Nothing feels so soft and gentle as the tender whisper of the wind against your shoulder. Ever-flowing, it nudges you forward in tune with time’s perpetual motion and the natural rhythm of the earth’s rotation. And while we are aware of its divine power—always attempting to harness its energy for our own use and intention—who are we to grasp at these natural powers we were never meant to have? But is that so for all of us? Perhaps not. See Haitian-Canadian musician and record producer, Kaytranada, defiantly channeling the energy of the winds, paying tribute to the calm and the chaos of it all, as he laces the breathlessness of the earth into every melody he arranges.
Kaytranada sits by two open windows. Throughout our conversation, we find each other repeating ourselves, because it is almost as if the wind, kissing the room from our vantage point, wants to partake in our connection as well. We welcome it, raising our voices a little higher, becoming more intentional with our listening. And as our conversation progresses, it’s evident that although the winds may move unpredictably, if you happen the be of the lucky few that harness them, intention and purpose will take the lead.
Kaytranada recalls his first memory of watching Tina Turner and Brandy in a compilation performance at the Grammys, foreshadowing what was to come to the young artist in Montreal, creating beats in his room. He adds that it was through watching Jay-Z’s Fade to Black documentary, which follows the rapper’s process of creating “99 Problems” with Rick Rubin, that he truly knew he was destined to explore the soundscapes and atmospherics of desire. Seeing producers like Just Blaze and Pharrell converge in the studio, listening to the dialogue that created his inspirations—and then finding their names in the credits of his favorite songs—was all he needed to seal his fate.
That fate found its footing a mere decade ago when Kaytranada’s bedroom meanderings of Janet Jackson’s “If” received immediate traction on Soundcloud. Like a musical archaeologist, Kaytranada finds forgotten songs from the past and re-envisions popular songs honoring them with new life. “I just got to find a connection with one song, and that’s when I’ll try to do something,” he shares. “I was listening to ‘If’ pretty much like two years straight. So I feel like a lot of those successful songs that I had, it came from me loving them too much.” A year later, the artist debuted a revered Boiler Room set that seemingly revivified music in the 2010s.
The sonic archeology continued in his debut full-length, 99.9%. “Track Uno” sampled lost tracks like “I Figure I’m Out of Your Life” by Delegation, from 1982, and “Got It Good” reimagines Jaime e Nair’s 1979 hit, “Olho de Vidro.” 99.9%, from XL Recordings, cemented Kaytranada as not just a fair weather producer, but a long-lasting and idiosyncratic sound of warm, glistening synths. “I was working on them for so long,” Kaytranada explains, “It always feels like I’m 90% done, and that’s why I named it 99.9%. To get to 100%,” he continues, “you just have to send the album in. I’m just waiting to have those moments where I have nothing else to give.” The album gives and gives, and features Syd from the Internet against an evergreen bass line in “YOU’RE THE ONE,” and Grammy-decorated Anderson .Paak lending to “GLOWED UP”’ with mellow rhythmics and bright-eyed percussion.
The output is unrelenting. Kaytranada released his sophomore collection of work, BUBBA, right at the end of 2019, giving us one last reason to dance before the end of the 2010s. The 17-track effort is entangled with his signature synths, where the bass traverses through the chorus taking a scenic route through the melody. The record features Pharrell, Kali Uchis, GoldLink, and Estelle, using their voices as instruments, where their syllables became beats and breaths as pauses. BUBBA earned Kaytranada a nomination for Best New Artist and two Grammys for the Best Dance/Electronic Album, for which he is the first Black artist to do so, and Best Dance Recording [for “10%” featuring Kali Uchis].
“I really felt validation,” Kaytranada says of earning the prestigious award. “It’s not something I need, but it makes more sense for me to be a musician full-time.” He is again nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Recording for his illuminated offering “Intimidated” featuring fellow Grammy-winning artist H.E.R. And while it has probably felt like a millennium since Kaytranada DJ’ed during his high school lunch period, for the artist, it really isn’t all that different than taking part in stadium tours, supporting acts like The Weeknd or Madonna. Of the journey, he shares, “It was just me being, reasonably, in a point of learning and being so inspired and just trying new things. And then now,” he adds, “it’s not serious. I feel like I figured out what to do. It is more of, ‘Okay, how can I keep the fun alive?’ and ‘How can I make this more interesting? Are there more ways to evolve?’”
