k-os has been a Hip-Hop superhero to many since he first appeared on the scene in 2003 with Exit. The album featured the songs “Heaven Only Knows” and “Superstarr Pt. Zero” and quickly vaulted the Canadian artist to fame in America. Later this month k-os will be releasing his third album, Atlantis – Hymns For Disco, and he already has a 40 city tour planned with Gym Class Heroes in support of the project. Before he starts living life on the road, however, he’s sitting down with us at RapReviews to discuss the new album, how God fits into it, and his feelings on people’s preconceived notions of what black music should sound like.
Adam Bernard: Talk to me. I have the record, “Atlantis: Hymns for Disco,” and I notice you’re singing a lot on this record.
k-os: Oh for sure. For sure.
“As a musician I do all kinds of exercises. Sometimes I’ll try to write a song a day…”
AB: Are you moving away from rapping or is this just another aspect of who you are?
KO: I think the best comparison is it’s just another way to express emotions and it’s definitely a different way of expressing yourself when you speak without melody versus using melody and I feel that I’m at a point in my life, and looking at what’s going on with the planet and where we are on the planet, where this is just the best way to express myself. As a musician I do all kinds of exercises. Sometimes I’ll try to write a song a day or wake up in the morning and try to see what’s in my head first. Is it a poem? Is it a song? Is it a line on my guitar? Bur everything just kept coming back to melody and I was listening to a lot of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder and a lot of great signers, so all those things influenced me and it was just a really natural progression.
AB: So how do you think this album is going to influence your fan base?
KO: I don’t know. I think that I’ve always elements in my music of melodical ideas and I’ve always been a big part of the symphony of the music, like the choruses or even on a song like “Superstarr Pt. Zero” I had a signing chorus, so it’s always been in there. Hopefully everyone just comes back to what I’m saying. That’s the one great thing about it, people from the beginning would ask me if I consider myself a rapper or a singer and what kind of music I did. I’m really a lyricist and I think all my music comes back to the lyrics and that’s the most important thing and I hope that the fans still hear that and just basically see that those lyrics are being expressed in a different way.
“[It’s] about me following my heart, whether it’s the singing on it, or the rock n roll on it, or if I decided to do an acoustic ballad.”
AB: And the name of the album is “Atlantis.” I have to know, did you go underwater to record it?
KO: (laughs) No, but that’s funny because being underwater by yourself has a certain amount of silence to it. Even in the movie The Graduate there’s a scene where he’s back home and he feels so disconnected from his parents and for his birthday his dad buys him a scuba diving suit, and this is the 1960’s so it basically looks like a space suit. You can hear all this noise, but as soon as he goes underwater everything stops. I think that’s what’s all good and cool about water, it’s like you’ll be swimming or you’ll be at a friends house and there’ll be all this noise in the background, but as soon as you go underwater it’s like you’re in your own head. Without even me really thinking about it that’s a really true statement. I do believe that this music is about me following my heart, whether it’s the singing on it, or the rock n roll on it, or if I decided to do an acoustic ballad. I generally stopped caring, on a punk rock level. I say this to people and they’re like “how is this punk rock?” but I’m not talking about the aesthetic of the music but just the punk rock attitude of just being like I’m going to do what I’m gonna do and I don’t really care what people think. So there was a lonely, going underground to do this record, feeling for sure.
AB: So punk rock rock sensibilities mixed with the scene from The Graduate where he’s in the pool with his scuba gear.
KO: Word up. And also Hip-Hop sensibilities which I have to say, whether you’re Iggy Pop or Chuck D, or whoever, I do believe that the punk rock attitude and the Hip-Hop attitude is about doing it for yourself and do what you feel is being original, so for sure.
AB: What are your hopes for this album?
