After many years, it seems like Kisha Robinson has finally found her own lane.
In her mid 20s and prodigiously talented, Robinson has tried her hand at multiple artistic disciplines over the years. Under the stage name Kilo Kish, her work has spanned fashion design, textile design, visual arts – and most recently – as a vocalist and songwriter touring nationally in support of rapper and former Odd Future associate Vince Staples. By any traditional measure, Robinson has had a fair amount of success. When I reach her over the phone in early February, it’s evident that the restlessness in her latest album, Reflections in Real Time, is very much a snapshot of a relatively recent period of her life.
“This album is mainly about having everything that seems right – having a career, and work, and people that like you, and everyone thinks you’re cool and fun, but why do you not like it? What is wrong with you that you don’t feel comfortable in the place that they’ve put you?”
Robinson sits in her apartment in Downtown Los Angeles, perched strategically between Skid Row and Little Tokyo. She relocated about six months ago after spending a couple of years in West Hollywood, mainly so, “she can get more stuff done without having to drive.” Los Angeles has been home for her since she finished up college in New York, and it seems like Robinson is finally settling into the city, and herself.
“I think I had to spend two or three years figuring that out for myself. And I still feel uncomfortable in some scenarios, but I’m more open to being myself and not having to fake it as much,” Robinson adds, a palpable sense of relief cutting the air and her infectious laughter filling the negative space. “Now I’m just my awkward self, but it feels much better.”
Kilo Kish performs at New York’s Terminal 5 on March 30 and Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club on March 31, both shows in support of Vince Staples. Reflections in Real Time is out now on Kisha Soundscape + Audio.
Brightest Young Things: At this point in your career, you have tried your hand at so many different art forms and industries – music, visual arts, film direction, fashion design. How do you view yourself, artistically? Do you still consider yourself a musician first and foremost?
Kisha Robinson: I don’t know that I ever really considered myself a musician first and foremost, mainly because I feel like it’s weird to call yourself that if you don’t play any instruments or like train at it, and you don’t produce – which I didn’t for the first couple of years. I write, but it was hard to call myself a musician for a while.
The way I approach all of my work is design. For me, it’s always a conceptual thing more than what it actually is, even when it comes to making merchandise and stuff like that. My idea is not always necessarily the best idea for a shirt that will sell, but it’s always some other art idea that I want to put on that medium. And I think that’s the way I approach everything – the idea is the backbone and basis, and from there what works and doesn’t work for other people is beyond me. I really focus on the concept and try to deliver it as best I can, and the way I think about it is from a creative agency standpoint, or ad, or a designer – in that way. For me the focus is the feeling; it’s not always necessarily the lyrics or the music itself, or a show, or what we can get out of it, or who we can gain. It’s a pure thing of really trying to have a concept come across.
BYT: What concept or artistic achievement are you proudest of? Why?
KR: Hmm. [Pauses] I’m proud of everything when I’m in it. It’s weird – it goes in flows. I don’t usually listen to old projects; once I’m done making stuff I don’t work within it anymore and my brain is onto the next thing, so I don’t really consider it. [Pauses] I don’t know – I think this is a question that I’ll be able to answer in ten years or something. [Laughs]
I’d say that right now, I’m most proud of Reflections in Real Time, but that’s just because I’ve been working within it for this entire year. I feel like it’s the closest to my actual personality, which is an achievement in a way, but it’s also an achievement to completely dismiss yourself in work and completely sublimate yourself in work. For me, it’s one kind of achievement that it feels like me. But then I’ll be on a plane and my iPod – because I use an old iPod on the plane – and a project of mine will come on from four years ago that I haven’t listened to since, and I’ll find it really interesting. I can look at it from where I am now and understand why it makes sense for that time period, even though I was second-guessing it the whole time while I was in it. It’s interesting to look back on work and realize that it is dynamic in a way, or that it does feel like myself.
After some time you’re able to like things for what they are and for when they were. I don’t know, it’s kind of a hard question to answer. Right now, I’m into Reflections in Real Time, even though maybe six months ago I really wasn’t – but then I started playing it live, and completely understand this practice a lot more now. I think it’s just falling in and out of love with your own work [Laughs]
BYT: I can totally empathize with that. I often cringe when I go back and read some of my old work. Who is this person writing? Who talks like that?
KR: [Laughs] Exactly.
BYT: You’ve talked about taking a step back from sharing your personal life on social media, yet Reflections in Real Time was the project that seems to best capture all the facets of your personality. How do you navigate that dichotomy – expressing so much of yourself through one avenue, but not another?
KR: Mmm. Well, one is fun for me and the other gives me anxiety. I mean – they both kind of give me anxiety, but I think I’m just naturally an anxious and…I wouldn’t necessarily say fearful person? But I have so many questions, and I think a lot of times the questions can overrun my life. It’s the basis of my work, but I think it can get out of hand. For me, social media – I’d love to experiment with it all day. But at the same time, because it’s a platform with real people behind the keys, sometimes those kinds of experiments aren’t received in the same way. To me, my own work is easier to be vulnerable in because that’s the purpose. In social media, everyone has their own rules, and in my own work I make my rules. Some people use social media socially, some use it as a work platform, some use as a way to communicate information, others use it to help themselves – and everyone is judging according to these different criteria. It’s really, really hard to gauge, and there’s no face time or human to human contact. There’s such a barrier between everyone, and it’s misconstrued.
A lot of great information gets delivered, and it’s a great tool, but I try to stay off that as much as I can because I feel like the line between artist, businessperson, regular human, lover, friend – all of those lines are so blurred. You’re trying to communicate all of these different aspects of yourself in one platform, and a lot of the time in one profile. And it’s somewhat impossible for you to get it right every time.
