For this month’s First Look Friday we spend some time with Kari Faux, who is ready to take the next step in her career following the release of her recent EP Cry 4 Help.
The music video for Kari Faux’s “Leave Me Alone,” off of her Cry 4 Help EP, features many memorable scenes, including one where she proceeds to hit a number of smartphones and flip phones with a baseball bat. But there’s one sequence of shots that stand out. As Faux stares into the camera, her demeanor quickly shifts back and forth from happy and upbeat to sad and annoyed. The duality of it all resonates even more when Faux explains that the emotional and introspective Cry 4 Help came about after trying to make happy-sounding songs, only to realize she wasn’t in the right space for that.
As a result, she has created what is arguably her most bare and vulnerable project yet, an EP that finds Faux confronting everything from familial and romantic traumas to just wanting to be left alone. The Little Rock, Arkansas-born artist has released a number of projects, beginning with the 2012 mixtape City Limits. Two years later, she released another mixtape titled Laugh Now, Die Later, which featured the standout song “No Small Talk,” a sardonically catchy and cool track that caught the attention of Donald Glover, who helped facilitate her move to Los Angeles, which led to the release of her debut album Lost en Los Angeles in 2016. Since then, she’s also appeared on tracks by Isaiah Rashad, the Internets’ Matt Martians, Patrick Paige II and Syd, Chloe x Halle, and Childish Gambino.
But in terms of her solo career, Faux’s releases have been leading up to this point where she’s proven to herself that she can be vulnerable in her artistry. Sure, there’s been glimpses of it — Los Angeles is compelling not just for its 70s funk and psychedelia-inspired production, courtesy of longtime producer Black Party, but for its lyrical content, Faux offering a sobering commentary that peels back the glamor and sunny days of LA and how she feels in all of it. But there’s a rawness to Cry 4 Help that’s refreshing, Faux’s self-deprecating charm and wit still an integral part of how she presents herself, but also willing to just share and confront real shit about her life up until now.
As a part of our First Look Friday series, Okayplayer spoke with Faux about Cry 4 Help, Bojack Horseman, her foray into DJ’ing as Violet Waters, and why she’s working toward not having a phone in the future.
A theme or word I feel is central to Cry 4 Help is vulnerability. How would you say your idea of vulnerability changed during the making of the EP and after?
For me, this was a practice in vulnerability. I have a really hard time being vulnerable. I’ve always had a really hard time just saying what’s actually true for me and if doesn’t look a certain way or if it’s not squeaky-clean. This whole process has been me pushing myself off the cliff of vulnerability to see if I can fly and if I can put myself out there. I’m very fearful of judgment from other people about me being vulnerable because in the past, as a child and as a teenager, I’ve internalized different scenarios that have happened because I was vulnerable. So this was me being like “Just do it. Say whatever it is you need to say because you don’t have anything to lose at this point.”
I remember the day before the project came out I freaked the fuck out and called my manager and told him that I had made a mistake. That this project was a mistake and that I shouldn’t put it out because it’s too honest. But then for it to just come back around and actually be very important to some people when I was trying to help myself.
When you said what did you have to lose by making Cry 4 Help, I think there’s power in freedom in that, especially when it comes to vulnerability. I feel like society kind of paints vulnerability as something negative or weak when there’s so much power behind it.
Yeah. Also, I wouldn’t even say — because I’ve been having this conversation with myself and people that are very close to me about this thing where we say that society does these things. But society plays a very small role in these things when we feel about vulnerability. We’re told these things once in our life and then we internalize that and place these boundaries on ourselves because we heard these things once or twice in our formative years. You hear like, “Oh, don’t trust nobody.” But it’s like, “Oh, well maybe it’s because you don’t trust yourself.” This project was about pushing self-imposed boundaries. It was about me not being vulnerable because I’m not allowing myself that. Nobody else around me is stopping me from being that.
This project has freed me in a way where there’s nothing now that I’m trying to hide. I feel like once you don’t have anything to hide and that you can speak your truth, you feel better.
I can only imagine how it feels to hear your fans find their truth within your truth.
Facts. And that’s been the really cool part about it. So many people have been like, “Yo, I feel just like that, that’s crazy,” and I’m like, damn, that is crazy, because when I was fuckin’ suicidal last summer I could’ve sworn no one understood. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to use your emotions that you feel are unstable and you should keep to yourself, that other people feel the same way. It feels more like a community. Let’s help each other stay alive, let’s help each other find happiness, see the value in ourselves, and just keep going.
Was Cry 4 Help always intended to be an EP?
