Photo Credit: Tamara May
The words we speak, write, sing and rap are formed from a snowball of cultural and historical context. We smash together prefixes and suffixes from different times to describe ourselves and the world around us. Of these linguistic puzzle pieces, one carries a particular resonance. “Omni,” the Latin word meaning “all,” brings with it the context “of all things.” The added condition turns the mundane into the all-encompassing. It’s so unifyingly inclusive that its most recognizable use is describing God. To be omniscient is to be all-knowing. To be omnipotent is to be all-powerful. When 23-year-old Brooklyn instrumentalist and vocalist Kevin Holliday titled his new EP OMNI, he boldly prefixed his genre-bending sound and songwriting as “of all things.”
The six-song project features sparkling guitar, infectious funk, and a croon from Holliday that positions him as a classic romantic with a punk facade. On “Runaround,” he sings, “If you show me love, I can’t get enough / and even if you don’t, I don’t give a fuck,” burying an inner desire for companionship beneath a hardened exterior. OMNI leaves you both desiring this passion and celebrating your own right to withhold it.
Inspired by the dynamics of relationships and friendships, Holliday’s writing steps outside of his body to capture emotions from all angles. It’s there, hovering between perspectives, a ghost in limbo, the songwriter observes angst. Among the most malleable tools of punk, angst is born from the strength of our most compulsory emotions. Angst is refined for songwriting by a particular self-awareness that appreciates the ironies often found in those initial self-centered reactions. When Holliday cajoles himself on “Liar,” accusing an ex of lying about not missing him, we embrace the ballad because it’s an expression of the emotions we most want to be justified in feeling. OMNI is an escape from the burden of being serious.
The EP’s grooveable instrumentation, also performed by Holliday, pulls from pop, funk, and indie-rock to create a sound that melts the mundane. Working a day job at his parents’ business and recording music on his off time encourages the daydreamer to make music that infectiously slips from the earbuds to the hands or feet — transforming a mop or broom into a mic stand or air guitar when no one’s looking. This is the essence of OMNI, an exuberant mixtape that transcends genre and encompasses an artist’s grand vision of all things that make him who he is.
In an Aug. video interview, I spoke to Holliday about the new EP, escapism in creativity, punk romance, and the impacts of an increasingly genreless world of music. The conversation is presented below, lightly edited for content and clarity.
Brandon Hill: OMNI is the prefix meaning “of all things.” What does it mean to you to be “of all things?”
Kevin Holliday: “Omni” was sort of a homage to everything that made me who I am. I felt like when I was a little kid, I was really kind of a sponge when it came to things I heard around the house and people that I grew up with… I kind of wanted to make something that felt like me in that way and also take my own spin on it.
How does that spongy personality translate to the multi-genre influences of your sound?
I’m really curious and I’ll sort of go down rabbit holes. If I like something, I have to know every single detail about it. I’m a huge Prince fan, and I was trying to think about how I’m performing and how I want people to see me on stage. I kind of nerd out about shit like that. I felt like that curiosity pushed me into taking what I know and twisting it and creating my own thing.
Is the sound you want already mashed together in your head, or do you intentionally grab pieces from different styles?
I feel like I never listen to a song and then say, ‘okay let’s create something like this.’ I usually always go into it with a groove or a sound in mind that I’ve been feeling lately… A lot of times, I’ll just hear the entire song in my head. Then it’s just a matter of executing.
A lot of artists say that placing genre labels on their music can be damaging. With such a multi-genre influenced sound yourself, where do you stand on that?
People naturally want to categorize things. It makes sense. I think that’s just the way that people’s minds work — including mine, honestly. But in terms of my own music and my own creativity, I don’t want to box myself into anything. I think of art as completely fluid. If you’re thinking about like, ‘oh I want to create this specific thing,’ you’re not going to explore your creativity. You’re not going to try and create something new — something that nobody is doing.
You also work a day job and record in your off-hours. How does that affect the way you create?
My thing is, if you don’t do everything in your power to put yourself in a position to succeed in the thing you want to do, how bad do you really want it? I’ll do anything to get to the place I want to be in my head. People, I feel like, will laugh at some of the stuff I say sometimes. They be like, ‘Well you can’t do that, you can’t do this.” Whatever you say, nobody is gonna outwork me. [The day job] is a means to an end. It’s a step that I need to take to get to where I need to be.
What happens when you get to the place in your head you want to be?
Complacency is the kiss of death. If you’re satisfied with where you are… if you don’t have that drive… you’re going to get to that place and kind of fizzle out. When I first started, I had a lot of ideas about what goals I had. Now that I’ve reached some of those, what’s next?
