► You got quite a few offers last year, after the cover of Heart Shaped Box gave you a substantial push and additional exposure…
Yeah, it was weird. My email literally shut down. I was getting messages from everybody. But I don’t need them. I have a small team now. I have Jordan, my booking agent, who helps me with my tour. Getting him was a big load off my shoulders because before that I was doing all of that myself as well. And I have Catie, who is doing my publicity. But that’s pretty much it. The team is still small, and that’s how I like it. For good reasons. I like having full control over the creative side and over what I want to do. And I don’t want anyone to tell me otherwise.
► Not surprising after the negative experience you’ve had before.
Yeah, that really propelled me to never go that route again and do things the complete opposite way instead. We’re lucky that we can do that now, thanks to the internet. Half of my fan base is not in the US, which is amazing.
► The internet has definitely been very good to you. But there are some negatives. The track YouTube from Evolution certainly is a testament to it. I’m assuming what we hear there are real comments from your videos?
Yes. YouTube and Troll are a combination of comments pulled from my videos and my Facebook page. We had this terrible shooting over here, of Michael Brown – a cop shooting an 18-year-old kid. I felt really bad for the kid who died. I wasn’t even saying anything derogatory towards anyone, I just said that the situation is unfortunate and that my heart goes out to his family. And then thousands of people unliked my page and posted all those hateful comments – from ‘shut up and sing’ to ‘die bitch’. That’s what inspired those two tracks.
► I would like to go through some of those comments and just hear the first thing that comes to your mind.
Yeah, sure, that’s okay.
► ‘You are a child, voicing one opinion. I’m sure just lost a bunch of fans. Hopefully lesson is learned after this’…
Yeah, that one was from the Facebook post. That just made me think: I’m 32 – I didn’t realise that still constitutes as a child.
► I’d take that as a compliment that you’re ageing exceptionally well and just look younger.
(laughs) Exactly. So thank you.
► Since we’re already on ‘compliments’, the next comment: ‘I would totally fuck you and I’m not even into Asian chicks. That’s a compliment.’…
(laughs) That one was actually really funny. I still don’t think that’s really a compliment, but okay. You know, it’s strange. I never feel much racism – maybe because I’m such a crude mix. I’m Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, German, English. I’m a mutt really. So when somebody picks on one specific thing, it always makes me wonder where that’s coming from. So that comment? I thought it was pretty hilarious.
► What about ‘You are so much less attractive to me when you curse’?
Oh man, I get that all the time. That is probably the most irritating of comments. It’s a lot of females, too. ‘You’re too pretty to curse.’ Really? What does that mean? If I’d be ugly, it would be okay to curse? And what constitutes as pretty anyway? Listen, I say ‘fuck’ all the time. I did a Nine Inch Nails cover where I said it every five seconds. And when I decided to go the DIY route, I decided that I will do things entirely my way. I’m incredibly uncomfortable trying to be someone else. I’m awkward anyway, but I get even more awkward when I try to be someone I’m not. You are who you are and you express yourself the way you do. I happen to express myself with cursing. That’s who I am. Take it or leave it.
I’m not doing this to entertain you. I’m doing this because I love it. I hope that you love it too. If you do, that’s cool. If you don’t, then go away. Don’t try to tell me what I can or cannot say.
► ‘Shut your mouth and stick to music’…
Yeah, that’s crazy. A lot of people are like, ‘This is a music page. You should stick to just putting up cute singing videos’. Again, that’s not me. I should be able to say what I want. It’s dumb that some people think I only exist to entertain them. Let’s get this straight: I’m not doing this to entertain you. I’m doing this because I love it. I hope that you love it too. If you do, that’s cool. If you don’t, then go away. Don’t try to tell me what I can or cannot say.
► The next one I find pretty amusing: ‘You’re going straight to hell, you heathen.’
(laughs) That makes me wonder what age we live in. Is it still 1850 where you live? That’s where that kind of comment belongs.
