Have you ever lived seventeen years of your life in a cult that believes all world governments are under Satan’s control and condemns oral sex? Melbourne via Canberra producer KAIA did, and today boldly releases debut dream-pop track Know Myself in spite of it all. Softly sung and glitchy with carnivalesque touches, Know Myself is a proud statement from an artists who’s no doubt had a hell of a fight to free herself, and now receives mentoring from some stellar industry types through The Push. Since it’s a far too intriguing and extraordinary story, WildnFree asked KAIA some questions all about it.
WF: Congrats on your lovely track Know Myself. Tell me about this cult you spent 17 years in – what did they believe and what’s their problem with oral sex?!
K: Thank you! I’m really proud of it.
So, this particular brand of cult was fundamentally Christian and they basically believe that Satan rules the world and that god will eventually intervene in an armageddon-like scenario, destroying all the evil people and granting his true followers immortality. They also don’t celebrate participate in ‘pagan’ holidays like birthdays and Christmas, so I was used to feeling like an outsider growing up.
The oral sex thing is hilarious. Essentially they believe that desiring anything that deviates from the standard vanilla vibe means you have a ‘covetous’ or selfish sexual appetite, and that’s unclean.
WF: As someone who grew up going to Sunday School and naff church youth group camps, I know how hard it can be to break free from a religion and re-establish your identity away from all you’ve ever known. How are you finding the process? How challenging has it been? What does your family think?
K: Totally. The more open I am about the cult experience the more I realise how many people have shared it and struggled transitioning in to reality like me. The process has been a bit of a rollercoaster as you can imagine. I felt really liberated originally, but began to feel a weight of inexplicable guilt soon after. There was not a lot of critical thinking going on in my brain prior to this, because answers were spoon fed to me by the cult leaders and by my adult family. I think the most challenging thing has been trying to identify how certain principles of the cult have bled in to my confusion in navigating adult relationships.
I don’t talk to the remaining family members often; they try to keep their distance from non-believers, because it contaminates their morals – they don’t approve of my choices but there’s no real consequence in that for me.
WF: What role has music played in your story?
K: The ironic part is that being in this cult environment for so many years is likely the major reason I gravitate towards music. We would sing hymns three times each gathering, three times a week. I enjoyed this the most because even though it was just another form of indoctrination, I could at least participate rather than focus on sitting still and trying to absorb the information. A lot of this music was kind of based on the European harmony of the romantic and classical eras and additionally my mother and her father were big fans of this music outside of gatherings too.
My estranged grandfather was the person who brought the passion for music it in to my world though. He composed classically for orchestras and was a music teacher and writer by profession, which is a really weird thing to face, because I really tried to reject everything he (and the cult) stood for. It’s always been a bit of a two edged sword for me.
WF: What are you learning through The Push?
K: I’m doing two mentorships with The Push this year. The first was push songs, where I got to hang out with songwriters/producers like Elly from Huntly, Alice Ivy and Andrei Eremin. Mostly we just hung out together for an afternoon each and talked about structure, or how to build my songs into bigger swells and some more in depth mixing techniques. The second one is about to start and it’s more focused on performance. At the moment my shows are a microphone, an Ableton Push and I want to build something with a bit more energy and interaction.
WF: Tell me a bit about the process of writing and recording your upcoming debut EP?
K: This record is pretty experimental in its over all form and also in its sonic qualities in that I’ve sampled my voice over and over in a way that it often sounds like a whole new instrument. I cut up my vocals for glitch texture and rhythmic values, which gives it a bit of a jarring feel.
Mostly I write and produce at home but co-writing is a big part of what I do too. Some tracks I have spent over 50 hours on, so it’s easy to lose perspective – collaboration takes you away from the magnifying glass. My friend Becki (Whitton, aka. Aphir) and I often collaborate for fun as well. We come from similar backgrounds and are always finding inspiration in each other’s style.
WF: What advice would you give someone struggling to break free of something controlling and difficult – whether its a cult, a bad relationship, an addiction, a health issue, negative thoughts etc
K: It’s difficult to see that you’re in a toxic environment until the symptoms can’t be ignored because the plunge happens so slowly and then all at once. It’s like when you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated and I feel like this applies in a similar way.
I guess something I want to offer is try to avoid falling in to the same patterns. I’ve had my fair share of unhealthy relationships after the fact because I’ve mistaken chemistry with someone for familiarity.
It’s really important to have good friends around you, who accept you for the full 3-dimensional, complex person you are! It’s important to be one of these people to your friends if and when you are able to be too – It’s ultimately up to the individual to break free, but there needs to be a safe place where emotional support can be given without judgment.
WF: What would you love to achieve with your music?
K: Just to share my story and myself genuinely with others. Music is very much therapy for me, so I want to figure out a way of sharing this therapy with others in a few different ways.
Honoured to be able to share such a powerful story. Enjoy Know Myself, and keep an eye out for KAIA’s debut EP releasing via Provenance on August 11.
Image: Jessie Adams