Are you a daydreamer?
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s actually the concept of my first EP, Space Cadet. When I was growing up, I felt like a lot of people said I was ‘in my own head,’ or ‘in my world.’ Part of it was embracing that identity and being like, ‘well, I mean, that’s what makes me who I am. That’s what makes me creative.’ Being in that state, I get some of my best ideas… I don’t know, there’s something really comforting about… imagining yourself in the future, or imagining yourself in certain situations that might not be real.
The idea of escapism is tied to Space Cadet by inspiration drawn from the magical realism of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films, and escapism through fantasy is a huge recurring theme in those films. Where do you draw a connection between magical realism and escapism?
When I was growing up… I wasn’t a very talkative person. [Those movies] provided me with sort of an escape. When I was in that world that [Miyazaki] created, anything you could imagine was possible. That concept was inspirational for me. I think I tied that mentality into a lot of things I did — especially creative.
Do you think music in a way becomes magical realism? Because you can build anything.
Mmhmm, yeah. That’s part of the reason I gravitated towards music so naturally. In concept, it’s limitless in what you can do and you don’t have to have any confinements if you don’t want to.
When you’re in the studio or songwriting, who do you picture as the audience?
I actually only write music for myself. I want to make the music that, I guess, I wanted to hear growing up. A lot of artists did that for me, especially Pharell. In my mind, he made it okay to do anything — especially as a Black kid. As a Black kid a lot of things are like, ‘oh well why the fuck are you doing that?’ What he did was open up my eyes that anything you want to do can be done. Don’t ever put yourself in a box.
On “Regrets,” you sing about not wanting to live with regret. Does living without regret mean doing whatever you want, or living without mistakes?
If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not putting yourself out there. I don’t care if I fuck up. What that’s about is really just putting your entire self out there.
Do you see yourself as a romantic?
Yeah, definitely *laughs.* A lot of my music is inspired by either relationships or friendships. People can be the biggest inspiration for anything creative. What you go through in these different relationships, in the context of yourself, is sort of what your art is. At least for me.
How do you internally pull apart those emotional associations with relationships and turn them into something concrete like music?
I’m not really the type of person who can have something happen to them and write a song about it immediately. I think I have to wrap my mind around the situation and analyze it from almost the standpoint of me not even being involved. Once you remove yourself and say, ‘Woah, what am I feeling in this situation? What is the other person feeling? What should I be feeling? Does this make sense?’ I feel like you can fully put yourself in the writing process and bring words to the feelings.
Cover Art for OMNI
There’s a lot of great expression on OMNI about how passionate your love can be, but it also sounds like when a speed bump arises or there’s a question in the relationship, you get outwardly ambivalent. Is that ambivalence a defense mechanism from getting hurt or is it feigned to protect the ego?
On “Runaround” at least, it’s implied like I don’t give a fuck… but yes I do *laughs.* That song, if you were to read the lyrics, doesn’t fully communicate the intention. Some of the things are tongue in cheek where I’ll say one thing, but the way I say it, it’ll mean the opposite. How can you say something a certain way and it’ll have a completely different meaning? I try to play around with that.
I noticed that a lot on “Liar” too. I wanted to ask if your songwriting is inspired at all by punk songwriting?
Yeah! When I was making OMNI I got into a really deep punk rabbit hole and I was listening to The Clash a lot, specifically. I feel like [their] songwriting rubbed off on a lot of the songs.
A lot of that style connects with the emotion of angst right? Why do you think angst fits so well in songwriting?
People want to be entertained right? Melodrama and angst is the perfect vehicle to retain peoples’ attention. If something is so out there and so expressive and it breaks the mundane, you’re naturally going to be like, what’s this? What’s going on? There’s just something about it.
Towards the end of the album, on “Liar,” you sing about dying young like Kurt Cobain. Cobain’s death was sort of symbolic of the death of peace, love and progressive music to the nu-metal wave. Do you feel that genre identification of music is driven more by similarities in the artists or in the audience that they target?
That’s a good question because the example I have in my head… Personally, I think it has more to do with the people who listen to it. Because you think about artists like Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator, right? People sort of group them in the same type of thing, but their music just doesn’t sound the same. They do two completely different things, but if you were to ask people, ‘are these similar artists?’, They would probably say yes. I feel like it has a lot more to do with the people who gravitate towards that type of music.
What do you think is the impact of audiences coming into an increasingly genre-less world of music?
I feel you can make anything and have an audience. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to try to make pop music or you don’t have to try to make R&B to stand out or get people to listen to your stuff. If you make good music, people will find it. That’s a really beautiful thing because that’s not the way it always was.