From making YouTube covers in her bedroom to collaborating with producers around the world, Kayan pushes the limits of what is possible. Ambika Nayak who goes by the stage name Kayan is a Mumbai-based musician known for her ethereal sound. She is a multi-talented singer, producer-DJ, model, actor, and voiceover artist. Kayan is an artist who continues to grow by experimenting and exploring different sounds but ultimately sticks to the core of who she is. Continue reading to learn about this incredible artist’s journey or listen to the interview by clicking here.
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Let’s start at the beginning of your musical journey. Who were some artists who inspired you and how did they impact the way you create music from style, cadence, and overall lyricism.
Okay, so I think throughout my musical journey, I have listened to a lot of different kinds of music. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of pop because it was so easily available and all over TV all the time. But I was also introduced to punk music, so I used to listen to a lot of new-age punk music. I had my phases, you know, with different kinds of music. And as I grew up, I got introduced to a lot, a whole new world of electronic music. And then when I mean when I joined music school, I was introduced to a soul and R&B and funk and hip hop, which honestly, really, really struck a chord with me. And since I DJ and I also write my own music, the kind of music I listen to ranges from like, really wild electronic music, like a lot of hard-based music, electro ghetto tech, house music too, like I said, a lot of soul and funk and r&b and dancehall and Afro beats, you know, so it’s, it’s, it’s literally all of this, that somehow has had, you know, their own impact on the way I write my music. I don’t think I can specify that I take lyricism from this sort of particular artist, or you know, how my style is from a particular artist. I think it’s the fact that there has been so much music that has surrounded me, gives me an idea of my own style, because I’ve kind of heard things and I have understood what I like and what I don’t like. And I think that has definitely helped shape the way I write, listening to a lot of music, and also covering a lot of music.
Musicians often practice their chops by covering other artists or making up their own lyrics over instrumentals. What specific tracks or instrumentals did you practice over?
What I actually used to do a lot was covering other artists so I have covered a lot of Jorja Smith a lot of said the syd the kid sometimes Tyler the Creator was like you know this space of r&b, Soul alternative R&B or whatever you’d like to call it. You know, I think covering a lot of this music helped me kind of realize what I like. And I don’t think I’d ever really practice over the instrumentals of these songs. Obviously, I’ve sung you know, like my cover was to the song instrumentals, but I found the whole world of beats on YouTube. And that’s literally how my song cool kids came about. I was just going through random beats on YouTube, I found this amazing producer and I found this beat and I remember just freestyling over it. And I had kind of written a hook and I just put it up on my Instagram story and I got such a huge response to that saying this needs to be a song blah blah blah and so I took that idea and I worked on it and that became my song cool kids.
I’ve interviewed many musicians throughout the years, but I wanted to try something different. Sing the first thing that comes into your head.
Dancing on my own, that’s what I like. It go like front kick, back kick, slide You know I do it and I do it so right Could be all day, could be all night. So why you so alone, yea You got you I like it on my own, yea That’s how I do. That’s my song “On My Own.” That’s the first thing that came to my mind.
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What is the inspiration behind the R&B vibe of your song “Please”?
So with please, which was the first song that I had released as solo Kayan and also the first song that I really worked on the production of what came up was a very basic groove. And this baseline that kinda repeats itself through the song. It’s this very strong and honestly reminds me a lot of Tyler the Creator on some of his songs. That was the first thing that came about the song and the song is about just honestly heartbreak and it’s just a very sad song. Oh my god, I get sad even thinking about it. So Yeah, that was how Please happened. I actually finally had time since it was during the first lockdown that we had in India in Bombay. And I was trying to work on my production skills a little bit. And I came, I made this beat first, which was something that was just playing in my head on loop, and that baseline that was just kind of stuck in my head. And then a very dear friend and amazing producer, Nate @nate08music (credits) helped me complete it. His vibe of music is also in this space and his style also does really well with r&b, Lo-Fi, you know, soul. So I think that kind of added and made this track complete.
The track “Cool Kids” is about wanting to fit in but realizing that it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Describe a situation where you were trying to fit into something in your past and ultimately learned to just be yourself.
Honestly, I think the biggest place that I’ve probably ever felt that is at gigs, every show is preceded by an after-party. And initially, I used to be, I think, a little more nervous, because I’m sober. And I don’t drink or do anything and usually, that’s a very easy icebreaker for most people, you know. And, initially, I think it used to be something that I did not know how to deal with, I would tell people honestly, that I’m sober, but it’s something that I just kind of didn’t have a grasp over. So I used to feel a little bit of this wanting to fit in. Initially, when I used to go for a lot of these after parties and shows. I kind of just didn’t know what to do with myself, honestly, over time, I think I’m so much more comfortable in my skin. It’s the last thought that would even come to my head, you know, I’m just so okay with being whatever I am that. You could put me anywhere and it’s not even something I think of. It’s a huge inspiration for the song.
