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Unknown Unknowingness: The Electro-Soul of Chakra Khan

Alexandra Love and DiViNCi have been making music together for over a decade now. After numerous albums as half of hip hop quartet Solillaquists of Sound, last year the two released their first album, Love Is At The Core, under a new banner, Chakra Khan. This explosion of electro-soul was quickly followed up by The Cope Aesthetic, released earlier this year. The three of us met via computer screen to dive into this mysterious project. Enjoy.

Upcoming Events:

August 14: Chakra Khan w/ Emily Fontano @ Timucua Arts White House

matthew warhol: I know the two of you have been working together for very long time in Solillaquists of Sound, but coming together for Chakra Khan, how did that come about?

Alexandra Love: We’ve been talking about doing something together like since we started. De, I think the first thing we did together was we made an album just you and I.

DiViNCi: Yeah, that’s actually how we met, through Swam. Swam and Alex came down to visit. When she was living in Chicago and came to Orlando, her and I made an album the week she was here.

Alexandra Love: And then, we’ve just been talking about trying to do something—not like that album again, but just something the two of us.

DiViNCi: Yeah because, on each Solillaquists album, we would do a song where it was just her and me. There was Beautiful Catastrophe.” There was “The Curse.” And we’ve always said, “We need to make an album of this stuff, stuff like that this.” And then when it came time to do Chakra Khan—it wasn’t even called Chakra Kahn—it was just a show. When we when we went to prepare for the show, we made a bunch of material for the show. Those songs kind of kick-started the idea of like, “We can just make this into an album, now.” And at that show, Alex was like on stage and she said, “We’re going to call ourselves Chakra Khan.”

[laughs]

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matthew warhol: Did you know about the name before she said it?

DiViNCi: Right before we went stage she mentioned something about it. I thought she was joking a little bit at first, but then when she said on stage I was like, Well that’s it.”

matthew warhol: Having worked together in the past on these one-off songs, was that kind of the basis for writing new material, or were you trying to do something completely different?

Alexandra Love: It was kind of like that, but we have developed a sort of way of making music that’s not really forced. So it was just kind of what happened in the moment, kind of combination of the past and future.

DiViNCi: If you listen to the stuff that was just her and I on the Solillaquists albums, it all sounds like it could have been on the same album. We have different tastes, but when it comes time to make something for either one of them, it’s like the stuff that we overlap on. So if like I’m gonna making something for Swam, it’s going to be a lot more in the hip hop realm. But when I make stuff with Alex, it’s going to be a lot more etherial or ambient or soulful. At the time when we’re making this stuff for the Chaka Khan album, I finally found a pocket of music that combined a little bit of a hard element with that. I was exploring and it kind of became the sound of that album and a template for the future stuff.

matthew warhol: When you were working on the album, is it a completely collaborative thing where you’re in a studio together or is it sending ideas back and forth?

Alexandra Love: It’s back and forth.

DiViNCi: But we live together, so there’s that. So when you say we’re in the studio, you know we’re in our separate studios.

matthew warhol: Wait, so you’re in the same house right now?

Alexandra Love: Yeah!

[laughs]

DiViNCi: I’m downstairs, the air conditioning is broken so I’m not working in my studio.

Alexandra Love: I’m upstairs because I like my cave.

matthew warhol: That’s funny. So where does that start? Is it always one person having a thing and sharing it with the other? Where are those sparks coming from?

Alexandra Love: It’s really random and based on inspiration. So it could be I have an idea for song and I just record it to a click track, and then I give it to him, or he has stem of something and he gives it to me and I write to it. It’s just kind of always whatever it is, that sounds so lame but thats just what it is.

matthew warhol: With the most recent project, how was it different than the one you put out before? Was there a reason for the quick turn around?

DiViNCi: We only took a couple of weeks off between finishing the first record and starting the second. We’re pretty much doing same thing again. I think it’s pretty much separated by a couple of days a year apart, the first and second album. And when we were finishing up production for the second album, I was already putting stuff in our Dropbox folder for potential stuff for the new album.

Alexandra Love: It’s like it’s part of the same expression just because we’re always expressing where we are in our lives, but it’s a different part of the same expression. If the first record was one place then this new one would be like the bridge that’s leading to the next place.

DiViNCi: While there was very little time in between them, each definitely captured a moment productivity together—like and where we are at. And the second one totally has its own sound. They’re slightly different from each other but they live in the same universe.

matthew warhol: Could you put those differences in words… or even feelings?

Alexandra Love: For me, Love Is At The Core is about being in this new comfortable place of like awareness and self-expression. And then The Cope Aesthetic is more about venturing out of our comfort zones and how learning to cope with things can have a beauty to it. But it’s also got more tension to it. So Love Is At The Core is definitely more subtle, andThe Cope Aesthetic is sort of reaching into this new place and trying to illustrate the beauty in our journey.

DiViNCi: Sonically they differ a little too. Love Is At The Core there’s a little bit more electronic elements and, dare I say, a little bit more trap elements. Then The Cope Aesthetic its a lot more jazzy. It’s Jazz, but it has a mature sound to it too that we both didn’t purposely engineer.

matthew warhol: With those kind of more, for lack of a better term, natural elements, Alex, for you writing on top of that does it pull different emotions out of you?

