Get to Know Indie Newcomer, KALI [Q&A]

Photo By: Zealand Yancy

16-year-old artist KALI, full name Kali Flanagan, opens up the year by announcing that her debut EP CIRCLES is out May 7th. The project includes her previously released single “Back To The Start” as well as new track, “Lucy."

A prodigy of sorts, KALI grew up playing recitals and covering Beatles songs, taking private lessons with music teachers, participating in after school music programs, and even taking songwriting masterclasses to nourish her passion. In 2017, KALI assembled her first band, Big Wednesday. The relatable and honest indie-surf arrangements that KALI wrote for the group drew sweaty, teenage crowds to local venues like The Smell and The Viper Room and would lead her to her now solo work.

KALI self-describes her music as "bouncy" and after listening to her newest track, "Lucy," the bounce that she creates her music with is evident. "Back to The Start" and "Lucy" are Gen-Z anthems, and perfectly explain KALI's indie-pop and rock influences. They both incorporate driving grooves and upbeat vibes, but lyrically speaking, showcase the more somber reality of the ups and downs of life as a teenager.

In a music world often filled with computerized instruments and overproduced songs, KALI represents a refreshing change of pace. Her subtle layering of instrumentation including electric piano, shakers, and a gritty guitar provides the song with a full sound without feeling cluttered. Additionally, you can tell that her musicianship and performance can clearly translate into an energetic live show.

Get to know KALI and watch the music video for her latest single, "Lucy," below:

Ones to Watch: As you previously mentioned, your name is pronounced Kaw-Lee. Do you ever catch people saying Kay-Lee?

KALI: Oh yeah, all the time, but I've gotten used to it. Nowadays it's easier for me to correct people, but before when I was a kid it was so uncomfortable for me to explicitly say, "Oh excuse me it's KALI." Nowadays it's just my name, and also, I want to acknowledge that part of my culture. My mom is Indian so I think when people get my name wrong, I should correct them because it's part of my heritage and it's an important part of who I am.

When did you first start playing music?

I started playing music when I was about four or five, and I started with the piano. The piano is the center of music theory, and I'm so glad I learned it first because it set me up for success and gave me a good grounding to create music. After I learned piano, I picked up the guitar maybe two years later. Then I got involved in a lot of afterschool music programs and there was a need for a bass player. I picked up the bass really quickly and played the upright bass at school in the orchestra. Oh, and I always wanted to play drums, so I taught myself drums. I played more classical music and jazz and stuff in school, and outside of school it was a lot of rock music.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist/songwriter?

I'm not sure, because I tried writing music when I was ten or eleven, I would say, and it didn't go so well. I guess I just wasn't in the right frame of mind, but a year later when I was twelve it really clicked for me. I wrote on the acoustic guitar originally, taught myself how to use GarageBand, and made really horrible sounding demos. But what really created the spark for me was the combination of writing, production, and crafting songs. I think it's so interesting. It's like putting ingredients together.

What do you think it was that drew you to creating your own music?

Originally, I was drawn to music in general for the performance aspect, but when I started making music it was completely different. There is such a different feeling with something that you make and something that's entirely yours. You can do anything with it. It's infinite, it's so magical and enthralling, and that's what drew me to it. When I was younger, I didn't necessarily understand the fact that I was expressing myself in a creative way in terms of my emotions and how I felt, but then when I got to high school, I really started to express how I was feeling through music. I would have all these emotions building up inside of me as I went through life, going to school, and being a teenager. Creating music was like an emotional exhale for me and it's become an even bigger part of my life in that way. I needed to be able to express myself and have this outlet to move through life. It's so fun and there's so much unknown. There's so much I have to explore, and I guess that's what keeps me making music and enjoying it, the excitement and having so many possibilities.

If you could describe your music with three words, what would you say?

Drawn-out, layered, bouncy

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote? What is it about? Can I find it on the internet anywhere?

Oh God, I'm pretty sure you could find it. My mom just loves posting my videos on the Internet. I think there's a video of me when I was seven years old wearing a wife beater and playing a red miniature Stratocaster, and I'm just strumming these three chords. I even remember what key it was in, it was in D. But the first song with lyrics that I wrote was in the sixth grade, and I wrote a song for my mom for Mother's Day. It was about how much I appreciate her. I think it was called "She's My Mom" or something. I'm sure you could find it. It would take some digging.

Who are some current artists or songwriters you love or would like to work with?

Mk.gee, Billy Lemos, Adrianne Lenker, Q, Dijon, Porches, Phoebe Bridgers, Ethan Gruska, Beach House, Pharrell, Matt Maltese.

Who are your favorite all-time artists and biggest influences?

The Beatles, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, Elliott Smith, Mac DeMarco, Angel Olsen, Billie Holiday, The Strokes.

You just released your newest song, "Lucy," off the upcoming EP. What is the song about and who is Lucy?

I would say that Lucy represents this idea of not having a very clear picture of reality after becoming infatuated with someone; when your infatuation kind of covers up the parts that maybe aren't the best. I wrote "Lucy" when I was really involved with this girl and she wasn't out to her friends or her family. I was chasing after this person who was very closed off. So that's who this character Lucy is, someone that's figuring themselves out but hurting someone else at the same time because of it. It's not an ideal situation at all but I'm hoping it would be. There's a juxtaposition between the music and the lyrics because the song has this fun energy and this bubbly spirit to it, but when I think about the lyrics and what I was writing about it kind of brings this element of sadness to me.

What do you do when you're not playing or listening to music?

I mean if we weren't in quarantine I would probably be with my friends. We listen to music in the car and do a lot of aimless driving and screaming. My friends are really outgoing people and I have a lot of conversations with them, I do love talking with people. I go for walks. I read a lot nowadays, I watch movies. I live a very simple life I would say. I love spending time with my family. And I spend time with my dogs, I have a boxer and a mini pinscher.

What do you miss most during quarantine?

I mean I really miss shows. I think every artist is going to say this, but I really miss playing shows. It was such a big part of my life and such a huge part of my high school. Everyone went to shows, it was a huge event going to The Smell or this record store that got shut down called Time warp. Every Friday and Saturday we'd be at a show. The energy of playing to people my age was so crazy and is a feeling that I can't describe as other than enthralling. I really miss it and I don't know when it's coming back, it was so special. But I really miss being able to just call up a friend and go over to their house and be stupid with them. But yeah definitely shows above anything else.

What are you most excited about for 2021?

Well, this is going to sound like I'm a very promotional person, I'm not a very promotional person, but I'm so excited to get my music out because I have been sitting with it for so long. I am very new to releasing music, and it's really cool to see what people think of it because I never thought anyone would think of it in the first place. With the new year, I'm also really making an effort to read. I'm absorbing the world like a sponge. That's what I'm excited to do in 2021. And Joe Biden being president instead of Donald Trump of course.

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