The beauty of existence is growth and allowing ourselves the chance to, well, take chances. That’s why I admire people who never fail to be into something entirely different every time you talk to them. It’s also why I was impressed with Kingo Halla. Much like some of the better artists we have in mainstream music today, Kingo Halla decided to switch gears in his musical direction. It’s where we started this back and forth but as things unfolded, we got into the hustle NYC ingrains in you, namesakes, and all that (Brazilian) jazz like Kingo Halla’s debut album, ‘Empty Hands,’ which is out now and features the likes of “Water in the Rose.” All that and more awaits…
Kendra: Being a fan of artists like Taylor Swift and Paramore, I appreciate when an artist allows themselves to evolve. Same with you, from a more indie/folk sound to heading down this alternative R&B path. Was there any particular moment that sort of pushed you to explore new avenues with your creativity?
Kingo Halla: Yes, there were certainly some events that happened which inspired me to explore some more soulful singing and reconnect to some of my R&B roots and influences. I did some writing with a good friend Alex Sowinski of BBNG after putting out my first album ‘Ember of the Night’ under Henry Nozuka. We explored a lot of different styles and sounds and it was really inspiring for me to delve deeper into soul/jazz again.
I grew up listening to a lot of soul and R&B music but hadn’t explored those sounds in a while. I was also at a place with the indie folk music I somewhat didn’t know what else to explore in that world. It was either to do another album like the one I had done or change it up completely.
Kendra: I found it really interesting that you started to dive into ‘70s Brazilian Jazz. As many know who’ve frequented ZO Magazine, I’m a fan of the ‘70s; the clothes, aesthetics, and sounds. However, I’m not too familiar with this style of music. How does it differ from the Jazz Americans are used to hearing, and how would you say it served as an inspiration for you and ‘Empty Hands’ overall?
Kingo Halla: Right on, Yeah, I’m a big fan of the ‘70s too. A lot was going on at that time artistically and I feel like technology hit a really special window of time especially in the recording field and in film. I also am very inspired by the aesthetics of those times and the quality of work that was being created and valued.
I’m certainly not an expert on the subject, but from what I know, some of the music that was coming out of Brazil at that time was actually inspired by a lot of what was coming out of America in regards to jazz, and soul. That’s also why audiences in the US also really resonated with it and a lot of Brazilian music flourished in the states. However, they certainly approached jazz freshly and uniquely by adding some incredible rhythms into jazz and a lot of singers had a very soft gentle approach.
The chords they used were also somewhat unique and special. There’s also a record in particular that really inspires me, “Arthur Verocai” from 1972. The arrangements are incredible, and he fused a lot of psychedelia into this work which I’m a big fan of. In terms of how the genre influenced the record, I think the chords, the slow ballad tempo of a lot of Brazilian Jazz, the gentle vocal approach, and adding the element of psychedelia influenced me in this record. As well as the use of tape machines and vintage gear which creates a warm nostalgic tonality of recording.
Kendra: Releasing music under the name Kingo Halla now, you’re partly paying a bit of an homage to your grandfather who called you Halla growing up. Did you sprinkle any other hints of your family on ‘Empty Hands?’
Kingo Halla: Yes certainly. Kingo is also my Japanese middle name. So it’s a blend between my Japanese side and also my English side. In terms of other hints of the family on the album, my brother Justin is singing background vocals on a bunch of songs, and also my uncle Mike Stern is playing on Just Breathe. The song Empty Hands is also inspired by growing up and the challenges we often undergo within family and life.
Kendra: You were inspired by your partner and being apart from them for what probably felt like an eternity in “Water in the Rose,” but on top of that you said this song was also like penning a letter to where you’ll be after this life wraps up. Are you someone who has…not necessarily an idea, but rather a hope for what comes after all of this?
Kingo Halla: Absolutely. What happens after life is something that I contemplate a lot, and a lot of my work continues to come back to it. I do have hope and faith in what’s to come, and I try not to forget that this life is here for a limited time. I think it helps me try to stay in the moment, live life in a meaningful way, and try my best to stay positive and loving. For me, having a focus and connection to spirituality has helped me through a lot and has given me a lot to be grateful for.
Kendra: But back to here and now because while you’re Toronto-based now, you’re NYC-born. That is a place I feel like if you’re born there, you’re born with this extra layer of drive and determination. Would you agree with that?
Kingo Halla: Haha yeah! The drive and determination certainly comes from my NYC side I think. My father is still grinding it out every day living in NYC as a driver and is the most determined and driven person I know, so I’m sure I get that from him. He has always encouraged me and my siblings to be the best we can be so that we can uplift people and make a positive impact in our communities. Just trying to do my best with that.
Kendra: So time for a side note – with love in the air, I’d love to know what is the #1 song you’d put on a mixtape as part of a Valentine’s Day gift?
Kingo Halla: “Coração Vagabundo” – Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Empty Hands’ out on February 24th, is there anything else we can keep an eye out for as we scurry away from winter and towards the spring?
Kingo Halla: I’m not sure when I’ll be releasing some of the newer music I’m currently working on, but you can keep an eye out for my brother’s album (Justin Nozuka). I co-produced a few songs with him on the album (444, Lay Down, and Where I’ve Been) and am super happy with the work we did.