By: Samantha Eddy
Eighteen-year-old singer-songwriter Jayla Kai is a newer addition to the indie-rock scene, having only released her first track June of this year. So far, she has released ‘Apple Tree’ (single, 2021), ‘I Can’t Lie’ (single, 2021), and Epitome(debut EP, 2021). We’ll get more into this new EP later, but for now let’s learn more about the young musician’s background and music career!
Kai grew up in the infamous city of Woodstock, New York. “Situated 43 miles northwest of where the culture-defining music festival of the same name took place in August 1969, it is in this mountain town where a liberal, hippy spirit lives on through a radical population of musicians and like-minded creatives,” Pitchfork details. Some may find it incredulous that Kai had the opportunity to grow up in such a “musical city” so to speak, but it gave her so much opportunity, which, in turn, shaped her career as it is today. “…the area has become a haven for collaboration; the world-renowned Bearsville Studio is where the late Jeff Buckley recorded 1994’s seminal ‘Grace’, and the space has also played host to the likes of R.E.M, The Pretenders, and The Isley Brothers, among others,” informs Pitchfork.
“This is a place where people are so open to connection that they’ll take you to their studio, just because you started talking to them in the street,” explain Kai. The artist herself was one of those who was easily able to get in touch with a hot-shot local producer, though not all of her opportunity rooted from growing up in Woodstock specifically. At age 11, Kai picked up skills on the guitar and bass, and has since then taken every opportunity she has been allotted to learn something new and become more musically skillful. Kai attended a single term at Paul Green Rock Academy on the Woodstock campus before her bass instructor introduced her to Manuel Quintana, a local producer. Kai was concerned she wouldn’t be quite intimidating enough to make an impression, but her alt-rock vision was enough to catch Quintana’s attention.
Aside from growing up in a town like Woodstock, Kai’s inspiration also stems from artists such as Lucy Dacus, Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, and Phoebe Bridgers. “The legacy surrounding Woodstock is definitely a huge part of both my music and my everyday life. But even more present than that are the mentors that have shared whatever access they have with me. It’s really easy to take the support for granted – but I can’t wait to get to the stage where I’m going to be the one amplifying other artists,” Kai explains with excitement and enthusiasm.
After London-born dance legend Four Tet (born Kieran Hebden) felt compelled to reach out to Kai after listening to her single ‘I Can’t Lie’, the two went out for a lunch together. It was at this moment when Hebden asked Kai what she wanted to achieve out of her career. “Above all else, I identify as a songwriter, so I want to develop myself as a performer. Even if I could push a fame button right this second, I would not go there yet,” answers Kai.
Kai explains to Pitchfork that she never really had a lot of friends – or social connections in general – that allowed her to branch out when she was younger. She was homeschooled throughout her teenage years, and though she did art and dance classes the lack of socialization she had hindered her ability to reach out for opportunities with the resources around her. “It’s not that I never had friends – there was just no best friend, no real bandmate. I haven’t really been in many circles outside of music,” Kai says in a statement. She also talked about how she appreciated the “individualistic attitude” that Hebden had as that is what shaped and provided inspiration for her debut EP Epitome. Despite not having a large circle of friends growing up, Kai looks forward to attending college and making connections with “other young adults who are really rooted in what they’re doing.”
The artist mentions that Hebden’s attitude had a lot to do with the assets to Epitome. Kai says “that the EP is a product of the come-what-may mindset that Hebden has helped her develop.” Kai has been working on this EP since she was fifteen and has put a lot of time and creativity into this, so with the addition of music videos and cover art inspired by Hebden, the debut EP was sure to turn out beautifully. “The beautiful five-track body of work focuses on introspective themes of self-discovery, creativity and heartbreak. Through this sincere exploration of identity, we get a glimpse of her moody, wistful world,” describes Earmilk.
One of the tracks included, ‘Paperread’, expands on the meaning of the term “paper thin” and being prone to fragility through an intimate theme. “I wrote the song in one long burst, walking up and down my road in the summer of 2019. Mulberries were filling the tress hanging over the road and had fallen onto the pavement, which was stained purple dark. I thought about how they only fell when they were ripe, and if they were ripe they easily came off the branch into your fingers or into your mouth. This image gave me the first line,” explains Kai. ‘Anthropology’ comes from the realization Kai had when she realized how her entire life growing up put her on the right path in life. ‘Old Town’ focuses on the fear of always being stuck in a small town.
Check out the EP now on Spotify and be sure to follow Jayla Kai on social media to stay up to date on upcoming shows and releases!