Time melts away when KAINA sings. The Chicago artist’s voice gently snakes around lively production and her potent writing gives her work all the more energy. Since her feature on Saba’s CARE FOR ME in 2018, and her debut Next to The Sun in 2019, KAINA has been a fixture in her city’s music scene. Along with longtime collaborator Sen Morimoto, KAINA has used her music to redefine her scope of home and identity as a first-generation kid figuring themselves out in an unstable world.
The result of this pondering and personal tinkering is KAINA’s latest album, It Was A Home. Where Next to The Sun dealt with identity head-on, It Was A Home is more pensive. The album, which was sparked by the titular track, deals with memory and is a rebellion against the dejection of living through trauma. KAINA’s voice has never sounded more enchanting.
“Life is a balance of being realistic but also trying to instill hope in your life, just with the status of the world,” KAINA says at the top of our interview. While many faced the start of the pandemic by baking bread and trying to occupy their “free time,” KAINA fell into a hole of being unable to write for all of 2020.
“This project was healing because it was getting back to myself,” KAINA explains. “I felt so disconnected from myself in 2020, and disconnected from my life. This project was made after a year of not doing anything, sitting in my feelings, and giving myself more grace and patience than I thought I needed. This project was a reconnecting of myself, and with other people.”
The concept of home drives It Was A Home. “How am I creating a life for myself once I get through that blockage of instability?” KAINA wonders out loud. With this album, she redefines home to be bigger than walls and rooms. Home becomes community, tenderness, equity, and the spontaneity of a Chicago summer.
Was recording this new album part of a healing process for you at all? I feel like everyone was making bread in the last two years, you know?
I’ve been saying this a lot: the pandemic happened and everyone was like, “I’m gonna make bread!” We all have that sense of, “I need to do something with this ‘free time,’” instead of accepting the fact that life is really different.
I couldn’t tap in that same way. In 2020, I couldn’t write at all. It was really difficult for me because I like to be a productive person, but I just couldn’t.
What was the catalyst for It Was A Home as we hear it today?
The only track I had before all of this was “Blue.” The Helado Negro feature came in during the pandemic, so it changed a bit.
The first moment of me realizing this was a project was writing “It Was A Home.” It was a massive, emotional, throw-up moment for me. This time has been the most time I’ve had with myself as a person—even when I was younger. “It Was A Home” was the catalyst, and me realizing I had a lot more feelings than I thought I did. We are people who work all the time, and we don’t reflect as much as we probably should.
“It Was A Home” made me realize I had a lot of things to say and reflect upon. That’s where it all began.
How does the worry of not having something to say not get you down? Especially in capitalism where if you’re not talking, you’re not making money.
I was really lucky—I was able to secure some new relationships and got a lot of grants, which was really amazing. Financially, it was dicey, but I was still able to make it happen. The true nature of capitalism.
When it comes to creating and having something to say, it’s so funny… I feel like I’ve always told Sen [Morimoto, friend and musician], with this project, “I don’t have anything to say so I don’t even want to try. I’m numb and I have nothing!”
That feeling stemmed from feeling like I should’ve been more productive, even though no one needs to be productive. It was really about allowing myself to have space and time in 2020 to dismantle that notion—I always have feelings and things to say. It was a difficult journey and at times I felt like I was pulling this project out of myself, but it became easier when I allowed myself to exist as a human. It was a check-in with myself.
Politically or personally, what does the concept of home mean in 2022?
Oof. The concept of home, for me, means having the first apartment in my life where I feel secure. Home means a post-Next to The Sun life. That was a reckoning of who I am and identity. This album is more about who I am after that.
I’m always coming from a place of identity, being a first-gen kid in the states, but I’m more than that, obviously. The concept of home is really different for me now because I am older and able to create something stable for myself as opposed to waiting for the world to do that for me.
How did community play into this album?
Usually, it is just me and Sen working on something, but this time, I had a hard time writing. I reached out to my bandmates and they’re amazing. I was like, “Send me stuff!” We got a lot of really awesome production, ideas, and tracks, from our really good friends. Brian Sanborn, who has toured with so many people like Noname and Smino, did “Good Feeling.” Our drummer, Ryan The Person, did “Sweetness.”
A lot of the work was allowing other people to have more of a hand in my work and realizing that I needed the help.
And it’s so hard to ask for help as a first-gen kid…
Oh my God, yeah! I feel that way all the time. I’m tired and I need help. This project was a lesson in having patience with myself and leaning on others. My friends are amazing producers and musicians.
What have you been missing recently?
I’m missing a Chicago summer right now! Winter hasn’t been too brutal, but Chicago is one of the best cities in the world, and it has one of the greatest summers. Anything is a possibility, it’s the best feeling in the world. You run into a friend, you go to a show… I miss that spontaneity of the moments of a Chicago summer.
What’s the best music industry advice you’ve gotten so far?
Show up for the people and things you love. Someone said that to me, and it was really affirming of what I was doing when I was younger, going to so many shows. I went to so many Saba shows, and there was one that was rained out, but I still went. He was like, “Who are you?” in a positive way. “You’re at every show!” It was such an honor to be on his album because I was just showing up for the things I loved.