Herb Sundays 73: Okay Kaya
The polymath musician with a tender trove of deep cuts, a mixtape that could turn you into something else.
Herb Sundays 73: Okay Kaya (Apple, Spotify, Tidal). Art by Michael Cina.
Kaya's words for this playlist:
Some eyes porcelained
Looking towards the up and up
It’s not just breath
That leaves tasty on my tongue
I exhale you hide
This veils the world around me
A yellow dash a dollop
How sweet and hollow longing
And then the next day and then the next a new day you’re back again singing
Rays cloaked in D major
Until the ground move makes the bugs crawl change in doom
Kaya Wilkins is a Norwegian-American Berlin-based musician, composer, and artist who records and performs as Okay Kaya (apple, spotify, bandcamp). Her most recent album, 2022’s SAP (entirely written, performed, engineered, and produced by Wilkins) includes guests such as Nick Hakim, Adam, Green, LEYA, Deem Spencer, and friend-of-the-Herb, Starchild. She’s released albums at a steady clip since 2018’s Both as well as working with artists such as Onyx Collective, Anne Imhof, Porches, King Krule, and L’Rain (Herb 18).
Wilkins has exhibited work at Melk in Oslo (2022), Entrance in New York (2022), K4 gallery in Oslo (2021), and at a solo exhibition titled SANDPLAY at Etage Projects in Copenhagen (2021). She premiered a series of performances at MUNCH in Oslo as part of their new live program (2021) and at the Musee d’Orsay (2022) and has toured extensively around the world for over a decade now, with a US tour coming up this spring (dates below).
Kaya’s work walks that line between dreamy and brutal but never shies away from directness or hides completely behind metaphor. The music is romantic, but with a sense of despair around the corner (a press release describes her as “Sade for nihilists”).
She told Document Journal:
“I think the topics that I write about are not completely positive,” Kaya says. “It’s about me trying to deal with things.” At the same time, she says, “I like to explore what pop music can be. And I think I want to explore honesty in a way that might become witty. It’s just about trying to make it beautiful.”
I like Kaya’s music most when it feels almost sardonic, something akin to The Radio Dept. or like a canny AI trained on the corpus of Townes Van Zandt. 2022’s "Jazzercize" belongs in the club of sardonic self-help tunes alongside HTRK’s (see Herb 30) profound “The Body You Deserve” or Will Powers’ (the 80’s music alias for photographer Lynn Goldsmith) “Adventures In Success” which has a peppy recipe for success, but feels like HAL trying to talk itself into something after watching an infomercial:
Have you tried jazzercising your nerves away?
Spandex, Lycra, every single day
Polymer-amorous, second layer of skin
Lay there touching it, exalted
Spread your fingers and wiggle them
Did you know
Without the ego
There is no narrative?
Just being here or having been
In 20 years, I presume her work will be a good touch point for the moment we are currently living in. Its alive to every smile, but with something stalking our every move. She’s cool in that very real way, and very much online it seems, whether making a music video with Pokémon Go, using DALL-E for one, or showing up on the soundtrack of Hideo Kojima 2019’s Death Stranding video game. Like fellow polymath Martine Syms (Herb 68), she shares her experiences in mental health, sex, and love very candidly but never loses her detached eye.
For example, ever disassociating to find truth, she channels an IV-fed ketamine treatment for depression on “Inside Of A Plum” where she cooly mimes, “even my subconscious is self-conscious.”
“The doctor said ketamine treatment could interrupt behavioral patterns by growing new literal physical branches in your brain, providing cognitive flexibility,” says the artist. “My doctor described the brain as a snow globe and the treatment as a fresh layer of snow enabling new slopes. Mood-riding.”
Her visual works with artist Austin Lee share the same sunny/dark/sunny disposition, and you feel refreshed, though momentarily squished in the process.
The relatability and self-awareness can be rich (calling songs “Comic Sans”, etc.) but should you think she’s just having a laugh, there’s a lot of tenderness there. Her Herb playlist reinforces this, as it’s shockingly heartfelt. Its arrival made me imagine a scenario where your high school buddy (same-sex, otherwise…) and you decide to share mixtapes, and theirs is so shockingly out of sight that you fall headfirst into a psychic crush with them. They’re just someone who just sees and hears things differently and you want to know more.
You peer at the mixtape in their tiny scrawl and don’t recognize the artist names at first, but by the time you’re annihilated by (her former labelmate) Jenny Hval at track 5, you’re regretting ever making a mix for them, as yours is full of hackneyed stuff from the radio, and theirs is from some imaginary movie you’ve never seen. You’ve been cast into the deep end of a new blue world, forever knowing there’s another layer to this plane.
From the field.
Berlin’s stalwart vinyl shop Hardwax (more on Berlin in Herb next week) won an oral history via 032c this week and has been sharing their new release email digest in an appealing new video series that makes you feel like you’re at the controls of a clean rotary mixer set-up. VR be damned!
…same girl, same.
Okay Kaya US Tour dates:
Monday 24 April – Polaris Hall – Portland, OR
Tuesday 25 April – The Crocodile Showroom – Seattle, WA
Thursday 27 April – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
Friday 28 April – The Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
Saturday 29 April – Constellation Room – Santa Ana, CA
Tuesday 2 May – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
Wednesday 3 May – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL [Second Show]
Thursday 4 May – Velvet Underground – Toronto, ON
Saturday 6 May – The Howard – Washington, DC
Tuesday 9 May – Elsewhere: The Hall (In the Round) – Brooklyn, NY
Tuesday 9 May – Elsewhere: The Hall (In the Round) – Brooklyn, NY [Second Show]
Thanks for reading Herb Sundays.