Call Me Kilo Kish

The Los Angeles Musician Explains Why a Name Is Everything

Interview: Kevin Pires
Photography: Saamuel Richard

In an age where an identity switch is as simple as editing a profile, Lakisha Robinson knows that naming something is one way to make it real. Best known as musician Kilo Kish, the Florida-born, L.A.-based artist has been renaming herself to suit her needs her whole life. She’s Kish or Lakisha to family and friends, Kilo Kish to her fans, and, with designs of establishing a luxury brand in mind, maybe Kisha in the future. Distinct personas help the reluctant multi-hyphenate—”It's like, ‘Okay, you just like making a lot of different stuff’”—fold her creative impulses from making music, to collaborating on clothing, to dreaming up ideas for hotels into an evolving project.  

In the crystalline electronic cloud that is Reflections in Real Time, her self-released, full-length debut, Kish narrates her trip through mid-20s ennui and ego complicated by a media ecosystem demanding constant engagement. It is an album made possible by the time and distance Kish found on the West Coast. She is far from the first artist of her generation to grapple with this thorny dynamic, but she sets herself apart with disarming sincerity, self-awareness, and a wry sense of humor.

Kevin Pires caught up with Kilo Kish in L.A. to discuss the importance of alone time, resisting categorization, and choosing her name.

Kevin Pires: I just moved here from New York a few days ago. You made the same move—what motivated yours?

Kilo Kish: I was over New York for a lot of different reasons. I felt like I wasn't getting that much work done. I was doing a lot of busy work and making money but didn't feel I was getting to the heart of what I wanted creatively.

You've moved around a lot—is your work influenced by where you are?

New York was really influential during the time I was there. It wasn't so much about me as it was about a scene. Since living in L.A., though, I spend so much more time by myself. I can be in my house for days at a time. In New York, I would never have been home alone for two days.

People start checking in on you.

Yeah, or you're going to the grocery store to get milk and see 10 people you know. They're going to be like, "Oh, come with me to this random thing," and then you end up out late. It's like email—when you check your email in the morning you’re immediately in someone else's agenda. That's how New York is. You're never fully in control. For me to get work done I need to be alone the greater portion of the week. I like being in L.A. because it helps me focus. I get super easily distracted.

The tendency to be easily distracted is a trademark of our generation. And so few of us value alone time or understand the benefits of it.

Alone time kind of fucks with you if you're a millennial. You have this crazy fear of missing out on things. When you're alone all you have are your own opinions and we're such a groupthink culture. You need to ask yourself, "Wait, how do I actually feel about this?" What I grapple with now is the other extreme. I spend so much time alone that I have to force myself to live within reality. I have to force myself to be like, "Oh, fuck. I need to do social media.” It's really strange. What I like to explore in art is, what's acceptable to the public? What's not acceptable? What are the different ways I can get around this stereotypical way of presenting myself? It's a never ending conversation.

That's something you deal with on Reflections in Real Time—the construction of an identity.

In your early 20s you can be good at what you do but you're not totally self-aware of the quirks of your personality. Even in your mid-20s and probably until you get into your 30s or even 40s, you're still not completely aware of the things you do that piss people off. When you start discovering those there's this little bit of guilt and, "Oh my God. What could I have done differently? Where could I have made a change?"

How do you work through that?

I don't really have to because I’m an artist. It's actually really helpful for what I make.

“Alone time kind of fucks with you if you're a millennial.“

On “Existential Crisis Hour” you run through a series of questions like, “Will I ever be able to see myself the way others see me?” Those are the type that we’ll keep asking ourselves forever.

I don't know that everyone asks themselves those questions, actually. For me, I hadn't always asked myself those questions. That just came about from spending a lot of time alone. In New York, I never had the opportunity to wonder about them because I was so busy that there was no space for my brain to just ponder things on its own. I had been reading a lot and I had been spending full days, nights, by myself and then—I wasn't really depressed, I was just like, "What?"

“What I like to explore in art is, what's acceptable to the public? What's not acceptable?“

Being hyper-vulnerable is a mark of what you do. Do you ever feel like there's a time for hiding, then?

Totally. Like, every other day except for when I’m putting on music. When I'm in my house, when I'm just talking to my five friends. I still go to events and stuff like that, but now it's fun because I'm just working so much. It's nice to actually see people and have conversations. I don't think you should have to hide within your art. As far as performance goes, I've always felt like the art should be what it is. I never really felt like the artist should also feel on display. I wish that music was a little bit more respectful of that but it's not. People are really used to one-dimensionality. Our generation will be more multi-dimensional, though, because we have access to more frames of reference. So of course you're going to want to play onstage and then also be in nature and then also be a politician.

