Klein’s wide smile is beaming back at me over Skype as she giggles animatedly about her trip to Notting Hill Carnival. It’s early afternoon on day two of the weekend-long celebration, and despite having been out all day yesterday and at an afterparty, she’s in high spirits. “We ended up at the Levi Roots stage – you know the guy with the Reggae Reggae sauce? He had a proper performance. It was so weird. It was amazing!” The south London-based artist has a refreshingly positive outlook that she transfers to her songwriting. “It often stems from a sad place, but I find a point to laugh and dance within the tracks,” she says.
Though Klein was born in London, she hasn’t always resided there. As she was growing up, she relocated to both Lagos and to Los Angeles before returning to her place of birth. Being brought up in a Nigerian household, she was regularly going to church and immersing herself in gospel music. “I learned how to maneuver my voice by watching loads of Kim Burrell videos,” she says. In fact, Klein didn’t start properly discovering music that was outside of gospel and the Top 20 until she was in her final year of school.
Klein’s religious upbringing is a cornerstone of her music. In February, she released her debut album Only that showcased a gospel-tinged style that’s both disorientating and hypnotic. One of its tracks, “Marks of Worship”, stood out in particular. Although it was initially meant to be an interlude (a “non-song”, as she describes it) the track came alive thanks to a stunning video. “Praise the lord,” the spoken word begins before Klein walks into a celebration of herself, where prosecco flies in all directions and smiles are plastered onto guests’ faces. At the end of the video, Klein is baptised in a bath, a scene that’s meant to represent her “rebirth”.
Klein’s latest EP Lagata is a natural progression from Only, but it takes her sound to the next level as unsettling, hi-def glitches rumble loudly and vocal trills show off her range even more impressively. It’s a vivid work, and it’s accompanied by equally striking artwork (above). Staring intensely at the camera, Klein sits at a desk with her hand poised on a mouse, the typical office environment offset by rows of delicate porcelain plates in the background. “It sort of sets the tone of the record,” she explains, “Just something about it doesn’t feel like I’m real.”
As we talk in depth, I start to get a clearer picture of the inside of Klein’s head – moving from topics like aspiring to win Grammy awards to making a break up video. Below, you can watch her video for “Stunt” and listen to Lagata in full.
I was listening to your show on Balamii Radio with Crackstevens from March and on the show you were both talking about church, and you said, ‘The only thing I’d look forward to would be the choirs and everyone having fun.’
Klein: I always found the actual church service quite intense, and the praise of worship segment in the beginning was actually when everyone let their guard down. Gospel was all I knew for a while, just because my mum was not for secular music, literally to the point where she and almost my main immediate family are not aware I make music. I feel like this is usually the case with first generation Nigerian youths – we basically keep our creative shit to ourselves ‘til we’re on the Grammys or collecting Oscars.
“If I ever have a Wikipedia page, I want my vocal range to be the main focus – alto to soprano. Basically, I’m ready for the West End” – Klein
Did you ever feel discouraged to be creative and act upon that creativity by your family when you were growing up?
Klein: You know what? I think representation has a lot to do with it. My mum would be like, ‘Where would you want to do this? How many Nigerians girls do you see doing it?’ She’ll only rate me once I get that Grammy, or if Beyoncé says I’m sick. That was literally what I was lowkey thinking when I was finishing up my EP, I was like ‘Would Beyoncé or Pavarotti approve of this?’ If I ever have a Wikipedia page, I want my vocal range to be the main focus – alto to soprano. Basically, I’m ready for the West End.
I wanted to talk about ‘Marks of Worship’. The spoken word repeats the phrase ‘the mark of hatred’. What do those words mean to you?
Klein: It was the last interlude off my album, and essentially it was meant to be quite therapeutic for me as a self-cleansing piece. The term ‘mark of hatred’ is literally all the bad omens life throws at you – envy/bitterness/jealousy/deceit.
What was the process like making the ‘Marks of Worship’ video?
Klein: The process was quite funny. Akin and I are friends, and he really wanted to do a video for ‘Marks of Worship’. I genuinely thought of it as a non-song – it was a five minute interlude that I made for myself; I didn’t think it’d matter much. Akin hit it on the nail though when he sent me the treatment as that’s what the interlude was about – it was a celebration of me being cleansed.
Could you talk a bit about the video for ‘Stunt’? It’s quite different to ‘Marks Of Worship’.
Klein: ‘Stunt’ is very much in my head. It’s very X-Files – quite supernatural and thoroughly intense. It’s the fifth song off my new EP Lagata, and it’s pretty much an interlude, but it felt like an end of my last record and a beginning of this new record and the very tone of it. The whole thing is quite ritualistic, both to the boy (mentioned in the song) but also to the audience. Even when the only verse comes in, it’s probably the first time I’ve been quite bold on my emotions. It’s weird to write a song about you being powerful, but it’s important – society isn’t gonna tell you that you’re lit, you have to reaffirm this to yourself.
The video is you in the pitch dark with Kareem Reid, but you’re both draped in clothes that emanate a neon beam. What’s the story behind the video, if there is one?
Klein: I wanted to just make a breakup video, like, ‘Boy I’ve had enough of your shit.’ But also, as is often the case when I write break up or make up songs, it’s also aimed at me – the boy is just a symbolic image. ‘Stunt’ is very much different stages of the relationship, flipping on the normal perspective of a relationship like Usher’s ‘Confessions, Pt. II’. Actually, that Usher video was one of our references.
“I feel like this is usually the case with first generation Nigerian youths – we basically keep our creative shit to ourselves ‘til we’re on the Grammys or collecting Oscars” – Klein
Lagata feels like your most vivid, striking work to date, is there a story or narrative behind the seven tracks?
Klein: Lagata is based on this guy from my favourite film, Saworoide. He’s initially called in to help this mythology-esque town, but he just goes crazy and wants all the power. His presence in the film always hit me. Lagata represents my very own make-believe world. I really felt like I truly poured my heart out without sugarcoating it. It’s essentially about friendship and me being comfortable with my own mindset. ‘With U’ was written about a friend who goes through depression, and I just wanted her to know that I’m there. I love her and even if it feels like I’m not always there... I am here.
Follow Aurora Mitchell on Twitter here @auroramitch