Welcome to Thunder Row, where bassists from around the world connect, collide, confer, conference, compose, collude, and communicate!
Don't be shy, jump on in!
Kai Brant Singin' For The Row
After reviewing Kai Brant's "The Way You Look Tonight," I was eager to speak with the lady behind the voice. I found myself drawn to Kai's music on two levels: one, as the singer who could handle the classics with all the mood and feeling of the originals, and two, as someone who stands out as the perfect voice to accompany the bass guitar. Kai's husband, who plays on "The Way You Look Tonight," is bassist Martin Motnik. The way they perform together is something to be heard and seen. Since we've already interviewed Martin, it's time we spoke to Kai.
TR: Who are your musical inspirations?
KB: Wow, I have so many. How much time do I have? (laughs)
TR: As much as you need. Let's have it all.
KB: I grew up heavily influenced by the classic rock records my dad would play - a lot of Janis, Neil Young, and The Beatles. I got into the hair bands in the 80s, singing Bon Jovi and Guns Ní Roses on my walks to school. In high school I discovered hip hop and R&B which I loved because it made people dance and focused more on lyrical content. When I first began singing in the late 90ís I had a manager who introduced me to non-commercial music, stuff like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Cramps, and classic Bowie. He hooked me up with a live blues band, and thatís when I discovered singers like Etta James and Big Mama Thornton. In all of that, my life-changing musical moment was when a friend of the band gave me a CD to borrow, Mystery Lady, A Tribute to Billie Holiday by Etta James. I was 21 years old and that was really the first time I ever listened to jazz. From there I began learning about Gershwin and was blown away by the melodies and great songwriting.
TR: So many of my faves on your list. I love Nick Cave.
KB: I really enjoy discovering new genres of music, so I like to explore on Pandora. Right now I listen to a lot of Gotan Project because it relaxes me, but I can also dance to it if I get the urge. I love listening to live flamenco as well as hard rock. Iím never tired of Portishead or Morcheeba. I like music that has some depth to it, whether itís in the production or the lyrics, but I also donít want to have to try too hard to interpret lyrics or rhythms.
TR: Did you have a lot of encouragement growing up?
KB: I didnít really know I could sing when I was growing up. I remember, when I was six or so, my dad telling me I had good rhythm, and that always stuck with me. He always said I could be whatever I wanted to be, and I was always open to finding out what that was. But I didnít really start pursuing music until I was already out of my parentsí grip.
TR: Were you always interested in being a singer?
KB: I probably toyed with the idea at a young age but figured it was unrealistic. I definitely felt an affinity to the girls that sang the Singing Valentines and those in choir, but I thought I had to read music in order to do that so I never went for it. I was more of a writer when I was younger. Iíd write a lot of poetry and obsessive love letters.
TR: Do you play anything else, or is your voice your main instrument?
KB: My mom plays piano and started teaching me, but at the first grade talent show my classmate rocked some Beethoven song while I played something like chopsticks and failed miserably, so I gave up hope on that pretty quickly.
TR: That Beethoven crowd - such show offs!
KB: But then I bought a guitar when I was in high school and started dabbling on that. When I joined the blues band, I was taught how to play proper rhythm guitar so Iíd say thatís the instrument Iím best at. I write mostly with my guitar but sometimes I use the piano too. Iím not great, but good enough to get my ideas down. I was hired on to play bass for a band a few years back, so I worked really hard on that for a while.
TR: Ah, I didn't know you also dabbled in bass.
KB: I did, but since Iíve hooked-up with a bass player, I pretty much let him handle that instrument now.
TR: What about vocal lessons?
KB: I took some vocal lessons in college, but mostly studied at home. I bought a bunch of books and trained utilizing Ellaís techniques among others. Iíve been studying a lot more lately though as Iíve had trouble keeping my vocals strong during longer engagements in the past, so I try do vocal exercises every day now. My greatest lesson recently has been from a former ďPhantomĒ performer, Richard Cray. He really taught me how to use my voice to be more precise with the lyric without compromising my personal style.
TR: When did you first perform in public?
KB: I first performed in public with the blues band - in 1996 I think it was.
