Friday, December 16, 2016

What is a Visual Concept Album??

Alright – so many of you have probably seen our Kickstarter in the last few months, possibly our Trailer? Or maybe our first video “Driftwood.” And all of those things are part of my new “Visual Concept Album!”

But in talking to my family over the past few weeks, I realized there are a few friends and family members (leaving age out of the conversation...), and maybe many other people out there who have no idea what I’m talking about when I say that! So I just thought I’d take a little chance to explain it a little more.

For DECADES, music videos have added something fresh and exciting to the songs we love. Anyone remember the days of TRL?? Man, my friends and I would watch that for hours! And VH1 was one of the best channels to watch late at night. I remember a huge variety of visual styles in these music videos. Some had stories, where something important wasn’t revealed until the very end. Like Coldplay’s “The Scientist” which told the whole story in reverse, and you don’t realize it all started with a car accident until the very end (spoiler alert…). Pretty epic. Or Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” had this epic steam punk, kaldeiscoping animation?!? Also epic in a very different way. Other videos were simple performance videos of a rock band, others were dance videos from pop artists.

Can you remember your favorite music videos? Which ones stick out in your memory??

Now think about how the world of YouTube has revolutionized the music video market. Not only has it become and encyclopedia for these "pre-internet" music videos, it’s now a brand new market where anyone can upload a video from home at any time. We notice a lot of the younger generation is posting their own videos from their bedrooms, and gaining a huge following! All the artists who are making hits on the radio right now (across all genres) likely have music videos for their hits, but I can’t recall a single music video from one of these artists. Maybe it’s just their superfans who watch these music videos, (or perhaps I’m just out of touch). But with the internet, the TV is no longer our only source of music video consumption. Like the radio, we don’t have to be limited by what they show us, we can look up the most obscure bands, see their live videos, see their music videos, even post our own vlog ("video blog" for older folks) about what we think about them! The boundaries are so endless, it almost feels like the music videos are after-thoughts in the industry. Is it too early to say that music videos are starting to go out of style?? (Seriously, if it is, I want to know! Cause I’m not over it yet!).

This EP has been a long process for me. All of these songs started out as acoustic songs (which is why I’m also releasing the Acoustic B-sides too). Once I got interested in producing, it was only natural for me to take songs I knew well (like ones I wrote!) and develop those ideas in Ableton. But once I started, each of those songs became like a whole new world to me.  It wasn’t just my story – how a singer-songwriter often tells his/her story in sort of a universal way, it felt like a PLACE. I could see it, I could hear it, and in lacing a group of songs together, I realized they told a story, MY story, but also everyone’s story. And maybe this time, I didn’t have to tell that story with “just” the music, I could also tell a visual story. 

I walked into Massif Studios about one year ago, and told them about my ideas. I was overjoyed that they were also inspired, and added so much to my creative vision. It was awesome to get to practice our teamwork with the single “Bombshell” made specially for Bombshell Beauty Salon in Las Vegas. And it was even awesomer to develop this creative vision together for a video series; 
all 5 songs on the EP string together to become one seamless video by the end.
We got some inspiration from Kanye’s “Runway,” which they called a “full-length film.” Florence + The Machine did something similar called “The Odyssey.” But they aren't traditional "films" as most what think of movies, they are semi-short artistic visions that create a pseudo-world inside the music album. Of course, who can forget Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” and new Frank Ocean’s “Endless.” I admit, I am not the first person to think of this, but I can see that it’s becoming more and more normal.

It’s exciting to me, because in this way, the arts are now becoming collaborative, and that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most about this process
Incorporating videography, co-producing with the ideas in my imagination about these songs, and incorporating costuming, makeup, and even stage design into the plots was the most inspiring collaboration! Bringing in different artistic experts, even contemporary dancers allowed other creatives to express themselves through my music. With the props, it was a new opportunity to have creative control in a new way! It’s almost funny because when we started “Driftwood,” I told Hunter & Joey at Massif that I put together a Pinterest board with props I thought would fit the video! And as I’m brainstorming how we should get it done, they were like, of course, YOU do it! And it’s as if I had never thought of that before. Wow, yeah! I can do it! I found a lot of amazing sterling silver props at a Thrift store in Lakewood, CO and I designed some extra homemade dream catchers, sun-catching driftwood pieces, and dried flowers to set the scene for what I envisioned as this little hideout in the woods that I had.

I drew a lot of inspiration for this first video “Driftwood” from “The New World” (2005) about Pocahontas. I loved the cinematography and the incorporation of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major” has always stuck with me. 
I aimed to capture that whimsical, adventurous new world in our trailer and the soundscape made specifically for the trailer.
We of course wanted to leave a bit for the imagination at the end of both the trailer and the video, which will be continued in Video 2 set to come out in January 2017.

Specifically speaking, my Visual Concept Album is a story of hopelessness and redemption. As we all navigate the treacherous waters of an unpredictable journey, it’s often 
not the things we are prepared to face, but those which we are unprepared that truly catch us off guard. The Album as a whole is of course, meant to be universal and interpreted individually. However, I can say that “Driftwood” is specifically about that calm moment in your life when you know things are sort of too good to be true. It’s when you almost feel that something is about to change, and you can’t say quite what. The visuals represent an innocence, even a naivety, and an enjoyment of freedom in nature. There is a whimsical and curious spirit to the videography as well as the props and costuming we chose. As the ominous door suggests, this fairy tale doesn’t last forever. I notice fairy tales are becoming almost as popular in our culture today as vampires and superheroes. We have not, and may never lose our love of fantasy and adventure.  Yet we recognize that this is not reality, and I believe 
this entire concept stems from a moment in all of our childhoods were we realize life is not what we thought it was.
We long for a childlike freedom in the world, not only from “adult responsibilities,” but from the heavy burdens we never knew life could offer. And now I believe these tales are often our escape.