► Then there are some that say pretty much the same: ‘You should drop that loop machine and learn how to play music’, ‘This looping is not that difficult. Anyone with a laptop could do it’, and the genius who wrote ‘Trust me, I went to music school and I am a full-time musician. This chick has no idea how to make music’. I’m guessing we have never heard of this full-time musician. Can you even take these serious?
No, you can’t. I mean, you’re a human being – some things are going to bother you. Does it bother me when I get bombarded by these negative things? Yeah. Which is why I don’t read any YouTube comments anymore. There is tons of positive stuff, but there are also tons of 13-year-old boys who are looking for attention and who have nothing better to do than talk shit. There is no use to go through their comments one by one and take them to heart. I wouldn’t be here if I would listen to all the negative comments. I get grief for looping from people who say things like ‘Why don’t you write a real song? Why don’t you play guitar and sing?’ The answer is: Because I don’t want to. I’ve tried that, but I’m not passionate about that. I’m done doing that. This is what I do now and how I create. If you don’t like it, you can shove it. (laughs)
► Let’s talk about something that makes more sense than YouTube comments: YouTube videos. I’m a little surprised that we haven’t seen new videos from you in a while. From someone so keyed into the online world, I’d expect a new one every two or three weeks. When are we going to see new Kawehi videos?
Yeah, I know what you mean and I can tell you that I have a lot of videos coming up. I’ve been holding on to them, so there will be a lot of Evolution videos soon. I’ve been on the road a lot – constantly since the beginning of the year. And I’m learning now how difficult it is to do anything else when you’re touring. This is really the first year I’m touring both nationally and internationally, first time I have sold out shows. Before this, I was playing in a bar to six people who didn’t care, getting paid in beer. Which is not bad either. But now I have to factor in that I’m not at home all the time and don’t have as much time to make new videos and put them online. But as I said, I have a batch of 13 videos that I will start releasing soon. And hopefully people will like them.
► Talking about touring. I would never pay to see a DJ who is just standing behind a computer, pressing buttons, because that’s insanely bland. Judging from your videos, I’m guessing your gigs are a bit more animated, even if you’re also behind a computer and a loop machine?
Yeah, the live shows are like my videos. I do the videos in one take and do all the loops live, and that’s how the gigs are as well. Sometimes I have to stop and start all over again, because looping is a tricky thing. If one thing is off, the next thing will be off, and then the next thing, and before you know it you have chaos and noise, not a song. I think it is a great thing to see live, and I believe that is why the videos resonate so much with people. You’re watching it as it happens. A live show keeps you on your toes, it keeps me on my toes, it’s always different.
► Do you ever get the audience involved by letting them create a live sample that you loop and use?
Yes. A lot of times I bring someone on stage and teach them how to beatbox. Or I let them create a loop and use it. I try to show people that anyone can do it. You just have to practise a lot, which is what I do.
► So what is more nerve-wracking, to loop live in front of people or to start a new Kickstarter campaign?
Oh man, that’s tricky. I’d say play live, but only because I have stage freight all the time. It’s a constant battle for me. And on top of that, I have to remember all the things for the show. It’s tricky and scary. But once I’m in the groove, it gets better. A new project means that I have months of lots and lots of work, so that’s scary too. Actually, that’s a really hard one. Why do you have to give me such a tough question? (laughs)
► Maybe this is easier to answer: What gives you a better feeling – finishing a good live show or that moment you know you reached the goal in a crowdfunding project?
I’d say funding another project. It feels great to perform for people. Especially when it is for people who have backed a project and who always wanted to see me live. That’s me giving something back to them, which feels great. But I’m not really one of these musicians who absolutely need to be on stage. A lot of musicians crave that. They need to be on stage and have people see them or feel the audience connection. I have none of that. I want to feel the connection with the audience, too, but I prefer doing that over beer and pizza. (laughs) A successfully funded Kickstarter project, on the other hand, means that I get to spend months creating again. And that is a huge, uplifting thing for me. That’s why I’m in this and I am very grateful whenever I get the chance to continue doing it. :x:
This interview first appeared in issue no.2 of XCENTS.
photo credit featured image: Long Thai
Interview by Ewan McGee.