Every week we ask a creative, artisan, or musician to share what music gets them going from dawn to dusk. This week, Singapore based Alternative-Folk Pop singer-songwriter KHAi arranges songs that move his day.
No pain, no gain, That's how homegrown singer-songwriter KHAi realised when he fell out of love. As a result, he decided to share his personal perspective of love in his debut EP, STRANGE[R], to be released on July 17th. "This EP serves as a personal memo of tunes embodying the anxieties and excitements of falling in and out of love.”
He preempts this EP release with a new track, ‘Wanderlust’, which dropped on June 26th.
We caught up with the honest musician on why he's attached to love and accepting a flurry of feelings head-on.
ESQ: Tell us who KHAi is and the play between both uppercase and lowercase.
KHAi: I think I’m a lot of things as a person. Like any other human being, I come with my own set goals, fears, anxieties and of course, a library of dad-jokes. People who know me personally would say that I’m quirky and awkward.
With that said, I knew the kind of artist I wanted to be from the very start. I wanted to be me.
I grew up with my family calling me 'Khai' all of my life. But let’s be honest, it’s a very common name. So I’ve thought deeply about how I’d like to see my name in lights for years and I’ve found it.
It’s unapologetically playful, bold (pun intended, you should see the font that I use), and definitely me.
ESQ: What made you pursue music and inspire to pen your own tunes?
KHAi: There wasn’t any jaw-dropping revelation that I woke up with one day that people expect me to have. I think deep down I've always wanted to do this. I always loved music even though I wasn’t raised in a very musical family which was why my songwriting/music journey started a little bit late (at 18 years old).
All my life, I’ve always had the urge to create. I’ve had my fair share of exploration into different creative mediums like poetry, photography, videography etc but nothing gave me more excitement than finishing a good song. There’s no other feeling like that.
ESQ: How did you gravitate towards the alternative-folk genre?
KHAi: I’ve always loved the beautiful lyricism of indie-folk music. I’m one of those people who’d dissect songs that I think are beautifully written in my own free time.
But personally, I wouldn’t classify my music as folk. Then again, I wouldn’t classify my music either way. I’ve never liked labelling my own songs to a genre because it feels like its limiting me in a way but for simplicity sake, alternative-folk pop seems right to me. I might not be 'Alternative Folk-Pop' two to three years from now, but folk music will always have a special place in my heart.
ESQ: Why do you choose to release your single and upcoming debut EP in the midst of this unprecedented period?
KHAi: I know things are pretty weird right now. But with all that’s been going on, I think we could use a little bit of music. Not exclusively my music, but music in general.
I feel like music and its value has always been so underrated. It’s always something you didn’t think you need until you realise it. I’m just a speck in this vast world of musical options. But to know that I’m part of something that could possibly make someone’s crappy day better, (even for just one second), makes me feel whole.
ESQ: Describe more about STRANGE[R] and why do you want to introduce yourself with this particular EP album?
KHAi: Strange[R] has been an idea that I had since as early as 2015. The EP has its own story of the processes of falling in and out of love and how its inevitable that love has to end one way or another.
But to me, this EP is an acknowledgement of how much I’ve grown since I’ve started writing songs. Being a self-taught singer/songwriter, I’ve been through so much over the course of my career. I took 5 years to work on my own musical ability all while being criticized, mocked and rejected so many times. I guess you could say, it’s a pat on the back for me. A milestone.
I’ve written many new good songs since 2015. But I wouldn’t be doing my old 18-year-old self any justice to leave those songs behind in the dirt. I think there’s no better way to introduce myself than this EP.
ESQ: Is love the anchor theme on the EP? Why document and reflect on the ups and downs of life?
KHAi: Yes it is. It’s all about love and I’m not ashamed of it. I adore love so much. I think it can be obnoxiously beautiful but so toxic at the same time.
I’m merely a passenger in the back seat of this wild and uncharted ride myself. Only I choose to document this in the best way I know. Documentation is a really good way to track growth.
For example, if I were to look back at my old singing videos on Instagram from 5 years ago, I’d cringe so hard. And that’s okay. It means that I’ve grown since then. But I wouldn’t have that reassurance if I didn’t document it.
ESQ: Has the pandemic affect or altered any creative endeavours? How do you stay creatively charged?
KHAi: The pandemic is a terrible thing I wish would never happen. But the world has a funny way of balancing things out I guess.
Strangely [laughs], it took me back to who I was at the age of 18. Eager, passionate and driven. Over the past year, I’d say I’ve been pretty distracted with so many things which explains why I didn’t release any music for 1 whole year.
