An American Teen In London.
Interviewer: Olivia Dytor // @viatiadytor
Photographer: Ray Brown // @notblackbutbrown
Stylist: Jen Eleto // @Jenelectro
Fashion Assistant: Joe Tebbutt // @josephtebbutt
Location: The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, London
The 19-year-old singer and songwriter Khalid released his debut album on 3rd March after his song ‘Location’ became popular last year. We caught up with the soft, soulful voice that is Khalid to discuss his sudden rise to fame, how growing up in Germany and Texas has shaped him, his influences, playing in London and of course, his style.
When did you start making music?
I actually recorded my first song about a year and a half ago. When it came down to making music, it was a form of therapy that I found because I had moved from New York to El Paso and it was a rough part of my life. I spent all of my High School career in New York and then my mum found out that we have to move. It was really upsetting because you build all these friendships and you have to go, you have to leave. All my friends from New York had stopped talking to me so I was super lonely, it was just me pretty much and loneliness was super hard for me but I turned it into a positive. I started making music. That was when I started writing down all my feelings, putting them in voice note format and all that and then I started my senior year.
And how old were you?
I was 17. I met my current best friend and he asked me “have you ever thought of recording, have you ever thought of turning this into something?”. I did but that was way ahead of what I thought I could achieve in life. So I was like you know what I’m gonna go through with it. The second song I made I put up on SoundCloud and the most popular kid in school turned out and he tells everyone “this song sucks” and he started talking bad about me, but instead of quitting I turned that into motivation as well. I’m not gonna let someone tell me what to do. So I made the second song which is ‘Save’, the first I had finished from front to back and I uploaded it on SoundCloud, I didn’t even listen to it. It was one take in my friend’s bedroom, he had a guitar, we had a mic and we recorded it. We put it up on SoundCloud and in my city, it just took off. It had like 20,000 plays in 2 days.
How did you feel after seeing such a big positive response to your music for the first time?
This was super big for me especially being at High School getting that many plays that were foreign to me, so I was super excited. Seeing all the positive comments really hyped me up and I was like, I wanna do this. So I started writing a lot more and putting out songs. I had so many songs and I had to lead up to ‘Location’. I started recording it in Atlanta and had finished recording it in El Paso. When I had finished the song I invited my friend and mum to the studio and when I had finished the song I was like, I want this up as soon as possible. My management thought we should wait on it, they didn’t know if right now was the time and I was like no, we gotta release it right now. So we released it, it was around my Senior Prom and I actually won Prom King, I don’t know if it was because of the song or not. After the song came out a couple of months later Kylie Jenner plays it on her Snapchat, she plays it 3 days in a row, she plays it my Graduation Day – so my last day of school. She plays it and for me, it was something that was so different but I was so appreciative of it because I was like you know what, there’s one person who can bring all of this influence and all of these eyes. I hadn’t really watched Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat story before, I didn’t really use Snapchat like that so when someone had told me I was like no way! No way she’s playing my song and the song started trafficking.
And people picked it up just from Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat story?
People picked it up and ever since then the growth of the song, I really feel like everything that I’ve been through has happened because of that song. I was able to make more songs and continue but ‘Location’ has created such a culture of its own. It traveled and I was here for the ride, I was riding the traveling wave of ‘Location’ and now it’s Top 50 on Billboard 100, which is crazy because I’m 19 now. This happened when I was 17 turning 18 and I just turned 19 a couple of weeks ago. It’s happened so fast it’s crazy.
How would you describe your musical style?
