai or became acquainted with the two albums he’s released as Kai Od (Atlantis Campus in 2014 and Timelapse in 2015), I was captivated by his Facebook presence. As a freshman, my social sphere at Wesleyan was one predicated on selective sharing, on being at the “cool” shows but not actually standing inside and listening to the music, or caring quietly or pretending not to care at all. As a result, I was always struck by Kai’s lack of filter on social media.
“Success is knowing that everything you do is success. Simple as that”-Jan. 13, 2016
“do i confuse people?”- Dec. 10, 2015
“lol if you can't accept my change than you were never for me”- Nov. 16, 2015
Kai always seemed uninhibited in ways I simply was not, existing on Wesleyan’s campus as a force of honesty, in sharp contrast to the ball of insecurity and try hard that I was as a freshman (and sophomore and junior).
The most intriguing status of Kai’s was from November of last year around the release of his most recent album.
At first I thought this status fairly rude. But then I thought about it. A lot actually. This status was the first status not related to a social issue that really made me think about myself and how I value the world. Kai had, and moreover still has, a point. Why am I willing to pay 10 dollars for a burrito in New York City and not a piece of art someone has put their blood, sweat and, tear into? At this point, I had not bought the album. I quickly remedied that and was glad I did.
I asked Kai about his philosophy of Facebook use.
“Since I been sharing with the world in any medium, Internet or real life, it’s helped me live a better life and be more transparent," Kai says, looking me directly in the eye. "We're taught in society to be liked by everyone and that’s not realistic. I'm still conscious of my actions but everything I do now is from a place where I believe its positive. Before I used to question like whose not gonna like this. But now its like if I’m thinking it might as well share it.”
As someone actively trying to be liked by everyone for the first half of my Wesleyan career, his words resonated with me in the way that some songs just make perfect sense. My conversation with Kai was more of the same: simple messages conveyed so clearly and with such confidence as to make me question myself. I asked him about the above post specifically, asking him to clarify, its content and message still somehow beyond my grasp. I knew there was something deeper there and Kai did not disappoint: “I believe you can’t be valued unless you put value in yourself. With music, artists allow themselves to be devalued. It’s not a consumer thing. It's an artist problem. I chose to sell this album because of that. I value what I do.”
Kai looks out at the snow dripping off the trees and adds:
“I grew up with art as an extracurricular. That whole notion is completely false. There’s so much money to be made in anything you want to do.”
Kai’s art is a reflection of my feelings regarding his Facebook: we feel like we understand and are simultaneously aware of a whole multitude of meaning just bellow the surface. It’s like looking out on an expanse of Infinite Ocean, captivated by the beauty and grandeur and still keenly aware of the millions of creatures living beneath.
“A concept I bring into every album is life and death. Kai means ocean. Od is overdose. It’s death and beyond.”
Even in his name, Kai gives his listeners more than they realize they have. There is significance to everything on his albums. He is meticulous, obsessively detailed oriented and committed to his craft in a way that a lot of young artists of any medium (myself included) can only dream of being.
I tell Kai that I was a huge fan of his first album Atlantis Campus my freshman year, showing him that two of his songs, “Haracleion” and “Matches” were on my “Spring Freshmen Year” playlist. His face lights up.
“Wow. Thank you.”
Sometimes at Wesleyan I forget what true gratitude feels like. I forget what it is to make connections based on mutual appreciation rather than going out. In Kai’s gratitude, you understand how much he cares for his craft.
I ask Kai where his songs come from, if he thinks in clear sounds or if he just sits down and sees what comes out.
“I don’t want to ever have a set creative process. With “1K Leagues Below the Know” I dreamt that song. I woke up skipped class was like “I need to make this shit," he chuckles. "With Atlantis Campus I was making a real effort to tap into my subconscious. The best songs I’ve done, I’ll make it and after like five hours Ill be like “what the fuck was that.”"
I was intrigued, in perfect understanding and at once extremely lost, fascinated at how someone’s brain can create in such different ways from my own. On Saturday the 13th, KAI OD will perform at Earth House along with Rhys Langston (’16) and Locus (Eric Poretsky ’18). I note that I’ve only seen Kai perform at Wesleyan a handful of times while most popular campus bands tend to perform as frequently as possible.
“I take time to prepare myself and I want to give my best," Kai explains, speaking softly and with absolute certainty. "I don’t perform if I’m not ready to give the best fucking performance of my life. And I cant do that every week or at least... not yet.”
Though Kai’s life and Internet philosophy is intensely spiritual, he’s keenly aware of the industry he’s trying to break into.
“This year I became so conscious of the business side of things. Enjoying the music is subjective and the business side of things is not.” Kai cites Pharell, Kanye, and Jay Z amongst his biggest influences in this regard, artists who combine a commitment to craft with impeccable business acumen. I remark that most Wesleyan musicians would probably be incline to cite more obscure inspirations. Kai smiles and shrugs. "Why wouldn't I look up to the best there is? That's where I believe I can be."
I ask Kai if there’s anything else he wants to add to wrap up the interview. He looks at his computer screen, gears churning, a mind's movement not characterized by its speed but by its intensity.
“I‘m just honestly really grateful I’ve got this far. I’m just grateful I’ve had the support I’ve had pretty much my whole life.”
I believe Kai when he says this because his whole being radiates this sentiment. Talking to him is exhilarating. He’s a dude with limitless confidence who still understands how hard he’ll have to work to get to where he want to be. He’s young, scrappy, and fresh but also values each of his songs at a million a piece. He really could care less if you think that’s not realistic or arrogant because, as he posted to Facebook on January 7th of this year:
“I'm the happiest I've ever been. Straight up.”