Several years back, vocalist and singer/songwriter KayBe was diagnosed with Pertussis (also know as Whooping Cough). Her vocal cords were so swollen that it affected her overall singing ability, leading to years of frustration throughout high school and her time in college, where she was studying Vocal Performance. It plagued her for years.
Now, after giving her vocal cords the proper rest that they deserve and taking some time away to write, she's coming forth with a full-length, self-written, and self-produced album entitled Lovesongs, a two-part album release that's set to hit the world later this year.
As a way to re-introduce herself to the world, KayBe released "Too Close", an emotionally vulnerable track that showcased an element of KayBe's artistry that she wasn't necessarily comfortable with in the beginning: herself. We sat down with the singer/songwriter shortly after the release of "Too Close" to talk about the meaning behind the song, why she chose to make that the first single off of the new album, and overcoming years of not being able to show the world what kind of voice she truly has.
Minor edits have been made to this interview for the purposes of clarity.
You have an upcoming full length called Lovesongs, which was self-written and produced by you. I’m always curious to talk to any songwriter that does something where there’s no other outside force that’s touching it. When you’re starting off in a songwriting process like that, what’s the first thing that has to happen for you? Is it a line, a melody?
When I started producing Lovesongs and was getting ready to put this whole album together, I did not have putting together an album in mind. I wasn’t like, “Oh I’m going to put together these songs and release an album”. I just write. I write songs; it’s what I love to do. I guess that’s the first part of it.
As far as Lovesongs go, [the album] spans from the beginning of my time in Los Angeles, so I’d probably say sometime between 2014-2016, in that time, all of these song were there. It’s like a collection [of songs], a phase of my life that I was going through. They’re all very unrequited love songs. I feel like they had to just stay together as love songs, like a collection, you know what I mean? I’m in a totally different phase of my life, and I can’t split these songs up, because they all belong together. They’re all from this particular period of my life.
When I came out here [to Los Angeles], I came as a singer/songwriter. I came out here to write songs. Whether that’s a melody, a sound, an idea, or even a phrase. One of the songs on my album is called “Christina”, and I’ve always wanted to write a song with a name in it. And I was like, “I’m gonna do it!” It’s obviously based off of somebody, and I may or may not have changed the name to protect whatever. (laughs)
A lot of the times, I feel like my songs start from an idea. With Lovesongs, I was writing all these songs and singing about him. All I’m doing is singing about him and writing songs about him, and I’m thinking, “What is he doing?” I’m literally invested in him 24/7, and he has no idea. All I’m doing is sitting here writing love songs, and what is he doing? And that’s where the “love songs” idea came from, and I think it describes the entire album. It’s literally about how he could be doing this, this, this, this and this, and I’m here writing love songs. As far as songwriting goes, normally it starts with a lyrical idea, and then I’ll start putting a phrase or a melody together, and I’ll start building around that. I don’t write a song from start to finish. I don’t know if anyone does. Maybe I’ll write a verse, and then I’ll stop and move onto another song, or maybe I’m in the middle of one song, and it inspires me for another song.
I normally have about seven songs going at once, and I’m focused on like three. Maybe if I’m blocked, I don’t let it bug me, and I move to the next song. With that being said, all I do is sit here and write songs, over and over again. And I think, “for what?” Nobody’s been hearing these songs, because I’m writing these songs faster than I am working with people to produce them. I was also really struggling with playing these songs live because I have these songs, and they have these really basic chord charts written out. But when I give them to a band, it’s not translating out the way I hear it in my head. So I started making work tapes. I thought, “they can play these songs however they want, but if I want them to play it like I’m hearing it in my head, then I need to start giving them more an idea.” They started very basic, but then I started having a lot of fun with them. In writing songs, I was playing more with production.
As I was writing, the more patches and loops and stuff I found and played with, the more it expanded the songwriting area in my brain. I remember I brought one song that I had finished to another producer that I was working with, and I was like, “I want to work on this song today. It’s written, it’s done, here you go. Let’s start from scratch.” He listened to it, and he said, “It’s done. It sounds done.” I thought, “Really?” I posted stuff on Instagram and Snapchat and stuff, with little snippets of stuff that I was working on as a songwriter. I started getting so much feedback, like “When are you gonna put that song out?” And I would say, “Well, I’m not going to put that song out. It’s not produced.” And everyone was like, “No, it’s already done!”. So then I thought to myself, I’m going to produce my album! And I already had, you know? The songs were done, but I went back and I revamped and rerecorded a lot of the stuff, like the pianos, or maybe a song where the drums were a bit off. I was like, “I’m going to put out an album that I’ve produced myself.” It was really super fun. Maybe that was the answer to your question? I think I just talked a lot. (laughs)
No that’s perfect. You gave a lot of insight into how you recorded the album, in addition to answering the question. You started the album with an idea, and that’s something that is really important. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other, whether it’s a lyric or a melody. It can be an idea, and that will turn into whatever the song turns into.
What made you gravitate towards having “Too Close” as the first single over any of the other tracks on the album?
That is a great question, because “Too Close” is unlike any other song on the album. Just because it is the most raw and acoustic thing on the album. It was super scary at first. I listened to it and thought, “oh my god, that’s my voice. Nothing’s hiding my voice. (laughs)”. I said [to the producer], “maybe you should record something else like background vocals,” and he said “No, no, this is done.” I showed it to a couple of people and they really liked it, so I thought, “okay, we’ll see”. I’ve been sitting on this song for a year. I think I was really nervous to release it because it is so raw and bare. As I was starting to piece together the album, I thought that “Too Close” was the perfect song to release first, for so many reasons.
Lyrically, I feel that it’s very representative to how I write. It’s super vulnerable and super simple. You don’t have to dig deep to figure out what I’m trying to say. I very much wear my heart on my sleeve, and I feel like this song is literally just like that. Additionally, I feel that vocally, I’ve come such a long way, year after year year. But I suffered from whooping cough years ago.
Yeah, I was actually going to ask you about that.
I went through an awful, awful period, mentally, physically, and vocally. I was in a state where I was like “I can’t sing, I can’t sing…but I know that I can sing.” It was so, so frustrating. I was sitting there watching people do these things that I used to be able to do, and I was thinking, “this is not right, I’m moving backwards. How can I be moving backwards?” I was practicing, but I kept wondering how I wasn’t able to do what I used to be able to do, because of that awful cough. I never gave myself time to fully recover, and I just kept trying to push it.
But I think for awhile, it didn’t even settle into me that my voice was seriously damaged from that. I didn’t even think of it in the way like a sprained ankle, where I would be, “Oh, I sprained my ankle, so I have to be careful with it.” I just had this cough, and it had never destroyed my voice before. I could still talk, and I didn’t have anything like bronchitis. I had been to a couple doctors and things like that. My voice was super damaged. It was just insanely swollen. My vocal cords weren’t completely hitting each other. There was a lot of air gaps, and there was no power in them. They were just two insanely swollen cords that didn’t have the power or sound that they used to.
Going through high school and college, especially surrounded by people that were doing the same thing as me, was so frustrating. I was depressed, and I kept thinking: “Should I not do what I think I’m supposed to do? Should I look at doing something different?”
That being said, once I got out of school, I was able not sing as much. I still sang, but I wasn’t singing eight hours a day. I just started giving my voice more rest. I started noticing, “oh my gosh! I can sing! It’s not so hard!” The songs that I couldn’t sing before I was able to sing. It’s very easy to me now, and it wasn’t awhile back. I had to relearn how to talk, because I wasn’t talking the right way. I was a cheerleader for awhile, and I wasn’t shouting the right way. Now I’m taking care of my voice better. All of these things I was hearing and learning in college are coming to fruition now. My cords now have the strength and ability to do what I’ve wanted them to do. It’s been a whole revelation period, these past few years. I had also noticed that my songwriting had gotten better because I was working on stuff that I wasn’t able to work on years ago.
With that being said, “Too Close” I was super proud of because I felt that I could actually sing a song. I could hold a note, and I was proud of that. It also had to do a lot with my fans and supporters. They’ve always listened to the stuff that I’ve released in the past, which was very produced. They will always say, “we love hearing your songs on the EPs or the albums, but we really love it when you play live and acoustic, too.” This last year, I didn’t release anything, but I played acoustic shows everywhere, all the time. I thought I should stay true to that, so I released “Too Close”. I’m going to hit everyone with a new single next month. It’s very different. It’s much more mature and revived, and an improved on sound from the past.
That’s an incredible story to hear in regards to how you overcame something. I think what a lot of people forget is that the vocal cords are a muscle too. They have to recover in a similar way to the way an athlete would strain/tear a muscle, if that makes sense. I’m glad to hear that it didn’t permanently damage your voice.
I look back and I think about the whole “years and years” period where I couldn’t do anything, but I also look and think, “oh my god, I can’t believe it wasn’t worse.” Like, I can’t believe I didn’t have nodes on my cords. I can’t believe that my voice is improving and improving still. I was so angry for all of those years, but it could have been so much worse, so I’m very thankful. I’m very protective of my voice now. (laughs)
To go back on something you said a little bit earlier, I’d like to ask you about the acoustic shows you were doing earlier this year. Would you say that there was anything you learned about yourself as a performer or songwriter when you were playing acoustic?
