Khai (short for Justin Abokhai) is one of the fastest-rising singer-songwriters in electronic music. His voice and lyricism is the sort that stuns you the moment you hear it — hearing Khai elicits the same feelings as discovering Sam Smith and Ellie Goulding at their very beginning: mind-bogglingly enrapturing, yet still on an upward trajectory of refinement. His latest EP, If You, is turning heads the world over, most recently attracting the attention of Jaden Smith, who played “Take (ft. CYN)” on this week’s MSFTS Radio on Apple Music’s Beats 1.
We caught up with Khai to chat music, personal growth, and to hear his shortlist of the music he’s feeling the most right now with a PressPlaylist.
Where are you from and what is music like where you are from? How and in what ways has it influenced you?
I was born and raised in Jefferson City, Missouri. Jefferson City doesn’t have a very diverse music scene. There are a lot of open mic acts and local bands, but for the most part it’s primarily a classic rock music scene. That had a huge influence on me as a musician. I learned early on to play instruments like the guitar, piano, drums, etc. Although I wasn’t exposed to EDM or electronic music much as a kid, it provided me with a challenge to get really good at playing instruments.
How would you define ‘Khai’ as a project and what you want to do with it?
I would say that this project is about creating a deep-rooted connection with the listeners. Too often I see acts go the easier path and create content that is contrived for an imaginary “Joe Schmo” who only cares about sex, money, and xans. That’s great and all, but the reality is that people connect deeply with sincere artwork. Whether or not the people alive at the time understand it, people in the future will revere it. Some of the best artists struggled to make a living while they were alive…. people like Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Bach (who was primarily known for his talent as an organist), and plenty of others.
I just want to create something that has a shot at being remembered for more than 20 years. As far as what I want to do with the project? You are gonna hear another single towards the beginning of next year. To be honest after that I might Jai Paul out on you all, and you might not hear much from me in the near future. That is until I fully refine what I want for this project. Hopefully I can make a quick decision on where I want to steer the ship!
Where do you find inspiration for your lyrics?
I find inspiration everywhere. Mostly, in nature itself. I like to create visuals, emotions, and sensations with my lyrics. Lyrics like “Your light in my hand, too bright to spend. This time I need it, I’d like to breathe it”. I love comparing human feelings to nature. Comparing love to light, pleasure to waves, female sexuality to water, that sort of thing. I find that nature is beauty.
What’s the usual songwriting process for you, if one exists?
I like to bring a lot of sincere emotion to my writing process, so I like to be spontaneous. There isn’t a cut copy way I make music, but I like to start with a rhythm and work my way into melodies and chord progressions from there.
If you could work with anyone, who would it be? Living and dead, please.
My dream would be to create an audio/visual experience with one of the great Japanese artists like Hayao Miyazaki, Rintaro, Satoshi Kon, or Yoshitaka Amano. For a music video I would love to work with Grant Singer. I think his taste is incredible.
Tell us a bit about where your head was at when you were writing the If You EP. these are beautiful songs, but very stark and at times unnerving in a really subtle way — what goes into making a project like this?
When I wrote [If You], I wanted to create a project that would surprise people. I watch a lot of underground music, and I felt like for the most part EDM lacks someone challenging other genres when it comes to the “voice”. Too many songs are slapped together just so that the artists can have content to throw at people, especially in the Soundcloud sphere. We hear lots of half baked top lines on these incredibly fresh electronic instrumentals.
I feel like the EDM procedure has become very much, “Throw out as much content at people as possible, so that you remain relevant.” That should never be the goal with art. An Artist should strive to create sincere works, with a contribution mentality. You are contributing to the historical progression of the humanities. Make something special that you put your heart and soul into. That’s what people will remember.
Who are people going to be listening back to in their space ships in 500 years? Drake, or M83? No disrespect to Drake, but more people are gonna want to listen back to M83 in the future. I truly believe that.
What are some things that you hope to do in 2016?
Next year, I’m writing an album that will really shake the game up. Believe that.
Tell us a little bit about the songs you picked for this playlist
Yes! It’s a playlist with some indie electronic songs, as well as some pure electronic instrumentals. The playlist features some of my new faves, as well as some future classics. We’ve got one of my new favorite up and comers Octbr, Slow Magic, Jai Paul, Oh Wonder and more!
If You EP, Out Now on iTunes