Kilo Kish On Making "New Tricks" With Vince Staples

The new song is about “exploring the structures we have to adhere to and the ever-growing need for content, relatability, and social presence."

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Since dropping her critically-acclaimed debut EP Homeschool in 2012, multidisciplinary artist and performer Kilo Kish has been working in multiple mediums and formats, teaming with everyone from Gorillaz to Childish Gambino with a focus on the existential, aesthetic and absurd.

Her visual art has been exhibited at places like The Getty Center, The Hammer Museum, the Museum of Image, and the iconic Los Angeles gallery HVW8 — and now, the artist is combining her many talents and skills with the announcement of sophomore LP American Gurl, for which she has created mixed media moving images to accompany each track.

American Gurl (out March 25th) features collaborations with Miguel, Jean Dawson, and longtime friend and collaborator Vince Staples (Kish has provided vocals on several Staples projects, including his celebrated Summertime ‘06). Now, Staples lends a hand on American Gurl track “New Tricks,” out today.

Kish says the new single “was inspired by the old quote warning never to bite the hand that feeds you. And though it provides, I feel yanked around by the players, trends, and expectations of our age and industry. Ever-wanting to bite, question, and change.”

Of American Gurl, Kish says, “It specifically speaks to others perceptions of you and trying to overcome my own history, black history, the need to be a success story, and an achiever. Trying to outrun it all with the weight of expectation on your shoulders, and the weight of where you ‘should’ be.”

Read on for a conversation with Kish about “New Tricks,” making art under restrictive systems, and how she maintains her own sense of identity in a digitized world hellbent on labeling.

What was the inspiration behind "New Tricks?"

I had previously written something titled "a scathing review, so how do you really feel?" in my notes app, and portions of this song are from this longer-form piece. Strangely, I wrote it the morning I heard of MF DOOM's passing, so I was very nostalgic for rap in general as an art form. When I choose to use it in a song now, it's a way for me to talk more freely. My collaborator and I were on a writing trip in the desert, and he started the bones of this track, and I reworked parts of it to fit. I've recently been more interested in cultural commentary through music, so I let loose my interpretation of the business landscape for working artists. It's exploring the structures we have to adhere to and the ever-growing need for "content," "relatability," and "social presence." It can be challenging for independent artists to keep up with these demands and constantly top yourself with the aesthetic quality of your work with little resources (and I'm an artist who is blessed to have at least some).

What does the title/phrase American Gurl mean to you?

It was really just an umbrella to create under. I knew I wanted to make an album around themes of personal freedom and explore the volatility and change that I was feeling at that stage of my life. I took inventory of the ideas and cultures that shaped me and wanted to see if I still agreed. When I wrote this album, I was frustrated and burnt out — I almost called the album American Gurl Detox because I felt it's what I needed. It’s labeling me as a product of my surroundings and what I've been taught to value. I see the US as this similarly confused and shifting character.

In a culture and industry that tries to impose limits on its creators, how do you maintain your own identity and artistic process?

For me, it's impossible not to, but it doesn't mean I haven't tried to fit in some of the time! When I was younger, I spent a lot of time fitting into spaces and at a certain point, I was alien to myself. Now I really qualify — is this something I want to do or something I think I have to do to be “successful”? So now I do more of what I really like. For my process — what I absolutely love is time to myself, to walk, reflect, and get inspiration. I also love to study and gather reference, so I work with my team differently than I used to. I do a lot of the creative myself, while I work I come up with more ideas, and I have all of my notifications turned off when I’m in the zone so that I don’t get distracted!

What would you say to other young artists currently working in this system?

Everyone views their artistic path differently. But for me, it's helpful to remember to take breaks from social media and to be in nature. Also, coming back often to why I started creating in the first place helps me to remember my purpose. It’s nice when I remember I can always be a kid with a fresh box of crayons and a white sheet of paper. Not getting bogged down in all the details and just being free to create.

American Gurl is out March 25, 2022.

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