KO: I’ve always had an issue with the way I see black music or urban music and what we’re “allowed to do” or what is perceived as such. I really just hope that people can listen to this record and in one way it’s kinda weird because the comments I always get back are “you’re real different,” or “you take chances,” or “you’re not like regular Hip-Hop,” when in actuality I’m so Hip-Hop, I’ve always been sort of a Hip-Hop nerd. I check for stuff online and I listen to really underground music and those are my influences from the beginning, but just because those things influence me doesn’t mean I have to make music like Madlib or make a song that sounds like Sage Francis or Blackalicious, all of these people that I love that I listen to, but it doesn’t mean that when I make my records I have to copy them. It’s funny when you have those types of influences and everyone thinks that you’re so different, I just hope that it broadens the spectrum of what music, not music in general, that’s kind of hefty, but at least for what I do it broadens the spectrum for what’s perceived as Hip-Hop music or “black” or urban music because those words exist on the chart. There are all these separations because it’s human nature, we have to separate things to talk about them, to define them, to get to know them better. I would hope this record allows all of those things to exist side by side.
“I went through a whole period […] of hiding from the audience because I feel sometimes there’s a lot of, I call it soul pressure.”
AB: And when you say that I’m wondering when you perform at your shows how often do you look out at the audience and check out who’s checkin you out?
KO: It depends, man. I went through a whole period, almost a whole tour, two or three tours, really just kind of hiding from the audience because I feel sometimes there’s a lot of, I call it soul pressure. When all those eyes are on you, it kind of bothers me to say, sometimes you have stand in front of 30,000 people to feel normal and that’s a very honest thing to say, but sometimes when I’m in front of a lot of people, even if it’s 1,000 people in the room and they’re all looking at me there’s always a little something that’s inhuman about that. I’m becoming more and more comfortable looking at people but I generally tend to vibe of the room. As far as being in a band and leading my band and switching my set list on stage, like we’re about to go into a song but I tell them to go into something else because I’m feeling the vibe of the room. I try to keep a room vibe and not really focus on individuals but that connection is definitely needed if you do any type of live performances. I think for me it’s easier and safer to connect to the room.
AB: You’re one of the few Canadian MC’s to break into the US market. What quality do you feel you have, or what do you feel gave you the push, that helped you make it here?
KO: Honesty maybe? In America I feel like there’s so many people doing their thing that at the end of the day people are just forced to be honest and the most honest guy gets noticed. I don’t even think it’s someone going “we’re going to make the most honest guy,” I just think if you shoot from your heart whether you’re Kanye West, Andre3000, Lauryn Hill or Ozzy Osbourne, I think it doesn’t matter, when you’re the most honest you’re gonna have the best chance of people looking twice at you because you’re making an honest statement about your life. So I just try to stay honest and let the chips fall where they may. And when I say honest I don’t mean noble or holier than thou, I just mean true to what my artist statement is.
AB: So while you’re being honest, tell the people something about you that they may not know already.
KO: I kinda say a lot in my music.
“I think that the greatest thing that I put out to people is that I’m completely conflicted about my ideas about spirituality and God.”
AB: Is it really all there in your music?
KO: It pretty much is, man. I was going to say the biggest thing is that I grew up in a really religious household. There’s a song called “The Ballad of Noah” on my new album where I kind of cover that. Bob Dylan made this statement, “I think that great music is made by people who are running from God or running towards God,” and I think that the greatest thing that I put out to people is that I’m completely conflicted about my ideas about spirituality and God. I know there is something higher that exists and I think my music is an exploration, it’s a scuba dive to find out what’s really there. I feel if I put my music out there that some answer’s gonna come back to me. To this point it hasn’t. Maybe somewhere deep in my heart I think that music is too shallow to answer those universal questions but if I would use any tool to find out why we’re here I’m using music to do that and think that’s why there’s a depth of perception to the music that I do because I’m trying to figure out who we are using music.
AB: It also sounds like you’re going to do music as long as you need to to figure all that out.
KO: Yeah. I was talking to my friends the other day and I think sometimes music in the mainstream, or as you said, you made a statement about impacting America and I think it takes a certain type of resolve to make music that’s affecting in the mainstream and on the charts and on the radio. Whether my music in the future will always be like that I don’t know, but for now I’m just trying to deal with touring America for the first time. But yes, I will make for the rest of my life. Who knows if I’ll be using Fisher Price xylophones to make music in the future, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll be making music.