Exclusive Interview: “Willow” Artist KAIS Opens Up About His Artistic & Musical Journey

Canadian singer-songwriter, KAIS, recently shared two heartfelt tracks “Willow” and “On to Land.” The multi-genre artist gives an in-depth interview discussing his singles, influences, and the journey that he had to go through to be where he is today. 

We’ve listened to your two new singles “Willow” and “On to Land” and we were mindblown by their beauty! Why did you decide to release them simultaneously? Are they linked in some way?

I just wanted to give the audience a little more to chew I guess. Both songs are guitar driven and fall within the same realm of indie, folk and psychedelic rock, so I thought they’d work well in tandem. And there is a procession in the sequence, possibly a polarity if you’d rather call it that. The EP starts out dreary and dark with ‘Willow’, and transitions in ‘On to Land’, which culminates with the hopeful and bright.

Your music holds many influences, from Indie, to psychedelic, blues and folk rock, neo soul and nu Jazz. Did your approach for fusing genres come gradually or was it natural from the very start? Please walk us through your creative process. 

It did come gradually. But if I were to put this in layman’s terms, it’s a lot of ‘exploration’ that led to ‘inspiration’ and the subsequent attempts at ‘creative emulation’ 😉 … but the process of genre ‘amalgamation’ started very much after I attended Point Blank Music College in London and began to delve into electronic music and sound design. Coming from a guitar and piano background, going to PB broadened my arsenal of skill in music composition and production, and helped expand my creative potential. Living in the heart of the London music scene also helped bring me closer to understanding the source and process of music inspiration rising artists from the UK were immersed in. I’ve now hit a point where I feel, not limitless, but bountiful, in creativity. And listening back to older material, I still find myself very true to style, which is a comfort zone I tend to hover in and around, and which my follower base can always say they bargained for.

Please list the top 3 artists that have inspired you. 

Hard hard question. Every work I’ve released literally had its own top three, so it’s hard to pinpoint only three artists. Okay! Jeff Buckley, Ben Howard, Radiohead. I’d add RY X to that list. He’s more of a very modern inspiration.

Are you more of a recording artist, a performer, or both?

As of now, I’m more of a recording artist. Although I am slowly moving back into performance, which is something I really love. I love reciprocating energy with the audience, especially when performing with a group of talented musicians, and I can’t wait to do that at a point where our act has fully crystallized again. That refreshed reality feels like it’s fast approaching each day.

Your lyrics seem to come from a deeper place of the soul. Does this mean an introspective or healing process takes place when you are in a ‘creative mode’?

I definitely do a lot of ‘inner work’. That goes beyond what I can sum up in this interview. But what I can tell you is that it involves a very intentional amount of disengaging with social media. I don’t believe you could make music from a real place if you didn’t. And the last thing you want is for inauthenticity in your writing to show through. I’ve never seen the REAL benefit of going on REEL binges. Ah! That’s how we get played with words… I guess, to top that question off, there’s also an accumulation of Life and Music experience that surely adds to the weight and impact of things.

Tell us more about your personal journey. Where were you born and raised, and what chain of events led you to become the artist you are today?

I was born and raised in Amman, Jordan. I grew up in a home  where my father always played piano and sung tunes to the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John and Frank Sinatra. I sometimes believe  that he helped spin me on my creative path, but I realized years later that I always gravitated towards and had a strong affinity for music. Around the age of 13 I started out on an acoustic guitar and began to write and perform at talent shows and in bars throughout Amman. It wasn’t really a thing back in the late 90s and early 2000s to play live music there. In many ways, it wasn’t encouraged. Most parents thought you couldn’t make money in that industry and always pushed (or dare I say ‘thrust’) the kids that had any ounce of audacity to take music seriously, to try and become successful doctors, lawyers or civil engineers instead. That’s not far from the truth, the money part. My personal experience monetizing my craft has been the ultimate struggle. I am grateful though, that at least on a regional level, Jordan had at one point recognized my work for having helped introduced the Indie Rock scene there.

After relocating to Canada, I continued to make music.  I spent a large chunk of my life there, in part for further studies and in part to “start fresh”. I fell in and out of love, shifted careers, and all the while, worked with different bands and high-level local musicians, performing to audiences within Vancouver, Toronto and Seattle. A lot of significant perspective-shifting events happened after I moved to Canada and became Canadian. And it’s even safe to say, I found myself a new home. I’m proud that a  lot of my latest accolades / milestones eventuated while I was there, and some  of them can be found mentioned in my website Bio. Two that particularly stood out for me were the ‘Best Out of Province’ award nomination at the 13th annual Toronto Independent Music Awards, and the ‘BBC Radio London’ interview with Robert Elms in 2021.

At the end of the day though, awards and accolades are being handed down by a ‘governing body’, and it’s easy for participants to sometimes feel like judges have missed the mark. It’s also the hyper-awareness of that which often takes away from the essential free-spiritedness that is necessary for keeping artists “in their creative headspace”. Ultimately, it’s been the ‘inner work’ I do that has helped keep me most grounded, and what has brought me back to the reminder that music, as with any and all real meditative work, is a spiritual practice, and not a competition. And as one grows and continues to hone their own spiritual craft, so does the power of their spirit and those influenced and moved by it.

Any upcoming plans you’d like to share with our audience?

I’m releasing an instrumental EP now. No vocals. Just instruments doing the best they can to make a few tracks sound awesome … :  ) … It’s nice to take a little step back from vocally driven tracks. Music isn’t always about that. Don’t let the McDonalds in-store playlists tell you otherwise!

Listen to “Willow” and “On The Land” here: