Folk and Hip-Hop Meet on Remy Kay's Haunting Tribute to Her Late Father
Photo by Reinna Sherie Cruz
When singer Remy Kay first started recording her debut EP In The Mourning with close friend and producer Christopher "Repeated Measures" Norwood in early 2014, she wasn't quite sure what it was about. But as time went on, it became clear that In The Mourning would reflect the journey she has gone through in the wake of her father's untimely passing.
Anyone who has suffered any type of loss can probably relate to that moment in the introduction when Kay has a talk with herself about finally facing her grief. "I could see you coming from a mile away," she sings. "Hang up your phone/That shit doesn't work anymore." In that lyric, Remy is forcing herself to give up distractions and acknowledge the pain of her father's loss.
Growing up in Diamond Bar, where she still lives, Kay had a very close bond with her dad, an LAPD officer who retired early, leaving him ample free time to spend with his daughter as she was growing up. "Most people would probably look at him and think that he was intimidating and not friendly," she says, sipping her iced tea at Casbah Cafe in Silver Lake. "But he was the complete opposite. He was super cool, friendly and warm. He was always really open to hearing what I was going through. He'd always ask me questions about what I was doing or what my day was like. So I think that just fostered a really tight relationship."
In The Mourning, which comes out Dec. 18 on local label New Los Angeles, tells the story of that relationship, and the loss of it. In some songs, Kay sings about conversations she had with her father, and advice he gave her. In "Transient," she recalls her father's advice about bullies.
"I used to get bullied a lot," says the singer-guitarist, who is not quite 24. "And he would pick me up from school and ask how my day was. I'd just be like, 'Ugh. It kinda sucked,' and he'd ask why." Remy would tell her dad about the kids at school making fun of her and ask why they were so mean. "People are afraid to be their own individuals," he told her. "And sometimes they just do things out of fear. And sometimes we don't know ... we'll never know the reason why."
Kay was in middle school then, and at the time, she really didn't understand what her father was trying to say. But as she looks back now she thinks, "Oh my gosh! That was like the biggest piece of advice he could have given me at that time."
That conversation is reflected in "Transient," in which she sings, "We fall for the recipe/Pops said, 'We might be.'" The lyric, Kay says, refers to how often people follow certain trends and patterns without really knowing why. In the last line, she sings, "Fallen world, blame it on gravity." Kay notes that while many people view this biblical reference as a negative thing, she wants to put a positive spin on it. "We're fallen, but that's OK," she says. "We're working up to something better."
Another conversation that the singer had with her father is reflected in the song "Marshall." In the song, she recalls a time when her father was sick, and he said something to her that inspired her to start making music again. "Baby girl, don't forget to play through the Marshall," she sings, referring to her Marshall guitar amp. The song, and that lyric in particular, is about her dad's belief in his daughter's musical gift, which he supported by buying her instruments and other gear. She remembers getting her dream guitar one year for Christmas, a hollow-bodies Gretsch Country Club. "I hadn't played it, and my dad said, 'It's a shame you don't play your guitar anymore, especially that expensive guitar.'"
In other songs, the chords on Remy Kay's guitar tell the story. Just like one of her musical heroes, Kaki King, Kay speaks through her guitar. She wants the listener to hear the chords on In The Mourning and feel like it's that time between night and morning, somewhere between sleep and waking, when you know it's almost time to wake up and face your day, but you're not quite there.
When her father got sick and it started to become clear that he was going to pass, Kay started writing songs to help herself cope with the inevitable pain. Although she had posted demos on Bandcamp in the past, she initially had no intention of sharing this new, intensely personal material. "I was like, 'I'm not gonna release anything,'" she remembers. "I kept writing, but I was like, 'I'm not doing this anymore.'"
Remy Kay and her producer and friend, Repeated Measures
New Los Angeles Records
But after her father's death, Repeated Measures helped motivate her to record the EP. "You need to do something with this," he told her. Kay was reluctant at first, but Norwood promised he would help. And so, little by little, the two musicians, who have been friends since the age of 14, started recording the In The Mourning EP.
"We'd go one weekend and record one song, and then a couple months would go by and we'd record for three days straight," she says. "It was just sort of every once in a while, we would do it."
Kay's soft, melodic voice and impeccable guitar picking, set to Repeated Measures' complexly beautiful beats and production, showcases a friendship formed out of a shared love of music. "The sound you are hearing on the EP is just a natural fusion of my world and hers," says Measures, who despite his well-earned reputation as a beat producer, still considers himself to be a blues guitarist at heart.
Kay, for her part, listened to some hip-hop growing up: A Tribe Called Quest and some of her dad's favorite West Coast rappers, like Ice Cube (who, as he put it, "sounded like men" more than today's rappers). But Norwood introduced her to different styles of hip-hop that mixed in elements of rock and electronic music, as well as innovative voices like her fellow New Los Angeles artist Koreatown Oddity.
In The Mourning is about a daughter's personal journey of anger, sadness, grief and reflection. It is Remy Kay's tribute to her dad, as well as her own internal dialogue, set to music. In the end, it has allowed her to move on from the loss of the man she still describes as her "best friend."
In the Mourning comes out Dec. 18 on New Los Angeles Records.
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