We see that you’ve got a couple of tattoos. How many tattoos do you have? What does each of them express?
Okay, I’m gonna have to call my tattoos if that’s okay, so 1-234-567-8910 11 I have 11 tattoos. I don’t think I can explain every single one because they’re like 11 but I would say before I talk about the first tattoo that I got, which is on my right forearm it’s the dad who have this Egyptian cat goddess whose name is Bastet and basted has a sister sekhmet and it’s very interesting because I’m planning on getting sekhmet as the other tattoo. I’m gonna probably just get it because I’m over this tattoo thing I think. But um, bastet is the one half of the two sisters sekhmet and bastet. And both of them have to own their own things that they represent a basket kind of represents calm and grace. And Sekhmet is more of the fighter and has the head of a lion and Bastet as the head of a cat. So first I got think both of them together would hopefully be something that I can imbibe in my life. Like way more than it probably is right now, which I think is really cool because they’re both like fighters, you know, Egyptian goddesses, which is really cool. Another tattoo that I really really like, which is I have one on my finger on my right hand finger. And it is Luna and Japanese. That’s all that’s written, that was the name of my first kitten who went last when she was a little kid in itself and I was really sad. I have always loved her and she came in a very important part in my life and in my family and really helped us a lot. This little kitten got her name tattooed on me.
There’s another tattoo that just gonna you know what one of my favorite tattoos is. This one on my left arm, and it’s a middle finger in the middle finger in the middle finger. My friends call it the fuckception, that’s the name we’d given to it like ages ago. That was just kind of sometimes to need to look at it and remind myself to just fuck it and let go
Many of your fans found your songs through VH1. Apple Music. Spotify playlists, and more. How has newer technology helped indie artists get discovered across the globe in terms of your own experience?
I think it’s great that we have these platforms, and the ability to put our music out there on these platforms without having to be signed to a major label or something like that, it’s very easy, we have platforms that basically just let us upload a song, upload an artwork, you know, think of your own release plans and put your music out there. Um, VH1 really had my music video get a lot of traction, and they still kind of run some of my music videos on repeat, which is amazing, because it’s just, the more places it’s playing, the more people are listening to it. Right. And that’s really, really amazing. playlisting also helps a lot. You know, so I think, personally, for me, what one really amazing thing that happened was a song that I did with another art in collaboration with another artist oaff @oaffmusic called So Good, was part of the Spotify radar program, as part of the radar program, they really push us off, they put it on a lot of different playlists, um, not only Indian playlist, but you know, playlist international playlists to the moment that gets picked up, the streaming numbers just go up and you just have so many more people from so many different countries listening to your music, which is so cool. And the same thing happened with cool kids also, cool kids was just, I mean, that is just something that got picked up by itself. And it got added to this really cool Spotify playlist called Park hangs, that was another, you know, way for the song to get so much traction. And it was pretty amazing. So it’s, it’s really, really helpful to have these platforms, because that’s how we can basically have our music out there. It is where it lives.
“On My Own” showcases lyrics such as “So why you so alone, yea You got you I like it on my own, yea That’s how I do.” Do you enjoy being on your own as more of a homebody or do you prefer to be out and about?
I think I’m like a really strange mix of the two, I used to be someone who was out and about all the time. I think I’ve been like that ever since I was a kid, I just used to be outside. Especially when I was much younger, I would just leave the house and I’d be doing shit all day roaming around, going from one place to another. I was like, fun back then, as I was much younger. So in school, it’s different. But even as I grew up, I think I’ve been someone who has partied a lot. And I’ve had my fair share of enjoying that also a lot. But then what has happened over the past two years, I think is that this has nothing, not that much to do with COVID-19 actually. So I’ve been performing every weekend almost for like, let’s say about a year, you know, and I’ve been playing these DJ sets. So every weekend, I’m already traveling to two or three different cities and I’m playing. And it’s not that I just go somewhere and I play right, I’m traveling, and then I’m meeting people and socializing and this whole thing is, it’s very, it can be very, very exhausting. And the more the work started coming in, and I’m very, very happy working I love it bring me more work. I’m very happy. But you know it when I’m back from the weekend, when I’m already playing so much I really don’t feel like going anywhere. I just want to be at home in my bed with my cat. So it’s kind of like my work takes me out there and I’m out and about because I have to be but when I’m done I’m very happy being at home because you kind of just need a little little time to like recuperate.
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Fans have commented your song “Be Alright” helps them get rid of the blues and ultimately changes their mood. How do you feel hearing that your music can change how listeners are feeling on a day-to-day basis?
It feels very surreal and I can’t get a grasp on it because I feel like that about so much music. You know there has been so much music that’s been a part of my life in so many different ways and songs that I’ve just heard on repeat and repeat and repeat that made me feel things and has made me feel like it’s saying something that I’m not able to say the fact that someone else could ever feel like that about my song is just insane. I mean I guess that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing right.
“DFWM” looks like a scene in a movie and soundtrack all in one. What was the artistic vision behind this music video and track and how did it feel to play this role in the music video?
So we had a really really amazing team on board for DFWM. We did not have a lot of time to put this thing together and do it because we were sitting on the song for about two years. And it was just not the music video that was just not coming together and something that I really, really wanted to get out there. The song is in collaboration with another dear friend and amazing producer oceantied @oceantiedmusic. I had a basic beat down, I had this idea down, I sent it across to him, he helped put the whole thing together and just complete it. And the song comes from like, you know, a space of being in a toxic relationship. Where you’re constantly playing games, and you feel like you have to be on the top of it. It’s kind of like, Fuck you, but just something that I’ve actually experienced. So we had this team that kind of put together this brief idea for the music video, my brief was like, I do not want it to be too obvious. This is an idea we have, we want to have some blood in the video. You know, let’s see what we can do. I don’t want such a blatantly clear storyline, I think the song says what it has to say. And everything just came together. And, you know, it turned out to be the super cool video that I’m actually really, really happy about. And how it felt to play a role in this honestly felt absolutely natural. I think acting in your own music videos is so different from anything else. I’m not following any script or anything. It’s my song, it’s playing, I know the vibe, you know, I know what I want it to be like in my head, I kind of know what I want it to look like. So with a little bit of right direction. And you know, in this case, a great team put together it was very easy to make that happen.
What is the meaning behind your track “So Good“ and what feelings do you hope to invoke in your listeners?
So good, again, is in collaboration with a radio fan, an amazing producer, I was talking about who we’d done the Spotify radar thing with So Good (@oaffmusic) The hook was it was written by Kabir and me, aka Oaffmusic of music. And the idea is, it’s playing with this thought of wanting something in your life that you probably know is not going to be good for you.
And even though you know, it’s not, you’re still gonna play with that thought and, you know, it makes you feel so much. And I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Many of your songs are progressions of feelings based on experiences. How important is it to you to express the phases of your life through music?
I think more than how important it is, you know, I don’t look at it as a process like that. It’s something that happens very naturally, because every time something happens, or not every single time, but more often than not, I turn to write about it, which is going to keep happening, right? And as long as I keep feeling like that. I’m gonna keep expressing different things, different experiences of my life through music.
As your name Kayan is your last name backward what made you come up with this idea to use this stage name and what does this stage name mean to you?
Okay, honestly, years ago when I joined Instagram, which is now a really long time ago, my name Ambika Nayak was taken on Instagram. So I flipped it. And initially, it was Kayan, which is my name the other way around. Eventually, I cut it to kayan.a And then I released my first song as kayan.a, and then we dropped the .a and now it’s Kayan, which makes a lot of sense. So the .a was unnecessary, I think. But that’s literally what it was. What’s really cool is, that it is actually my name. Is this my name the other way around. So there we go. That’s the story the way it is Kayan.
What do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
When you say the first song that comes to your mind and think about it, and I sang about and I sang ‘On my Own.’ I feel like, you know, this is just the start of my journey and there’s so much that’s going to come about and I keep working towards it. I have a wonderful team that’s working towards it with me, the whole thing is it’s, it’s great. What’s happening right now. You know, the shows that are coming are so much fun. I have a growing audience and it’s absolutely amazing. There’s so many big things in the pipeline and collaborations and music videos and projects that are coming about and I’m so so excited to do all of this. But even like in how I say it on my own You got you and you do you is like something that I literally live by. And I hope that if anybody else is even trying to do something that they really love, whether it’s music, or art or anything, it could be anything. Like, you know, just go ahead and do it. Don’t let your resources limit you because that’s never a limitation. A lot of these music videos that I’m talking about and I’m being asked about in interviews are made with barely any resources and just, you know, fabulous people who have somehow met and got on board and, you know, I shot the music video ‘On my Own’ alone and in our hotel room by myself on my phone. So nothing can really stop you. So you just gotta do what you got to do. And you don’t need anyone either. And by that I don’t mean that you do everything alone. You have people around you, who grow with you, but let that never ever be a limitation to what you do.
Photo Courtesy of Aditya Thakur