At the beginning of last year, I was trying to make stuff that sounded happy but I wasn’t in that space. I’m the kind of person that if I’m not creating from that space that I’m singing a song about or talking about, it’s not gonna translate and it’s not gonna feel good to me. I was like, “I should just create from a space that’s honest for me.” So that’s when I started making songs about basically being sad and feeling unstable, and when I started making those songs I listened to all of them together — I made all of them around the same time — and I was like, “All these songs sound cohesive as fuck. I should put these songs out as an EP.” Then it became Cry 4 Help.
How hard was it to go against the music you initially wanted to make in favor of what became Cry 4 Help?
It wasn’t hard at all. I am very comfortable in being emo. Now I’m at the point where I’m trying to understand how to navigate that and also knowing when to put my emotions away and be like, “Hey, alright, you can’t just sit in your feelings all day.” But it was so easy for me to do that because I’m always in my feelings. But the thing that was the hardest — I don’t feel like I had the right people around me. Like, me sharing that music and some of the responses were just like, “Are you OK?” And that’s cool but I felt like it wasn’t coming from a genuine place. It was just like, “Why are you making music about this?”
I would think that those people would understand that what makes you an artist is being willing to make music like this though.
No. That’s because people aren’t even in touch with their own feelings, let alone somebody who’s expressing theirs, you know?
I really enjoyed “Latch Key” not only for its vulnerability but also for it being the ending to Cry 4 Help. Was that deliberate or had you considered placing the song elsewhere in the EP?
I ended with that because that’s where I’m at. I’ve discovered all these things about me and I’m now able to say them out loud. That’s the thing about working on yourself — sometimes you get to a point where you’ve done so much uncovering and unearthing of traumas and different things that have happened to me, and now I’m here. Now, what do I do? Even in the way the whole EP went was in order of how my depression went last year. People constantly telling me, “You need to do this, you need to do that.” Instead of hearing me out or listening to me they were like, “Oh, you should just try to be happy or you should see a therapist or you should see a psychiatrist.” Stop telling me what I need to do and just listen to me.
“Latch Key” is about being like, “Sometimes I hate myself. Why do I put myself in these fucked up relationships and situations where I’m not valued?” And it’s ultimately because I still have all this unresolved trauma from when I was younger, and I haven’t worked through those things.
Have you ever watched Bojack Horseman?
I love that show.
I thought about that show a lot while listening to your EP.
That’s great because I love Bojack Horseman. I feel him — I’m just like, “Damn bro. Always fucking up, and you trying to be better but you’re always fucking up.” I feel that.
Do you have a favorite episode?
I’ve always enjoyed your versatility as an artist and the producers you work with. I was a fan of Primary and you working with Jerry Paper and Matt Martians. What is it that you look for in producers and artists that you collaborate with?
All the people that I work with I get along with them very well outside of making music. I’m not really looking for anything, it’s just we hang out and then we make music, and it’s good because it’s coming from a good place. With Jerry Paper, I had just found his music on Spotify while going through the similar artists of another band I was listening to, and I found him and couldn’t stop listening to him. I was listening to Jerry Paper for like three months straight, and then I would catch myself rapping over his songs. So I tweeted him one day and was like, “Hey, will you make music with me?” And he said, “Yeah.”
But I want to use more live instruments and ultimately have a band. The music that I’m working on now is very different from Cry 4 Help, but it’s still very much me. It’s a lot of live instrumentation and I’m gonna go to London and make my album.
What led to the decision to want to make it in London?
Because for the past year I’ve been saying, “I’m going to London to make an album.” Europe and European people, they’re just so open-minded when it comes to music. They appreciate music more than we do I feel like. After I went to Europe in 2017 I was like, “Yo, I love this place. I’ve got to come back.” And I actually found this guy who’s a producer but he also has a band and he lives in London, and we had a session not too long ago. It’s literally the music I’ve been trying to make my whole entire career. You guys are gonna get an album that’s really fucking tight and I hope I get a Grammy.
This must all feel very serendipitous for you.
I’m so gassed because God is fucking with me in a crazy way. God is just like, “Bro, you’ve been wanting a band, you’ve been wanting this shit. Here, take it.” I’m just really happy because growing up I always was really attracted to bands and the freedom of live instrumentation. Like, when things sound digital they feel flat and they don’t feel as good as a live band that plays and then you record it through analog and it feels warm.
But I used to listen to a lot of records from my mom and dad. They gave me Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters and when I listened to that shit I was like, “Bro, this shit is music. This has feeling.”