TR: How did that go?
KB: I was, of course, very nervous, but the guys were all so good they made it easy for me. I liked the blues because it taught me how to sing from my heart and I didnít have to try to be like anyone else.
TR: That's the blues, alright! How does singing for people make you feel?
KB: To be completely honest, I only recently began singing for people. I spent a lot of time in my earlier years singing for myself. I was more introverted in my performances and didnít talk to the audience much at all unless I was approached. I was very diva-esque.
TR: But that has surely changed. Talk about your relationship with the audience now.
KB: I have to say that my contract with Disney Cruise Lines made me become really aware of the audience because suddenly there were kids involved. I had to connect with them somehow, beyond being a sultry singer chick. So I began choosing songs that they would know and would want to sing to, and sometimes even bring kids on stage with us.
TR: That'll bump the diva right out of anybody!
KB: I've learned the importance of that connection and now make an effort to get to know my adult audiences more here in Vegas so that we can create a similar synergistic experience.
TR: What's most important to you when it comes to telling your stories?
KB: Being true. I have to believe and understand what Iím saying or want to say. When I write originals, I have learned to analyze every word to give each phrase the most meaning possible. When I sing jazz, itís important for me to know the songís history and what the songwriter was trying to say.
TR: For example?
KB: ďMack The KnifeĒ was a tough one for me to learn as the lyrics never made much sense to me, but once I found it was written as part of a play, I could visualize Mackís character and get into the song more. I have to look up the meanings of words, like ďscarlet billowsĒ, so I can visualize it all. I guess thatís the key - I really need to visualize every word so that I can use my facial or body expressions and vocal tone to help the audience connect more with the song. This also keeps me from forgetting the lyrics.
TR: About your music, do you think it's important to re-create or re-design your image for each project?
KB: Absolutely, because I continue to grow and evolve as a person. With that evolution comes a natural change of image.
TR: Do you like going off in different directions while still maintaining a specific "Kai-Style"?
KB: I really just follow my heart. I donít know if I necessarily like going in different directions, but I suppose I continue to experiment to see what resonates the most with me.
TR: How have you experimented?
KB: Well, for example, when I was only a singer-songwriter, I sang about broken relationships and experimented with down and open-tuned guitars, and thatís what my vibe and music was all about. Then I got into producing, so inevitably I had to experiment a lot with audio loops. When I started working with others I had to become a team player and learn how to get the best out of each performance, both from the artist and from my equipment. And since Iíve always wanted to perform jazz, that just naturally evolved as well. I guess that constant evolution and experimentation is the ďKai-StyleĒ.
TR: Now, about your bassman. What effect does Martin Motnik's playing have on your performance? Does his bass playing influence your voice or does your voice influence his bass playing?
KB: For the jazz music, I definitely think itís two-ways. Martin and I had an initial project that was just upright bass and vocals. Because bass was the only instrument, it really pushed me to be precise with my pitch because my voice was so exposed. On the other hand, being the only musician, Martin had to be extremely creative with his bass performance because there was nobody else to support him. He had to play the rhythm and solos all at once, sometimes for 3-hour gigs.
TR: How do you two set the mood for each other on stage or in the studio?
KB: Those are very different things for us. In the studio, we work pretty separately of each other. For our original stuff, I usually create a template of what Iím hearing for a particular song, with scratch guitar, drumbeats and basic bass or piano. Then we sit down in the studio and we talk about how to get the magic into it. Thatís where Martin takes over.
TR: He's better for that sort of work?
KB: Iím not good in the studio while heís working on a project because I tend to prematurely give my opinion about how I think a song is evolving and so this creates tension. Iíve learned to just exit and let him do what he feels with the song and when he has a nice sketch, I go back in and weíll both listen to it and either rearrange it or heíll continue to polish it up from there.
TR: It's a good working relationship, though...
KB: Iím very direct with Martin about things that Iíd like him to change or try. For example, when heís on the fretless bass, I encourage him to follow my melodies more and dance between my vocals, and because heís such an experienced studio musician, Iím comfortable with asking him to try different things and heís able to interpret and deliver my requests.
TR: And on stage...?
