“I think I have slowly but surely arrived at my sound.” KAYEF in an exclusive interview
Interview with KAYEF, recordJet Passenger of the Month in May 2020
Kayef is our Passenger of the Month for May. Recently he released his album Struggle Is Real and the track “Ich würd’ lügen” has really taken off, reaching 13th place in the official German single charts. In addition, he has cracked 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify and if you look at the cover of Top Hits Germany, you’ll see his impish grin. We asked him about his success, how the current crisis situation has influenced his music and why he sometimes lies to himself when he steps on the scales. Have fun with KAYEF
Hey Kai! Tell me: who are you?
My stage name KAYEF comes from my initials – not very interesting, I’m afraid! I wish I’d thought of something really crazy, but I just wrote out K and F as English letters.
Your album is called “Struggle Is Real” – have you ever struggled with yourself and your music?
Yes, definitely. The album title comes from what has gone wrong in the last year and a half or so of my life. I had to make some decisions and then, in terms of management, I struck out completely on my own. Doing all of that at once was a bit more than I thought. Thinking about what direction does my sound go in from here? I have tried many different things in the last few years – that was the struggle. And it was definitely real.
Even the title of the album was a struggle! I’ve got a note on my phone with 34 or 43 album titles…all of which I’ve rejected. I then eventually said “Okay, struggle is real”. The perfect fit. So that became the album title. At some point I set myself a deadline – I wanted to make the album in October, so I had to eventually come up with a title, because I knew the album would never come out otherwise. So I chose that title and realised it fitted better than anything else.
You’ve experimented musically, as you say. Do you now feel like you’ve arrived somewhere, where you feel most comfortable? Or will that change significantly in the future?
I think I have slowly but surely arrived at my sound. A certain amount of urban pop, in terms of instrumental, with a lot of rap and hip-hop influence, that has to be it. I am not going to blatantly drift in the direction of Mark Forster, but rather continue with my rap influence. In terms of lyrics, there will always be a lot of rap. I think I have settled into this sound nicely with this album. It can still be developed a bit; I’m always discovering new things and we’re always trying completely different things. But where I feel comfortable is how this album sounds.
One song from the album is absolutely going through the roof – but we’ll come back to that in a moment. Regardless of success, do you have a song on the album that you particularly hold special?
Yes. I especially love the song about my grandma. It has long since been a song where I shed a tear – particularly as I was writing it. It was a very strange feeling, sitting here alone in this room and thinking about a few things. This was a time when things were going badly for my grandma and to be honest, I was scared about losing her. And then things became a little clearer and this song came about. So that’s why it is particularly important to me.
When she heard the song, she found it pretty cool, which I was very happy about. So for me it is the most personal song on this album. Or the most emotionally charged.
You spent a lot of time in the studio for this album – what do you have to have in the studio?
I wrote quite a lot of the album at home, but also a lot with my producer, Topic, in the studio. I definitely have to have Volvic – no substitute, but for me that is simply the best way to drink plenty of water. As for other things – I think that good lighting is super important. The room must have a vibe and you get that with light. In the studio we have LEDs so you can adjust the light depending on the song. I also think natural light is extremely important. I’m not very good at hunkering down and having no contact with the outside world.
So let’s talk about what’s happening right now: you’re at 13th place in the charts with your song “Ich würd’ lügen” and you’re on the cover of Top Hits Germany at Spotify. In other words, you’re having huge success and all is well in your world right now. How does it all feel?
It is so weird! (Beams) When I heard that I had my first Spotify cover, I was like, ‘This is incredible. Well, I’ll send them a picture’. That is crazy. But when this Top Hits cover came, going on Spotify and seeing yourself there – that’s sick. Also cracking 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify. This is such a big number, one that you’ve rarely seen under your own name. I still have the feeling that it is all completely unreal. It sounds a bit corny to start with – “you can’t believe it” – but you really can’t believe it. It doesn’t feel real. Every moment you expect to make a mistake. It is so totally crazy.
Also reading messages from people who have made a connection with the song. That is overwhelming.
Of all that’s happening now, have you set anything as an objective? Was the direction clear?
The direction was always clear, I always had a desire for one song to really stand out. I’ve done a lot in the last few years which has worked quite well, but the feedback from people in the industry and from my environment was always, “You need a hit and it really needs to rock”.
Until recently, “Musik” was the most successful song I had ever made, but that has changed. But for a song to really go bang after you’ve put something together was a dream I had. This means attention outside of my usual environment. I have a very stable fanbase who support everything, which is nice. But to see new people coming and discovering the music for themselves – that is a big step forward. Of course this is what I truly wanted. But I had not expected that this song would be the one. But you never think it will be.
Is it a coincidence which song is successful, or do you tackle various songs and their potential differently?
We experimented a little with making songs for radio in 2016/2017, for example, but I am not doing that anymore. Instead with this album, I have made what I wanted to. My style is a little poppy, but still relatively urban so the song works.
When was the last time you lied?
When I last stepped on the scales. I think I told myself a little lie. I simply didn’t accept that I had put on a bit of lockdown flab. (Laughs) Normally I try to limit my lying! Obviously everyone has these little white lies, but I don’t know when my last lie was.