Although the visuals are whimsical and unburdened, the words reflect those times in our lives where we are almost numb. We don't know how to move forward, and know we cannot go back.  All we can say is, “I’ll make it through.” Reminding ourselves, almost as if a mantra, this soon shall pass It’s about going through our day to day and feeling almost nothing, apathetic to things we once loved, perhaps distracted, perhaps full of regret or loathing. Whatever it is, we may feel powerless, we may want to resist change and keep things exactly as they were when we felt free and weightless. And now, as we begin to feel the weight of the heavier things in life, we resist. That is what “Driftwood” embodies to me. Going throughout one’s day, distracted with ordinary, unimportant tasks, but mentally trying to understand the apathy, trying to dissect it and get to its roots, knowing that once we got there, it might be even deeper pain awaiting. Yet there’s no looking back, only going forward.

Although the message of this album may sound dark, let me remind you that there is redemption in the end, as life always ebbs and flows in hills and valleys. I hope that it will offer hope to those who find themselves in dark valleys and are lost and endless seas of confusion. Hope that these times in life that feel like endless centuries of incurable pain, DO in fact soften and heal. I am beyond excited and proud to show you the rest of the video series. 
Please feel free to comment, Q&A with me, and ask me anything!
Life is a dialogue, and a riddle. Thank you for reading!

Watch our first video “Driftwood” Here! (Or the Trailer Here!)


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What's In a Name?

N a m e s are undoubtedly an interesting concept. If you think about it, they are something we all passively inherit. You don’t get to choose it, even though you can legally modify it later in life. They are something that everyone knows you by. They become not only a title, something used to get someone’s attention, but they are then associated with a memory, a personality, and a soul. It’s like a word in the English language that becomes  the word for that person; in a way, the names begin to take on a personality of their own. In that sense, they are not “merely” titles, they mean so much more about who we are. There’s something sacred about parents choosing a name for their child. It shows the anticipation they had for 9 months (or longer), waiting for this soul to come into the world. It reveals their hopes for that child’s life and their love in painstakingly choosing the perfect name; most often they will choose names that are dear to them, adored even, and make their heart soft. They think of nicknames they will want to use for that child. Sometimes they will even name their child after someone else that was important to them to protect the memory and legacy of that person.

I was fortunate enough to inherit not just any name, but a name shared by my mother and my grandmother, who is Estonian. Growing up, it was hard for me to understand what an incredible woman my grandmother was. She escaped her homeland -- Estonia, during World War II just before the Nazi’s invaded, met my grandfather -- an American soldier in Germany, and moved to America to start a family with him. Her courage and bravery were unmatchable She made the connections and arrangements for her and her family to leave, she braved her circumstances like a fearless leader, and her sacrifices were the only way that our family could even come to be. She could be feisty and lively, vibrant and full of life, but always kind and loving. Her strong statements always collapsed into laughter and made her nothing less than adored by all of us.  She would talk about your life far more than she would talk about her own, and like any good Estonian, she would not dwell on communicating the emotional aspects of any story. The answers were always plain and simple. That’s the way it was. We had to flee, we had no choice. And things turned out how they did, what else do you want to know? Most of us in that situation might ask ourselves, "Why is this happening to me?" and it amazes me that she always seemed to see past her own comforts and even the life she might have "deserved"; rather than questioning why this enormous uprooting was happening in her life, she persisted through it and found a solution; she refused to dwell on the emotional aspects of this change and rather keep her chin raised, eyes on the horizon, and keep a fierce determination by her side, and all at such a young age.

It’s especially meaningful to me to share her name this week because we are celebrating her memorial, celebrating her life and the family she started. She became the matriarch of a large family and we owe her our history and our heritage. Because so many citizens had to flee during World War II and Estonia lost so much of their population, generations like me were granted citizenship so that the culture of Estonia might not be lost. It feels like a free and undeserved all-access pass, since I don’t speak a wick of Estonian and have only spent one week there in my entire life. But it is not something I take lightly; it is a true privilege, a way for me to carry my heritage and the sacrifice my grandmother made for our family, and I hope that I can make the most of that honor.


I would like to think I inherited some of these traits from her. I can’t say that I recognize them, but I would be honored if I had an ounce of her courage, a small dose of her resilience, and even a taste of her joy. She was always enjoying herself, and she meant more than she may ever have recognized to those around her. She called me  Kaia Kena , which is an Estonian name meaning “little sweetie.” I was her only granddaughter, and I savor the little Estonian we could get out of her. The most important thing she left me was her name and the legacy she started with it. When considering a name to go with my new music, Kaia Kena became an obvious choice, because of all that it represents in my heritage and the traits my grandmother had that I aspire to embody.

As a young child, my family reminds me how I saw my grandpa visit us as Santa Claus on Christmas. Not recognizing him, but realizing he was late for the party, I rushed under the Christmas tree to give him a present. I didn’t understand the concept of Santa or even really that I had picked up someone else’s present to give away ;) but from an early age, she saw something in me that compelled her to call me an Estonian “little sweetie.” The official definition of the word is “nice,” “lovely,” and “kind.” I can only aspire to live up to the name she has given me and the nickname that will define me my whole life. My whole family knows me as Kaia Kena (as we had to distinguish between me and my mom who also shares the same). I am Kaia Kena. It’s natural. It’s organic. It’s how I identify. And I’m excited to share not only this personal name, but more of my self and more of my heart in my music.

Cheers to a new season, a new name, a new start.

                With love,


If I'm gonna tell a real story, I'm gonna start with my name.

      -Kendrick Lamar