Good music helps us to get lost in a feeling, but great music thrusts us into the center of a complex emotion and lets us float. With his newly-released, self-titled debut EP on Def Jam, 30-year-old singer, songwriter, producer, percussionist, and all-around entertainer K. Roosevelt accomplishes this feat.
Born, bred, and based in Los Angeles, K.'s music stands at the intersections of alt-R&B and surfer boy chic. There’s a luxe and languid quality to his music that reels you in before you’re tumbled about by the myriad textures he layers into each track.
If K. Roosevelt’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been making music for the better part of this decade, was previously signed to Interscope, and was the most eclectic affiliate of GRAMMY-winning producer Hit-Boy. Following his 2016 album Neon Haze, K. took a step back as his deal with Interscope ran its course.
“I took time to work on music and be more myself in whatever way that felt appropriate,” he tells me over the phone. He describes his break from the public eye as “integral” to his creative process, adding: “I grew up in a little bit of isolation so to speak, being an only child. That and then also coming from a production background, I just naturally isolate myself in that way. I think it’s liberating—it keeps my head clear. It’s not isolating, I just like that alone time for a clear head and when I’m making music it’s nice to be able to whatever I feel like doing in the moment.”
To describe his new EP as freewheeling would be disingenuous, but when K. Roosevelt says he does whatever he wants, he’s not lying. In one way, the tracks are airtight forays into his psyche but packed with instrumental pivots and motifs that dig at the core of what makes us feel. K. writes, records, and produces all his own music, leading to evocative lyricism that never strays heavy-handed. Funny enough, though, K. was never big on lyrics.
“I didn’t even get into lyrics until later on in life,” he reveals. “To this day, I don’t know the lyrics to most songs I like and some of my songs either [laughs]. I’m big on lyrics, but I’m bigger on the total feeling of a track, and then I think the lyrics add to that feeling.” If the feeling K. was going for was "ethereal and existential drift,” then he’s hit his mark dead-on.
DJBooth’s full interview with K. Roosevelt, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: First off, congratulations on signing to Def Jam. It must be liberating to have new music on the horizon.
K. Roosevelt: Yeah! I’m super excited about this new partnership with Def Jam and, like you said, I’m really excited to put out new music. It’s been a couple years now, so I’m looking forward to it.
After Neon Haze in 2016, you took a bit of a step back. What prompted that?
I think I was signed to Interscope for a while, and then probably around then that deal ended. If not then, maybe a little later. I think it was just a natural thing. I put out my project there, and then that situation ran its course, and I took time to work on music and be more myself in whatever way that felt appropriate.
How important is isolation and just living life to your process?
I’d say it’s pretty integral to my personal process. I grew up in a little bit of isolation so to speak, being an only child. That and then also coming from a production background, I just naturally isolate myself in that way. I think it’s liberating—it keeps my head clear. It’s not isolating, I just like that alone time for a clear head and when I’m making music it’s nice to be able to whatever I feel like doing in the moment.
Who were you listening to that helped you clear your head?
It’s hard for me to answer that because I listen to music but I also don’t, if that makes sense. Like, I listen to music to check it out, but in terms of day-to-day music listening, I watch live concerts on YouTube. I don’t do as much Pandora or iTunes, Spotify…
That’s crazy, I watch those all the time. What does that do for you?
I come from a live playing background, so that’s probably part of it. I grew up playing drums before I became an artist. I’ve always enjoyed live music and I enjoy playing live music, that’s where my love started. It’s nice to see those songs that we know and love interpreted live because it’s always a little different. I enjoy seeing how people interpret their songs as well.
Do you think of this EP as a reintroduction or a continuation?
For me, everything is just a continuation because it’s all one musical journey. I’m just following what I’m interested in at the moment. I would say it’s definitely got a different vibe as well, because I do, in my journey, try to create new things every time.
The EP is experimental and loaded with color and texture, but the sound is crisper, more bare and open. Were you in an emotional headspace?
I could be, but I think I just like really good songs and a lot of good songs come from emotional places and more vulnerable places. I think that can be relatable to a lot of people.
What do you get out of writing, producing, and recording all your own music?
That’s a good question… I think I really get the most fulfillment out of this process, to be honest. I enjoy working with other people, too. But I started off making music and drumming, and kind of writing and producing for other people, which is awesome. But it’s cool to be able to do for myself in any moment and be able to experiment like you said and try new things, and not have any other opinions that I don’t necessarily agree with interfering. It’s kind of meditative.
With “Feelings Don’t Change,” it sounds like we’re floating through an emotion. What was the process for that song?
That’s one of my favorites, too! Most of the songs started off with me just making the track. Most of the time, if I’m working on music, I’m working on a lot of things and I’ll happen to find myself working on a track that I feel compelled to write to. This is definitely that situation. I might have actually had the track for a while and decided to write to it later. Most of the songs came that way, I would say: me producing and then feeling compelled to write to it, and then writing what felt natural. I want to create a nostalgic vibe, but also something new-feeling.
Do you ever work in the inverse?
Maybe sometimes, but I’d say it’s rare. I didn’t even get into lyrics until later on in life. To this day, I don’t know the lyrics to most songs I like and some of my songs either [laughs]. I’m big on lyrics, but I’m bigger on the total feeling of a track, and then I think the lyrics add to that feeling.
That’s so surprising because you’re such a sharp writer. Where did that come from?
Ah, I enjoy good songs. I think that’s what made me pay attention to writing. The first album that I listened to for more than just how the beats sounded was the Gnarls Barkley, the first one [St. Elsewhere]. The lyricism in that changed the way I looked at songs and got me more into writing.
In 2014 you said: “Whatever genre, whatever style—I just want it to be as close to perfect as possible. I know that perfect is impossible but that’s what I aim for.” How close are you to perfection now?
It’s always a process. For this project, I’m super excited about it because it’s the most “me” or perfect album that I’ve done. It’s perfect to me in terms of how I wanted to express my creativity and how I like to explore. Hopefully, the next one is more perfect, but this one is pretty perfect to me.
How has your definition of perfection changed in the last four years?
I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that journey would end, so I would say it’s probably pretty similar now. Maybe with age, like anything, it’s refined. Generally, I think perfection is a relative term—there’s no such thing as perfection. So I guess perfection is if it feels right and if it feels natural and it feels good, and everything is lining up. I feel like I hold myself to a pretty high standard.
Do your standards ever drive you crazy?
No, because thank goodness I get a lot of compliments. So I feel like I have to hold myself to the highest standard. I feel like that makes myself good. I feel like if I wasn’t—not insecure, but… You know what they say about artists: we’re sensitive about our shit. I think that’s what keeps it good for me. I wanna keep that, I’d say.
After this EP, what’s your next step towards perfection?
I wanna perform more live, I think that’s a big part of my artistry that I haven’t been able to explore as much. Now I have my band that’s my friends that I’ve known for a long time and used to gig with back in the day. I’m excited to explore that with them and with my good friends that I grew up with.