Apropos coronavirus: Are you finding it difficult to be creative at the moment, because so little is happening?
Fortunately not when it comes to making music. Making music is, for me, something that exists independently, so luckily things have not really changed for me. The leisure time has, however. What else can you do? But my God, you have to make the best of it. I, for one, have discovered cooking! I am now a huge fan of cooking. I am discovering a few things you can do at home.
You have been publicly making music for a long time – is it a special challenge, growing up with your music, while other people watch?
Great question. In any case it is weird now looking at things from five years ago. I have been making music fully in public for six or seven years. What was going on at that time is, of course, different from what I talk about in songs today. But I think that’s understandable. If you listen to my music today and my music from six years ago, it is clear that it is not the same. But I think it’s not too bad. There are a few things I would not say anymore – but I believe that is true for every normal person growing up, even if not in the public eye. For me there’s no great difference.
I decided to make music publicly and I knew that if I didn’t take it down, the whole world would be able to hear it for all of my life. If I didn’t think it was what I had wanted, then I shouldn’t have put it out there. That is why I am now relatively relaxed about it. I stand by what we had at the time.
On social media you often use “we” – “we’re having success”, “we’ve made something”. You’re referring to your team. How important is it for you to choose who you work with?
Extremely important. It is important that I know I can rely on people. Or maybe I’m also a bit of a control freak with that kind of thing. I just want to understand everything. Also I’ve always got really involved in things – my first music videos were me and a tripod in my parents’ basement. I then taught myself how to edit, how to do effects, how to record myself – always self-taught.
It is important to me to implement what I have in my head. If I can’t do it myself, then I’ll consciously choose people who can. That is why I have always kept my team relatively small. A handful of people with whom I have worked for years – now that is trust. And they also tolerate the fact that I am a control freak. They know that I would like to edit the video, but they also know that I can count on their skills. Everything is done on a basis of friendship.
Clearly, at the end of it all, I am the one with his name on Spotify, but there has always been a feeling of “togetherness”. And it would seem weird to me to use “I”. In the end, it doesn’t all just come from me. I have to thank the bulk of the people who have to listen to everything!
And I mean that a lot more. Even with an independent mindset, you can only achieve something with a fanbase. For me this is the most important thing; that you bring the people who support you with you on your journey of success.
You’re part of the “internet generation”. Without the internet, would your music be different, or would it just have a different dynamic behind it?
Another great question! A lot would be very different. With the internet, everything has got very cool and easy. The internet allows you to share your things with the world, if you want to. I am grateful for that. More than ever the people who listen to it will decide whether or not it is successful. It is no longer the case that there is a huge major budget behind it, at least not for most people who are popping up right now. But these are just good things. I find this very, very cool. And I believe that without the internet and, above all, without this internet-savvy generation, things would look very different.
Of course, it is difficult to say exactly what would be different, but we would probably still be sending demo tapes and hoping that someone will listen to them. But at the same time, the competition has definitely got bigger. But still, it has is definitely got easier to take the first steps.
Like with recordJet, for example, just publishing the first few things. It costs just 10 euros and suddenly your song’s on Spotify! In the past you had to really hunt around for someone willing to listen to you. How easy the path to success has become is a huge privilege.
Would you prefer to play a concert in front of 10 die-hard fans, or in front of 10,000 people that do not know you?
A smaller concert, definitely. The smallest gig I have ever played was in a small town in Austria where we played in front of 25 people. But it was such a great atmosphere! I could really get involved with the audience, half of the set was requests from the crowd – it was so great, I loved it!
10,000 people who do not know you – you need to find them first of all! I think that’s really difficult. This is for me one of the greatest challenges, winning over people who do not know you. I would be more nervous about that. When you get them on board, it’s obviously a great thing. But it’s easy to lose focus. You then no longer have contact with the individual person who has a connection to the song, but a buzzing crowd.
Why and how did you come by recordJet?
I think it was in 2012. I had made a song called “Nicht so schwer”. At the time, I really wanted to make a song like Cro. Something where today I would say, ‘You can’t just go into the studio and simply make this song!’ However back then, that’s what I did. The song is really not good. But I really wanted to have it on Spotify and iTunes. So I googled around a bit and came to recordJet relatively quickly.
It was so easy and cost about 6 euro. I thought, ‘great – as if it’s that simple!’ It was as easy as uploading a photo to Facebook. It was super easy. Since then I have been a huge fan of recordJet. I like it when things that seem complicated and time-consuming are actually easy. And at a fair price – reason to celebrate!
Half a year later I released my next number, which went quite well for my circumstances at the time. Since then I have been a huge fan of recordJet. I also encouraged my friends to upload things, because that is simply the easiest way. I thought that was cool.
Well, we’re definitely happy you’re here! Do you have any last words, things you want to get off your chest?
I’d like to say hello to my mum and my sister! And I’m very happy to be on this wonderful recordJet homepage and that communication and everything is so easy. As I said, I am a huge fan of recordJet. I hope that we will have more hits to celebrate! I think that your concept is simply perfect for the modern world and I hope that there are many more people out there that will find that out for themselves. And I’m also hugely thankful that you’ve been with me for 8 years.