Ken X Y Smolders & Opens Up In The New Video For His Single “Shadows”

Like so many other musical artists, Ken X Y has had “music coming out of his feet” since he was a child. This multi-talented dancer turned performer has always had a passion for music and dancing, and that is reflected in his brand new single “Shadows”, which contains themes that almost every single one of us can relate to right now regarding self-disappointment and “stepping into direct sunlight”. I caught up with this Los Angeles based performer and we chatted about everything from merging his nightlife experience into his performance style & his ambitious and upcoming three album release. 

Photo Courtesy of Ken X Y

Michael Cook: Let’s start at the beginning; how did you dive into the world of music? Did you always know it would be your passion?

Ken X Y: Music was my passion before I’d even realized it was. I began training in classical ballet and other forms of dance at the age of 3 and grew up in that world. Fast forward to 17-year-old me, in the second half of my senior year in a performing arts high school I was attending for dance. I’d injured myself and couldn’t dance or even walk for a while, so I started writing music. When it was time to return to dance, I chose to pursue music and singing instead (much to everyone’s shock and dismay). I ended up graduating as a voice student. When I first started, there were a ton of people willing to work with me so I learned how to produce for myself; first in Garage Band, then in Logic Pro X. Eventually, in mid 2013, I got up the nerve to move to LA and really pursue my career. My mother likes to tell a story about when I was 7 and she saw me dancing alone in our house without music. When she asked what I was dancing to, I replied; “I’ve got music coming out of my feet”. I always used to think that was a sign I was meant to be a dancer. In retrospect, I feel like what I said without realizing was; ‘I have music within me’.

MC: For those that have never heard your music, how would you describe your sound?

KXY: Original/unique, yet still relatable. As much as I follow certain trends that speak to my artistry, I have always preferred to stand out from the pack. As far as sonically, I am a huge melding pot. I draw inspiration from individual songs/pieces of music more than a specific artist(s). Some of the artists that have produced material that has influenced me are Sade, Daft Punk, Janet Jackson, YES, Utada, Gorillaz, Amerie, Banks, Jungle, RAC, Solange, Aaliyah, James Blake, Snoh Aalegra, Allie X, Oliver Nelson (Producer), Blood Orange, Adele, Drake, and Calvin Harris. So to sum it up: Alternative/Pop.

Photo Courtesy of @hellnaux

MC: The new single “Shadows”; tell me about it

KXY: “Shadows” is mainly about dealing with self-disappointment. When the lockdown started in March, I was only barely able to keep my life together, and still ended up losing some aspects. It made me think about how, in the past, I’d thought I would’ve been more stable in my life by this point; so that something like this would not have been so hard on me. I think a lot of people in my generation can relate to that. Also, It’s the moment where you realize you’ve been too focused on pleasing other people and you’ve not been expressing or been honest with yourself. Every time I sat down at the computer to start something I was always thinking, is this gonna be easy for people to get? Is it going to be remixable? Is it gonna be radio friendly? In doing that I realized that I really let myself down. I lost the point of music, which is to express how you feel as an artist from your unique perspective.

MC: Nightlife is a large part of your life; how did you get into that world and what makes you passionate about it?

KXY: Being a nightlife entity /go-go dancer has become a large part of what I’m known for in the gay community. In all honesty, I never really meant for that to happen. I started go-go dancing in January 2019 because my previous job as an assistant teacher for college level electronic music production classes just wasn’t paying enough. My family had been helping me, but they had to pull the plug to help deal with medical issues. I’m a very fit and reasonably attractive guy with previous dance experience, and heard go-go dancing could be very lucrative, so I went for it. Also, it would still leave me time to work on my music as opposed to a normal 9-5, which I’d tried before. I learned quickly that guys with bigger followings book the better paying gigs, so I started to promote my dancing on a second instagram account I’d initially made just for myself apart from my original music page. Then it blew up and along the way I’ve met some awesome characters and life long friends. To be clear, I’m not passionate about go-go dancing at all. It can be fun too, but I’m about making money. Also, I am a trained dancer, great performer and a professional; so if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing it right… which means doing it to the best of my ability.

Photo Courtesy of Ken X Y

MC: The video for “Shadows” is haunting and seems to tell a story; tell me more about your vision for the video.

KXY: The video doesn’t have a traditional story line to it. It is more so presented as me talking/singing to the listener while coming to the realizations /conclusions I mentioned previously in real time. It’s like someone who’s just been in a car crash, but is stuck in/struggling to exit the car. I’m the one who has imprisoned myself in the shadows and only I can truly free myself. The entire video I never actually step into direct sunlight. With depression that stems from self-hatred, some people never completely get rid of that. They learn to work around it or just not feed into it. At the end of the video there’s a shot of me driving my bike in the direction I came from at the start of the video. This is meant to symbolize me, accepting what I’ve done to myself and beginning the work of healing/ forgiving myself.

MC: Collaboration is a big part of an artist’s musical trajectory; who would you love to collaborate with in the studio of behind the mic with?

KXY: Well, just before the quarantine, I started a 3 track EP with my friend and fellow Artist/Producer Sam J. Garfield. We’re co producing and co writing all the songs with me doing most of the vocals. I had also just begun a song with fellow ‘nightlifer’ Jaake Castro. Kelechi and I have spoken briefly but excitedly about working together in the near future. As far as artists outside of the local community, any of the artists I named earlier would be absolutely amazing!

MC: How have you been staying creative during a quarantine?

KXY: Same ways I usually stay creative. I am super inspired via photography, visual art, animation and film. I rewatch my favorite films/ shows(drawing new inspiration from it) and also look for new things to watch that are engaging. Finding beautiful images online has been a catalyst for some of my favorite songs, including “Shadows”! I think it really easy to turn into a vegetable when you’re stuck inside most of the time, so it’s important to do things that stimulate your mind and body. Working out, learning new things also really helps me. I recently started training in Pilates and let me tell you… being in the position of a student again is frustrating but it is so engaging for your mind and overall rewarding for your being.

MC: Whats next for Ken X Y?

KXY: Well “Shadows” is the first single from my album Escapism. I actually have a 3 album concept going and 2/3rds of the music is mostly done. Escapism is about the ways we try to run/ hide from our world/our own issues. The next album Romanticism, is about how we love and also how we pretend ours or other people’s issues aren’t as bad as they are. The third album is Realism, which will be about how we call our issues out and actually deal with them. I am planning to do a music video for my next single, but I think that it will likely be filmed and released after the album is out because I want to make it a much bigger production. I’m also really hoping to start doing live shows again! I love performing so much and it’s truly the best way to connect with listeners!

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