Kali Uchis is ahead of the game. Not only did the 26-year-old musician name her 2018 debut Isolation, as if she could see into the future, but by refusing to stick to a particular sound, she dares you to keep up. One minute, she’s gliding over a ramshackle bedroom-pop beat, on the Damon Albarn–assisted “In My Dreams,” and the next, she’s sinking into a warm, neo-soul bath, alongside Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins on “After the Storm.” Uchis’s particular brand of musical hopscotch can be traced back to her upbringing, a back-and-forth between Alexandria, Virginia, where she went to high school, and Colombia, where she spent her early years and carefree summers. In anticipation of her next project, an album recorded entirely in Spanish, she caught up with her friend and collaborator, the musician Steve Lacy, to discuss lighting up and letting go.
STEVE LACY: How are you doing?
UCHIS: I’m well. How are you?
LACY: I’m feeling pretty fine and dandy. Can’t complain. Are you back in L.A.?
UCHIS: I just got back. You should come to the pool.
LACY: I’ll come sit by it, but I just got tattooed so I shouldn’t go in.
LACY: I got my arm tatted. My toes, too. I’ve got to wear sandals for a month, but it’s cool. They look very cute.
UCHIS: My pool looks cute, too. I just got a new pool cleaner.
LACY: What kind of pool cleaner did you get?
UCHIS: He’s just way more on top of it than the last guy.
LACY: Where are you back from? UCHIS: I went to Texas for a bit. LACY: What did you think of traveling during a pandemic?
UCHIS: Honestly, I don’t think that anyone should do it unless it’s an emergency. Everybody in the back was squished together. The airlines are being greedy—it should only be one person per row. They’re making you wear your mask the whole flight, but you’re sitting right next to someone, so it really doesn’t matter. There should be no full flights.
LACY: Did you have the hazmat suit on or no?
UCHIS: Nah. I just used hand-sanitizing wipes every time I touched anything, I had the surgical mask, and I was in my own little space, up front. I feel like such a cunt saying first class. How was London? What did you do that you can tell me about?
LACY: You’re trying to turn this into my interview. Next question. You’re releasing music soon, is that right?
UCHIS: I dropped “Aquí Yo Mando” what feels like such a long time ago. I think it was a few weeks ago. That was my first single off my second album, which is going to be completely in Spanish. Have I played you any songs from it yet?
LACY: No, but I listened to it a bit before the call.
UCHIS: What? How?
LACY: Don’t worry about it. I have my sources. It leaked, so I just downloaded it.
UCHIS: Shut the hell up. Wait, which ones did you listen to? That’s so annoying. I wanted to play you the ones that I wanted you to hear.
LACY: I only listened to one, so it’s okay. I won’t listen to the rest.
UCHIS: The next song is probably the poppiest song that I’ve ever done, and it’s fun because artists like us, we just like to experiment with genre. Every single is a whole different thing.
LACY: I love that.
UCHIS: I just wanted to play, because I’ve never made a full Spanish album and I have so many different inspirations, being multicultural and having grown up between the DMV [D.C., Maryland, and Virginia] and Colombia. It’s two totally different cultures, so I’ve had a lot of influences. The last thing I ever want to do is be a predictable artist. I love that my fans never know what to expect when I drop a song. They don’t know what language it’s going to be, they don’t know what genre it’s going to be. We’re just having fun.
LACY: I definitely want to remove the cages as well.
UCHIS: [To someone else] Can I get the lighter? [To Lacy] Sorry.
LACY: Uh-oh. You chiefing?
UCHIS: Yeah, I’m smoking right now.
LACY: Oh, you on that gas.
UCHIS: Chill out. I don’t have little baby lungs like you. I’m not coughing.
LACY: I don’t even do that, honey. I’m a child of god. I’m saving myself and all that jazz. What’s driving you musically right now?
UCHIS: Since I already finished album two, I’ve been working on album three. People have tried to hire my creative director, but the funny thing is that I don’t have one. People assume that I do, because every time I have a new song or project, it’s really different than the last. But I don’t do it consciously. It’s more like, as artists, we just go through different phases of what we like. Just like how you dress differently now than you did three years ago. What I’ve been going through lately was very much what “Aquí Yo Mando” represented. Not just a powerful-woman anthem or bad-bitch anthem—I feel so liberated. It’s like a whole new me. I feel so different than I did when the pandemic started. How has it affected you?
LACY: I think it’s affecting me in a similar way. We’ve had so much time to be like, “Fuck. Okay, what do I want to do? What do I love? What do I want to fight for?”
UCHIS: Everybody in the country probably already needed therapy, but we definitely all deserve some free therapy now. But I feel like it’s had a positive impact on me. Before, I wasn’t living the way that I should have been living. It has made me appreciate and value my life a lot more than I was.
LACY: It’s just made everything so intentional. When you need to re-group and everything’s chaotic, what do you do to ground yourself ?
UCHIS: I like to smoke. I like to go into nature, be by water, or go somewhere with a nice view. Just breathe, smoke, and listen to music. What about you?
LACY: I just make music.
UCHIS: If things are chaotic, emotionally, I can’t make music. I feel too anxious and overwhelmed. You can do that?
LACY: When weed is involved. Sober, maybe not. Does Kali Uchis date?
UCHIS: Oh my gosh, so scandalous.
It’s getting tabloid up in here. I would say I’m dating. What do you consider dating? I guess I’ve been having a hard time understanding what exactly it is that I’m doing.
LACY: Whoa, okay, good question. There’s the act of dating. Literally just going on a date.
UCHIS: Do you think it’s okay to date multiple people at the same time?
UCHIS: That’s the point of dating, right? It was hard to wrap my head around because I’m a relationship person, but I’ve been single for over a year and a half now. It feels fine to just be getting to know people and going on dates.
LACY: Seeing what’s best for you.
UCHIS: Do you want to find a life
partner? That’s what I want.
LACY: I do, but I don’t know if I’m going to find a life partner at 22.
UCHIS: You’d want to find one later, huh?
LACY: Too many things change for me to be bound in a relationship with someone. Maybe I’m underestimating myself and my capabilities. But as of late, I don’t feel like I’m close.
UCHIS: Something that’s dangerous that’s happened to me, and that I think happens to a lot of young girls, is that I ended up wasting years of my life because I had that ride-or-die mentality. A lot of girls I know have that thing where we just want to fuck one person for the rest of our lives.
LACY: That mentality fucks up the spontaneity of it all.
UCHIS: I guess it also comes from me not having family out here. It’s different. When you have family, you don’t feel like you have to fill that void with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Rejection is god’s protection. Have you heard that before?
UCHIS: When something isn’t working out the way that you planned it to, it’s a reminder that things are going to work out how they’re supposed to. You’ve just got to believe in divine timing.
LACY: The power of perception is so big.
UCHIS: You get to a point where you realize that you just have to let shit go and roll with the punches. Don’t force shit.
LACY: One of my favorite quotes ever is, “Let go and let god.” That’s my shit right there.
UCHIS: There it is.
LACY: There what is?
UCHIS: Your next tattoo.
Hair: Iggy Rosales using Oribe at Opus Beauty
Makeup: Gilbert Soliz using Jouer Cosmetics at The Only Agency
Fashion Assistant: Michelle Foster
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