It stripped me of all of my distractions and all that I was left with were my own thoughts. Which was what I needed to write music. I’ve written some of my best songs during this pandemic and I’m so excited for what’s to come after this EP.
ESQ: So if love is a teacher, what have you learned from it?
KHAi: If love is a teacher, I’d be the teacher’s pet that gets detention after every lesson. [Laughs].
Jokes aside, I’ve learned plenty of things from love. That no matter how hard it gets, we need love. Even with my belief that love has to end at some point, it shouldn’t stop you from loving wholeheartedly.
Sure, you might risk looking like a fool, hurting yourself, or even other people. But if everyone in the world showed a little bit more of love, it makes life a whole lot better. Also, this includes loving yourself.
ESQ: Tell us the key messages you wish to convey with ‘Wanderlust’.
KHAi: Wanderlust is basically me saying, “Your heart’s broken. You’re in denial. But that’s okay”. I hope anyone who listens to the track who is going through a rough time with their relationship knows that they’re not alone and that their feelings are valid.
ESQ: Any advice for the heartbroken or those who’ve fallen out of love?
KHAi: Once again, I’m no love-guru but my best advice is to embrace the pain. It took me years to get over an ex once. But I learned that filling the void didn’t help as much as embracing the pain. Have a conversation with yourself.
As much as your friends are there for you, you don’t really want to have that dependency on people especially at such a fragile state. This might make me sound like a hippie but don’t give up on love. [insert peace emoji sign]
“Mornings can be a little bit difficult for some. I’m a heavy sleeper. I usually have a rough start to my day so I’d need something that gets my heart pumping and head-bobbin’"
1. 'You, Dear'—Eloise
"This song is such a mood. The “drunken” pulled-back groove makes this song beautifully quirky and a perfect way to start a lazy morning. It makes me want to dance Charlie Chaplin-style on my way to the MRT without a care in the world. To be honest, we all need a song that makes us feel that way and, for me, this is it."
2. 'Safe'—Nick Wilson
"This song is such a bop. Nick Wilson’s music is one of the hidden gems that I’ve discovered years ago. I love everything about the production of this song. It’s the kind of music that I want to make."
"This song to me is so hopeful. The singer’s voice is so soothing and hauntingly beautiful. If you know your day is going to be rough, this song might be the cure.."
“So right about now is when I’d have my tummy full of contents from lunch. I’d be battling a bad case of 'food-coma' but deep down, I know that want to lose that battle. The heart wants what it wants. So these songs are helpful in keeping me awake and in every way blessed my ears.”
1. 'Autumn’s Song'—Stephen Day
"Raw, personal, detailed and beautifully crafted. It’s a good song. And I mean, GOOD. It’s the quality of song-writing that I strive to achieve in my own music. Beautiful melodies with beautiful chord voicings. Makes me feel like I need to learn more adjectives."
2. 'Paul'—Big Thief
"The lyrics. 'Enough said. This song is poetry. All of the metaphors left me with so many questions when I first heard the song—which is what a song should be like, in my opinion. The imagery that this song paint is so vivid and I can’t begin to describe how painful this song sounds to me."
3. 'If I Go, I’m Goin'—Gregory Alan Isokov
"Another heart-wrenching tune that brought me to tears. I find myself revisiting this song a lot to try and relive the moment I heard it for the first time. It’s lost forever. But if you haven’t heard this one, lucky you. Enjoy it."
“Nighttime for me is the time for self-reflection, unwinding and to mope around in excess sadness. It’s the time of that day that I find myself most productive but at the same time, my mind just wants to overthink as well. Its conflicting, messy, but comfortably familiar.”
1. 'Hey, Ma'—Bon Iver
"Like many other artists, Bon Iver left a strong influence on how I approach writing my music. The end product of my songs might not sound like any of his, but I think it's worth noting that he’s one of my influences, which I think has becomes very evident in the last track of my EP. Really running out of adjectives here but this is another beautiful song."
2. 'Pink Matter'—Frank Ocean
"Frank has been my influence from day one. I’d always approach the production stage of my songs the same way Frank would. I always loved the bold music choices in his production. It’s never coherent. But that’s Frank."
3. 'Who Hurt You?'—Daniel Caesar
"There isn’t one song that I don’t like by Daniel Caesar. I listen to his music feeling hopeful for him. Even though he’s already achieved so much in the recent years, I can’t help but feel like there’s so much more to his music than what he’s already released."
Enjoyed the tracks? Check out our other ‘Dawn to Dusk’ playlists curated by guest artists each week and follow our Apple Music profile to access our playlist first when it's out.