Somewhere between the second and third minute of Khushi’s “Freedom Falls,” what has been a fragile affair emerges from its cocoon. Kalim Patel’s full vocal range is revealed, along with an ear for ambitious, orchestral arrangements. It’s a departure from his work as part of London trio Strong Asian Mothers, and part of a coming album mixed by James Blake.
How he got to “Freedom Falls” is an expedition emblematic of Khushi’s larger journey in music. He first wrote it ten years ago as part of an indie rock band. It didn’t take—so Khushi re-arranged it as a dance song. “I thought it never quite fulfilled its potential, but I always had faith in it,” he says over the phone. The call is part of a busy day. Khushi’s album release is still more than a month away, but he leaves to support James Blake on tour in two days.
After the tour, Khushi won’t be going back to London. After visiting Los Angeles to be present while Blake was mixing his album, Khushi found reasons to stick around. “A lot of people have spoken to me about this forward-moving, ‘let’s go get this’ energy in L.A.,” he says. “I could probably do with that, with my tendency to tinker away in a shed for years.”
Life’s about to change in a hurry for Khushi, but it’s the result of some dedicated artistry that had to morph several times to assume its final form.
Should I call you Khushi or Kalim?
Half the people in my life call me Khushi, the other half call me Kalim. Khushi was a childhood nickname. I think my family thought that the name Kalim wasn’t soft enough for a baby. Khushi is appropriately soft and squishy and babyish.
It’s a definite onomatopoeia. When did you start using the name as a way to release your music?
About five years ago. I release my first single, “Magpie,” and I released an EP after that. I was really proud of the stuff I’d released, but I just had this feeling that if I came across that music, I wouldn’t necessarily have listened to it. And I wanted to make something that I would fall in love with.
So I stopped releasing stuff and disbanded the band at the time, and set off on a journey to try and find a new style that I felt was more my own.
What did you want to do differently, when you started creating without the band?
I wanted to move away from a complete reliance on acoustic guitar. I wanted to find a sound that I was excited about, something fresh and timeless.
Tell me about “Freedom Falls.”
This song has been on a really long journey with me, I wrote it about ten years ago. It’s been with me through various different bands, and I thought it never quite fulfilled its potential, but I always had faith in it. The first version of it was more like an indie band, and then I had a version that was more groove-based, it almost sounded like a weak Jai Paul impersonation. [Laughs]
And then this version emerged when I was making a rough demo for a friend, just to give them an idea of the chords. That situation took the pressure off of trying to find the version, somehow it just emerged from that process. I’m happy it’s found this form, I’m very pleased with this record.
And now you’re playing shows with James Blake. How’d that come about?
I met James through mutual friends a few years ago. I think he listened to my music and liked one or two songs initially, but as this album emerged he fell in love with more and more of the songs, up to the point where he offered to mix the album. I went out to L.A. towards the end of last year so he could mix it there, and it was during that stay that he asked me to support him on his upcoming tour.
What was the studio experience like?
The first track he mixed, I was still in London. We were sending it back and forth online, and that didn’t really work out perfectly. So we just thought, “Maybe it’s better if we’re in the same space together, and shape it together.”
It was an incredible process, a very inspiring time. We were mainly mixing in his home studio, a very chill affair. Mixing here and there, but as part of living and bonding.
Was there anything in particular about how he approached the process that you took with you after it was over?
It was a fascinating learning curve, just watching him work—not only work, but seeing him work on my projects, seeing what he was changing. I was just trying to soak it all up, because he just has an incredible ear, and he’s a visionary producer really. There were some ideas that, coming from any other person, I would’ve said, “Nah, that’s not even worth trying.” But because it’s James, you sort of go with it, and very often I’d end up seeing that it was absolutely brilliant.
What happens now that “Freedom Falls” is out?
We leave on tour on February 16. The first date is in Atlanta, and we’re going to have to buy all the gear out there. This is the first time I’ve done that, actually. It’s because I’m going to move to L.A. for a bit after the tour, and I didn’t want to bring all my [gear] over, it would be too expensive.
You’re doing it! You’re making the leap to sunny, smoggy California.
[Laughs] It’s something I thought I’d never do. I proudly thought for a long time, “We’ve got everything we need in London, there’s no need to leave.” Obviously London’s incredible, and I’ve been here a long time. I think you get a new lease on life and energy with a change of pace, and a lot of people have spoken to me about this forward-moving, “let’s go get this” energy in L.A., maybe America more widely as well. I could probably do with that, with my tendency to tinker away in a shed for years. Sometimes I need a bit of that energy.
It’ll be good to learn how to miss London, too.
For sure, and it’ll still be here when I get back. I think the concentration of musicians and producers and opportunities in L.A. is just on another level. It will be good to get away from clouds and rain, to be honest.
What advice would you give a new artist that’s just starting out?
On the producer side of things, search for sounds and plug-ins that lots of other people don’t have and get to know them really well. Listen carefully. Think about what you can do that is unique. Maybe you play an instrument or can sing. Work out ways you can involve that in your production. Maybe you have a friend who plays trumpet, record them and play with those recordings. Maybe there’s some strange old toy instrument you have lying around in your house that you might be able to record and manipulate. Those recordings are unique to you and give you a good starting point to play with and make even more unique sounds.
Don’t be above searching online to learn more or YouTube tutorials or manuals. There’s a wealth of information out there. That’s one of the exciting things about producing, there’s an almost limitless amount to learn. Remain thirsty, open, hungry.
On the artist side, learn to pay attention to what your motivations are. On top of talent and hard work, another key component is what motivates you to create. Do you want to impress people? Do you want to make lots of money? Do you want to express what is inside you, to follow and develop your instincts in the truest way possible? It can sometimes be difficult to be entirely honest with yourself about your motivations but I think it’s important because it can mean the difference between making true and unique creations and making stuff that at its core is an attempt to succeed, impress, copy, be cool.
Khushi is on tour with James Blake in North America from February 18 through March 16. See the dates below.