"Essentially, this one was made in a bit of a dramatic period of my life," says the Toronto-based, Ghana-born artist Kae Sun, whose new album Whoever Comes Knocking is out March 2. While creating the record, which follows 2017’s Canary EP and 2013’s Afriyie, among other projects, he was was in the process of traveling, spending time in Germany and exploring his interest in visual arts through collaborations with friends. Certainly, he says, these experiences and changes affected the record. Kae Sun (whose real name is Kwaku Darko-Mensah Jnr), describes its sound as consistent with his usual vibe: ambient, chill, and soulful. He focused quite a bit on lyrics, writing about his own experiences in words he feels capture specific moments and ideas, and hopes people pay attention to the lyrics and engage with the work on that level as well. To get us ready for his Phi Centre show on March 2, Kae Sun walks us through each of Whoever Comes Knocking’s ten songs.
"There’s a sample in there of Ghanaian folk music from the Akan tradition, they do praise songs [about] people in the community. I sampled that basically from a field recording from the '50s or something, it set the mood. The lyrics are an ongoing conversation I have with myself about having the element of home. To me, electronic music is also a kind of home, if you were born in a certain period you can really escape through sound. In that piece is a synthesizer sound that captured these various influences… To be comfortable with the fact that my output doesn't have to be one thing, for me, it's going to be multiple things, it's always going to be layered with all these experiences and I don't want to alienate any one of them. That's the dilemma."
"Treehouse is a hundred percent about a personal experience. While I was recording it, I didn't have the chance to edit myself [lyrically], I think it was good that I didn't. Also, sonically, I think it captured exactly this vibe that I intended to. I was a situation that I was outgrowing, [both] in the sense of a relationship and being in a place; in a specific location, and the song is almost trying to justify why I had to relocate myself. Because my space and environment really dictate how I feel as a human being and also as an artist, I'm very sensitive to space."
"For most of these songs, I didn't overthink the lyrics, I started Stalk in Toronto... it's about personal experiences. I think maybe it's the beat, maybe it’s the tempo. I just liked how light the sound is. To me, it's also reminiscent of a lot of music I like to listen to, rocksteady, reggae, electronic…"
"It’s a way for me to tell a story, and creating characters, I thought of a murder mystery. When it first came out I called it a murder ballad because it’s actually about a murder that happens and someone who’s been betrayed but it's almost a metaphor for being betrayed in love; not being stabbed in the back in a literal sense but being stabbed in the back in a relation sense."
"This one is from 2014, related to the Black Lives Matter movement, when the protests were really intense… the lyrics are directly protesting that issue. Yes, from the murder of Mike Brown, but it’s not just about that moment, the question of what freedom is for black folks is ongoing and in previous recordings of mine, I’ve also grappled with that lyrically. It just got way more intense around 2014 for me personally... [And, musically], the instrumentation changed, we replayed it, re-produced it, but the lyrics stayed the same. The production was done by Joshua [Sadlier-Brown], who worked on most of the record, he reinvented the sound on that and I liked what he came up with, because the original sounded sort of different."
Fix Up (feat. Ariane Moffatt)
"I'm a fan of Ariane Moffatt’s work, I’ve been a fan of her work for a number of years, so we had a conversation about potential collaborators, and she agreed to do it. It was really great, I had an idea for the song and she arranged the whole thing and played keyboards on it, so that was great, she's a very generous collaborator and incredible musician, so I was just learning and absorbing the experience and how generous she was with the process. I was very happy that it came out the way it did, and yeah, it was recorded in Montreal."
Broken by Design
"Broken by Design is more about sometimes you feel, are we suited to be in certain relational situations? So it's justifying or arguing that perhaps we’re not designed to be able to achieve these grand situations that we conceive of; maybe that idea is itself flawed. I had a friend who wanted to play that song at their wedding, when he first heard it, he hadn’t really paid attention to the lyrics, I thought, that's actually appropriate, but it's kind of ironic!"
Flip the Rules
"This one’s not necessarily autobiographical. When you get into a situation, and half way the rules changed and you don’t know about it, you didn’t get the memo, no matter what it is... It’s just about that in a love kind of situation."
"That was recorded initially for a project I was working on in Germany. I suspect it’s connected to me in a different way than the lyrics actually are, because I was having a really difficult time kind of resituating myself, I was finding it difficult to feel grounded. And the lyrics, ‘Oh, it gets better with time,’ I was saying that to myself."
"This is the sane, inspired part of the album, it’s the conclusion to it. I like the intro, the way it starts with the drums and the band jamming on it after the piano, it’s unpredictable… it’s a moment of release, just being content with the situation."
Kae Sun will perform at the Phi Centre on March 2, 2018 and Whoever Comes Knocking is out on Moonshine that same day.