Discovering KHAi – Behind the Strange[r]

We got acquainted with KHAi’s new music and asked the Singaporean singer-songwriter to tell us more about the journey behind his conceptual EP ‘Strange[r]’.

Released today (July 17), the new EP comes a month after his single ‘Wanderlust’. 

The song is a magical one. Listening to it almost felt like a journey – as though we were lightly ascending on a magical airship that dove through clouds, before the rolling emotions took their course and we’re caught in the storm. The instrumental layers seemed to twirl at our heartstrings in an endless cycle, as we glided further and fell faster with every heartbeat.

With the first track, ‘Strange’, and the final track ‘Stranger’, the new EP serves as a way for the music artist to shed light onto his own perspective of love – that it inevitably ends one way or another. It is KHAi’s own way of leaving a trail of unanswered questions behind, in hopes of self-discovery, self-love and acceptance. 

Says KHAi,

“I stand by the belief that we all need to learn how to embrace the pain that comes with a failed romantic relationship. This EP serves as a personal memo of tunes embodying the anxieties and excitements of falling in and out of love.”

Indeed, the new EP does feel like a journey that comes full circle.

We asked KHAi to tell us more about his new EP to discover its personal journey, and most importantly, the feelings, emotions, ideas and methodology that went into making it.

AL365: Hi KHAi, Vanessa here from AsiaLive365! Congrats on the new EP! We’ve listened to it and it feels very personal; almost like a journey that takes the listeners from that first song to the last, as it comes full circle. With the first three songs in the EP released as singles between 2018-2019, and the last three songs released now, tell us more about the transition of feelings, layers and colours that encompass within the journey of this new EP?

KHAi: Thank you so much, Vanessa. I’m glad that the EP made sense to you. To be very honest, I never intended for my EP to be released the way it did. Ideally, I wanted it all to be recorded within a time frame (preferably in a few months) and at the same studio to ensure the continuity of the production like most records. 

But when I had this EP idea back in 2015, I was still in school trying to figure out the music thing. (and learning how to sing, haha). I started doing gigs and playing these original songs over and over only to realise in late 2017 that I need to start putting out music. The excuse I gave myself back then was that it costs a lot financially to record an EP. So, I set a goal for myself to record and release my EP 1 song at a time. That was the best decision I’ve ever made.

If I went into the studio in 2017 to record all of these songs, you’d probably hear something completely different. With each release, I learned more about myself and what I thought my sound was. I gained new influences and I’ve made bolder decisions in my music.

You mentioned earlier that you felt like this EP took you on a journey, right? Well, it really was a journey. A long one. And I’m glad that it showed in the music.

AL365: You mentioned that ‘Wanderlust’ was home-produced. Was this because of Circuit Breaker (lockdown)?

Yeah it was, partly. But actually, ‘Wanderlust’ was the first song I went into the studio to record with even before my first single ‘Strange’. I had the song completed and mastered and kept it with the intention to only release ‘Wanderlust’ as the fourth single. But being the very first song I went in the studio with, It was hard to tell what direction I was going for musically. So, after releasing 3 songs, I felt like that version of ‘Wanderlust’ just didn’t fit in the picture at all. So, I made the difficult decision not to release that version and to do a new one as a home production to save cost.

AL365: Despite the “mistakes” that you said have made their way into the song, we found the rawness of it, beautiful. Being home-produced, what was it like writing and producing something so personal with the (recording, producing) limitations that you faced?

KHAi: The technical aspect of it all was very tough. I did the arrangement of the track and I had a friend that I worked very closely with as a co-producer and mixing engineer for this track. We weren’t only limited when it comes to equipment, but also communication because of Covid. We tried having many discussions about the mix over Zoom but for things like music, where soundwaves and reflections are involved, it’s difficult because we weren’t in the same room so we can’t really discuss frequencies in the mixing stage of the song. That part was the hardest.

But musically, I know exactly what I wanted with ‘Wanderlust’. It had to be something heavy but hopeful. It had to be chaotic but cohesive.

AL365: If you could pick a favourite song from the EP or a track from the EP that still pulls at your heartstrings, which one would it be and why?

KHAi: I’d say my favourite would be ‘Victoria’. It was the most thought-out song in my opinion. I felt like I really made the extra effort to have as much depth in my lyrics as possible within a few lines. I knew that I wanted to write a song about fate building around the idea of ‘the one that got away’. I was watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother and I got inspired by one of the characters – Barney Stinson. ‘Victoria’ is essentially a song written in his point of view when he realised that he fell in love with Robin. (Sorry for the spoiler, hahah).

It was the first time I tried writing a song with a narrative, and looking back, I don’t know how I did it. But I’m glad I tried.

AL365: Your Spotify profile mentions that you are inspired by the likes of Lewis Watson, Bruno Major, Nick Wilson and Damien Rice. All these artists have recently released a new album, song or cover song in the last few months – which one would you say is your favourite and why?

KHAi: I’d say Damien Rice’s take on ‘Chandelier’. I’ve been a fan of his much longer than I’ve been a fan of Bruno, Lewis and Nick. And to have Damien come back after years is just so exciting. Don’t take my word for it, but I sense that he’s going to drop some new music pretty soon and I can’t wait.

However, I still think it’s worth noting that Bruno, Nick and Lewis’ latest releases were really good. I know that they’re still up and coming artists but that’s the thing about them that inspires me.

I think it’s easy to idolise those who are already very established but for me it’s all about the process. I feel like It’s more inspiring to follow these artists and their climb to success. Don’t get me wrong, I do look up to the greats in the music world. But where I’m at right now, I deeply appreciate having an inside view of what the climb is like from following these artists.

AL365: We saw your recent Instagram posts which featured folks sharing and talking about their past break-ups. It felt like listening to a series of moving anecdotes from strangers who we suddenly somehow feel very connected to. What inspired that idea of such fragility?

KHAi: Personally, I wanted my music to be more than just releasing a song – especially for a song like ‘Wanderlust’. That song has been through so many versions before its release. Four versions and two unreleased music videos in fact hahah. I knew I had to do something special so that my listeners could have an idea of what that song actually meant to me. It was a break-up song on the surface. But more than anything, that song, to me, represents growth.

So I went back to the moment I wrote the song in 2015 when I just got broken with. And I started brainstorming how I would tell the story of my EP if I didn’t have music as my medium. And I found it. What better way to introduce Strange[R] than to have a group of strangers talking about their heartbreak. I loved that idea because I wanted to show that everyone deals with their heartbreak differently but the one thing that we can all agree on is that we need to talk about it.

AL365: Any last words you would like to add about the important message and emotions behind your new EP?

KHAi: My EP is built around my pessimistic belief that love has to end one way or another. Its tragic. But if there’s one thing I’d want people to take away from it, is that we still need to love regardless of how unfair it can be. We need love. We may fall and break our heart from time to time but that shouldn’t be the reason we stop loving.

AL365: Thanks KHAi and we hope to see you play your songs live soon!

Listen to KHAi’s new EP below!

Cover photo by: Andre Yeo





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