KB: On stage, thatís a different story. Performing with your spouse can prove to be challenging if youíve had a rough day. In the studio I can walk away and let him be, but we canít do that when we have a live show. We know each otherís best and worst, and because of this I donít think we are as diplomatic with each other as we would be if we were typical colleagues. But working so closely also has its benefits. Martin has acted as my roadie and manager - sometimes even my bodyguard! He really supports me and pushes me to take my music to the next level and not treat it like a hobby. Heís definitely an inspiration.
TR: Do you always work together?
KB: For studio projects, Martin is always involved in some aspect. For live gigs he's the main bassist, but he works with other bands too so we use a sub when necessary.
TR: Which do you prefer: live performances or studio recording?
KB: For jazz I prefer live performances because I like the interplay between the musicians, myself and the audience. I always feel grateful for getting to share the stage with such talented musicians. For the original music I prefer the studio because I like to explore all of the different ways a song can be arranged and it gives me an opportunity to hear where the song is lacking.
TR: Tell us about a memorable gig (good or bad).
KB: With Martin, our first performance as Beauty and the Bass was quite memorable. We performed at an art gallery in San Pedro, California, and no one had really seen that setup of only bass and vocals before so there was a lot of intrigue on people's faces. There was this young woman in particular who sat through a whole set and was in tears. She came up to me at the break and said that she had inherited a book of her grandmotherís that she carried around. The book contained a list of her grandmotherís favorite songs and she just couldnít believe that we were playing almost every one of them.
KB: It was real touching.
TR: Do you prefer the upright or electric bass as your accompaniment?
KB: I like the electric fretless bass because it makes the songs seem a little more modern. Also, Martin can really dance with the vocals on fretless, more than on the upright. The upright is great for swing though because itís able to provide a more percussive sound. Also, the upright is nice for weddings and other festive events because of its very classic and sophisticated look. For our original music, I like the use of all of them because each song calls for a different bass sound.
TR: Let's talk a bit about the new album, "The Way You Look Tonight." Why an album of classics?
KB: That is twofold. Iíve always wanted to record a jazz record, and I also wanted something to have available at live jazz gigs because people usually request a CD.
TR: How did you choose the songs?
KB: I chose songs that I could be sultry on and those that werenít too depressing. My real favorites are the old Billie Holiday songs in minor chords, like on Mystery Lady. But because we live in Vegas, it was necessary to record songs that people on vacation could take back to their hotel room and feel good with.
TR: What was left on the cutting room floor? Any songs you were sad to leave behind?
KB: Yeah, I really wanted to include ďLove Me or Leave MeĒ one of my ultimate favorites, but the arrangement just didnít fit into the vibe of the CD as a whole.
TR: What would you like listeners to take away from this album?
KB: I really want people to discover classic jazz. I hope that I included a song that someone new to jazz hasnít heard before and will connect with. I would hope that this CD gets people to dig around and discover other great jazz singers and song arrangements. Itís also about capturing a moment, so if someone sees us perform live in Vegas it makes a great souvenir to take back home with them.
TR: Would you do another album of classics?
KB: Yes, but this time it will be songs written before 1922 and in public domain because itís expensive and time consuming to license jazz standards. By the time we pay recording and licensing fees we donít end up making much of a profit.
TR: There are some very good songs from that era. I'd be all over an album of Public Domain music.
KB: Yes. There are some really great gems that Iíd like to bring to light with some new arrangements.
TR: What's next for you?
KB: Weíll start working on the new jazz record this fall, focusing on songs of the 1910s.
TR: That is truly amazing! What a great path to travel!
KB: Weíre continuing the live, sultry, feel good jazz performances here in Vegas and hope to get some overseas gigs next summer. In addition to that, Martin and I have an original cyber-rock project that weíre working on. The ultimate goal is to tour and perform our original music as this is where my deepest passion lies.
TR: Thank you very much, Kai. It's been a pleasure!
KB: Thank you so much. It was fun!
Kai's music is available on her website HERE. Get yourself a copy today! 's Wonderful.
Written Content © 2012 C.L. Seamus for Thunder Row
- does not include YouTube videos
And for bassist Martin Motnik: