KOMPLEX KAI TALKS NEW MUSIC & ARTISTIC INFLUENCES 155

Currently preparing to release his new album, rapper and rights leader from WA Indian Reservation Komplex Kai has been honing his craft for over a decade and has already been dubbed the “Native American Tupac.” With a growing social media following and hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, he chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about favourite artists, performance plans and career ambitions.

TITL: At what age did you first realize you wanted to make music a career and before that, did you have any other ambitions?

KK: I’d say 16 or so is when I thought I could make a career out of it. Naturally there were a lot of learning curves in the beginning, so it took a while before I became a professional, or actually began treating it as a profession. I was writing well before that but that’s when I thought I could put all of it into an album and try and give that to the world. When I was a lot younger, I wanted to be a doctor for a period of time. I thought of it as a good job you know; taking care of people and helping people in that way but once music came in, any prior ambitions took a backseat.

TITL: What would you say your unique selling point is?

KK: The obvious one to go to is me being Native American. I always look for the music to bring people in first, but the thing they always gravitate towards is the Native thing anyway, so I’ve been just going with that. I’ve been telling people that first and the response or reaction is always that it is a unique thing – to be native and be in my position or actively pursuing a career in Hip Hop music. I’m often classed as a “Native Rapper.”

TITL: Which bands or artists most influenced you growing up and how, if at all, have those influences changed over the years? What impact do they have on the music you make?

KK: I mean my influences go back to a lot of early west coast stuff. N.W.A, of course, including Dre and Ice Cube, and Pac was always an influence as well. From them up to Eminem D.M.X and some of the other acts around the time I was “coming of age”, otherwise known as my early teenage years. I still look back to some of the older stuff for influence, just to recapture the feeling of when it was all new or the impact it had on me at the time. The old stuff still resonates with me more than the newer stuff. For example I connect with a new Jay-z album more than I would say a new artists’ album. Just stylistically and content wise it just connects with me more.  I always say there’s a little bit of these guys in my music; just in the sense that they helped shape me, rather kind of like mentors. I studied their stuff closely when I was younger; I even tried to sound like them at times until I grew into my own and was able to do my own thing and create my own sound and fully and easily express my point of view through my music, in my way.

TITL: Is there a band or artist you might say you sound most similar to?

KK: I’ve heard quite a few compare to some of the above artists like X, or Em or the early west coast stuff or Pac, as far as some content or some of the more political type of stuff. Even Mobb Deep one time so. I never like to say stuff like that though, I’ll let the fans decide that. I hope they’re able to just say “that’s Kai and he sounds like Kai, and does his own thing and has his own lane.” But I think there will always be comparisons to artists that came before me.

TITL: What can you tell me about your upcoming album?

KK: This upcoming album is just me getting back fully into the swing of things musically. It’s been awhile since I felt like I was able to fully tune in, to the process and focus and what I want to deliver to my fans. I think you can expect a lot of energy, The lyrical style my fans have become accustomed to and some of the more serious stuff too; my deep thoughts or stuff of a deeper perspective. I think it’ll have something for everyone – something to grab the ones who haven’t heard of me yet and some stuff to resonate with my long-time fans as well.

TITL: Which of your songs are you most proud of and why?

KK: Wow that’s a tough question. I’m proud of ‘em all. But the main one that will always be something I’m very proud of for my own personal reasons is probably, “About The Rez” or “Rise Up” both for somewhat the same reason. How I broke into the game so to speak was with “About The Rez”  and it let you know who I was, where I was from, what I stood and stand for, and my beliefs all in three or four minutes. “Rise Up” also means a lot to me because I felt like it did that same thing for my people; spanning bigger than just my rez or my state or hometown and was able to connect with a lot of people who felt or believed the same thing and had similar beliefs. I’ll always be proud of those two, though especially “The Rez” because it was the first song of mine that really said something in a powerful way that connected with people, and has had staying power; it still brings me new listeners to this day.

TITL: Who or what most inspires you lyrically and with that in mind, which song would you say is the greatest ever written and why?

KK: There is no greatest song ever written I don’t think. There are just certain types of songs you know. Like say story tracks to me…there are easily top two in my opinion are “Stan” by Eminem and “Dance with the Devil” by Immortal Technique. If we’re talking all genres it’s just an impossible thing to do – to think of one greatest song, or artist, ever. I’ll go with what Nas said, “Ain’t No Best.” It was something like that anyway and he had and has a point. There are just too many great artists and great songs to ever point to one as the greatest ever. Just to complete the thought, a song of any genre can have an influence on me; if the story or lyrics are great, chances are I’ll give it a shot.

TITL: How do you feel about being labelled the “Native American Tupac” by The Seattle Times?

KK: I think that the subject I was hitting the people with at the time and the attitude in which I was presenting it with, kind of set me up for that comparison. Again, all I can do is be the best me and hope people appreciate the music and shy away from latching onto any comparisons or labels anyone might throw out there, negative or positive. But at the time, it was cool, I’m not going to lie. Pac’s music was a huge influence on me so it was dope to be compared to him in that way.

TITL: Do you have any tour plans/upcoming performances you can tell me about and which venue, anywhere in the world, would you most like to play and why?

KK: I’d like to get to the point where I’m able to play in an arena like the key or Madison Square Garden or something of that size. I’m going to be putting a lot of energy to booking shows as soon as I’m at a point where I feel I’m in the last quarter of wrapping this project up and am ready to hit the road and share that with the world. I have plans and I’ll be sure to share them soon.

TITL: If you could share a stage with three acts, living or dead, who would you choose?

KK: Three? Pac, Em, Tech N9ne.

TITL: How do you feel about social media and what impact does it/is it having on your career? Do you think it’s possible for artists to succeed without it?

KK: I think artist can succeed to a certain extent without it, but to grow a sustainable career, I believe you have to use it and engage with your fans as often as possible. Don’t obsess too much…or maybe obsess a lot if you want to reach a high level. There are a lot of levels to success in the music business though, but I think all of them include social media engagement.

TITL: Do you have any other plans/projects in the pipeline?

KK: I’ve had thoughts of doing another song with another push to try to continue to raise awareness on things of this nature, it’s still going on, still affecting people and their way of life. The beat has to come to me or the hook, or the general outline of the song and when that happens I’ll put it out.

TITL: Looking ahead, what would you have to achieve in order for you to finally feel like you’d truly made it? Whose career would you most like to emulate and why?

KK: Dre, Jay-Z , Diddy; those names come to mind as to the heights I’d like to reach but first for me to feel like I’ve truly made it, I’d need to have the freedom to work on any project want without any limits attached to it – and just do the music I love. Also, I’d like to have the ability and connections to work with anyone I might want to in the music industry. That, along with a strong base of fans who look forward to any new material or songs I put out – I want the freedom to make my art, and have people look for and appreciate and enjoy my art. I feel like I’m almost there; I mean I’ve made it in a sense in my own mind. I’m doing the music I love and am connecting with more people who appreciate that by the day, so if I just continue do this in a positive way and continue to grow, then to me, I’ve made and will continue to make it.

For more information on Komplex Kai, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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DANIELLE PINNOCK CHATS ‘YOUNG SHELDON’ & THE BODY POSITIVITY MOVEMENT 53

With The Big Bang Theory having proven to be a global hit since its very first episode, it should come as no surprise to learn that its spin-off, a look at the childhood and early years of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper, aptly titled Young Sheldon, has also become a phenomenon. With the show about to air its debut season finale, and with season 2 already greenlit, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Danielle Pinnock, who plays Ms. Ingram in the show, to find out about her very first audition, her role as a body activist and how she feels about the reaction to and her being part of the smash-hit series that is Young Sheldon.

TITL: At what age did you first realize you wanted to pursue acting as a career? Was there one particular show/actor you watched that made you think ‘I’d like to do that’?

