ky! (pronounced “Koo”) is a new band fronted by Reelika Ranik (vocals) and Katrin Kvade (piano, electronics and production), with a supporting group of musicians. Their EP will be out shortly on Omni Music in the UK and digitally in all other territories.
“It’s so hard to think or do something when music is playing. I can’t read a book when music is playing. It requires attention.” Reelika Ranik, the vocalist of new band ky!, is talking about the power of music, and seems to have a respect for it, rather than putting on a playlist while working on other things. ky!’s own output also requires attention.
The duo, who have supplemented their early, home-made, electronic sound with a new band, met in the Estonian cultural capital of Viljandi, where Ranik grew up and where Katrin Kvade, the band’s multi-instrumentalist and producer, was a student. They knew each other, but until establishing how much they had in common musically, they did not become the firm friends they are now, according to Ranik. “She came to listen to one of my gigs, and said after that, ‘I didn’t know you could sing so well!’” When forming the band, they came up with the name ky! as a reference to the science fiction film “Kin-Dza-Dza!”
“It’s new for both of us. We’re both trying our limits. It’s about getting to know yourself, not just finding a band sound. How far can you go, how much can you do?” Although Ranik’s question is rhetorical, the duo have come a long way from a few original recordings that were posted on Soundcloud in the second half of 2015.
ky! is now signed to a UK label, Omni Music, with the group’s EP on the verge of release. Breathe In is a pop wonder, reminding me of everyone from Saint Etienne to Bel Canto to Dubstar, though both musicians insist they were not influenced by any of these groups. “We don’t have role models ... it’s a little bit funny to think we’re just kids in the dark, discovering new things,” says Ranik.
Disclose and Sometimes show another side to the group, with the distinct sounds of both records building up through gradual layering, Ranik’s voice one of many instruments woven together into a dense fabric on Disclose, and then taking Sometimes into Portishead territory.
The new setup is more of a challenge, Kvade concedes. “It’s getting more difficult; the new songs will be with almost all real instruments, there will be practically no synthesisers; we have a drummer, a bass player ... we want to make live music, and I can’t say it’s electronic, because it sounds kind of live-y.”
Ranik isn’t sure that what we all refer to during the interview as “real instruments” are really harder to be creative with. “I think it’s much more difficult to record with electronics. If you go on stage with a saxophone, you don’t have so many choices what it can sound like, beyond a few effects. If you have a computer, you have a whole world of choices, and it’s so much more difficult.” “I like the sound of real piano; I don’t like midi,” Kvade adds, an interesting admission in the era of artists rocking up to gigs with just a few machines and an Apple Mac for stage equipment.
Ranik, who studied, among other subjects, improvisation at the Estonian Academy of Music, feels her vocals have developed a lot in recent years. “I feel more free to improvise, but also if we have a live situation, I’ve trained myself to not worry, and if I hear something in my head to just sing it out.” Kvade adds, “we don’t have that many singers who can do improvisation. I just leave her alone, and she builds her voice. It seems very simple, but actually when I was working with other pop singers they couldn’t do it.”
“Laura (Remmel, Ranik’s friend and fellow Academy alumnus) and Reelika are among the few who can just be alone, and build something with their voices. It’s very hard to find people. It’s not about the weird sounds — it’s about doing something a pop singer cannot do.” Kvade and Ranik work together on lyrics, with songs written by one, or both, members. Ranik admits that lyric-writing is a process she likes to take time on. “For Breathe In, it took such a long time, I can’t just pull it out of the bag, sometimes you need to let things settle.”
I ask about the Estonian music scene, and if it is difficult for a band to break out internationally. Kvade knows ky! is in its early stages, but is still excited about its prospects. “The fact that we’re going to release our EP on a UK label, it’s already feeling international.”
One of the joys of listening to ky!’s two main members in conversation is that they have such different personalities. This is reflected in their reading tastes. Kvade is a lover of classic literature, feeling little has come in recent years to change her viewpoint. “I’m Russian and I like Dostoyevsky, but the problem is, he’s dead. I’ve read some contemporary authors, and it all seems like bullshit. I actually wrote to some Estonian authors and asked ‘why did you write that stuff?’ I looked for an author who is alive now who doesn’t write bullshit, and I found one Russian author, Pelevin, and he’s the best thing that happened in literature, I think. The context is the politics, the people, the psychology, and how our world is structured.”
“If I want entertaining reading, I take Terry Pratchett,” Ranik responds, however Kvade instantly replies, “he’s too simple in his writing.” “He’s an easy read.” “Too easy in my opinion. I don’t like monsters and all those things that don’t exist — I like reality, and I like things to be realistic!” It’s this creative conflict, underlined by a strong friendship, that has caused ky! to be considered one of Estonia’s hottest breakout prospects, and caused the group to create such brilliant, original music.