Kaina Built Her Own Community

By Max Freedman

At the beginning of the pandemic, Kaina Castillo felt similar to the remainder of us: remoted, uninspired, a bit down. For the 26-year-old Chicago-based musician, who data as Kaina (styled in all caps), that meant going by means of 2020 with out engaged on music — not even with the tailwind of her breakout 2019 debut album Next to the Sun propelling her ahead. “It was really difficult to ask myself to create anything,” she tells MTV News. “We’ve never experienced a time like this, and I think it’s completely fair to say that all you want to do is just lay in bed and be numb.”

In early 2021, Castillo reckoned with how unmoored she felt from her music in 2020 and determined to do one thing about it. “I was like, ‘I haven’t written a song, and I’m losing that muscle,’” she says. She gave herself a writing problem and a schedule. Monday by means of Friday: Journal. Saturday: Start setting up a music. Sunday: Begin producing it.

The result’s It Was a Home, Castillo’s splendid sophomore album. Its 12 songs — together with a canopy of Stevie Wonder’s “Come Back as a Flower” and a uncommon Sleater-Kinney visitor characteristic — distill the nice and cozy, intimate psychedelia and Latin-inflected pop of Next to the Sun into an excellent softer, extra easily flowing palette. Where she usually used righteous language and themes of dwelling on Next to the Sun to reckon together with her place in American society as a first-generation Latinx immigrant, It Was a Home finds her contemplating the individuals who care about her and reaching out to them. The album’s inviting, vibrant but placid sound is a Trojan horse for lyrics concerning the challenges of connecting with others and being susceptible throughout a interval of prolonged isolation. Though her language is fully conversational, she seems like she’s assembling concepts she’s lengthy struggled to precise. “I was able to write songs that are simple but touch on really complex subjects,” she says.

That simplicity speaks volumes to how Castillo upheld group and empathy in what started as a solitary apply: “I wanted everything that I made for [the album] to be something everyone enjoys at their own pace and feels no pressure about.” Other artists may create with principally their very own catharsis in thoughts, however Castillo thought of what may finest attain and luxury her listeners, whom she meets on their very own degree quite than asking them to return as much as hers. “It’s too easy / Feeling left behind / Without a reason / It’s made up in my mind,” she sings over breezy acoustic arpeggios on “In My Mind,” as if to say, Hey, that doubtlessly baseless nervousness you’re experiencing — identical right here, so let’s handle it collectively. When she goals of a house the place massive teams of visitors come and go on the string-laden, maraca-guided single “Casita,” you get the sense she’s inviting everybody to go to. She’s keen to achieve anybody who sees themselves in her and vice versa, and as she forges new bonds, she’s at all times real, and she or he by no means overreaches.

“Casita” is among the many album’s most blatant (and profitable) makes an attempt to, as Castillo places it, “build a little world for my audience to come back to me, for both of us to come back to each other.” The absence of stay exhibits for properly over a yr made her really feel like she had misplaced contact with a bunch of pals. One of Castillo’s overarching questions that guided It Was a Home speaks higher to this sense than any makes an attempt to immediately encapsulate it: “How can you send a virtual hug?”

On “Sweetness,” a young ballad dripping with strings and the low-pitched, easy chorus of “I could give a little sweetness / I could use a little sweetness,” Castillo reveals she additionally wants the digital hug she’s trying to give. “Opening up is hard / I’ll admit it / And I could use a hug / A moment to rest,” she sings. Being forthright might be intimidating, but it surely’s a lot simpler if you really feel related to a strong assist system of nice individuals. “I tend to be the hashtag strong friend,” she says, “and I feel so uncomfortable asking for help. That’s what I’m talking about with this whole project. It feels silly to me sometimes to be like, ‘I need a hug,’ but it’s not silly. It’s just like, that’s what I need right now, you know?”

For some time, Castillo actually couldn’t get the human embrace she was looking for — she began creating It Was a Home earlier than vaccines had been extensively obtainable. To take her first steps towards reconnecting with the individuals in her life, she requested her bandmates to ship her their musical concepts, which she then rearranged and fleshed out earlier than asking for enter. She needed to create music that she felt her entire band might personal, each figuratively and financially, throughout a time of separation. She additionally thought her full-band strategy to songcraft “would be a perfect opportunity for [my bandmates] to flex the part of their brain” that hadn’t been as energetic given the dearth of live shows.

That course of is how guitarist Brian Sanborn and drummer Ryan the Person obtained co-production credit on the album. Previously, Castillo’s major co-producer was her finest buddy, the atmospheric jazz-rap artist Sen Morimoto, and although the 2 did co-produce and co-write It Was a Home, the LP marks the duo’s first time opening their circle. The Latin-inflected monitor “Good Feeling” is a spotlight of this expanded manufacturing crew: Sanborn co-produced it, and Morimoto’s visitor verse, delivered in his eternally chill voice, seems like flowers blooming from the monitor’s verdant, psychedelic melodies and association. And on “Sweetness,” Ryan the Person helps Castillo and Morimoto remodel a slow-paced ballad into an enveloping sensory expertise, with cymbals and toms hitting proper when the opposite parts briefly recede for optimum impact.

In reaching out to others — her bandmates, her listeners — by means of her music, Castillo says she’s discovered extra confidence. “Even though these songs don’t feel like as much of a celebration” as her previous work, she says, “They have more clarity about who I am … because I have the support of my bandmates and my community.” Not that she’s ever lacked an incredible set of individuals in her life, however as she tells it, “I’m someone who likes to give back, reflect back into the world, and be there for other people all the time.” To middle her personal wants as a substitute and discover them in her lyrics was a daring, unprecedented shift for her. That’s a part of why she doesn’t fully let go of Next to the Sun’s dominant theme: dwelling.

The different motive this theme persists is extra revealing. The approach Castillo explains it, dwelling and group are inseparable, even in moments of bodily distance. Growing up, her dwelling “was always full of people dancing and making food and…just being [in] community.” Looking again on how her mother and father remodeled their home right into a communal house for all their family members, she sees herself doing the identical factor together with her music, particularly on It Was a Home. “That’s exactly what I do with my life 20 years later,” she says, “in a different way.”

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