I feel like my musical style is very soulful based because that’s what I grew up off. My mum’s a singer and she would sing around the house. She’d play Musiq SoulChild, Brandy, Aaliyah, Usher, Billy Holiday, just different types of soulful, heavy centric type stuff and then I had gone into High School and started to get introduced to a lot of new genres. I started to listen to American folk and Indie Rock and Alternative. Frank Ocean came about when I was in 8th grade, I listened to James Blake, I listened to Father John Misty, Grizzly Bear, Tame Impala, Active Child, because that era for me was like YouTube discovery. You would click on a song and you would see a suggested link and you’d keep going and get so deep in and you’d be getting put onto some many different things that you didn’t know. I’m 19 and I grew up off of playlisting and stuff like that so I would say my genre is kinda an ode to that super eclectic – it hit so many different boundaries sometimes you listen to it and you’re like I can’t even understand what this is. I don’t know if this is pop, I don’t know if this is R&B, I don’t know if this is soul, but for me, I feel like its music for the mood. If you’re happy you play one of my songs, if you’re upset and if you’re sad you play one of my sadder songs. If you wanna [want to] vibe, if you wanna chill, if you wanna relax you might play ‘Location’. It’s just music for the moods and music is so influential, you can listen to a 3-4 minute song and it can change your mood completely. I could be having a horrible day, I play one song and my day is just better. I’m walking on Sunshine. That’s how I wanna come across in my music. If you’re feeling a certain way listen to my song because that’s the reason I wrote it. I wrote it as a form of therapy. I wrote it to get over what I was going through. Now I’m writing it for the fans and I want them to listen to the music and go ‘you know what this makes me feel this way’. That’s what it’s about for me.
What would be a dream musical collaboration for you?
People who I would love to collaborate with are 6lack he’s so dope, Rus, he’s really cool. Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and Rihanna. Just people for me who really stick out and are super individualised and have paved their own lane, their own form of style or are just so confident. That’s what I look at and that’s what I hear in the music. I want to work with someone that I can connect with positively. Let’s chill, let’s talk. Those are the types of people I want to work with.
Who are your top 5 musicians?
Right now top 5, Kehlani is so dope. Migas, Frank Ocean, Rus who’s a friend of mine and Black, who’s a friend of mine. I feel like most, 3 of them, I know personally so I feel like my attachment with the music is way more personal because I’ve met them and they’ve given me a good experience when I’ve met them. That always affects how you feel, the first experience. They’re so genuine and down to earth about their business and their work ethics, so I appreciate the music a lot more.
Your mother is also a musician.
She sings in the Army.
How has she inspired you?
She inspired me a lot growing up because I didn’t know where my life was gonna take me, I didn’t know what path I wanted to make. I really had plans to be in music education, that was what I was gonna do, but the reason why I wanted to be in music was because of my mum. She raised me to really believe in music and she allowed me to open my eyes to the benefits of music, especially in our life. You can’t go a day without listening to a song and if you do it’s probably not a good day. That’s what she allowed me to think and she always inspires me every time I write music. I think about how my mum used to write and sing music, how she used to sing me lullabies and stuff like that, so yeah she’s a really big inspiration to me.
You recently shared with us on your Instagram that you lived in Germany as a military child for 6 years, how did this shape who you are today?
I feel like it gave me a sense of maturity because a lot of people who I know don’t necessarily get the ability to go to Germany and live in Germany comfortably for 6 years like I did. I lived there for a long time and being military I feel like I’ve just met so many different people over the span of 6 years and heard so many different stories. I feel like it gave me such a different perspective on life. I’m blessed. How many people get to say they lived in the hometown I lived in? Not a lot, so it really helped me to mature a lot and helped me to be super optimistic as a child.
You live in El Paso, Texas now, what does it mean to you?
So Texas to me was like changing. That was really the year of growth for me, I really had to get over whatever I was going through and move on with my life, I had to find out what I was gonna do with my life. I found that out in Texas, so Texas is so special to me. I’ll always rep Texas, it just has something different that it did to me, my mind frame, my personality, all of that. I love Texas.
On March 3rd you release your debut album American Teen, can you tell us about this, your inspirations behind the songs and the album name?
The reason why I chose ‘American Teen’ as the album name was because it was the first ever acceptance of myself. I was like ‘you know what, this is who I am.’ I am an American Teen but at the same time I’m a teenager, just like a German teen, a Mexican teen, a Hispanic teen; whoever you are. I feel like we all share the same sense of empathy, we all have feelings and I feel like that’s not necessarily a teen topic, for the most part, a lot of teens don’t wanna talk about feelings in music. The fact I’m able to express myself through music about my feelings in something that is current and that people relate to, that’s really the type of vibe that I wanted to have with the album. I wanted it to be super personal, I wanted it to be vulnerable, I wanted people to get introduced to who I am as an artist and I wanted them to feel something and hopefully they do. My friends’ they tell me they feel something and that’s what it’s really all about. It’s just making the people around you feel comfortable and happy and I’m glad that I can do that with my music, especially the album.
Which song on American Teen has the strongest meaning and why?
The strongest meaning is this song called ‘Angels’. It’s the last track which was for me, I feel like it needed to be the last track. The song ‘Angels’ is about my relationship with all the people I surround myself with, they’re my angels. I feel like they’re like guardian angels who came down to help me get through whatever the hell was going through my head. I didn’t really have this core, this strong group of friends, so in this song, I talk about how the ‘Angels’ give me the path and show me the way and the light and different stuff like that. That’s the song I’m the most excited for people to hear just because it’s so different from what I’ve done before, so I’m super excited for that song.
You played a sold out show in London last night, was that your first time performing here? How was it?
For my first performance in London, I think it was everything I would have imagined because I was able to go out and to be personal, to talk to every single person in the audience. They all spoke English too [laughs] so everyone understood me. It was so dope just to connect to all these people. Just seeing the youth and also people who were a little bit older come and tell me ‘I love your music, I’m so affected by it, it helps me get through this’ that’s what really hit me and was special. One thing, they showed me a lot of love and I can’t wait to perform again in London.
What made you pick up Little Simz for the ‘Location’ remix?
I felt like she’s just… it was just super authentic for me because my A&R had introduced me to Little Simz. He was like ‘we have an idea for a ‘Location’ remix’ and I check her out and I’m like yo, she’s dope, she’s so fire, the style, and everything. She’s actually friends with Kehlani who’s a dear friend of mine, I had met her in L.A .and I felt like everything she did with the remix was just my idea of how it should have gone. Just her flow and everything, she killed it and so she was a super dope edition.
What inspires your style?
I feel like what inspires my style a lot is my youth currently. I feel like my style will change but as long as I take advantage of being young and being 19 I feel like that helps a lot. I feel like it’s gear towards my youth, prior youth and current youth around me.
I’ve seen you flex a lot of Gucci at the moment.[Laughs], Oh yeah.
And you’re mixing it with streetwear like Supreme and Yeezys. What brands would we find in your wardrobe?
Gucci, I just love Gucci. There’s something about it, it’s so clean and nice but at the same time, I do thrift streetwear stuff. Supreme, BAPE, Palace and all that is super cool. I try to not do too much of one thing because I feel like that’s the same with my personality, I’m not too much of one thing. I’m a lot of different things, so my clothes can go from your darker blacks, your neons, your pastels. I feel like clothes are just the true representation of our own personality and traits. We dress how we feel and I feel like that comes across with me.
What is your favourite brand right now and why?
Probably, Gucci. I don’t know why. I’m wearing it right now. Just the feeling when I walk into the Gucci store. The one thing that keeps me coming back and the reason why I get so much Gucci is because the lady who works in my local Gucci store in L.A., she’s so nice. One time I walked by and she was closing and she was like ‘come on in, whatever you want just let me know I can get it for you, we can get it done’. She put me on, she’s probably the reasons I’m always in that store, messing my bank account. [laughs] Shout out to her. I love Gucci.
What do you have in store for 2017 aside from dropping your debut album?
A lot of new performances, a couple of festivals. Who knows what I’m doing in the latter end of the year, but hopefully something dope and big, as well as growth as an individual. there’s gonna be a lot of features that I have plans to do, the first album was no features, just self-introductory but I feel like, the feature game about to be crazy for 2017.