Alexandra Love: Yeah, for some of them it was like just a piano or just a loop of piano for five minutes. And I record to it and then I give it back to him and then he would engineer around it. It’s a beautifully independent comma co-creative process.

DiViNCi: That process was something we did for both albums. The song “Love Is At The Core” is literally a two bar piano loop that I made in 2011. She heard it, and I always liked it just the way it was, and when she heard it, she said, “Ooo, I really like that.” But if I showed that to anybody else they would be like, “Are you going to do anything else to it?” She wanted it just like that. And when she recorded to it, exactly as you hear her vocals on there, it’s exactly how she recorded to the track when it was just the piano loop. And I took that and put drums to it, put bass to it, put everything around it. I like that process so much because I always felt compelled to get an idea out and just stop. That’s how I would describe the consistent approach to this material, get the things that feel like the embodiment of the mood.

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matthew warhol: Alex, when you’re writing over the instrumentals, are you sitting down with a pen and paper or is it off the top?

Alexandra Love: It’s so interesting because I don’t feel like I’m actually answering your questions, because I’m saying it’s everything for everything.

[laughs]

matthew warhol: I don’t know if that means I’m good or I’m bad.

Alexandra Love: I think that means you’re spectacular.

matthew warhol: I hope.

Alexandra Love: It just depends on what I feel in the moment. What I learned about myself is that when I try it one way, it doesn’t work all the time. But if I stay open, it always works out.

DiViNCi: I have a question actually? Are there any particular songs that you remember having a certain process that kind of stood out to you?

Alexandra Love: Yeah, “Bravery Today” and “Stay” and “Notice” are all freestyled.

[matthew and D together] Wow…

DiViNCi: Lyrics too?

Alexandra Love: Yeah, oh yeah, everything.

DiViNCi: So kind of like Wu Tang and Jay Z?

Alexandra Love: I don’t know about Wu Tang.

DiViNCi: No, I know RZA would go into the studio and freestyle and just stop when it fell off. Then he’d come back to it.

Alexandra Love: For those songs, I freestyle the whole thing at once and went back and recorded it in a way that was the same, but sounded cleaner.

DiViNCi: That’s really cool.

matthew warhol: Have you always been able to do that?

Alexandra Love: Yeah, I’ve always been able to do that. For me, when I tune into an emotion it’s easy for me to express the perimeters of it. Not easy, but it’s natural.

matthew warhol: I always thought, especially when it comes to singing, it always reminds me to painterly expression. Impressionistic painters painted Ala Prima where it’s just them in the moment. Nothing is planned. They’re capturing the light at one specific moment.

Alexandra Love: Yeah, and what’s so beautiful about the music that De gave me for this album; it made that easy.

DiViNCi: It’s cool to hear you say that, because a lot of that music was made in the same way. A lot of that stuff is stream of consciousness music writing. I did this talk in Berlin last year about submitting to your body, surrendering to your body, as apposed to thinking about it. This is a practice I’ve been trying to get better at. That’s what I’ve learned from performing, my best stuff comes out when I’m losing myself.

Alexandra Love: I think all of life is better when we do that.

DiViNCi: I’ve been talking about this a lot lately. Even people who are atheists, they don’t have to believe in a greater power. You can just believe in something bigger than yourself. A lot of people think of their mind as themselves, but you have to think bigger. And your body is bigger.

Alexandra Love: Even if it’s just your future self. Our future selves our bigger than our present selves.

matthew warhol: I think it’s really cool that we’re getting into this high level, spiritual talk because I get a lot of that from your music. Is this how you guys talk when it’s just the two of you?

[laughs]

Alexandra Love: Totally!

matthew warhol: I love that.

DiViNCi: I guess a lot of people don’t talk about it to much, but it’s our career to address these things and wield them.

matthew warhol: And to me, that’s a good conversation, that’s a good painting, that’s a good piece of music, something where you can get beyond superficial. Talking about the next project, what’s the next place? What’s shape is it taking at this current time?

Alexandra Love: It’s developing, for me anyway, into… If The Cope Aesthetic was about how we deal with things and the beauty that can come when being in the moment and dealing with shit, then this is about arriving in a new place and exploring it.

DiViNCi: Well that’s cool to hear you say that. It’s always funny—us working together for so long and becoming in tune with our relationship with each other and what “us” is—it’s so easy for us to hear the intention in each other’s music. We don’t have to speak about it. This is the most Alex and I have talked about these projects. [laughs] We don’t plan it out, so much as we’ve been planning it out for 15 years. It’s cool to hear us being charged with the task of putting words to these things.

Alexandra Love: So thank you for asking the questions because it makes a huge difference.

matthew warhol: Aww…

DiViNCi: Or, no thank you, and you just ruined everything.

[laughs]

matthew warhol: You’ll never write a song together ever again.

[laughs]

Alexandra Love: No, it’s a great thing.

DiViNCi: Finding a new place is cool because, sonically, the more albums a project put out, the more I feel free to explore new territory. The way I always think about producing albums, I think about the story a catalog tells of an artist or group. I think the new music—again, very beginning stages—is that much more of a departure, dare I say, weirder.

August 14: Chakra Khan w/ Emily Fontano @ Timucua Arts White House

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