What have you achieved over the last couple of years? Well, the last two years have been pretty busy for Leven Kali. 2017 saw Leven feature on Playboi Carti’s eponymous mixtape and a writing credit on Drake’s mammoth ‘More Life’. While last year he gave us – among other things – the incredible “Do U Wrong”, ft. The Internet’s Syd, and a supporting slot on Snoh Aalegra’s US tour. This year, has started strong too with the launch of his critically-acclaimed EP – Low Tide. All in all, it’s not bad, right? Well, it’s only the start for Leven Kali. The Netherlands-born, west-coast American-raised dreamer and former professional golfer is now on his way to being a professional soul-surfer. As his innately soulful songwriting continues to reach upwards into a new sound and into his own heavenly realm.
We hopped on and off a Boris bike and linked up with Leven in London to unearth a few of his favourite spots across the city as he opens up to GAFFER about his focus in the studio, his relentless ambition and the most important influences in his life; from golf, the iconic ‘Oranje’ jersey and his favourite brands of the past 12 months.
First of all, in Dutch, pulling on the place of your birth, your name means ‘Life.’ So, what do you believe to be the secret to a long and fulfilling life?
Finding the joy in whatever you’re doing. Learning about things and people. Moving forward. Whatever makes you feel excited like when you were a kid. All of these things help add substance to your life.
You moved from The Netherlands to the west coast of America at a very young age – what are your memories of making that initial move?
To be honest it was all before I turned two, so I don’t remember much. I used to go back and visit more frequently in my childhood than I do now. I haven’t been back since I was about 15. Long overdue…
Who was your hero growing up and how have they continued to shape your life?
As a kid I was obsessed with Batman, and as I’ve grown up, my love for the character evolved to an appreciation for the story and how they developed the legend of Batman. The art of storytelling and how it all is connected from religion to superheroes; to even how we talk about our own lives.
Whether you’re a big football fan or not, the iconic ‘Oranje’ Dutch jersey is a symbol for the country, but what does the jersey represent to you?
It represents that family isn’t always determined by blood. I don’t have any biological relatives in The Netherlands but I have so many “chosen” family members. It is still a home for me.
I know you only spent your early formative years in The Netherlands, but did you love and passion for music kickstart there or when you moved to the US?
I was born on tour. My Fathers’ band Mother’s Finest was touring in Europe and my Mom decided to stay with our family friends in Den Haag. So you can say I was influenced by the circumstances, but I didn’t start playing until I was a bit more grown.
When was the moment that music made you feel a certain type of way? Like, when were you aware of the power that it can possess?
My mom has stories of me kicking to the beat during rehearsals when she was pregnant. So it makes sense that my first musical passion was the drums. The power of music is crazy. Going to concerts at a young age and seeing crowds singing along and people coming together. It wasn’t one moment for me, it’s more like music is the first thing that I was exposed to as a child and I’ve been connected to it ever since.
Is there a particular song that defines your childhood?
There are some artists, like Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Donny Hathaway, that have songs that immediately send me back to memories of my childhood and remind me of the feelings of falling in love with songs.
How did the move to Santa Monica enhance and inspire your sound?
I’m sure my music would sound a bit different had I not been raised in California. The G-Funk era is so integral to my sound and I think that being raised out here makes me feel responsible to pay homage and reflect those sounds in my music.
It’s one thing to say you wanna do music but what’s the hardest part in making it a reality?
I was initially doing music without the intention of being an artist or making money, which is probably the best way to start doing anything. Then it sort of turned into what it is now. I think the hardest part is when something you love gets intertwined with business no matter which profession or art form.
In and out of the studio, how do you ensure you’re always the best version of yourself?
I’m working on that. I think we all are. It’s important to sleep and eat and take care of your human.
When and where are you happiest?
When I’m sleeping and having a great dream.
What is the biggest dream that you have now?
I want to be alive when we communicate with life from another planet.
What one particular experience that you’ve had in your career that has stuck with you…
Headlining a show for the first time was surreal, meeting all the fans after too. Those shows will stick with me forever.
Tell us about how you fell in love with Golf; at what age did you start playing and who introduced you to the game?
My Dad and my Uncles introduced to the game but I didn’t really play or get interested until I was 13. I went to a golf course with my friends just to mess around at the driving range and I was actually really good so it got me hooked.
What do you feel when you play golf?
It’s just a fun game for me now. At one point I was playing at a high level competitively and taking it serious, but now it’s a break from the main grind I guess.
How long did you play as a professional for? How hard was it to step away from the game?
I only played in college for a little. It was harder because I was leaving golf and school at the same time.
What’s your handicap? Do you still find the time to play a few rounds?
I can still shoot even. I’m still alright. I get out there maybe a few times a month… I want to play more though.
Love is a theme that often runs throughout your music – what things in life do you love the most?
My family , my girlfriend, making music.
Your sound has been described as many different things – from soulful, to vibrant to sensual – but how would you describe the Leven Kali sound right now?
What would you like people to feel when they listen to your music?
Joy. I want people to want to show people my music because it feels good.
How does it feel to be in London? What is your relationship with the city?
I love London, I did one of my first shows out here opening for Jazz Cartier at Koko. I’ve got some people out here so it feels good to see the homies and just be in another culture.
Are there any specific places you like to hit up when you arrive in the English capital?
Is it still overwhelming when you travel halfway around the world and see the impact that your work and your sound is having on people from all walks of life and from countries across the globe – does that feeling ever escape you as an artist?
Its honestly brand new to me; so I’m still soaking it all up.
You’re always coming in fresh with the fits too – how would you describe your style and where do you find influence from?
I would say I dress pretty loud on stage like bright colours and then I just keep it comfortable off stage. I’m into a lot a bunch of brands right now; I like this brand Circulate based out of LA and Bodega.
Have you always possessed that confidence when it comes to your look?
Yeah, I was even getting fly on the golf course…
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