Music to Draw You In: Kid Koala and Trixie Whitley in Conversation

Kid Koala (real name Eric San) made his initial mark on the scene using his turntables to create completely new compositions out of obscures samples of not only music but TV shows, lines of dialogues and anything he found interesting.

What separates him from many of the DJ’s from the late 90’s early 00’s is that he continued to evolve not only his sound but the way he showcased himself and his music. Koala’s shows are inventive, often times quirky and always fun.

He’s staged shows with multiple turntables and DJ’s onstage to live performances scoring graphic novels, puppet shows and more.If you haven’t seen him you should remedy this.  Make it a point to go to one of his headphone shows if possible. You won’t be sorry.

In addition to his extensive touring Koala maintains a somewhat steady output of remixes and studio work.

A little over a year ago he released Music to Draw To: Satellite a collaboration with Emiliana Torrini.
This week he releases the follow up to that album, Music to Draw To: lo which while it may be a follow up, sets a different mood completely.

For this album he enlisted vocalist and musician Trixie Whitley. an artist still slightly outside the mainstream radar despite her solid reputation as a live performer and growing back catalog.
While Torrinni herself is off the beaten path, teaming up Trixie struck many as even more surprising.

Collide caught up with both artists to find out how this odd but sublime pairing came to be. It was quickly obvious that they share a strong bond as the interview was full of laughs and mutual admiration for each others talents.

COLLiDE:  So how did this album come together? Where did it start? How did you two meet?

Trixie Whitley:  Funny enough it was on Twitter many years ago. I’m not that active on there and he’s one of the only people I’ve ever spoken to on the platform.
I learned of his work in my teenage years but then we connected and finally met up in person a bit later.

Kid Koala: Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto is a mutual friend. I was following her on twitter and I saw a really cryptic post from her that just said: “Legend…” with an instagram link so I clicked on it and it led me to a clip of Trixie who I had not heard of and I started looking her up and watching her performance videos and I was just blown away.
After that I was on tour and at the time I thought she was living in Belgium and I remember thinking “Oh I maybe I can find that Trixie Whitley record!” so I went to the record stores and I found it (Trixie’s first record Fourth Corner) and took a picture of it and posted it with “I’m excited to hear this.” and a little while later I got an e-mail from an associate of hers who was at one of my headphone concerts earlier that year. He said “Hey I work with Trixie.” and at one point they were looking for someone to do remixes and I wound up working the song Irene.

Trixie Whitley: Really? Wow. I thought we met way before that and we hung out first.

Kid Koala:  You know what? You might be right. (laughs) Basically we don’t remember. We both live in a serious fog (both laughing)

COLLiDE: I guess both of you being on the road messes up your memory a little huh?

Kid Koala:  Yeah. Somehow those two little tornadoes got tangled up and we met and I’m glad we did.

COLLiDE: At what point did you think of Trixie for this installment of Music to Draw to?

Kid Koala:  I wasn’t at the point of thinking about who was going to guest on this installment but she and I did a show at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC and invited Trixie to come on down. She was very gracious and said she enjoyed the show and I gave her a copy of the Satellites record and I didn’t hear from her for like a YEAR! (both laughing)
So I thought maybe she just wasn’t into it. Then I got a really sweet text from her saying she finally got a chance to dive into that record and she really enjoyed it.
At that point I had about half of the tracks for what would become Io
She really seemed to get the tone and the function of that record so I asked her if she wanted to take a swing at it. She agreed and I was really over the moon because I figured she’d be busy with other projects or maybe she wouldn’t be up to working on something like this. I couldn’t really tell from her previous musical output if she’d be open to this ambient sort of thing you know?

COLLiDE:  You couldn’t tell from the prior year of silence if she would be into it or not?

(Both laughing)

Trixie:  Yeah What’s wrong with you man? (laughing)

Kid Koala:  Like I’m having dinner with my dude friends “So I gave her the record and just nothing man. No response!” and they’re like “Dude! You got the cold shoulder!” like some bad musical collaborator dating show.

(Both laughing)

COLLiDE: What was the process from there? Did you send her all of the music for her to work with?  Was it more collaborative?

Kid Koala:  Nah, I can’t speak for Trixie but I hate the whole musical penpal thing. I said we had to get into the studio together. We did it all over two sessions both here in Montreal.  I think we knocked out “All for You” and all of “Hera’s Song” in that first session before you left. I was just blown away.
It’s hard to talk about Trixie when she’s on the phone (laughs)
My studio doesn’t have a separate vocal booth with the glass or anything so we were sitting right next to each other and I’m next to her while she’s singing and I’ve got my headphone monitors on and she starts singing All for you and I just couldn’t believe what I as hearing. Time just stretched and stood still at the same time. I literally held my breath the whole time so I wouldn’t cough or squeak the chair and ruin the take. When Trixie is ready to sing, she’s ready to sing. The same thing happened with Hera’s song.

COLLiDE:  Trixie, did you have the lyrics ready to go?

Trixie:  You know, this was really a refreshing experience. I always try to go into any situation with as much openness as possible. I try to listen with an open mind to both the environment and the creatures I’m in that environment with.  My observation with this was that there was such a specific idea that Eric had in mind and I really wanted to serve that from a collaborator’s perspective not just as a soloist you know?
I’m a storyteller and I love stories in general and it seemed Eric had a story he wanted to tell and I wanted to be the vehicle that could help translate the story he had in his mind. We talked a bunch and I just backed off from the writing process because I was like dude you’ve got this. You already know what you want to say. I didn’t feel like it was up to me to me to interfere with that process. I felt like the most I could do to really amplify or help facilitate his vision was to interpret his story. That’s where I was coming from.
I also felt that from the last record it was so refreshing to read Eric’s words from a lyrical perspective and his writing was really good so I just wanted to facilitate that and not get in the way with my own narrative and just be more in service from a performance perspective.

COLLiDE: You’ve certainly done some mellow songs before but let’s be honest you can really belt it out. Was it hard for you to be so restrained on this record?

Trixie:  No, not at all. Most of all I just wanted to approach it by being in service to this vessel we call music and art you know? I try to be as selfless as I can but that being said of course I also have an ego (laughs)
We did talk a lot and I was going through some stuff and it seemed like that kind of juiced up Eric’s writing you know?

Kid Koala:  Trixie is so intuitive in general and that’s a trait that is really rare.  She knows her range and knows she can belt but she can also listen to the tone of a track and lock into it and take it up so many levels.  She’s not giving herself enough credit at all. That first meeting I said I had some ideas about io and the moons and Galileo and all that. It interested me in a way…look it isn’t like she showed up and I said here is the first act , etc.  She just seemed to relate with what was going on in the world and in both of our lives and I found myself writing for Trixie where I felt like I was doing sort of a portrait trying to get on her wavelength and thinking maybe she could sing through these characters and channel some elements from her personal life.
Like on “All For You” for instance, she and I are both relatively new parents and I think that song is about finding new love and the perspective changes that happen when there is this new being in your sphere and it just changes the gravity of everything.
I was trying to find those points where we were meeting around things that we had lived through or were worried about.

Having an outside character for me to write through like Io, helped catalyze the process. What Trixie brought to these songs is that she digs into her own experience and she just owns it and makes everything a truly personal interpretation. Some of the tracks she sang on became so much more profound than they were when I was writing them.
The weight shifted in a way where I was like yeah this really works.
She really underlined the feeling of it.
It’s one thing to write the words, it’s another to hear this phenomenal singer bring everything to it.  I was just near tears watching her.

COLLiDE: It sounds like a pretty magical experience.

(Both laughing)

Kid Koala:  It was. She started pulling rabbits out of hats and she showed me some sleight of hand stuff. (laughs)
No but for me even if the end product is moody and heavy, the studio part should be fun.  My studio is just a landfill of old gear and stuff.  At one point we were working on Hera she was asking me “How does this work?” because my studio is just a landfill of old gear. There are just knobs and dials everywhere. I started explaining and suddenly she goes “Actually we need to record this RIGHT now. I’m in character.” and I was just floored in the end. She was like Cruella sharpening her knives and I was like wow this is mean! I LIKE this!

Trixie:  You know what’s so wonderful is that when you kind of surrender to your life as a creator, you get to use your imagination as a tool to produce and it’s a really wonderful liberating thing. As much as there were some literal things I shared with Eric about personal stuff, the state of our world and everything I was dealing with I was able to act a little.
I’m not a vengeful creature at all but when Eric described this character Hera, I was like what IF I was this character and really just wanted to like rip the balls off (laughs) and I was like oh cool in my imagination I get to pretend I’m this really vengeful character and it was a great way to deal with some traumatic events. It was kind of profound.

COLLiDE:  It sounds like a form of musical therapeutic role-play (laughs)

Trixie: Yeah totally!

Kid Koala:  I played it for my manager and she was like This is the scariest thing you’ve ever made! (laughs)
Look this is going to be a Trixie appreciate interview if you haven’t figured that out already but basically she is able to just channel and dig deep.
It’s just amazing to me.

COLLiDE:  Well that is fitting since the way you met her was with the word “Legend”

Trixie:  Oh god you two. I have to get off the interview! (laughs)

COLLiDE:  Don’t worry. We’ll put something bad about you so it doesn’t sound so over the top. (Editors note: We couldn’t find anything)

Kid Koala:  After that vocal was down I was like oh no! Now I need to go rework the crescendo to this because you know the bats were like flying out of the cave and stuff. I needed to sonically match the darkness and intensity without changing the track. It’s my favorite track on the album.

COLLiDE: It’s sinister but it’s subtle and not bombastic.

Kid Koala: Right! It’s like she’s just below the boiling point with this straight face like “I will mess you up!”
I had to go back and add these layers to just push it closer and closer to that breaking point.
I think in every collaboration you want to get in the studio and really drive yourself and make yourself say “Whoah! What happened?”
Hera’s song and anything Trixie is on just turned into something so much deeper than I thought it could be.
There are so many more levels than I thought it could have you know.

COLLiDE:  It sounds like it was a really fruitful and fun experience and that usually translates into a great experience for the listener which after a few listens seems to be an accurate summation.

Music to Draw To: Io is out on 1/25
Trixie will be releasing her next solo album Lacuna on 3/29 Her new single Touch is out now.
Kid Koala is on the road with multiple live projects including listening sessions for Io

photo by: AJ Korkidakis