Kai Exos is all about music that feeds the soul. Growing up in a household where gospel music was prominent, the LA-based singer-songwriter creates his own wave of neo-soul and alternative R&B, intertwined with today’s upbeat electronic production. In addition to the soothing vocals over drum-heavy beats, Kai is confident in using his platform for a greater good.
Now, he celebrates the release of his self-titled debut EP, home to stand out single “Fire & Brew.”
iEDM: For those who don’t know, who is Kai Exos?
Kai Exos: He’s a writer, really, at heart. I just dropped my first EP exactly a week ago. I’m kind of in the soul realm. It’s kind of what I’m trying to do. It’s just been a crazy week of kind of answering that.
iEDM: How would you exactly describe your sound? I feel like there are elements of EDM and R&B and Soul. So where do you see yourself in this giant realm of genres.
Kai Exos: Well my roots are Motown. I grew up listening to those records and grew up in church, so all of that stuff comes into play. But we do a lot of electronic production. The producers for this particular record are ATL and drummers and a bass player. There’s a lot of layers to the production, so I think that’s maybe where some of the electronic comes in. But it’s 2018. We’re doing things a little different. Mixing it up.
iEDM: You’re from Toronto. How does that play into your life and career?
Kai Exos: Yeah, I’m from Toronto. I still go back and forth from there. Toronto is dope. We’re having like a renaissance. [laughs]
iEDM: For sure! I feel like all the R&B Singers are coming out of there, like Drake. Kai Exos: There’s a lot. I mean for me, Jessie Reyez is top top.
iEDM: I love her! Have you crossed paths with her?
Kai Exos: I have, yeah. I really want to do a cover of “Figures.” And then we’ll see if we’ll cross paths properly.
iEDM: So how’d you get on? How’d you get into this music thing?
Kai Exos: Oh jeez. Probably when I was four is when I started playing piano, and then started writing and composing around nine, for more on the poetry side of things. And then I continued to train in classical piano for a really long time. Church had a big part of it. I’m very much a church kid. My mom and my pops before they split, they were both pro-church. Like three times a day kind of church on Sunday. [laughs] Then I got into the gospel music and I was in that world for a minute. And then jazz and then rock and then singing Gloria Estefan songs. I grew up in Miami singing Gloria Estefan songs for like thirty bucks and some chicken wings, with a green bracelet and nothing to drink. I kept learning more instruments and writing, and I’ve gotten to collaborate with some brilliant people over the last couple years in LA. And then finally did my own thing. It’s about a year in the making.
iEDM: How important is it to come to Los Angeles as an up and coming artist?
Kai Exos: It’s important. It’s important because the creative energy here is different than anywhere else in the world. Even this week, I must have done four sessions with different artists and I think everybody wants to work and is like on their game here. People come here to make it. So yeah, we are all coinciding and it’s nice to share that energy. And my new spot has a studio.
iEDM: You said in the Hollywood Hills?
Kai Exos: In the hills. In Beachwood Canyon. [in a fancy accent]
iEDM: Talk about your new EP and why you chose to use your own name as a title.
Kai Exos: Wow, I’m so glad you asked that. For the self-titled project, this was really the first collection of songs I’ve written that represent my heart and who I am. And we actually toyed around with using my full name, but there was so much in what I am trying to say in the message, especially about my activism and causes I believe in in this material. And even though it’s really fun and you can dance to it, but if you really want to get into the lyrics, get to Genius.com and look up the lyrics. And hopefully, it has meaning for people the same way that it does for me.
iEDM: What are some things you stand for?
Kai Exos: There are three main things that I really center around. The first is women’s rights, the second is animal welfare, and the third is just things that bring people together. Like how music and food does. So anywhere that I have that intersection of everything, I’m really trying to do it for my platform — the fact that I’m writing and the causes I’m associating with, and the brands that I get to associate with. I’ve gotten to do some really cool stuff so far that I want to keep doing that.
iEDM: Talk about the making of the “Fire and Brew” visual.
Kai Exos: “Fire And Brew” was the first single that came out a couple months ago, and Indrani is a super dope director. I actually didn’t even think… I don’t know why or how we even got to work together. [laughs] I didn’t think it was possible. Indrani is like Beyoncé and Bowie… it’s nuts. I drew out the storyboard for what I wanted to tell and I really wanted to experiment with the masculine and feminine energy. One thing I haven’t said publicly is the girl in the video, I was with for four years (and now my ex). She was a dancer and that song was really written about our relationship, and the tension between us. And the smoke and the lights and everything just started to make sense for us and we both really loved it. It was weird. It’s a love song, but also a breakup song because of how it played out.
iEDM: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Kai Exos: Well, I really want to produce a project from start to finish for someone. There are a couple things in the works. We just started our own record label. It’s my best friend and I, who I’ve been working with for like fourteen years, who’s one of my managers. There are about three or four artists I think that we’ll sign soon.
iEDM: Who are they? Hip-hop artists?
Kai Exos: Yeah, like hip-hop and R&B artists. I think for me right now, as a person of color, it’s really important for our community and our culture to be supporting each other. So I’m willing to give a lot of energy where it can be reciprocated, and we can kind of do this cooperative economics thing. I think it’s our time, so I’m really excited about that.
iEDM: I love that! What are you exactly?
Kai Exos: My mom is Iranian and my father is Egyptian. So I’m Middle Eastern, Caribbean, Canadian, American, all of it.
iEDM: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from being in the music industry?
Kai Exos: So far, there have been a lot of no’s. [laughs] And I think that happens for a really long time. I think the biggest lesson is when you have a vision, keep at it until it’s done. Until you feel like you’ve done it, because those no’s turn into yes’s. Like the tides totally turn and you can feel that momentum. At first, it’s going to be a hundred percent no, and then it’s gonna drop to 90. For me, it’s not even at 50/50 yet. But one day, that’s going to happen. So until you tell the full story that you want to tell — that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. Tell your whole vision and stay authentic to you and eventually, the right climate will form for you.
iEDM: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Kai Exos: If I wasn’t doing music, I don’t think I could. [laughs] If I wasn’t doing music, I think I would probably write books. It would still be writing, and I actually have a book in the works. I’m working with an editor because it’s like 600 pages. Anything with writing. I don’t know if that answers it, but I couldn’t be me.
iEDM: How’s fame treating you? Are you being recognized now?
Kai Exos: I think I’m more recognizable in Toronto (a little bit), and I get a lot of love in Europe. But in LA, there are people who are way more famous than me. LA has this funny little thing where everyone looks at you twice, to see if you are [someone]. And that is a bit strange, but I’m nowhere near famous yet.
iEDM: Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Kai Exos: I would say it’s probably a tie between Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.
iEDM: Dream collab?
Kai Exos: Jessie J. Especially at the moment. The way she’s expressing herself and the way she took hold of the means and wanting to tell her whole story and whole truth, I totally respect that. She has a song called “Queen” that I love.