Being an artistic polyglot is part and parcel of being a creative these days. Do you find the different media you work in influence each other?

I kind of compartmentalize. I really separate them in my brain but I'm pretty sure that if we look after 10 years they'll all have influenced each other. In my head right now I try to keep them as separate as possible. I'll have completely different mood boards, documents, for each specific thing that I'm working on. I'm Lakisha Robinson, but at the end of the day I'll be like, "Oh, this is the Kilo Kish mood board for this." If I want to make a music project called Kitty New New then that will have another board, too, that's separate from Lakisha even.

How do you collaborate then while still maintaining the integrity of your vision?

You have to learn how to say no. I say no a lot. Kind of to my own demise, because there are so many things I have not done because I say no. Even if it's great money, a great opportunity, or great visibility, if it's not going to come out in a way that you can feel proud of then you have to say no. I don't work with that many artists, but the ones I do, I'm very confident in their abilities and I'm very confident in their concept. It’s about mutual respect. If you're on my record and I have this whole idea already set in place, I would hope that you would allow me to take you into my world. I'll go into your world with you and sacrifice a little bit of what I would naturally do so that we can finish this for your sake.

Is that how the t-shirts with Leyman were born?

We both used to work at this restaurant called Miss Lily's in New York. We were trying to make bags and cut and sew stuff together back then when I was still in college. With the Reflections tees I was like, "I'm a little bit spent on my aesthetic of things so let me reach out to someone that I think could really do the merchandise justice." His art is everywhere in my house. I gave him the album and said, "Just make whatever drawings while you listen to it." He did them perfectly.

What other artists inspire you?

I like John Baldessari. I like the aesthetic of the L.A. artists in the 50s and 60s. As far as consumer-based art, I really love Takashi Murakami because of the way that he's able to do fashion and products and homewares. It appeals to my multi-brain.

You're working in a similar sort of way. Where does that impulse come from?

I like making stuff. I'm not really a fan of the billion hyphens. It's like, “Okay, you just like making a lot of different stuff.” I try stuff and if it works out, it works out. I have ideas for shoes. I have ideas for couches. I have ideas for hotels. It's an all-around creative process. I just go until I can't go anymore. I just go until someone stops me.

“My work will always respond to the issues of black artists in America because I am one and I have to deal.“

Given the commercial success of more politicized black creative output, like that of Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar, do you feel the need to comment via your work?

My work will always respond to the issues of black artists in America because I am one and I have to deal. I don't think I have to explicitly make a record about it. I think throughout history and right now especially we’re in a time and space that’s on a similar curve to what occurred in the 60s and 70s in terms of getting our rights and speaking out about them. There were tons of projects during that time period about the same subjects. I think that in 2016 we're coming around to that again. There will be tons more work about that and I think that there should be. There were also tons of projects then that didn't relate to it. There are tons of projects now that won't. Everyone is their own artist and whatever speaks to them the most is what you have to deal with. Whatever is inspiring you, be inspired by that, and by all means push.

You're often asked about your name. Is the way you play with it a suggestion that you can be all these different people? A way to resist definition?

Totally. I've been called Kish since I was a little kid because my babysitter would call me Kish. I liked that more when I got into middle school because there were so many Kishas. I started saying, "I like Kish more. It feels like it fits me more." I grew up in Florida so when I would apply to work at the ice cream stand or at a random store no one would ever call me back with Lakisha Robinson as a name. The name shouldn't even have a stigma. The word stigma even seems wrong to say because it's basically just that people would assume it's a ghetto name or whatever. I went to a super Republican, WASP-y high school and they would impersonate black people like, "I'm Lashonda," making up some random five syllable name. For some reason Lakisha falls into that category for people. My manager Jay has been trying to get me to start thinking about working on a brand for the past three years. I was like, "I don't need to do it right now. I can do it when I'm 30. I can do it when I'm 40. I'm focused on this." Then one day he was like, "Just think of a name." We were trying to think of all these weird names to call the brand and I'm like, "Let's just call it Kisha." It doesn't feel like me fully because I never went by that. It is me but it's not, too. Then we went a step further and said, "We should make the luxury part called Lakisha because it's a play on all that bullshit that people used to say.” We're like, "Okay, so when we do our cashmere, and leathers, and all the more expensive stuff then that will be under the luxury line Lakisha and we'll do it in a really fancy script." I like to play with the idea of things not being what you expect. If you expected something then what does that say about you? In 50 or 60 years, wouldn't it be great for the name Kisha to be synonymous with luxury like Chanel or Gucci? Why not? 

Interview: Kevin Pires
Photography: Saamuel Richard
Styling: Mar Peidro