khai dreams is like jesus. i remember when sunkissed was the song everyone was dancing to on tiktok in late 2019. i shamelessly searched it on spotify, and it was the soundtrack that played in my mind when i imagined myself and my hypothetical lover being deeply and incandescently in love. khai creates beautifully addictive melodies that soothe the soul while implementing bold yet captivating musical choices. but what really allowed me to resonate with their music was how their lyrics defined love as a universal experience – unbounded by cultural conflicts, gender, and time. just like jesus did fr.
khai dreams is an oregon-based artist who makes chillhop/bedroom pop tunes for soul searchers, artsy indie people (me), and for love itself. since 2018, khai has made must-listen-to bangers, with their debut album, absolute heartbreak, released earlier this year. here at radio, we aim to explore the complex intersection of race, gender, and sexuality and how this influences artists’ conceptions of music. we are also interested in khai’s personal journey within the music industry to inform aspiring artists in the ucla community.
having been a lowkey hardcore khai dreams fan, it has been such an honor to interview them. here is the interview xx.
mickey: hi, khai dreams. how are you doing today?
khai dreams: I’m doing good. How are you?
i’m good, thanks. so, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Khai. I’m a singer-songwriter from Oregon. I just released an album called Absolute Heartbreak. So you know, yeah, that’s me.
yeah. congratulations on your new album, by the way.
yeah, I’ve been listening to your stuff since tiktok days and stuff. how has been the journey for you overall, from tiktok and then moving on to your latest album?
It’s been pretty interesting. I think I’ve learned a lot and I guess it’s all been a pretty short timeframe. It feels like a hundred years, but yeah, I’m definitely happy with where I landed. So yeah, can’t complain.
what’s the basis behind this album?
The basis is 2021. It was quite a year for me of just a lot of heartbreak through various different ways. Just coming to a lot of sobering realizations about myself, about what I can do and what I can’t do, what I wanted to be versus what I am. A lot of loss and heartbreak through some relationships. And just, yeah, it was very overwhelming. And so, once I was starting to get on the other side of it, I started making some music again because I hadn’t for a while, and it was all following this theme – Heartbreak. I decided that I wanted to make an album. I knew I wanted to make an album, but I didn’t really know how it was going to turn out. But it just came together itself. As I was making songs, I was like, Okay, I know that this is all part of it. Absolute heartbreak came shortly after that realization.
it’s deep. has music always been an outlet for you to express yourself in that way? when did you start writing music?
I started really writing music in high school. I was experiencing a lot of depression and anxiety, and it definitely was an outlet for me to get some of that out. But I also feel like as I continued it, like making music, I became less and less connected to it just out of, I guess, a fear of just revealing too much of myself. And I think I definitely reclaimed it back since then, especially with this album and just doing it for me. You know what I’m saying?
yeah, of course. thank you for sharing that. what do you feel is the main driving force behind why you make music? do you make music for other people or yourself mainly?
I make music for myself. I think I make music for my friends, too. I usually am making music with my friends, and I think that is a big part of what makes it something that I enjoy doing. It’s very much like the collaborative process is something that’s very fun to me. And I have made it for others in the past, but I always find that it’s a lot harder for me to do that just because I feel like it’s a lot more pressure.
did you have formal music training growing up as well?
No. Not me. No, I just started singing and then I started playing the ukulele. And then I started writing. And then I’m better at YouTube, does the trick.
just chilling and getting to navigate your own way and stuff.
we want to talk about how the facets of your identity come into play in your relationship with music. one of the questions we wanted to ask was, do you feel like it’s important to make queeririfed music or music relevant to the lgbtq+ community? for me as a queer asian person, there’s something between the intersection between my ethnicity and sexuality that makes it a lot different for me to perceive life completely differently from someone else. do you feel like that’s relevant to you in regards to the way you create music?
Yeah, I think so. I think it’d be really hard for it not to be, I guess, even if I didn’t want it to be or I didn’t think that it was. When I think about when I started making music, I grew up in a predominantly white town, and I always felt pretty alienated. I think when I was making music back then, I was really trying to reach out to anyone that would listen and maybe feel like people were understanding me and seeing me because I didn’t really feel seen at the time. I think talking to a lot of fans and meeting a lot of fans of my music, they tend to be Asian. They tend to be queer, which I think is very funny because I started making music before I really came out. Now that I’ve come out, I’ll often get, “Oh, that’s no surprise” to me.
They knew. Yeah, it was queer-coded music. But now, especially, it is very much a part of my journey as a trans person, as a queer person, and as an Asian person. It was very much in mind this time around when I was creating this music about how this has affected me in the way that I feel about everything regarding my identity.
yeah. do you feel like there should also be music about trans people and non-binary people, for example? because I feel like gender is something that is really neglected within music..
Yeah. I think it’s so interesting as a trans person listening to music. I feel like there’s so much art that’s about trans people, weirdly, but people just don’t realize it. I think lots of cis people don’t really realize how similar their experiences might be to that of a trans person’s experience – the way that we all have issues fitting into our gender, have issues coming into our gender… We all stand outside of the box, whether we want to or not. But I really wish there was more explicitly trans music from trans artists. I think, especially these days, you have so many trans artists that are really coming out to create lots of all sorts of different types of music, and they’re getting that good reception. I think it’s a very meaningful thing to me when I’m creating this music, and these people that have experienced the things that I’ve experienced and have the perspective that I do – that means the world to me. So it makes it very much worth it to keep doing it.
that’s pretty cool. there was a point I was going to bring up, but I completely forgot it. so what are your plans for the future regarding your musical career?
I’m not so sure. I’m definitely taking a bit of a break. I just know that I do love making music and I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. And I really think I’m just going to take it one step at a time. Because with absolute heartbreak, it’s probably my favorite thing I’ve made. And I really was just following my gut with how that was going to come about. So try to do that again. A couple of the songs were already demos before, but it just needed to be finished. So that definitely gave me a little bit of an edge up on it. But I think it took a couple of months, two or three months. It did come together pretty fast just because I was coming out of it really, really amped up to make music because I had felt so down that I wasn’t able to make anything. But yeah, it’s probably one of the fastest pieces of art I’ve put together.
how do you feel like your music has changed throughout the years? and how do you feel like it’s going to change later on?
Yeah, I mean, it started in SoundCloud, and I literally just found beats on SoundCloud. And I would reach out and be like, “Hey, can I use that?” And if I could, then I made something of it. It was very straightforward. And then I think naturally, I wanted to do more. I met more friends who could do these things that I couldn’t do with music. And it just very naturally was developing into a lot more than just sample beats, lo-fi stuff. So yeah. All right.