Danielle Pinnock: When I was 19 I was in a production at Temple University called In Conflict. It was a documentary play about war veterans returning home from serving overseas. The show was so incredible. We were even pulled out of school for a year to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Off-Broadway in New York.  All of the vets we portrayed were real people, based on interviews done by journalist Yvonne Latty. The veteran I played, Sgt. Lisa Haynes, was the only one we were unable to get a response from during run of the show. I heard that during her initial interview, her PTSD was so severe once returning home that she may have “fallen off the map.” I didn’t want to accept this, so I took it upon myself to find Sgt. Haynes. I called every VA hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was from, and was able to locate her and her family. During the run of the show,  I flew down to Tulsa and met Sgt. Haynes and her family. When I returned back to New York, I was determined to have Sgt. Haynes see the final Off-Broadway performance. So in the final two weeks of the run I managed to raise $10,000 to get Sgt. Haynes and her family members up to New York to see In Conflict’s last show. It was THAT show that made me want to act for the rest of my life.

TITL: Can you recall your very first audition? 

DP: Yes! Ha! My very first audition was for the middle school production of Aladdin. I played Halima, Jafar’s evil sister. It was like pulling teeth to get me to audition for this role. I never wanted to be an actor growing up, and was super shy as a child. My audition song was “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill.

TITL: Which auditions, looking back on them, do you feel went really well or that you struggled with? 

DP: The reason I ended up in Los Angeles is because I auditioned for a production at the Geffen Playhouse called Barbecue by Robert O’Hara. At the time of the auditions, I was still living in Chicago and actually flew up to L.A. to be seen for the project. It was a risky decision and I would not recommend actors doing that, but I knew I had to be on point! I also knew if I was going to move to Los Angeles, I needed a job! Barbecue was one of my best auditions in L.A. Recently, I ran into Colman Domingo and he said: Danielle, you just walked in with your blue dress and commanded our attention. Working with Colman and the cast members was a dream realized. It was an honor to be included in that production.

My most memorable audition that I struggled with also happened in Los Angeles. I was going in for the role of a nurse on a sitcom. A lot of auditions in L.A. happen in “bungalows” which are really just trailers on the studio lots. I only bring this up, because the walls in most audition rooms are extremely thin so you can hear another actors’ entire audition. There was a young woman who went in before me, and her audition was so fantastic that the casting director actually booked her for the project IN THE ROOM! The entire waiting room, full of actors, heard the casting director call this woman’s agent to say the actor had booked it. However, in the waiting room, chaos ensued. People began to leave the audition and I had no clue what to do because I was NEXT! As soon as the actor left the audition room all I heard was: “Danielle Pinnock come on in.”  It was my worst audition to date. I forgot all of the lines and was just unmotivated to even give my all because I knew there was no chance of me getting booked on that project.

TITL: How did you hear about the role of Ms. Ingram for Young Sheldon? What was/is it about the character that made you want to audition for the role?

DP: Funny enough, this was a same-day audition. My manager called me on a Thursday morning and I had three-hours to prepare the sides for an Untitled project. I initially went in for the music-teacher and then Nikki Valko, the casting director, asked me to read for a brand new character they created that week “Ms. Ingram.” It was refreshing to see that casting was considering me, a plus-sized African American woman to play the mathematics teacher. Ms. Ingram is one of my favorite characters to play because she is so quirky, hilarious and extremely no-nonsense.

TITL: The show has proven to be a HUGE success in the US and is also popular here in the UK. Did you or your fellow cast members ever expect the show to get the response and reaction it has? 

DP: It’s surreal! This show is a hit internationally and I’ve never, in my entire career, been a part of such a phenomenon. Chuck Lorre is a genius and absolutely has the Midas touch when it comes to creating successful television! Working with the creators Chuck Lorre and Steve Molaro has been a dream come true. My mom and I were in the grocery store and someone stopped us and said “That’s Ms. Ingram, Oh My God!” In the pilot, my character Ms. Ingram talks about attending Oral Roberts University and the school sent me a gift! I went to graduate school at Birmingham School of Acting UK, now known as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, so it’s really cool for my friends, family and professors to see it overseas as well!