There’s a warmth to it all like you said but you can just improv with the shit. You could be like, “OK, I’m gonna walk into the crowd, y’all play and when I come back be ready.”
It’s a straight-up jam session and I think that’s so tight. I went to a jazz show about a month ago and they were just up there jamming. That’s what I like about jazz — you don’t really know what you listening to for a moment because it’s complete chaos and then all of a sudden everybody is just in a groove, and I love that shit. That’s life — sometimes it’s just complete chaos and you don’t know what the fuck is going on, but then you catch a groove and you’re just in that bitch. You’re just riding that wave until the chaos comes again and then you ride the chaos. It’s tight.
Did working with Donald Glover also influence you in any way in wanting to move toward live instrumentation or having a band, considering he often uses both in his music?
I wanted to work with a band way before I met Donald. He had a band and I was like, “That’s tight. I’m gonna have a band one day too.” Ever since I was a kid I was into Parliament, The Bar-Kays, Marvin Gaye — I just love that shit because it feels real. It was real. There’s this interview with Marvin Gaye where he was talking about how he was in depression for seven years or some shit. That’s the thing that made me feel valid in my vulnerability and my honesty of being sad. I was watching that interview and he was like, “Yeah, I’ve always been a pretty depressed person.” Somebody who is that iconic and who had major success and made good music could be like, “Yeah, I’ve always kind of been depressed,” I can also speak my truth and be a good musician.
You need both sides of the coin. You need that music that’s happy and turnt up and exciting in that way where it gets you amped up when you go out to party. But you also need that shit for when you’re alone and you don’t feel that great.
What incited you getting into DJ’ing as Violet Waters?
Me being sad [laughs]. It was a way to help me stay happy. When I DJ I be so into it. I look serious as fuck. I started doing that in my house just to keep my spirits up and then one of my homies — Ant Blue Jr. — asked me to come DJ at Kinfolk one night, and I was like “Sure,” and I did it. He was like, “If you just get out there and do it, you’re only gonna get better,” because I was super nervous. So I did it and I got a really good reception so I was like, “OK, I’m gonna keep doing this.” That’s when I started booking things and going to different places and DJ’ing. It’s something I genuinely love — making money off of it is cool but I was doing it for a whole year before I started making money.
Every DJ has a memorable transition that they’ll always remember. What has been a memorable song transition for you?
Damn, I don’t even wanna give y’all the sauce because niggas is gonna steal my sauce, but whatever. I have this transition from Lil Boosie’s “Wipe Me Down” into the Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood.” I’m looping that first part of “Clint Eastwood” while “Wipe Me Down” is playing. And then I fully transition into “Clint Eastwood,” and then right when Del the Funky Homosapien’s verse comes in I play The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets,” and then I just loop that shit as he’s rapping. Every time I do that shit, niggas be looking like, “What?” I get the same reaction every time.
I always enjoy DJs who do that because they show the similarities between songs especially if they’re not in the same genre.
Facts, and that’s what I love about DJ’ing. This past weekend I was DJ’ing in D.C. and I was playing Soulja Boy’s “Donk.” Then I transitioned into Pretty Rick’s “On The Hotline,” and everybody was like, “What the fuck?” I love doing shit like that.
With the music video for “Leave Me Alone,” I was wondering how JPEGMAFIA ended up making a cameo, and if you ever hope you get back to a point in your life to where you don’t have a smartphone or you’re able to go back to a flip phone?
First of all, JPEGMAFIA’s my friend and he’s an incredible human. So I asked him to be in the video and he said, “OK.” Actually, I think about that every day, like, “When did I not have a phone?” I’m honestly working toward not having a phone. I’m trying to be so rich that I don’t have to be reached at all unless I wanna be reached. Hopefully one day I can go back to a flip phone or niggas can just reach me on email on some normal shit. Because being able to be reached through so many different things is so excessive. You have a phone — somebody could call you on it, they can also text you, they can tweet you, they can Instagram DM you, they can Snapchat you. It’s just too much.
That’s why I found so much catharsis in you hitting all those phones with a baseball bat.
When we were talking about the concept of the video I was like, “I wanna hit a phone with a bat.” Straight up. It needs to be somewhere in the video. But it’s funny because people hear that song and see that video and they still overstep their boundaries, which is so weird to me. Like, “I wasn’t making this song for my health I was telling you guys what was really going on. I really want y’all to leave me the hell alone.”
Was there anything else you wanted to add?
I usually end my interviews like this — touch yourself, you will be a lot happier. The end.