For me, at this current moment, especially with everything going on being so intense, it’s something I’d like to explore creatively but I think I’m a bit early on understanding that and over time people will. It can really be kind of the pits of what humans can be, but it can also be great. Sometimes I love it, like everyone else, but sometimes I feel like I don’t need to be on there for a while. I probably wouldn’t have social media if I didn’t make art for a living, or if I didn’t make things that I have to sell, or need people to see. Being an artist, a lot of your worth is tied into the opinions and the purchases of others. I like to keep the work separate from who I am, and I would prefer people didn’t mix the two. I feel like you should be allowed to have something you keep to yourself still, as an artist, because so much of it is sharing.
BYT: Have you watched the TV series Black Mirror yet? The central premise of that show touches on many things you just talked about. And it’s kind of scary – you’re looking at yourself and the world through this prism, and things can distorted quickly. There’s this inherent, constant strain where artists — and those of us who report on their work — somewhat depend on it these platforms for livelihood.
KR: [Laughs] Yeah, that show is really good, right? And it’s just the way that culture is moving. Publications have to make money too, and if this is breaking news – that somebody is saying something about someone else on Instagram, or whatever – who are you to not report it? You guys need clicks just as much as anybody else. Culture is moving quicker and quicker, and we all want more information. It has to do with the value of creative work, and how it’s lessened because there’s so much of it. Everyone is a writer, everyone is a photographer, everyone is a music artist. Everyone has something creative to share, and so it devalues all of it.
You can get the entire world’s catalog of music for $9.95 – for the entire history of the world! [Laughs] And that’s acceptable. And you can say, yeah, you don’t want anyone’s money – and in actuality, I rarely think of money, perhaps to a fault. Money isn’t the thing; it’s mainly the way that arts are valued in culture in 2017. It’s such a nonchalant like “whatever” thing. The care that people put into their work is so immense, but because there’s so much information no one can really keep up with it.
The past few years have been hard for artists because you might not get the coverage you used to, or people may not see everything you post, and you begin to question your worth as an artist. But I think it’s because culture is moving so quickly and at a certain point we’re going to have to really evaluate what the responsibilities to artists are, as well of those of audiences.
At the current moment, everyone is expected to be this completed, unwavering version of themselves all of the time, and that’s definitely not going to happen to artists. Artists are so fickle and all over the place and contradictory. Instead of wanting everyone to be politically correct, and firm, and unchanging, and also role models – and all of these things at the same time – it’s really hard to make good work when people are worried about all of this. It’s hard to make things that move culture. So, we’re kinda in this wading pool of retweeting and reblogging and reposting. We can’t move forward because everyone is expected to be so many different things at the same time. It’s impossible to be free in that kind of environment.
BYT: Yeah, I mean – there are just so many different touch points in your answer. I think it was Thundercat who said that anyone who is making art for the sole purpose of making money is in it for entirely wrong reasons. But as you mentioned, it’s insane that we’ve reduced it to paying $10 for access to the entire breadth of recorded music. It’s amazing, but it’s insane.
KR: Yeah! It’s an interesting time, I think. From every change you get such new work, and I want people to not be afraid to make something new. It’s not easy to come up with an original idea in 2017. We’re getting into the future now – we have so much to look back at, and all of these resources, including the entire catalogue of music. How are you supposed to choose how you want to make a record in 2017? Whereas 30 or 40 years ago you had just the records you bought at the store, or what your local record store had. It’s endless possibilities, and I think at least for me, that’s debilitating as hell. But for some people it’s also a goldmine. I think it’s about allowing yourself to unplug sometimes to make work, and also allowing yourself – because we have all these amazing references – to let them sink in.
The future is about living in balance. This is such an impossible thing because we are all so imbalanced, but it’s about speaking whatever works for you. I’m trying to remember that I have something unique to say, and instead of going with what’s popular, I’m trying to stick with what’s important for me to say.
BYT: Let’s talk about the video for “Obsessing” and the idea behind it – that of an individual malfunctioning in a crowd, or one member of a group straying from the expected behavior. What draws you to that idea? It would seem to me like this sort of perspective will be quite useful over the next four years.
KR: I’ve always felt a little bit different from everyone else, and I spent a lot of time by myself as a kid – not necessarily hanging out with that many other kids. My mom was on disability when I was young, and I had to spend a lot of time inside the house instead of playing outside because she couldn’t watch me. So, I learned to ask questions of myself and give myself answers. They’re not always right – sometimes I completely miss the point, because they don’t have the society element – but it’s been for me to explore this. The way I look at the world every day, I don’t know…sometimes I don’t feel like I’m in it. Not in that cliché way, that I feel like I’m from another planet, or an alien or something, but I don’t know. Sometimes I walk down the street and I feel like I don’t exist there and I can watch the world. I love to witness stuff.
I think a lot of my questions come from not always understanding the answers that people give, and I need different answers, proof, and exploration for me to feel comfortable. There’s this archetype for me of someone walking in a different direction down the stairs while everyone else is pushing in the other direction. It’s not on purpose! But over the course of my life I’ve always gone a different way, and for years and years I thought I was going in the same direction as everyone else – and tried to – but it kind of killed me. In the past year or two I’ve learned to go in the direction that I naturally go, and this feels most comfortable for me. These man-made spaces that are open, these empty places; it’s stuff that feels right for me in my work at the moment.
Now I’m learning to collaborate – to truly collaborate – and it has allowed me to be open to the serendipitous nature of life. I’m way less intense than I used to be, way less angry, way less confused, and way less frustrated, and I touch upon a lot of that in Reflections.