Aside from it’s obvious TBBT connection, what do you think it is about Young Sheldon that has attracted so many people to watch, and keep watching, it?

DP: The show is hilarious and the main cast give masterful performances. Iain Armitage who plays Sheldon Cooper is a brilliant young performer and is such a joy to work alongside. His portrayal of Sheldon Cooper is honest and relatable.

TITL: You’ve also appeared in Scandal and This Is Us. How important to you is it that you’re able to take on a variety of roles that really put your abilities to the test, and with that in mind, what’s your dream role? Which show would you most like to appear in and why?

DP: Working on those two shows was incredible. I was able to work on Scandal with the genius Kerry Washington; the legendary Viola Davis was the cherry on an already delicious sundae! I’ve had the opportunity to play some fantastic roles both in theatre and on-screen. To be honest, I don’t know what my dream role would be. There are so many great shows out right now. My favorites at the moment: Good Girls, Atlanta, How To Get Away With Murder and SMILF. 

TITL: The entertainment industry is cut throat and competitive, so what advice would you give to anyone looking to make their mark on it? Is there any one piece of advice you were once given that you still look back on?

DP: A colleague of mine once said: “In this industry, you must learn to be plural.” In this industry, especially nowadays, you have to be multi-faceted. This is why there is an uprising of artists creating their own content now.

TITL: Away from TV, you’re an accomplished writer/playwright, and are passionate about creating productions that address life, living and the many issues that come with it. Does your work in that field ever cross over into your acting work and vice-versa?

DP: Absolutely. I’m actually developing an improvised Instagram series with my friend, LaNisa Frederick called Hashtag Booked. Hashtag Booked is a hilarious, raw, and shocking portrayal of what happens during the short period of time in the audition waiting room.  These “characters” are based on real-life experiences.

TITL: How are you finding your role as a vocal activist for body positivity impacting both yourself and those around you? How did you first get involved and would you like to see more individuals, especially those in the public eye, using their status to speak out about important matters as you are?

DP: The first play I ever wrote was a solo show called Body/Courage. Body/Courage was created from over 300 interviews I conducted worldwide, and it was an exploration on body acceptance. This project changed my life. The show is about my journey to find my own beauty through the voices of others. The cool thing about the show is that it introduced a constellation of characters grappling with diverse body issues including weight, illness, disability, skin color, aging, and gender transition. It was this show that got me involved in the body positivity movement. Body/Courage, allowed me to find a courage in myself that I didn’t know I possessed. The body positivity movement already has some fierce voices and it can always use more so I would encourage others to speak out.

TITL: Are there any other plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?

DP: This summer, I’ll be releasing an interview-style podcast called SHOOK discussing true stories of mental health in the industry. I’ve also been asked to be a guest contributor for Shondaland, so check out my essay I’ll be writing for them in the next few weeks.

TITL: Finally then, given that the industry is ever changing, sometimes at a pace even fans can’t keep up with, where do you think the business will go and be 5-10 years from now? What would you like to see happen and do you think that such things will? 

DP: My hope for the industry in 5-10 years is that we can begin to bring more stories by women of color to the forefront. I want to see more women of color on set, I want to see more women of color in the writers room, I want to see more women of color as producers and directors. I want to see women of color win in this industry now and in the future.

Young Sheldon is currently airing on E4 in the UK on Wednesdays at 8.30PM. You can keep up to date with Danielle Pinnock via her Twitter. Header photo credit: Joe Mazza.

REVIEW: THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS – AMERICA 36

Five years in the making, Thirty Seconds To Mars’ new album ‘America’, which Jared promoted this week by hitch-hiking his way across his home country as part of an event called #MarsAcrossAmerica, is most certainly a considerable shift away from what members of the Echelon have heard from the trio (though current duo) over the years. But is this said shift good or bad?

Beginning with “Walk On Water” which introduced both old and new fans alike to the bands’ new rather electro-edged sound, ‘America’ starts off well, especially given that the rather radio friendly “Dangerous Night” follows on from it.