Like the first cool breeze at the end of a warm summer, Kaytranada is progressively finding his own intention in his music. With a timid laugh, he admits, “Being a producer and artist—and then being shy and quiet—is not really helping the situation. I used to feel that way a lot when I first got in the industry, and it was challenging because I’m very shy. And I couldn’t really produce because of it.” Overcoming this dichotomy of wills is never a complete process, but Kaytranada has worked to trust his intuition, to not allow space for uncertainty or internal doubt. He shares on the clarity that has amassed along the way, “But now I feel like I need to be like, ‘Okay, we should do this or we should do that,’ which is something I’m still working on.”
Kaytranada’s latest project, releasing in the new year, is something that he has been working on for the past three years on and off, he shares, following the natural ebbs and flows of the mind. “I was going in a direction with it where it wasn’t going to really be dance music—it was going to be focused more on R&B, and samples, and hip-hop, that type of shit,” he says, “But, when Drake put out his album and when Beyoncé started putting out her new stuff, it definitely inspired me to do something similar. So I definitely need more dancier songs. I definitely wanna make more stuff for the festivals and the stadiums—I just need more of that in my album.”
And while Kaytranada sews himself into every key, drum beat, and bass note, we have never officially heard his voice intertwined with his ethos in a song. He shares, “I’ve done a lot of demos where I’m singing, and I think I really sound good, but I still haven’t found my confidence in songwriting and structure. But like I said, it’s something that needs to be taken away from me—just send it and see how it sounds to the public.” Kaytranada is known for leaking some of his unreleased music to SoundCloud, as a way for him to test the waters, or maybe dive into the deep end. He confesses, “I just put out random demos sometimes, you know? There was one song I was working on during the BUBBA times, and there was this one song I had with Thundercat playing the bass, and I was singing throughout the whole song. It’s available on the internet somewhere, but I just put it private.” The demo in question, “LALALA”—an outtake from BUBBA, features his voice singing, I know I got just what you need / Just don’t be shy no doubt indeed.
Perhaps this unofficial declaration, mined from the artist’s extensive output, suggests Kaytranada is gradually taking his own advice, gliding atop the prevailing winds? But if we can’t see it, is it ever truly there? You think of the wind—how no one knows the color of its arms, or its true origins—only of the leaves it carries. For Kaytranada, it’s the unseen and unheard that make sound more meaningful for him. “A song feels like it’s one thing,” he shares, “but it’s a bunch of layers of the vocals, background vocals. So for me, I feel like a lot of musicians have those ears, where they can hear every part of the song. And that can inspire them, and it also does that to me. If we just pause our ears for a minute, I guess. In silence, you could definitely hear ideas.” He looks out the window and adds, “When you go for a walk outside, and you don’t put headphones on, as a musician, that’s actually good for you. Because your thoughts are running and then some ideas can come out. And you can just have inspiration, just from the sounds you hear outside when you walk, let’s say a car, or the wind, just stuff like that. I don’t know. Just to give your ears a little pause and let it be creative. And let your brain be creative.”
It’s true. Nothing can ever truly be silent. Even on the quietest days, you can hear the turn of your head, the movements of the trees, maybe a heartbeat you hold close. In this lull of the noise is where Kaytranada can hear the gust of reason that can only come from within. “You don’t know who to show, if somebody will even understand it,” he says of the doubts that might creep up in the process. “Constructive criticism—I need that in terms of my songwriting. I’m never really sure if my words come together.” But with Kaytranada, he turns these internal storms into a lullaby for his fears and hesitations. “Heartbreak is the main inspiration for my writing,” he shares. “Other than that, it’s pretty much a self-confidence type of song. It’s mostly an expression, you know—you just use your words and use your experience. You don’t have to say everything, but you can try to channel that feeling.” Through sound, he archives the many versions of himself that he outgrows.
Alas, in this existence, with its never alike days, with its endless weather patterns, we are not always in control. Kaytranada embraces this with stoicism, taking it in and then inevitably surrendering. “I just let it be, honestly,” he confesses. “If there’s something really bothering me, I’m just gonna be like, ‘Yeah, it bothers me, blah, blah, blah.’ And I just feel, you know? We’re all humans. It’s like my heart is open and then my ears will be open. But sometimes it’s an on-and-off thing for me.”
So we wait for the moments when we feel safe enough to feel the wind. We let the chill soak our bones, we feel the true power of the natural world. And if the wind could speak? If it were to bestow upon Kaytranada a message from above? “It wouldn’t say something,” the artist laughs, “it would just be like a sonic noise like, ‘ahhhhh.’ Or maybe, ‘Have a nice day.’”
Photographed by Yana Yatsuk
Styled by Von Ford
Written by Bree Castillo
Groomer: Alexa Hernandez
Flaunt Film: Nate Rynaski
Production Assistant: Shei Marcelline
Location: The Aster Members’ Club Hotel, Los Angeles