Randomly stumbling upon the music video for KISSEY’s “Unplug” one afternoon, I was immediately struck by how different it resonated in contrast to the sounds of pop and rap’s usual suspects. A downtempo trip-hop beat drifted in my headphones, and a woman wearing an eye-catching suit glided across my screen with some killer dance moves. The deranged bass hook got stuck in my head for days.
This mysterious, stylish talent is a Swedish New Yorker who’s been obsessed with dance music and R&B since her teenage years. After learning the DJ ropes years ago and securing a residency at New York’s Milk, KISSEY's expanded her craft, remixing other producer’s tracks, scoring the runways of Rad Hourani and Givenchy, and writing original productions like “Forget,” appearing on the Dear White People soundtrack.
The track that got me hooked, “Unplug,” is off her new Unplug the Delusional Monkey EP, which lands June 30 on Fool’s Gold Records. A rarity in pop music, KISSEY’s music is accessible while not really sounding like anything else out there at the moment. It’s refreshing but is not afraid to embrace a bit of darkness.
Before you unplug the delusional monkey when her EP officially drops tomorrow, get acquainted with New York’s best kept musical secret below.
What tracks were you spinning when you first started DJing?
I started spinning house and R&B. I was taught how to DJ from house producers, so it was mostly house music in the beginning. But then sometimes people can get a little tired of hearing the same four-four beats all the time, so if you throw a little R&B in there as well, it gives people a little breather. That's the way I was DJing then when I learned how to spin. That was my introduction to house music in general, which was eye opening for sure.
What else were you listening to back then?
I was listening to D’Angelo's two albums a lot. I remember listening to them a lot and then also Amel Larrieux and her debut album called Infinite Possibilities. I would listen to that album so much it was crazy. The Fugees' The Score was another big one. I was also listening to a bunch of Swedish acts that were more indie pop. Like Kent - they would write these intense songs that would have weird titles like “Jam” or “Porridge.” I was listening to some American R&B hip-hop, but more toward the R&B end of it, as well as the house music that I was learning about - from the more commercial Stardust and Daft Punk and that kind of stuff to Mr. Fingers and other Chicago house, with jazz on top of all that.
Your new EP is called 'Unplug the Delusional Monkey.' Can you describe the concept of the delusional monkey?
I've been in a long meditation phase and in some forms of meditation they talk a lot about the monkey brain, the primal brain. When writing the EP, I felt like there were certain aspects of being human that I wanted to to address, and I felt like the monkey brain, the ego, the thing that holds our identity, runs the ship for a lot of us. It kind of does its own thing and it's often delusional. I was sitting with the producers Sean C and LV trying to figure out a name for the EP. That title resonated with me and with the energy of the project. I wanted to talk about my delusional monkey and see where that would take me.
If 'Unplug the Delusional Monkey' were a painting, who would paint it?
I feel like it's a Pollock and Monet combined - it has the softness and abstractness of a Monet in the period when his eyes started seeing colors in a different way, but it also has the direct, intentional wildness of a Pollock canvas.
Were you listening to a lot of music when you were writing and recording the EP?
Actually, I stopped myself from listening to anything. In the buildup, I was listening to a lot of different kinds of music. My brain was kind of just like collecting different musical information. As soon as we started writing it, I didn't listen to or watch anything. I just didn't want to be influenced by anything else then what wanted to come up from within me.
How has New York influenced your creative process?
The clashes of people and the clashes of cultures have assisted me in learning the openness you have to be a part of in New York. You’re always meeting people who are different than you. You always have to find a way to exist in it and also find a way to be yourself. In Stockholm, I thought I was artsy, then I came to New York and was like, “there's a bunch of artsy people everywhere!” It really forced me to start looking myself and ask. “what does it mean to be me?” I actually started meditating more when I moved here, which has helped me a lot. The energy is so much more magnified and intense here. In Sweden, there are forests and lakes nearby and you can chill. But here, I had to actively meditate to stay sane.
How do you unplug? Do you have a favourite place to escape the grind?
I have all my tricks to unplugging. Sometimes I just close my eyes and I breathe a couple of times, even if I’m in the middle of a conversation. It centers me. Dancing also helps me to unplug, so does writing music. I really enjoy going to Central Park and Upstate New York, when I really want to unplug from the city. Going to the library is great, too. There's just a nice equality about libraries, there's everyone from kids to senior citizens to students, it’s a nice environment. I grab whatever book I feel attracted to and then I just sit there and read it for a little while.
How do you plug back in and regain your focus?
For me, it’s almost about unplugging even more. In New York, there’s so much stuff going on all the time, and when I first moved here my productivity went down. I felt like I had certain social obligations. I found the more that I was like, "Don't listen to other music," or "Don't watch other things," and, "Don't go to other shows," for a specific time period, if I really need to complete something, that is the most helpful tool for me. I think it's important for us to allow ourselves to be in creative bubble when you really need to finish something. You can always re enter the world after, once you feel like you're done with it. Missing out on certain things has been helpful.
What was your last great dance floor moment?
I always enjoy DJing in the Milk Jam Room - I always have an incredibly fun time. I can play a little bit of everything there. I love surprising an audience with a track that might be unexpected but totally works. It’s so much fun having a nice dialog with dancers, and it happens a lot in that room when I DJ there for my residency.
Who did you work with on the album?
I worked on the production together with Sean C and LV. A-Trak also gave me a lot of feedback The engineers that mixed down the record were also a huge part of how the EP turned out. There were also some musicians that contributed as well. It wasn't a huge team, but it was a really nice team!
Now that your EP is out in the world, what’s been inspiring you lately?
If feel kind of like a kid absorbing everything. I just like seeing people who are doing their thing, whether it’s music, or a movement they’re creating, or coming up with new technology. I really like seeing that there's new stuff happening. I find that the most inspiring thing. I am also super inspired by the Grand Canyon. Looking at nature and observing what it does even looking at a little seed, is impressive. I have a couple of plants at home and you see how they grow ... it's just like, "Whoa!" I'm really inspired by the newness of humans and nature, I think it’s really cool.
KISSEY's debut EP Unplug the Delusional Monkey is out Friday, June 30 on Fool's Gold Records.
For more of our interviews, check out our conversation with Vince Staples right here, where he talks up his new album 'Big Fish Theory,' not being famous, and much more.