In 2013, Clive Davis sophomore Khaya Cohen showed her x-factor to Simon Cowell, who gushed uncharacteristically over her performance and even compared her to Amy Winehouse. A New York City native, Cohen started playing in bands and working with producers at a very early age and has already built a popular repertoire of music cover the years. In an interview with Washington Square News, Cohen — who performs under the simple moniker Khaya — discusses the versatility in her voice. She explains what makes her music tick and how it has evolved over time.
Washington Square News: Who is Khaya [as an artist]?
KC: I don’t really know. I definitely struggle with the whole brand thing, so right now I’m just writing songs and being myself.
WSN: You’re not trying to focus too much on one specific identity?
KC: No, I feel like there are so many people who would be an artist no matter what. There’s a lot that goes into the branding and the personality making and all that stuff. That’s the part I don’t want to do; that’s the reason I wouldn’t want to be an artist. I feel like it’s putting so much pressure into something that’s not who I am.
WSN: What are your favorite genres of music?
KC: I listen to literally everything. I think that being versatile really helps. I’ll meet with the jazz kids because I sing jazz, but I can play rock with my friends. I’m actually playing in a punk band with one of my friends. You can do anything and it’s just more fun and less restrictive.
WSN: What’s your favorite part of the music making process?
KC: I would say songwriting. I love just writing a song and getting super pumped about it. For me — and this happened the other night when I was writing a song — I’ll just get so excited. I have all these ideas and I can’t sleep. I’ll wake up the next morning and demo it. I think the writing and demoing processes are my favorite. That’s when all the ideas come together and it clicks.
WSN: How has your songwriting evolved?
KC: I’ve stopped bullsh—tting. I used to try to do all this cool sh—t, or pretend to be something I’m not just to fit into a certain sound. Now I’m like, “f—k all that; I just want to write good music.” I’ve just been cutting out all the bullsh—t and I stopped trying too hard. I just want to write what I want to write.
WSN: Are you trying to hone in one specific genre or are you going for a more diverse sound?
KC: I think it’s coming pretty naturally. I’m just writing what I feel and demoing how I feel it. With the best artists, their albums change over time. Listen to Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” versus Bowie’s [“Berlin Trilogy”]. I’m not worried about a sound because it’s going to evolve based on where I’m at and who I’m working with.
WSN: If you could play one venue in NYC, what would it be?
KC: It’d be cool to open for someone at Bowery Ballroom because then you get all these people that don’t know you because they’re coming for the main act. It’s a mid-size venue; it’s not too big. [I think] it’d be super hype.
WSN: Do you have any events coming up?
KC: I’m releasing a single, “Why’s It Gotta Be About Love,” that’s coming out around two weeks from now. Also, I have a show on April 8 at The Groove that’s all-ages on a Saturday night, so I hope a lot of people come to that.
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