Okay Kaya

By
Photography Matthew Sprout

Published July 20, 2016

OKAY KAYA/THE SOCIETY MANAGEMENT. IN NEW YORK, JUNE 2016. PHOTOS: MATTHEW SPROUT/EXPOSURE. STYLING: NINA STERGHIOU/BRIDGE ARTISTS. HAIR: HOLLY MILLS/TIM HOWARD MANAGEMENT. MAKEUP: ERIN PARSONS/STREETERS USING MAC COSMETICS. MANICURE: HOLLY FALCONE/KATE RYAN INC FOR CHANEL LE VERNIS. PHOTO ASSISTANTS: ISAAC BEARMAN AND MATTHEW HAWKES. STYLING ASSISTANT: ALICE VAILLANT. SPECIAL THANKS: OUTPOST.

“My friend just called me a singer-sorrowwriter,” explains Norwegian musician and sometimes model Okay Kaya. “That was pretty funny.” Raised just outside of Oslo in Nesoddtangen, and currently based in New York, Okay Kaya sings soulfully and medatively about love and heartbreak. The accompanying instrumental is measured and minimal—a slow piano on “I’m Stupid (But I Love You),” a swelling guitar and a simple snare on “Keep on Pushin'”—keeping the focus on the tone of the lyrics, whether they are in English or Norwegian. 

Although the 25-year-old has yet to release a full-length album, she’s off to a promising start: “Damn, Gravity,” her most popular song thus far, was produced by Rodaidh McDonald, who has worked with King Krule, Sampha, and The xx; in the past she’s toured with another rising songwriter (and critic favorite) Tobias Jesso Jr.  In August, she’ll return to Norway to play at Øya, a festival in Oslo, alongside the likes of Anohni, Haim, The Last Shadow Puppets, The Kills, Stormzy, Young Fathers, and one of Kaya’s personal heroes PJ Harvey.

When she’s not busy making music, Kaya works on her photography. She’s dabbled in other art forms, too:  “Some of my friends in New York occasionally get together for a zine swap night [and] I’ve made some horrific drawings accompanied by equally horrific sentences,” she says. “I’d love to tap into other mediums but am still a baby in both music and photography.”—Staff

INTERVIEW: How did you get into making music? 

OKAY KAYA: Probably from growing up in a household with loads of records. My mom, who’s a painter, is into all sorts of music, especially funk soul and hip hop—Prince is her number one. I got a CD player in my room at a young age and got into folk and rock and punk. I got a guitar at 13 and attempted to play along.

INTERVIEW: What did you want to be when you were five years old?

OKAY KAYA: When I was five years old, I wanted to be a boy. Or a cat. Or inanimate objects. I didn’t think too much about the future.

INTERVIEW: What inspires your music? Who are some of your musical influences? 

OKAY KAYA: That’s a tricky question for me; I think I’ve found inspiration in most experiences in life, be they mundane or traumatic or fantastic. I’m inspired by other people’s stories in real life, but also by music and books and movies. There’s so many musicians and artists that have influenced me; the common thread is possibly the rawness of their music. Growing up, my favorites were something like Otis Redding, Billie Holiday, PJ Harvey, Nick Drake, Miriam Makeba, and The Velvet Underground.

INTERVIEW: What was the music scene like in Norway when you were growing up?

OKAY KAYA: I wasn’t really in the music scene growing up, most shows were 18 to go to and I grew up outside the city, but I’d go to local shows where the kids older than me would perform, or to Blitz, a squat house, to watch punk bands in Oslo and drink cheap beer.

INTERVIEW: What is your process for making a song? How is it different in comparison to making a mix? 

OKAY KAYA: The process is difficult to explain. I write potential songs down pretty much every night that have simmered in my head during the day. To be able to sleep, I find it relieving to write them down. I mess around with my guitar a lot too; sometimes I have this one little part I work on for a while and then I’m like, “Oh, this works for these words I wrote. After that, the timeline stretches from about 20 minutes to two weeks.

INTERVIEW: You moved to New York City to pursue modeling. How did you get discovered as a model? What made you decide to pursue a career in music instead?

OKAY KAYA: I pursued music without the intention of a career, simply to express myself through my medium. Working as a model is not always the most stimulating, so it was a very natural thing for me to do.

INTERVIEW: How was your experience touring with Tobias Jesso Jr.? How did you first meet him? 

OKAY KAYA: We met to do some writing together over a holiday and got along well. He had just made a great album and was about to tour, I came with him. It was my first tour and it was scary and fun!

INTERVIEW: When can we expect your debut album? Are you working on any other projects that you expect to put out this year?

OKAY KAYA: Soon! Relatively, anyway. I have some projects in mind, but I’m not sure when they’ll surface.

FOR MORE ON OKAY KAYA, VISIT HER WEBSITE.