“Rescue Me” ups the tempo somewhat, and with its toe-tapping, body swaying rhythm, combined with Jared’s rough edged vocal, it’s just over three and a half minutes of enjoyable considerably upbeat rock, and the simplistic chorus in particular will work well when – or if – its performed on their current Monolith tour.

Prior to the release of the album, the band gave a sneak peak of one of the album’s collaborations, with A$AP Rocky. Having watched said sneak peak, this reviewer personally felt his involvement was random and pointless. Fortunately however, and for reasons unknown, he doesn’t feature on my (likely all UK albums) version and with the song performed for the most part in a breathy, almost dream-like manner, it would most likely have been completely ruined with Rocky’s inclusion.

The “Monolith” instrumental, AKA track 5, doesn’t really serve any purpose, however it does lead into the album’s one collaboration that REALLY does work – that of Jared and Halsey on “Love Is Madness” – one of the darker tracks, but not the darkest, on the album. She compliments Jared perfectly, enhancing the song and its sultry mood/feel to the point where it easily stands out as a highlight of the collection.

“Great Wide Open” is an inspiring track, and one that’s perfect to listen to when you’re out discovering yourself or exploring this world we live in, or most likely, doing both at the same time. It’s the type of song you can see playing behind a montage of a person’s life, as their friends and family pay tribute to or celebrate them in some form or another, and with that in mind, it’s one of the album’s strongest, and most emotive, pieces.

Mixing simple electronic hooks, plenty of synth and a chorus which, it could be argued, is rather understated, “Hail To The Victor” almost flashes back to the ‘Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams’ era of the band, perhaps included to draw that chapter to an undeniable close. The darkest, deepest number on the album comes in the form of “Dawn Will Rise.” With lyrics including “Come and hit me, strike me while I’m down” and “Fortunes fade in time, I must change or die.”, it’s certainly not a track to listen to if you are in a good mood, as its sombre, almost depressing tone, matched by Jared’s almost defeated vocal performance, will soon shatter said mood to pieces.

If there’s any real surprise on the album, it’s Shannon’s Leto’s vocal on “Remedy.” It’s raw and stripped back in comparison to any track that has come before and comes after it. There’s an organic feel to the song, and Shannon’s performance, although different, is so in a phenomenally good way, and he’s no doubt going to find himself requested to play it live.

The chorus of “Oh Oh Oh”, on “Live Like A Dream”, in a nice touch from the band, was recorded at one of their Camp Mars events, and serves as an audible reminder for those who were there of the project they were involved in (though it’s unlikely they knew what it was for at the time) and the fun they had, while for other members of the Echelon, it’s a nice throwback to the ‘This Is War’ era when many of them featured on that album, having participated in ‘summits’ around the world.

“Rider” has so far proved to be quite a strong, albeit new, inclusion to the band’s tour setlist, and with its rising crescendo as the piece nears its end, it’s quite stirring and powerful. Meanwhile, on the deluxe edition of the album, the acoustic, choir-inclusive version of “Walk On Water” might lack the energy of the original, but with the electronics removed, it brings Jared’s genuine vocal ability to the forefront again, and such has been considerably lacking up to this point.

With remixes growing in popularity, it’s not that surprising to find the band have included 2, the first being a R3hab remix of “Walk On Water.” For those who like a more dance-like and continued electro-feel to their songs, it’s not a bad version by any means, but it’s not the best remix ever made either, and the Cheat Codes remix of “Dangerous Night” doesn’t fare that much better.

Despite the new sound and styles with which the band have experimented on this collection, ‘America’ is still at its heart, very much a Thirty Seconds To Mars album, and if the social media reaction is anything to go by, it’s proving a hit with their huge following. Yes there are tracks on the album that don’t quite work as well as they should, like the remixes, but for the majority, lyrically and instrumentally, it’s a considerably solid piece of work that fans hopefully won’t have to wait another five years for in order to hear its follow-up.