Q&A: San Francisco Local Singer Kai Straw

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Local San Francisco Indie singer Kai Straw is back with a vengeance with the release of a brand new LP entitled, Gun. Having already racked up six million streams on Spotify alone and raked in a #1 Hypem spot with “The Recipe” off Gun, the album is an interesting blend of various musical genres including pop, R&B, soul and more.

We wanted to learn more about this local cat so we reached out to ask him what he draws inspiration from, where he likes to hang out in the city, and what he thinks of people who say that the music scene in San Francisco is dead.

I know most artists hate being labeled, but how would you describe your music?

I don’t mind being labeled.  It’s interesting. I’m inspired by so many genres; it’s fun to hear what anyone perceives as bleeding through the most.  I think of that Mark Twain quote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”  I hear all of my influences when I listen to my music, like some Picasso painting with too many faces.

What inspires you to write?

It’s like a compulsion.  I don’t sit around and wait for inspiration.  I experience a constant, desperate need to create.  When I’m doing anything else, there’s this gnawing in my gut; it feels like guilt, and it only goes away when I’m back at my desk, at home, making something new.

You just came out with a new Album entitled GUN. What’s the meaning behind the title?

Any time I imagine this album manifesting physically, I imagine it taking the form of a gun.  It’s heavily influenced by the want for more, by anxiety-fueled ambition, insecure aspiration.  Every song, really, revolves around someone wanting something they perceive themselves as not having.  I can’t even listen to it. I’m happy I made it; I feel like I shed some skin. But I can’t listen to it.

Kai Straw “Gun”

Can you describe the recording process for it?

I wake up at 5 AM every day to make time for music.  I record alone. Walking back and forth from recording booth to computer, recording booth to the computer.  Mumbling melodies. Singing nonsense until I’m struck with something resonant. Often while I’m improvising melodies, which must sound like hearing someone singing in tongues, a word or a line will come out of my mouth in English, and that’ll usually be my lyrical starting point.

Any interesting collaborations?

The whole album is a collaboration with one of my producers, James The Bear.  We’ve been collaborating for several years at this point. Creatively, he’s been the bologna to my wonderbread.  ZayVsThem, the rapper featured on the second verse in ‘Back From The Crypt’, is from Fairfield, CA; I was raised there and produced for the local hip-hop scene.  If we were the same age, I would have produced for him. That feature was a nod to the womb I pulled myself out of. Lastly, Shokace is the producer behind ‘Supernova’.  We’re working on more music together. Creatively, I think he’ll be the powdered sugar to my french toast.

We were thrilled to hear you’re from San Francisco. What are some of your favorite hangouts?

I work a whole lot.  My favorite hang out is probably on the bus.  Catch me on the 36, 43, 44, J through T, with my nose in a book.  I work for a nightclub in the city as well. If you were to visit all of them on a Friday night, you’d find me standing in front of one in an all-black suit, Red Bull in-hand.

What’s your take on the dying music scene in the Bay Area (club/rehearsal studio closures etc.)?

I don’t think the music scene is dying in the Bay Area.  G-Eazy is from Oakland; he’s one of the biggest artists in the world.  SOB x RBE were just featured on the Black Panther soundtrack. I throw a weekly EDM event in the city – we feature a bunch of talented kids, producers, all obsessed with music.  If someone’s waiting outside some dive bar hoping for The Doors to come back from the dead and revive the music scene that once was, they’re going to be standing there missing all the masterpieces born from artists’ bedrooms.  When cavemen stopped banging rocks together to make music, abandoned for drums and stringed guitars, there was, no doubt, some guy left behind feeling bad for the rocks.

What’s one thing that many people would be surprised to find out about you?

I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs.  There’s an association people have with artistry and substance abuse; like to be a serious artist, you’ve got to have an armful of heroin.  That’s false. If you’re reading this and you’re an artist, you don’t need to be an addict. Quit all that. Your head will clear. You’ll be happier.

What’s next for Kai Straw?

Musically, I’d like to release a music video in the near future, maybe two – a handful of singles as well.  Maybe an EP. Personally, I’m looking to fill each day with more joy than I experienced in the one I left behind. I feel good about the future.  There was a time in my life when I couldn’t say that, when I hated myself. I felt like the shadow of the man I should’ve been. Life felt like a burden.  I don’t feel that way anymore. And having experienced darkness that deep, I’m unquantifiably grateful to exist on the opposite end of the spectrum.

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An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.