Leven Kali on Low Tide and the Dopeness of Music

Leven Kali is no stranger to music. Born in the Netherlands but raised in Santa Monica, California, he comes from a family of musicians, singers, and songwriters. So, it was only natural to dive into the world of music. Earlier this year, he released his album Leven Kali: Low Tide which splashes with a West Coast funk and embodies the energy of a summer dance party. Kali seems to be a fan of combining genres: his music sparkles with jazz, and he exuberates with an R&B zest to create his own groovy, soulful sound. As a singer, songwriter and producer, he has collaborated with popular artists such as Drake, Playboi Carti, Skrillex, and Thundercat.

In 2019, Kali is touring all over the world, from Europe to Brooklyn and even back to cities on his own beloved West Coast, like Long Beach. He talked with FRONTRUNNER about touring, the power of music, and how Postmates cured his hunger and inspired one of his songs.

Leven Kali with Toto
Photo credit: Julian Burgueño

Low Tide pulls from different genres, including jazz, R&B and even funk. Who were you listening to when making this album? What music was inspiring you?

A lot of Earth Wind & Fire, D’Angelo, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Nate Dogg, Marvin Sapp, and Heatwave. Also, new music that was coming out.

In “My Pen” you sing, “My only weapon is my pen and the frame of mind I’m in.” What did this album teach you about the power of the pen and music?

Music is extremely powerful, on all levels. You don’t need to have a big audience to have a serious impact on a person or community with your music. This project showed me how music can be a healing process for the audience and the creator. Very dope.

Photo credit: Matt Kaplan (@karoni)

“Do U Wrong” is one of my favorites. How did the collaboration with Syd come about? What was that experience like?

We were connected through a mutual friend, and we got together in the studio with Zack Sekoff. The session was really fun and organic; we made pretty much the whole song that day. Took some tweaks here and there afterwards. Syd’s become a good friend too–she’s amazing.

There are lyrical repetitions in songs like “Nunwrong,” “Do U Wrong” and “Sumwrong.” What drew you to that lyrical theme?

Everything is a story, and I wanted to make sure this story seemed connected by some themes. In musical theater and in older movies with classic scores, you would hear a motif that was played to reinforce the emotion or important moments. John Williams is crazy with that. Anyways, the melody for the line “if there’s sumwrong I got you, baby” was my version of that.

Though born in Holland, you’ve made Santa Monica home. How has the California culture inspired you and this album?

You hear the West Coast sound all throughout it. It’s impossible to grow up here and not be influenced by the sound. And it’s so based on funk. The P-Funk sound birthed the G-funk sound, and that’s like eighty percent of my steez right there.

The sound of upbeat pop with a groovy twist makes this album easy to dance to. Which song was the most fun to make?

“Cassandra.” I was starving when I made it, and it’s all about the Postmates, who brought me pizza during that session.

You and your team have been working together for over a decade. How have you perfected your music-making process? How has your team played a part in that process?

We’ve been friends forever playing in the same high school bands and all that, so the chemistry is all there. It’s natural to us. It’s been a handful of years now of actually recording and releasing music, so the methods are always getting worked on, but the energy has been there since the jump. 

What can fans expect from your live performances?

Energy, and lots of sing-along moments.

Photo credit: Matt Kaplan (@karoni)

Lastly–and I must ask–who is Cassandra, and did she bring you what you need?

Yes, very much so. Mans gotta eat.

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