By Jordan Reisman
Photo from Kai Brown’s Facebook Page.
Everyone likes an origin story. However, the cliché of the struggling suburban band who moves from their parent’s garage to the big city scenes of Austin, Los Angeles, or New York has gotten a little tired. But have you heard the one with the Australian singer-songwriter who decides to give up everything he owns in Sydney to play music in the United States? Didn’t think so. Meet Kai Brown. Reading through his bio could bring a tear to any jaded Pitchfork devotee if only because he’s so damn passionate about the music he makes and the life he lives. Though Kai Brown doesn’t just have the “tour de force” wayward traveler story to stand behind, he actually has the chops to back it up.
If you’re determined to move all the way across the planet and make a career playing music, you better be prepared to give up a few comforts. Case in point, Brown lives in a 1972 Airstream trailer. Unable to completely abandon his beachside Aussie lifestyle, he eventually found himself in Venice, CA, the Mecca of surf culture. He released his first album, Better Now, in 2005 shortly after moving to the US. He toured the States hard from playing coffee shops to sharing the same bill as Grammy award-winning musicians. Allmusic writes that Better Now “takes most of its cues from the early-’70s version of power pop, with strong echoes of the Raspberries and Badfinger, but Brown is no mere revivalist.” Though he is pegged as a man of the past they say that he “would sound right at home on the radio next to Maroon 5.”
2009 saw the release of Brown’s second album, Share, with heavy touring but 2012 was the year he and his fan base both proved themselves. Kai released an EP entitled LALA Vol. 1 and all throughout the wake of its release, he reached out to his fans through the website PledgeMusic, similar to Kickstarter but centered around funding music. The deal was that he would release LALA Vol. 1 but he would need financial help from his fans to release Vol. 2. The fans who helped pledge would receive Vol. 1 as a gift from him. Vol. 2 still has not been released yet but all of the $5,000 needed to record it has been pledged. Kai said about this process on his PledgeMusic page, “The internet has been the best thing that could have happened to independent artists such as myself. I feel really fortunate to be able to have a dialogue with people via the Internet.” Crowdfunding for creating albums or tours has had its fair share of criticism, but like Kai’s whole appeal, the things he gives back to his fans are as genuine as they come. Some of these givebacks include guitar lessons, a house show, and the chance to hang out with him as he records LALA Vol. 2.
Giving fans guitar lessons and spirited YouTube updates are all well and good but what matters most about LALA Vol 1. is the music. The record’s first track “Free (Silver Lady)” is the perfect road trip song, with Brown likening his ’72 Airstream to a woman that he travels around the country playing music with. It can be hard finding that kind of youthful reckless abandon in New York because we just aren’t as sun-kissed. All too often, a deficiency in vitamin D dictates the mood of the music. Another standout cut is the duet between Kai and Costa Rican singer Debi Nova “Take Me To Your Heart”. The musical chemistry between the two is palpable and the harmonies they create together are nothing short of magical. He talks about their collaboration, “Working with Debi on this song was one of the highlights of my career. We both share so many of the same interests like surfing, yoga & the laid back beach lifestyle – a cultural alignment which is common to the Aussie & the Costa Rican lifestyle. With the connection we made and all that we had in common, it was totally natural that we should write & sing together.” Kai Brown can make any staunchly heterosexual aggro-bro reexamine his life just by dwelling on Kai’s beach boy romance for ten seconds.
One aspect of Kai Brown’s persona is his spirituality. Being from Australia, he grew up in a surfing environment and now that he lives in Venice, CA he also gets to be around the water. Other than surfing, he cites yoga as a way to keep him grounded.
He told the blog On Abbot Kinney, “I do a lot of yoga. In this business there are a lot of highs and lows and I have learned to keep an even keel with everything that comes my way. I think that happens out of practice, I love the word practice because it means you’re never going to master it. I think about music that way, art, surfing, and my spiritual life, really all these things I want to get better at, I know that practice is the crucial element.”
He combines his yogi life with his music life whenever he can by performing regularly at yoga studios in Los Angeles. In December he did a short stint of shows at Exhale Yoga in New York City as well. This is unsurprising as his music calms the listener, and it only seems natural that one could listen to it while in the warrior pose. BTR had a chance to speak with Kai in the few moments he spends off the yoga mat and away from his guitar.
BTR: What made you decide to move from your hometown of Sydney to play music in the United States? What did the US have that Australia was lacking?
Kai Brown: It was a simple choice of population ratio & opportunities. Australia is the most amazing place to live, but for someone trying to make a living out of playing music there simply isn’t a sustainable pathway to make it a full time thing. I always dreamed about getting up everyday to create songs, collaborate with other artists and tour solidly. The US has been able to provide all of that for me.
BTR: After years of touring the States, do you now identify as an American or as an Australian abroad?
Kai Brown: I’m always an Ozzie at heart. It’s where I grew up & it’s home. I love my country and our culture. In saying that, I have felt humbled by the welcome & support I have received from the people in America. You need to be able to adapt and fit in where necessary and I feel grateful for the people in my life here in the US that have taught me the things I needed to learn to survive and thrive in the American culture.
BTR: Your records have seen popularity in various yoga communities in New York and Los Angeles. What do you find appealing about playing in yoga studios? Do you prefer that environment to a rock club?
Kai Brown: Yeah. I’m really grateful that the yoga community around LA and NYC has embraced my music. I regard yoga as very important part of my life, and it’s been a pleasure to be able to align my music with that community. As much as I love that side of what I do, there’s nothing like getting on stage and jamming with a full house that wants to dance and have a good time. The energy at my last few club shows has been electric.
BTR: Your music seems to have a very spiritual aspect in the ways you view surfing, music, and yoga. Is there also an element of religion in this or do you consider your music to be secular?
Kai Brown: I’m definitely a very spiritual person. As far as my songs go, I try to give my stories a broad landscape from which people may take their own meaning. My goal is to connect with people, and help people connect with each other, regardless of their spiritual or religious beliefs.
BTR: What would you like a new Kai Brown fan to take away with them after one of your shows?
Kai Brown: Hopefully a feeling of connection. I work hard to make sure my shows feel like a community event. I feel like the folks who come out to listen to my music could all be friends. If my music touches people’s emotions, and brings people together, I feel like I’m doing my job.
BTR: How did Venice become your home in the States? What led you to that area?
Kai Brown: I was looking for a place in Los Angeles around 2009 and I wanted to find a town that had a supportive art community close to the ocean. I wanted to meet like-minded people and I feel like I’ve really found that in Venice. It’s such a wonderfully vibrant community – full of people who are following their passion. I feel very fortunate to be apart of it.
BTR: If you could say anything to your high school self, what would it be?
Kai Brown: Don’t believe the negative energy portrayed by some people will shape the way your life and future are going to be. The world is a hopeful and wonderful place. You need to know this.
BTR: What is it like to have the same name of a football player as well as a minister from New Jersey?
Kai Brown: HA! Maybe I could trade places with the footballer for a game? I loved playing footy back in the day!
BTR: Your upcoming album, LALA Vol. 2, was completely crowd-funded by your fans. What are your feelings on this method of funding a record when there are more old-school critics who think that it is taking the easy way out?
Kai Brown: Well, I have to say there was nothing easy about funding your own record. I worked my ass off! I played 30 shows in a month, was on online everyday sending emails, social media, texts and just trying to share my story with people. The difference in my campaign was that I wasn’t just asking for money, I was also offering something in return (LALA Vol. 1) I never felt totally comfortable about asking people for something without giving something back. The idea seemed to resonate. I funded the album in one month. I’m really excited to release the new project in the US this summer.