At this moment, when the world is ending and everyone is dropping off their B-sides to get closer with their fans, the artists who stand out are those who can hit the heart with a variety of strikes.
Toronto’s Kavale, 29, is one such artist, “all about action,” as he says on the intro to his new EP, Time Stamp, out today. Kavale’s natural rasp is an immediate boon; the artist has a grave texture to his voice, which inspires a sense of intimacy as he raps and sings. The spoken intro, priming us for the rest of the EP, deals with Kavale’s perfectionism and the “reset button” he has to hit to understand himself better.
“I had to realize that [perfection] is such an impossible task,” Kavale says when I mention the intro to his EP. He talks about trying too hard to be perfect and how it’s damaged his career. “Some people will like you and some people won’t. That’s life. I would spend years on years creating, scrapping, creating, scrapping. ‘This is good; how can I make it better?’ I would spend so much time trying to figure it out; two years would pass. Twenty songs later, I’m still in the same position, because I’m trying to be too perfect. It’s held me back.”
Finally, thankfully, Kavale has put perfectionism behind him. The gentleness of “Faith,” the first deep cut of Time Stamp, mixes nicely from the silver-tongued flows Kavale brings to the edge of the beat, before pitching his vocal in a clear homage to the structure of Frank Ocean’s “Nikes.” “Just have a little faith in me,” he sings, holding the notes just long enough for us to hear his desperation without him sounding broken by insecurity.
It’s a fetching sonic world that Kavale crafts. “Faith” morphs and evolves second over second until it melts into the pensive “For What It’s Worth.” Packed with tricks, Time Stamp thrives as a full body of work. A work where curation was clearly at the forefront of Kavale’s mind.
As Toronto’s latest polymath, Kavale sees himself as finding strength in vulnerability. Even at his most aggressive and trappy, as on the booming “Awake,” Kavale is opening his heart to us as if we could nestle in the organ and become one with his emotions. Kavale’s versatility and his focus on quality over antics are his great successes. “Everything move when I say so,” he spits on “Awake.” A master of his creative domain, Kavale sounds like an upstart worth rooting for and watching, one you can confidently believe in because he has the makings of a real, long-term star.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: How did you discover you had a passion for music?
Kavale: I first found out when I was nine. My sister would do these music lessons at a musical academy. She would go twice a week, and because my mom was always working, she would have to bring me with her. I would watch her learn these scales and notes while singing and playing the piano. Then, my sister would come home, and I would be at home, copying her. That’s the picture of my [EP] cover. That’s the exact moment of me falling in love with music.
As time transitioned, Bow Wow came out, and he was this kid rapper I could relate to at that moment. It was amazing what he was doing. I would try to mimic that, as well. That transitioned into Ludacris when he dropped “Rollout.” I remember watching the music video and seeing his oversized head. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a whole new world of rap I was just learning about. I asked my dad to buy me the Bow Wow album and the Ludacris album, which I shouldn’t have had at that age. I secretly listened to those albums, front-to-back, every day. My mom had this big tape deck. She bought a microphone and these blank tapes. I would go on Napster, find instrumentals, and write my own songs to them. That’s when the creative process started.
How I got into producing… I was told about this new guy named Kanye West. I heard “Through The Wire,” and I was mind-blown! This was my first time learning about sampling! Rapping with his mouth wired shut, I couldn’t believe it. From there, I wanted to be a producer. I got programs and learned and crafted my own beats. That’s how this package came together of being so versatile.
When did you start taking music seriously as a career?
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After high school. Before high school, I stopped [recording myself] because I was a teenager and was interested in sports and didn’t see a future [in music]. The love was there. I wanted to play basketball, but when I got kicked out of school, that’s when I realized that basketball wasn’t gonna work. Things happen for a reason, so that’s when I picked up on music. I met a producer, and he would send beats. That is what connected me with my manager, Frank [Castle]. He was the one that said, “You should probably take this seriously; you got talent.” That led to me meeting Scott [Randell], and now I’m in a position to make a move.
The new EP is titled May 28th, what significance does that date hold for you?
It was called May 28th. We switched it to Time Stamp because the DSPs wouldn’t allow May 28th for whatever reason. The main concept of the title—it’s my birthday. It stems from the beginning. For the past two years, I’ve been struggling. It was a tug of war with myself, trying to figure out why I wasn’t enjoying the process of making music. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t inspired. I was in a weird place mentally. Anxiety. A lot going on. It took a toll on me creatively. I was trying to find myself and my sound. I would make a bunch of music and overthink it, scrap it, and start it over again. I was wasting a lot of time.
This project, I looked at it as a reset button. I’mma make this, I’mma commit. I’m confident. I’m gonna put it out, and from this point, I’m gonna create moments that are real and true to me.
The opening of the EP features you saying you’re “trying to be too perfect.” How has perfection sabotaged you?
Well… It stopped me from putting out some good songs. I’ve sat on a lot of songs, and it was… Insecurities within the music. I look at the people around me, or I look at the superstars, and I’m like, “Man, they’re so good.” To me, they’re perfect. But! What is perfect? I had to realize that [perfection] is such an impossible task. Some people will like you and some people won’t. That’s life. I would spend years on years creating, scrapping, creating, scrapping. “This is good; how can I make it better?” I would spend so much time trying to figure it out; two years would pass. Twenty songs later, I’m still in the same position, because I’m trying to be too perfect. It’s held me back.
You also spend a lot of time on Time Stamp talking about how music saves you. Can you expand on that?
Man, music is a source. It’s something I go to, to express myself. I’m more of an introvert. I have a small circle. I don’t talk to people about my issues. The only way I can express myself is through music. That’s the place I feel most comfortable. There [have] been times where I find myself in a dark place and dealing with mental health overall, and music was there. Not even my music! Listening to other genres has helped me take a step back and understand and enjoy life. For the most part, it’s helped me express myself and allowed me to write how I’m feeling. That’s what saved my life.
You end the EP with an introspective four minutes, a very hard look in the mirror called “Conversation With Self.” How was it writing that song?
It was hard. That was one of the dark moments I spoke to you about. I was sitting at home and… It was that little battle with myself. “Why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you a better role model for your son? Why is the mother of your son handling all the heavy-duty stuff while you’re pursuing this career? Why haven’t you spoken [to] your father? Why weren’t you there for your friend when her father died?” It’s all these “Why’s?” It was something I had to think about. I even questioned if I should write [the record], but it was something I needed to do to get that off my chest; to get that burden off of me. To a lot of people I played the EP for, that’s a standout to them.
Do you find your strength in your vulnerability?
Yes, I don’t see anything wrong with being vulnerable. A lot of people let pride take over that part of them. “I can’t open up because I’m not masculine if I show too much emotion.” I don’t look at it that way. It’s liberating when you open up. You realize you’re not the only person going through it. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I talk about everything that’s going on in my life. I let people know: This is me. People love me for that exact reason.