We caught up with Christian Kuria, Alt R&B producer/ singer-songwriter from the Bay Area, SF, to talk art, the artistic process, and his EP, Borderline (2020). Check out what he has to say
How did the journey really start for you?
I was born into a musical family, a family that was specifically involved in church. My extended and immediate family was involved in different kinds of church activities - being in the choir, being on stage and hearing music was a very common element in my life. It wasn’t until about 2010 or so that I realised that music was something I wanted to do specifically. Around that time, I started writing songs and practising for a few years after. I’d picked up guitar in sixth grade. It just seemed to be a seamless, effortless thing for me. From that point, music was everything that I was and everything that I am. Fast-forward a few years later, I started a YouTube channel where I began posting guitar arrangements on top of hip hop beats and different R&B songs and that began to get a little bit of traction. But, I wanted to show people that I’d been honing in on my craft of singing and writing and so, my entrance into that was doing covers. I would rearrange different pop songs, top 40 stuff and that was a really good way for me to learn production. 2018, I started putting out my own songs and yeah, here I am.
As an artist and songwriter, what themes do you find yourself exploring?
A lot of it is about love and heartbreak. It’s no secret that love is one of the most profound feelings that humans feel and I’m very moved by that, especially when two people are in love. Relationships, love and how to make that work as a person, as an individual has always been a recurring theme in my writing. From a sonic perspective, finding a way to make listening to concepts of heartbreak enjoyable, making it a light, colourful experience has always, sort of, been my mission statement.
Do you have an idea of the kind of feeling you want to leave people with when they listen to your music?
I want my listeners to find the beauty in some of the sadder parts of the human experience. Music has such a power to make these, sort of, tragic parts of our life really beautiful in an eerie but amazing way. If I can personally connect with my experiences, I just want my listeners to know that we all feel this way, we all go through heartbreak, love, I want them to have a sense of being able to relate to me relating to myself.
Talk to us a bit about some of your biggest inspirations - from people, art, travel, anything that inspires you. How does the Bay Area inspire you?
I’m inspired by people being inspired and just, creativity in general. I’m the kind of guy who’ll go on Youtube and just watch a producer go to work on a beat. I’m really, really fascinated by the process behind things, even in films. Watching the process behind executing a certain move in a film and it makes me want to hone in on my craft. In terms of influences, at the end of high school, I used to be obsessed with John Mayer because of his guitar-playing and it was my goal to sound as much like him as I could and in doing that, I was able to find my own voice, in songwriting, in my creative process. With the process of creating anything, if the artist behind that is inspired, I’m inspired.
Tell us a bit more about Borderline - the artistic process, the lows, the feedback, what you could do differently if you had the chance?
A little bit before Borderline, I told myself that I was going to do this year long project for the entire year of 2018, I challenged myself to feel something, write about it and put it out and not overthink it. So, throughout 2018, I put out a collection of songs that, sort of, reflected that. I was able to draw from whatever sonic inspiration I really wanted to. With Borderline, I was excited about the opportunity to hone in on one singular vision. I wanted Borderline to be well-rounded but I also wanted it to be a statement for who I was. It was my first time working with other producers with my label - Jack Dine who’s worked on a Mac Ayres record, an Alex Isley record and I learnt the beauty of collaboration in that sense. The reception of the record has blown me away and it makes me happy that people are responding it to so positively. I think that’s what any artist would want. Keeps me excited to keep on going and keep on creating the next thing.
What was it like touring with Cautious Clay? Any takeaways from that experience?
That was a great experience. It was my first time really seeing the format of touring. Prior to that, I was doing a lot of intimate environment shows like SoFar, etc. That was the first time I was able to, sort of, listen to and feel my music on a stage that was bigger than anything I had seen. And, also just watching Cautious express himself in a live setting cuz I’ve been a fan for a while now. Just experiencing the atmosphere of a tour made me really excited. It was really a great experience.
As an artist/musician, we depend on live musical experiences in such a big way, how do you think things will change in the post-COVID world; how would you want them to change?
Well, I feel that, first of all, the amount of worldwide, humanity-wide support that people are showing for each other is a really beautiful thing and that’s one of the pillars of music. Music transcends borders. We all know what it’s like to listen to a song that really means something to us. I think that after everything pans out, I think people will have a new appreciation for being able to share music in a live setting. I know that I’m already excited to start seeing artists again in a post COVID-world. I also realise that it’s important not only from a human level, but also on an art level, there will be takeaways that will affect how people create after this. I don’t think we’ve experienced this level of camaraderie, at least, in my lifetime and I love that we’re all in this together. It’s a scary time but we’re learning the true heart of humanity. I think people will appreciate those experiences.
How are you coping with a time like this? What helps you centre yourself at a time of uncertainty and fear? Consequently, how do you think this is influencing your music?
I think everyone’s forced to be introspective right now. We’re all distanced from each other, there’s not a lot of human interaction to write about. This crisis has forced me to look even deeper inward and I wanted to become more autobiographical and more introspective in my music and that’s only going to increase that drive. Shifting inwards, showing people who I am. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen but it’s affecting my process in a positive way but sometimes, it can be difficult since I tend to write about relationships and interacting with people so in a way, it’s good and bad.
Now that concerts and live gigs are cancelled and not possible, how are you reaching out and staying in touch with your fans?
Social media is a huge tool for me especially since 'Borderline' dropped, I’m able to see that need for engagement so I’m just trying to talk to people as much as I can. When people reach out to me about how much they love 'Borderline', I feel it even more necessary to pour my appreciation out to everybody who tells me that. Even outside of the COVID-19 situation, I’m very appreciative. On Instagram, I feel like I’ve been pulling back the curtain a little bit and putting out little pieces of work which is, sort of, my way to show that we’re all in this together.
Did you have any collaborations/features planned for 2020?
You can expect the next project will involve new collaborators. Obviously, with the current crisis, it’s kind of changed the way we create now but you can definitely expect to see new collaborations.
Was there anything particular you were working on/looking forward to before everything came to a stand-still?
Obviously, live music has taken a hit because of this crisis. There were show plans in the US that are having to be rescheduled, at the moment. As soon as everything in safe, we’re going to get back to it and bring the music back to the fans.
Artists you’re currently listening to.
Experimental indie, Tyler, the Creator's IGOR, Bjork. R&B will always be a central theme in my music but I’ve been falling in love with the indie/alternative side of things, lately. I’m the biggest Tame Impala fan right now.
What would you be doing if not for music?
Ah, tough one. I can almost guarantee you it would be something creative. But, probably something to do with writing, self-expression. I feel like I wouldn’t be able to live without doing that. Thankfully, I haven’t had to find out.
Thanks for speaking to us, Christian
Words by Alina Gufran