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Melbourne neo-soul artist Kye on the creative vision for her debut EP, ‘Good Company’

WORDS BY AUGUST BILLY
IN PARTNERSHIP TWNTY THREE

“I just love being in a room with multiple different ideas and I love that people can come in and challenge me as well.”

Kylie Chirunga launched her solo project, Kye, in 2019 with the pop and neo-soul influenced single ‘Good Company’. Courtesy of elegant hooks and electro-soul production, Kye’s debut single won support from both Triple J and Sony Music Australia. Now, two years later, the Melbourne-based artist is ready to release her debut EP, also titled Good Company.

For an artist’s first official release, ‘Good Company’ gave the impression of seasoned professionalism, belying the fact Kye was just 22 years old when it came out. The same can be said of the Good Company EP as a whole, which also includes the trio of recent singles, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Tuesday’.


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But Kye’s artistic panache didn’t come from nowhere. Prior to releasing her debut single, the Zimbabwe-born artist had been non-stop gigging for a few years, initially as a solo performer and later as a backing vocalist with Sampa the Great and Genesis Owusu.

These experiences helped Kye develop her own artistic voice, while also opening her mind to the fruits of collaboration. Good Company is enriched by contributions from Kye’s friends and peers such as Sampa (on ‘Gold’), Jerome Farah (on ‘Tuesday’) and Touch Sensitive (on the disco banger ‘Finest Quality’), as well as producers Billy Davis, 18yoman and Styalz Fuego. We spoke to Kye about finding her voice, learning to collaborate and her spectacular visuals.

You’ve been performing regularly for five or six years now. What were your early gigging experiences in Melbourne like?

I was pretty isolated, just because I didn’t really know a lot of people in the scene yet and I also didn’t know where to find gigs and things. So I wasn’t really connecting with a lot of people, but I was playing a lot, a lot of gigs. I had been meeting with managers and trying to get my foot in the door in the industry and this one guy was like, “You need to go and play 100 gigs and come back.”

So I went and played 100 gigs that year and then the next year I did 160 and then the year after that it was 200 and the year after that it was something crazy, like 260. And that’s when I was like, “Okay, enough playing as many gigs as possible. I need to go and find my people and find the right gigs.”

That sounds like a gruelling apprenticeship. How clear was your artistic vision in the early days?

The vision definitely wasn’t clear for a long time. When you’re playing pub gigs and bar gigs, a lot of it is covers. It was great for me in that I figured out where my voice sat and what I sounded good on and what I actually like to sing. That’s when I started kneeling more towards that R&B, neo-soul, soul sound, because I would love doing Norah Jones covers or I would love singing ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley.

You’re pals with Billy Davis and featured on a couple of tracks on his latest album. The Good Company EP is also full of collaborations. Are you a natural collaborator?

Collaboration definitely became more of a mainstay for me a couple of years ago. Before that, I spent years solo writing and not really going into studios, just writing a lot of bedroom music on my guitar. After meeting Billy and kind of expanding and being in a lot more sessions, that really introduced me to the collaborative process and since then it’s been more of my thing. I find collaborating is my favourite way to create now. I just love being in a room with multiple different ideas and I love that people can come in and challenge me as well.

To collaborate successfully, there needs to be a certain amount of vulnerability and flexibility. How do you go with keeping an open mind through that process?

One of the things I had to break down before allowing myself to fully immerse myself in collaborative sessions was that my idea isn’t going to be the best one in the room every time. And even if it is, someone else is going to bring something to the table that’s going to make that idea explode. So when you drop that part of your ego that goes, ‘I’m the best and I know what I’m doing and I know what’s best for my song,’ you actually get to make some really great music.

You’ve made a couple of excellent music videos with director Sanjay de Silva and stylist Ntombi Moyo. Do you place a lot of emphasis on the visual side of things?

Massively. There’s something that fuels my creativity about the way that I dress or the way that I present myself or the way that I make my Instagram feed look or the way that my videos look. It’s this whole cohesive thing because I think it’s such an accurate representation of my personality.

I’m also diving into directing my own video clips. The next video clip is co-directed and co-styled [by me]. What I’m trying to do with my videos is build this cinematic Kye universe. So, the more videos of mine that you see, the more that you start to see things that are very distinctly Kye.

Kye’s debut EP, Good Company, is out November 19.

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