Yeah, totally! I love it. I totally miss playing with a band, but I learned so much about myself as an artist and as a human by playing by myself. Everything is exposed, and it’s very scary. But it’s also very awesome. I’ve totally embraced being a human. I’ve started looking at other artists, and I realized that I loved these other artists because they were human. I realized that it was okay for me to be human, too.
I just love playing live by myself. I can do whatever I want in that moment; it’s literally art in that moment. It’s not a rehearsal, it’s not just a repeat of something I’ve already done. It’s literally what’s going on in that moment. Yes, I’ve already written a song. Yes, I’ve practiced the piano beforehand. But there are times when I’ve played songs, and I’m like “you know, I’m really feeling this song today”. Maybe I slow it down a little bit, add that verse, make that chorus a little bit slower. Maybe the crowd’s really into it, so I play the piano for a little bit longer and an instrumental verse to go with that moment. Or maybe the crowd’s not feeling it, and I think, “you know, I’m going to cut this verse out,” or I’ll go back to the slower songs. It’s just a really cool thing, because it’s a very intimate experience. Not just with myself or how I’m feeling, but it’s a back and forth thing with the audience. It’s a real authentic way to connect with your audience. I can mold that every single second with the response that I’m getting from the people that are looking back at me. I think that’s really awesome, and that’s the biggest thing that I’ve noticed and been able to appreciate with performing on my own. I can cater every single moment to how I’m feeling in that moment, and how I’m being received in that moment. That’s what it’s all about; art is about expressing yourself, and I get to do that live every single moment. I also think it’s really cool to be bare and be vulnerable. If I mess up, that’s okay, because that’s me. If I get emotional and my voice cracks, or I get upset and I start crying, or I get happy and start crying, that’s awesome. I feel like when I’m able to control that with my own speed and my own playing, it’s just a little more real.
It makes for some of the best moments in live music. I’m someone who loves big production and bands when I go to a show, but at the same time, some of the best moments are when it’s just the singer and they don’t have anyone behind them. It brings you back, and you go, “oh. You’re a person. You have feelings. This isn’t just a stage show.”
Totally. And I love playing with a band. I’m a dancer too, and I miss that element when I play the piano. It’s not a very percussive instrument. Well, I guess it can be, but not really. There’s something special when you’re vibing and communicating with your instrumentals on stage, those moments where you all know what you want to do. But the other thing that I really love about playing just solo is that I take so much pride in my lyrics. I feel like in this last year, I was so happy because I was able to emphasize and focus on the lyrics, which I feel like sometimes when you do play live in a band, some of those things can get lost, especially when it’s upbeat and fast. I’m really happy that I get to showcase those lyrics that I worked so hard on.
What do you hope people take away from Love Songs?
I love to share my music, and I always hope people enjoy it. Every time I go back and re-listen to some of these songs, it just takes me back to a certain point in my life. I was at a very specific point in my life, and now I’m in a much happier in my life. I’m in a happier, requited relationship. When I think of this collection of songs, it’s just so…unabashedly, shamelessly, heart-on-my-sleeve, un-regrettable, giving love away. I’m in this mode of, “I don’t even care, just take it, I know you don’t love me, but just take it.” It’s very innocent and naive, and it’s really sad, but it’s also just a great thing. I think that we’re so scared to give love away because we’re so scared that it’s not going to be reciprocated. It’s scary. I lived it. Everyone lives it. But I just think that this is such an exemplary collection of music. It just basks and wallows in that unrequited desperation and shameless love. It’s like a pitifully beautiful thing.
I always say that I write songs whenever I feel like there isn’t one [for that thing I’m looking for]. I’m like, “I need this song to listen to right now,” and I realize it’s not there, so I’m like “Oh, I guess I have to write it.” I don’t like to use the word jaded, and I feel like I’ve thrown myself into situations that are hopeless from the beginning. But I totally “love” un-jadedly [sic]. It’s such a good thing. Like, why not give it away? If you get hurt, whatever, but you’re never gonna regret giving too much love away, because you always regret not giving enough. That’s the whole idea for this album, so I hope that’s what people take from it.
Last question: what does music mean to you?
That’s like asking me what the meaning of life is. (laughs) I know it’s everything to me, but what does it mean? Hmmm. I love music, and it’s feeling to me. It’s a way that we can remind ourselves and also bask in being human, and enjoy the feeling that life brings. I feel like music is just an avenue to help us relish in being human beings, you know? We obviously live, go to work, we rush through our lives, we have things to do, but in the meantime, we’ve got our music to enjoy. It’s our entertainment and it’s fun like that, but I really think that music is just a way for us to enhance, feel, and remember, and remind ourselves of those important feelings in our lives.